After local Whitefish author Laura Munson wrote a memoir about her struggling marriage, she submitted a shortened version called “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear” to The New York Times column, Modern Love.
“It went viral,” Munson said.
Soon after, she signed a book deal, became a New York Times bestselling author and has since appeared on Good Morning America and been featured in Vanity Fair and Elle magazines.
Now, a decade after her memoir “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is” was published, she’s branched out of the nonfiction genre into fiction to publish her second book “Willa’s Grove,” which came out this spring.
Munson’s debut novel depicts four middle-aged women, all at crossroads in their lives, who head to a Montana homestead to “learn from nature and one another as they contemplate their second acts together in the rugged wilderness of big sky country.”
Munson drew inspiration for “Willa’s Grove” from her own writing retreats, Haven Writing Retreats, which she started in 2013 after gaining a wide audience following her Modern Love column.
After posting a question on Facebook, asking her followers if anyone would be interested in a writing retreat in Montana, she had 24 people signed up within about two hours.
Now, Munson’s retreat draws attendees from around the world, ranging from Istanbul to New Zealand.
“When you’re doing this kind of work, it draws real seekers,” Munson said. “They’re willing to put their heart in their hand, be full of kindness and empathy, and they tap into their intuition. That’s ultimately what I’m really teaching people, which is tap into what it is they really have to say.”
Munson teaches three different retreat programs, Haven I, II and III, where her students come from all different backgrounds. She says usually about half of them are working on books or hoping to start one.
“I work with a lot people who are at some kind of crossroads moment and they want to realize their dream of being a writer,” Munson said.
Held at Dancing Spirit Ranch in Columbia Falls, Munson guides her students through a five-day retreat filled with daily classes, writing prompts, one-on-one coaching, evening workshops and afternoon activities like “equine-assisted learning,” yoga and hiking.
With Haven I as a prerequisite for Haven II and III, Munson builds off of the first workshop to offer students more in-depth and focused learning. Haven III is done remotely, with Munson offering one-on-one consultation.
While Munson’s new book isn’t about a writing retreat, she draws much of its inspiration off the experiences she and her students have at them.
“It was born from what I had seen happen at Haven,” Munson said. “This is a book about four women who are all at major crossroad moments in their lives. Stuff like career loss or marital unrest or empty nest. They’re all in a major identity crisis.”
Munson says bridging communities together is a common theme that “Willa’s Grove” and the Haven retreats share.
“While the book is not about a writing retreat, it is inspired by what I call bridge communities, which is what I see when people take a week away from their lives and come to Montana,” Munson said. “Things shift for people.”
Throughout the pandemic, Munson has continued making connections with her retreat alumnus with free private forums online and she’s started a journaling workshop called, “So Now What?” every Friday. With 300 people signed up, Munson guides participants through writing practices.
“It’s a way for people to not feel isolated and have community,” Munson said.
For more information about Munson, her new book and her retreats, visit www.lauramunson.com.