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Learning How to Ask (and receive)

If you’ve wondered what is behind the scenes at a Haven Writing Retreat…watch this video:

What Haven is all about.  Click Here to watch video!

Click here to watch the video!

A word on learning how to ask for what you need…

You hear this message in different word arrangements from different wisdom spinners, including your grandmother:  what goes around comes around, succor life and it will succor you, practice right actionbe of service.  I come from Midwestern farm stock and I’ve been grandmothered into this message from the beginning, as stalwart and straight forward as a row of corn.  I watched my mother and father live by it, and I paid attention.  But it wasn’t until my fourth decade that I realized that it was actually driving the essence of who I am.

It happened one day, a very bad day, when my world was being met with rejection on every front—marriage, career, teens…  And I sat in my office staring at a blank screen, thinking, Why do I do this writing thing with such devotion and fervor, and for so many years?  Nobody asked me to do it.  It’s financially counter-intuitive.  And it’s damn hard!  And out of my fingers poured these words:  “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.”  There it was:  Service.  Service to others.  And service to myself.  Huh.  My career started approximately 24 hours later.

You see, that one line was the defining moment when I held the mirror up to my heart, my intention, my intuition, my passion—everything that drove me…and staked my claim on it all.  This is what I’m made of, and why I can continue my writing life, regardless of promises.  That was my service to self:  getting perfectly clear about what makes me tick.  And so it makes sense that in only five years, I was not just writing out of service from my little office in Montana, but actually sharing what had held my muse with hundreds of people in my neck of the woods.  People from all over the world, coming here, to work with me, and be of service to their muses.  And yes, consequently, to others, in community, and with all laud and honor to the written word.  The ripples of have been the most life-affirming endeavor I’ve known outside of motherhood.  And this branch of my career has stabilized my life and brought with it great richness, and opportunities.  But there were a few missing pieces in my business that required help.  Big help.  Help I had no idea how to ask for.  So I didn’t.

One thing that my grandmother would never have said to me, or modeled, or urged me to sew into my modus operandi, was ask and you shall receive That one was skipped over.  You didn’t ask.  You served.  And you didn’t serve to get anything back.  You served because that was the right thing to do.  Period.  Sure, giving the shirt off your back had its perks.  Someone might do something nice for you, and you’d receive that gracefully and with the appropriate card stock and your best cursive.  But ask?  Uh-uh.

So here’s what happened:  Anyone who has a business these days knows they should have a website, and what’s the most powerful tool on that website?  A really great professional video that nails what your business is all about.  Fawning, swooning, oozing testimonials don’t hurt.  But it’s the moving, speaking, feeling humans that tell the story of what it is that you do…that really seals the deal.  Everyone told me:  “You need a video.  A really good one.  Professional.  With drones and stuff.”  The problem was:  I lead very intimate, private, gatherings of seekers who do my retreats and workshops to leave the world of moving and shaking and being on the hot seat or in the fish bowl, very deliberately behind.  And bringing a videographer into the equation felt incongruent with the safe haven I promise.  In fact, it’s called Haven Writing Retreats.  I try to be only of service to my clients.  To ask nothing of them other than to put their hearts in their hands, check whatever currency they possess outside of their ability to be honest, kind, supportive, and wildly creative…at the door.  I don’t ask them to fill out evaluations at the end.  There’s no gift shop.  No T-shirt.  No mug.  No incentivized marketing scheme.  If anything, I’m chasing them out the door with writing prompts!  But man…it was true…a video would really help me get the word out, both as a service to those whose lives  could be changed by this experience, and to me too, as a business woman.  It’s a lot of work to find the right 100 people a year to come to Montana for this deep, reflective experience, and I knew that a powerful video would be a great tool to build those bridges.  But ethically…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

And then something happened that has changed my faith in the world.  I was sitting at the dinner table with my February 2017 Haven group.  It was my advanced Haven II program for alums of the retreat, (for which you don’t have to be a writer to attend), who are now dedicated to finishing books, soon, and with the support of my Haven method and the group.  It was the last night.  We’d dug deep, we were all as tired as we were alive with new breath and new beating hearts.  They were talking so eloquently about their experience, and about the future, a reunion, how they were going to fight for it all, especially each other’s books.  And they were saying things like “How can we help you, Laura?”  

Haven Writing Retreats

Click here for more info and to set up a call to talk about your creative journey…

Even though I fought it, tears broke from my eyes and slid down my cheeks, and I hoped they wouldn’t see it in the candlelight.  But they did.  I confessed.  But I did not ask.  I spoke to my needs.  “I need Haven.  For my own writing.  And I can’t find anything like it anywhere.”  And then these words slipped out:  “And I need a way for people to know just what this program is all about.”

The next day, there came a surprise.  The women had talked.  “We’ve all agreed that you need a professional video.  We’re filming it tomorrow morning instead of you taking us out for breakfast.  We’ll eat before.  We’re giving testimonials.  You’re getting interviewed.  It’s our gift.” 

Everything in me wanted to say noI can’t.  Thank you…but…

“And we also want you to come to our reunion.  Not as the teacher.  But as one of us.  We’ll teach each other using the Haven method.  And you’ll get to receive what you’ve created!” 

I looked into each of their eyes to see if there was any reserve from any of them.  They were all beaming and nodding.  And suddenly I was too. 

Haven Writing RetreatsIn a symphony I could never have orchestrated, one of the attendees made a phone call, and the next morning she showed up with two videographers who’d driven two and a half hours in a snowstorm.  They set up professional lights and cameras on tripods.  All I had to do was straighten a few pillows and put a little make up on.  And the rest of them arrived, smiling and beaming.  I could go on and on about the blessing of that day.  The gratitude circle that one of them suggested—the way each of them honored each other, one by one, sharing words of thanks.  How they each offered testimonials and discussed what makes Haven so special.  I have never been more speechless, more touched, more grateful.

Thanks to these loving women!

Thanks to these loving women!

And here’s the thing:  I didn’t have to ask.  Instead, I watched service whip around the woods of Montana and land in the palms of my grateful hands.  Thank you to everyone who has shared their Haven experience over the years with others, and especially to these incredible angels at my table.  Ripple on! 

Please watch the video at the top of this post, and if you like what you see, please share with anyone you know who is looking for their voice, loves the written word, who has a book project in them, or simply needs to reclaim the heart of who they are…in the woods of Montana.  Sometimes…you do need to ask.  I’m trying to learn how.

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats

June 7-11 (a few spots left)
June 21-25 (one spot left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

Film credits to Thomas Kurdy and his Ndigena video production

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5 Tips on Self-publishing from a Haven Writing Retreat Alum

Books published by Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Books published by Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Not everyone who comes to Haven Writing Retreats wants to write a book, or if they do, necessarily publish it.  Some come just to learn how to better express themselves, or to use writing as a transformative tool in their lives.  Others have a book in them that they absolutely want to publish.  Some go the traditional route.  Others self-publish.  The stack of books you see here shows a great variety of publishing choices.  Not all of these books were written at Haven!  Many were written before, but they show the dedication and diversity of the people who have this kind of commitment to their craft.  May they inspire you to believe in your ability to do the same! (publishing credits below)

We have just a few more spaces left on our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar!

September 7-11 (full with wait list)
September 21-25 (one space left)
October 5-9 (spaces left)
October 19-23 (spaces left)

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

Here’s what recent Haven Writing Retreat alum, Laura Lovett, has to say about her publishing journey.

by Laura Lovett, Author of Losing Cadence– Haven Writing Retreat alum

So you’ve written a book…now what?  Some authors try to get a literary agent and go the traditional publishing route and others skip this altogether and go the self-publishing route.  I tried to get a literary agent and was unsuccessful (after 100 query letters in the U.S. and Canada!), but I didn’t let this stop me.  My novel was ready to go and I knew it was a unique and gripping story that begged to entertain readers.  Therefore, I forged ahead into self-publishing and I’m glad I did.  This is what I learned and what you need to know when considering self-publishing

1.    Edit, Edit, Edit!

Okay, so we’re supposed to be talking about self-publishing, but I couldn’t help myself when it comes to the importance of editing.  I suggest that you edit your own manuscript until you can’t see straight and then hand it off to a professional like I did (Sheryl Khanna, Writer, Editor and Publicist).  Professional editing services will not only find all your grammar and spelling mistakes (yes, there are still loads in there), but it will also deal with content and consistency issues, and polish your manuscript so that the story shines and moves.  If you cannot afford a professional editor, ask people you know and trust to review your manuscript. When it comes to editing and reviewing a book, the more the merrier to get the best end result.  You don’t want to be roasted on Goodreads.com for having errors in your book; I have read a few of these and it is most distracting and definitely takes away from the story and the author as a serious storyteller.

2.    Do Your Research

When it comes to self-publishing you can do it all yourself, which is a lot of work but will save you a lot of money, or go through a self-publishing house.  I did not have the time nor the inclination to go it alone, so I purchased a package with a large, American self-publishing house.  There are many different self-publishing houses out there from small to large, but do your research as the services they offer differ greatly, as well as the price and royalties.  Some self-publishers will format your book, help with your cover design and get you online with all major booksellers, while others go even further and offer everything from extensive editing and marketing packages to everything else in between.  I chose iUniverse.  As a Canadian author, iUniverse offered a self-publishing package for $3,000 which guaranteed me in-store shelf placement with Chapters Indigo, the largest Canadian bookseller (similar to Barnes and Noble in the U.S.).  This was a major selling feature for me and tipped the scales in favor of iUniverse.

3.    Beware the Upsell

Some of the larger self-publishing houses, like iUniverse, have huge editing and marketing teams.  If you need these services, it is great for one-stop shopping, but it can get quite pricey.  A full publishing, editing and marketing package could cost you well over $10,000.  If you have bottomless pockets it’s a great and easy way to go, but if you do not, the constant upselling is not only annoying but can slow down your project.  By being clear about your budget up-front, and researching the services you can do on your own versus where you need professional support, you can avoid getting pulled into unnecessary costs.

4.    Distinguish Yourself Through Cover Art

The first thing a potential reader sees is your cover art…it summarizes your story in an unforgettable image.  This is where many self-published authors fall short; they have a great manuscript but their cover art is an afterthought or rushed to meet a deadline.  Even though iUniverse offers cover design services (in fact, they were included in the publishing package I purchased), I wanted a custom cover so hired my own designer (Corey Brennan, ELEVATE Design). Whether you do it yourself, have a friend help or use professional design services, start thinking about your cover well ahead of time.  Just because you are a self-published author doesn’t mean that your book has to look any less appealing than the current New York Times Bestsellers.  Position yourself to standout with a killer cover that begs to be picked up. I felt I achieved this with Losing Cadence’s cover, and I smile every time I see it in someone’s hands.

5.    Marketing

So you’ve written the next New York Times Bestseller and with book in hand you think you’re finished.  Think again, as you’re only halfway there.  Marketing is a huge area where many self-published authors also fall short.  If you are not marketing savvy, many of the larger self-publishing houses offer marketing and publicist packages, but be careful as they are very pricey.  If you are doing this part on your own, which I did with the help of my Publicist (Sheryl Khanna, Writer, Editor and Publicist), you need to get out there and sell, sell, sell.

  • Get a Web site and/or Facebook page and Twitter going.  Social media is going to be your new best friend.  But only use the social media that you (or your publicist) have time to maintain as you do not want it sitting stagnant.  This is why I have yet to get a Twitter account going!
  • Set-up an author page on Goodreads.com – check mine out at www.goodreads.com/AuthorLauraLovett. My profile is gaining good traction and you can see the importance of reviews and ratings in building credibility and interest in your book.
  • Host a book launch and invite everyone you know; yes, everyone.  Don’t be shy, include your neighbors, your co-workers, your hairdresser, etc.; tell everyone you meet about your book.
  • Ask everyone who has read your book to write a review and/or post a rating on Goodreads.com, as well as their favorite online bookseller.
  • Schedule book signings with local bookstores (you may need to be persistent as they sometimes need to be pushed or reminded).  Essentially, get your book in as many bookstores as possible.
  • Don’t forget the local library or book clubs…get your book in there too.
  • If you have not already done so, start networking with local authors and writer’s groups.  Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat in Montana was my first foray and an invaluable experience for learning more about the art of writing, meeting other writers and networking.
  • Do a virtual book tour with bloggers who blog on your genre.
  • Submit your book for applicable awards and competitions.
  • Read Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn – it’s a great resource for independent authors.
  • Do radio appearances.
  • Shamelessly plug your book to one and all.

losing cadence

Pros and Cons

One of things that I love about self-publishing is that you no longer need to rely on difficult-to-get literary agents to publish your work.  And, self-publishing has changed dramatically in the past few years so that it is very hard to tell a good self-published book from a traditionally published book, which is opening the world up to books that we never would have heard of ten years ago.

Self-publishing can be pricey and, like I said above, the upsell can be a bit bothersome.  You also need to be on top of all the details and push back when necessary.  For example, iUniverse originally set the price of my book far too high – so high in fact that I was priced right out of the market – I had to negotiate the price of my book down to a reasonable level for my readers and this took quite a bit of work.

Would I self-publish again?

I’m currently working on the sequel to my first book, Losing Cadence, and I am definitely going to try to secure an agent again, but if I am unsuccessful, I will once again forge ahead into self-publishing.  Knowing what I know now, I will do even more research, and compare more self-publishing houses, as I may not go with iUniverse again; the jury’s out on them as my experience was a mix of positives and frustrations.

I encourage authors to not let an unsuccessful attempt to secure a literary agent stop you from publishing or even writing.  Move onwards and straight to self-publishing either on your own or with a self-publishing house.  You’ll be glad you did when you’re holding your book in your hand or see it on the shelf at a local bookstore.

Laura Lovett is a psychologist and entrepreneur. An accomplished author in the academic and business world, she pursued her love of creative writing to pen her first novel, Losing Cadence, a psychological thriller.

Laura lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband and three children. In her spare time she loves playing squash and spending time at the family cabin in Montana.

Visit Laura at www.facebook.com/Author.Laura.Lovett

 

Some of the books published by Haven Writing Retreat alums:

Sukey ForbesAn Angel in my Pocket (best-selling memoir)

Laura Lovett– Losing Cadence (novel)

Frances StrohBeer Money (memoir)

Justine FroelkerEver Upward (self-help)

Angela Leigh Tucker– Me Now– Who Next? (memoir)

Maria O’RourkePrepare Your Heart to be a Great Mom, Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas (devotional)

Fateme BanishoeibTea of Tibet (poetry)

Katie Andraski– The River Caught Sunlight (novel)

Jill BurchmoreGroovin in the Canyon (memoir)

Byron ThompsonBuild Your Dream (self-help)

Kathryn Stockett– The Help (#1 New York Times best-seller– novel)

Cyndi NienhausThe Silent Schism (religious)

Sally Stevens– Poems from the Road (poetry)

Amanda BevillWorld Spice at Home (cookbook)

Justine Froelker– Taking Flight (workbook)

Laura ProbertWarrior Love (self-help)

Linda Lester– Blossom (children’s book)

Sarah ScottThe Wild Table (cookbook)

 

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My Next Happy

772Here’s a good question for you:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Here’s an essay that will show you one woman’s answer.

Inspired by The Next Happy, by Tracey Cleantis.  A book (and author) I love…and that will help you deconstruct what it is to be happy and apply it to your life!

As seen on Tracey Cleantis’ Blog:

What if there’s a whole world out there waiting for you to step into, tapping its fingers and toes in anticipation?  What if it’s been beckoning you for a very long time, courting you in your dreams, teasing you in snippets of conversation with surprise strangers who say things like take care or have a great day or how are you and really mean it, when some of the main players in your lives don’t?  What if you are more powerful than you could ever imagine and your ability to be happy is just as vast?  What if the thing that is keeping you away from your happiness and your power is something you can shake off and leave in the dust like a broken flip flop, even though it feels more like a cement boot?  What happened to your dreams?  And why aren’t they coming true?  Why aren’t you happy?

Five years ago, my oldest dream came true.  After devoting decades to the writing life in a small mountain town in Montana, tending my little family, I finally had a book published.  It had a message that a lot of people wanted to hear, which grew out of my apparently-rare reaction to a marital crisis…and suddenly I had a career as a writer and a speaker, touring the country, doing big media, and speaking at large conventions.   I was scared and excited and deeply happy.  I believed in my message:  we can create a life that works no matter what hardships we face, by powerfully choosing our emotional reaction to our lives, truly embracing what it is to stay in the present moment, and taking responsibility for our own happiness.

In order to effectively be its messenger, though, I needed an affirmation to repeat in my mind and keep close to my heart.  I chose this:  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.  For the most part, it worked.  Intentional words have a way of doing that.  In that season of my life, I was happier and more grounded than I’d ever been.  I was making a difference in the world doing what I loved, my marriage and my family were resuscitated, life was joyful.

A few years later, everything changed.  Sadly, my marriage needed to end, and this time even more was at stake:  my financial stability and that of my children, my family orientation, my career.  It was a mean season of post-divorce with all arrows pointing toward losing my house, public shame, and personal misery.  The rug everyone warned me about was indeed ripped out from under me and I spun in the wind of chaos and fear.  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy felt as far away as the rug which once supported me.  Who was I exactly without my family intact?  What was intact?  Where was my power?  Where was my joy?  My gut told me that more than any time in my entire life, if I was going to find happiness again, I needed to mine the gold inside me.  And my fear was quelled by the fact that I’d been such a “miner” for a long time.  If I hadn’t been, who knows what would have happened.

So I asked myself a powerful question:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Being a New York Times best-selling author doesn’t mean you are guaranteed financial stability.  Speaking gigs required me to leave my children and they needed me at home in that time of uncertainty.  It was time to get very very real.  Or lose so much of what I’d created for myself and my children.  What did I possess that people needed, in the same way they seemed to crave my book’s message and my speaking topics?

Hell-bent to find my gold, I deconstructed the questions from my speaking events and interviews.  And I realized that the number one question I was asked had nothing to do with marriage or crisis.  It had to do with Voice.  Story.  Self-acceptance.  I had written my way through a difficult time, and other people wanted to do the same.  There were people all over the globe dying to tell their stories, but they felt stuck and even desperate.

Over and over again I heard:  “Why does my story matter?  How do I find the words to tell it?  Or the time?  Is my voice even interesting or unique?  Who cares anyway…it’s all been told before.”grief

Over and over I said, “Yes, your voice is unique!  And so is your story!  No one has the same voice or the same story—it’s not possible.  And no one can tell it like you.  It matters to the world because it matters to you!”  But the lifeline that came so easily and naturally to me, was terrifying for most people to grasp…even though they wanted to, deeply.  I longed to swoop up all those seekers, bring them to Montana, and teach them what I’d been practicing for years with all my might.  To help them sit at that intuitive intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.  To help them know what I know:  The act of writing is a highly transformational and therapeutic tool, regardless if anyone even reads it!wf

In a moment of totally clarity I saw it:  There was a serious hole in our human existence…and I knew a way to fill it.  What if I actually did bring people to Montana, gave them the solace of the mountains, lakes, and rivers, communion with other seekers, and plugged them into a design that would have them find their voice, their stories, and set them free?  What if I led retreats?  Not just for writers, but for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their self-expression through the written word.  There’s not a soul who wouldn’t benefit from that!

And then the inner critic came in.  What cred did I have?  I’d never led a retreat.  I hadn’t really been on many retreats.  Montana was far away for most people.  Why would they bother? But as I’d instructed so many to do, I remembered that the inner critic is just a scared child who needs a nap, and I cleared my head and came to my senses:  I had something that the world needed.  And any life-changing service to humanity is worth something in the realm of financial security.  Maybe retreats could be my way to re-invention, to have time to write again, to be exactly who I was…and yes, have it be easy.847

So I opened up my computer (and my heart), and a design for a five day retreat gushed out of me, as if it had indeed been waiting for me, tapping its fingers and toes.  There was the gold!  I mined all the things that made my writing practice work.  There would be guided writing prompts that interrupted the inner critic and invited people to play like children in the themes and stories of their lives.  There would be one-on-one mentoring with me.  The chance to give and receive feedback on projects, at all levels and genres.  There would be delicious nourishing group meals, and opportunities to get out of your head and into your bodies—long walks, yoga, horses—my three lifelines outside of writing that kept it balanced.  There would be time to write in solitude.  And lasting community long after the retreat in various forums and consulting opportunities.  A workshop, retreat, and community all in one.  Heaven.  So I called it something very close:  Haven.  Haven Writing Retreats.

Before my inner critic could wake up from her nap and tell me how delusional I was, I put it on Facebook:  “Anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?”  And in two hours, twenty-four people signed up.

I had no place to hold Haven, no price point, no experience, and no team.  Four months later, I was leading a writing retreat that would soon be ranked in the top three writing retreats in the country.  Four years later, I lead eight retreats a year, have worked with almost four hundred people, and been featured on many radio shows and media venues for this powerful retreat experience that has changed lives over and over again.  It has certainly changed mine.  My life is stable.  My children are thriving.  And in it all, I fell in love with someone who meets me in a way I never knew possible.  I am happy.

It came from asking myself a simple question:  How can I serve the world by being exactly who I am?  By mining what I have to offer?  And offering it in the way only I can?

So…if you are staring down the barrel of a major life shift and the inevitable re-invention that must come from it, why not have your re-invention reflect your deepest truth, and your biggest dreams?  Ask yourself:  What makes me happy?  How do I already show up for it in my life?  How can I share that with the world?  If you do…you just might find your way to a world of happiness…by being exactly who you are.  You might find your Next Happy.

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Haven Retreats Montana 2015 Schedule
September 9-13 (full)
September 23-27 (only a few spaces left)
October 7-11 (full)
October 21-25 (only a few spaces left)

Now Booking for 2016:

February 24-28

June 1-5

June 15-19

 

 

 

 

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Conflict: A Love Story

images

As featured on Huffington Post 50

As some of you know, I’m spending the winter working on a novel I’ve wanted to write for many years.  It’s a love story.  Usually I write the “one woman’s search for _________________” kind of book.  But this time there are two protagonists, a man and a woman, and the story spans over fifty years of their lives.  It’s a made-up jaunt in the fields of abundant love, and who wouldn’t want to play around in those fields?  The bummer is…turns out, a love story is hard to write.  Go figure.  I thought it would be a breeze.

Here’s why:  in the story of every important relationship, real or imagined…there is a conflict.  It’s not about avoiding the conflict, or denying it, or being afraid to meet it head on—it’s about accepting the conflict and learning how to navigate it with all your heart.  That’s not easy when you factor in the origin and foundation of each player’s sense of self, future, safety, risk.  A love story can be blood-sport, and it often is.  It’s how you play the game that matters.  (Not that it’s a game—I’m just using a metaphor.  At least I didn’t use “s***-storm.”)

Most of us do not want to accept this universal truth.  We want our relationships to come easily, without bumps and hiccoughs, never mind gutting pain or bottomless challenges or high-altitude hopelessness.

In fact, you may be one of the people out there who blithely claims that there is no conflict in your relationships.  But I’m not sure I would believe you.  I have a Golden Retriever, known to be one of the most docile, uncomplicated, forgiving, accepting creatures on earth.  And believe me, we are in conflict every single day, and for a large part of it.

It goes something like this:  “No, I can’t pet you—you rolled in deer guts in the woods and you reek and I don’t have time to give you a bath.  Don’t give me those eyes again.  I can’t handle the guilt!  I have a deadline and I’m late to pick up the kids!  And no you can’t come in the car because you rolled in deer guts in the woods!  That’s what you get for being a Montana dog!  Maybe you’d rather live in a three story walk up in lower Manhattan and regularly go to a dog groomer, and enjoy Chinese take-out at the dog park!  I apologize for your 20 acres!  I know—I’m a horrible horrible person.  All you want is a little love.  I love you.  Does that work?  Do you speak English?  Can I write you a love poem instead of touching you right now?  Ugh.  I promise, I’ll get one of the kids to wash you later today.  I just don’t have time right now!  At least I let you in the house with the deer guts all over you!  Can you throw me a bone here?  Ok, that’s twisted.  I know.  Especially when I haven’t given you a bone in a long long time.  It’s probably my fault that you went out foraging for animal bones.  You’re probably lacking in calcium or something.”

And that’s just my relationship with my Golden Retriever.  You should hear my conversations with my teens!

This afternoon it sounded something like:  “I’ll give you five bucks to give the dog a bath.”

“I’ve got homework.”

“I’ve got basketball practice.”

“How about ten?”

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.  Do you want me to show you the C-section scar again???”

“Fine.  I’ll do it for fifteen.  But I’m still mad at you for not teaching me how to do a somersault.”

I offered my best glare.  I should never have taught them how to negotiate so well.  Mother of the Year.

And so the dog, the dog I love, does not get rubbed behind the ears for the better part of the day.  But at least he gets to stay in the house.  (I don’t profess to have the cleanest house.  We choose our battles.)  And the teens, they get their homework done, and the dog gets washed eventually, and we sit at the table on that rare night when everybody’s home and we talk.  What do we talk about usually?  Relationships.  About them being hard.  With teachers, and friends, and family members, and bosses.  That’s the stuff of life:  conflict.  Otherwise there’s no story.  Otherwise we talk about the things you talk about when you’re trying to help your kid not have nightmares.   And strawberry shortcake and fields of daisies only go so far.  Strawberries mold, and daisies wilt, and fields get hit by thunderstorms and blight.

Think about it.  Even jokes have conflict.  They wouldn’t be jokes without them.  Here’s our family favorite:  ”So  there’re two muffins in an oven.  One muffin says to the other:  It sure is hot in here.  And the other muffin says, Wow.  A talking muffin.”  Conflict:  Muffin vs.  Nature.  Muffin vs.  Muffin.   Muffin vs. Itself.

The fun of it all is in Conflict Resolution.  After the dog gets his bath and you are snuggling with him, rubbing him behind the ears and down his back, after the kids forgive you for not teaching them to do a somersault, fifteen dollars richer, after the house is quiet and the I love yous get whispered…that’s when I’m thankful for the love story and its inherent conflicts.

There is an arc to love.  It doesn’t just hatch and bloom and self-groom.  It comes, double-helix sometimes, like the Northern Lights.  But one thing is sure:  it comes.  Maybe not in the way you’d like to write it—as a beautiful, sweeping, epic love story.  Maybe it just wants you to scratch behind its ears.  And take it for a drive with the window down.

…Or maybe you want to love yourself, and give yourself a Haven Retreat!

The next Haven is from April 2-6 at the fab El Ganzo in Los Cabos, Mexico– considered one of the most romantic places in the world.  It all begins with self-love:

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Haven August 2013

portrait

2014 (Now Booking!)

February 26- March 2
June 18-22
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

When this Haven group left, there were tears, new friendships; there was transformation, fierce self-expression, and most of all community.  We need community, especially in our creative pursuits.  I want you to look at these pictures.  I want you to imagine giving yourself your dreams, despite what your inner critic says, or your friends and family for that matter.  Take a stand for what you believe in.  What you want.  What you want to create!  And if that sparks a desire to come to Haven…DO IT FOR YOURSELF!  In the minute of the spark…is the flame.  Come burn.  yrs. Laura

Here’s what a few of my last retreaters wrote about their Haven experience.

Click here  and here and here.

Yes

It could happen any time, tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That’s why we wake and look out–no guarantees in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning, like right now, like noon, like evening.

–William Stafford

(with thanks to Lorrie…and all the  Haven brave and beautiful souls.  Thank you for your enormous YES!)  This is for you.

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Re-charge. Re-purpose. Re-dux.

Feed your creativity in Montana at one of my upcoming Haven Writing Retreats
August 7th-11th (Now Booking)
September 4th-8th (Now Booking)
September 18th-22nd (Now Booking)

love

Retreat in New York City!

I’m sitting in my bed this fine rainy May Sunday morning in Montana, listening to the robins cheer-cheer-cheerio the way they do when their eggs are about to hatch. A loon just did a drive by and let us all know it, on its way from Beaver Lake where they nest, to Spencer Lake where they hang out in the morning. It’s late for the loons. 8:46 am. Usually they are 6:00 on the dot. Maybe Sundays are casual in the way of loons too.

I got back late last night from a week in New York City.
vendorAnd I feel like I just got shot out of a cannon and finally landed in a soft field. I’m going to lie in that field today. Work on my novel. Drink tea. Process. I have a friend who has a big job in NYC and whenever I call him, he answers, “What’s up? I’ve got two seconds. I’m drinking from the fire hose.” Or “Bullet point it, baby. My hair’s on fire.” I’m usually in pjs in my office in Montana, sitting in stone silence but for birds and the sound of mice in the walls, and I try to pretend I can understand what he’s talking about. I want to be that charged and alive and pressured and important and in demand. Well, I tell myself that anyway. For a few minutes, I try it on for size. It would look like this:

Agent: Laura, where’s the novel you’ve been working on for the last year? You gotta keep the momentum up.
Editor: Laura, tick tock. Time’s a-wasting. Your fans are getting antsy.
Social Media guru: Laura, you need to build your Google Plus, chime in at Linkedin, enter the Twittersphere and respond to your mentions, re-tweet, Instagram your weekend, like your friends status updates on Facebook…
Speaking agent– Laura, what’s your brand? You need a brand. What are you an expert in? You gotta be an expert in something if I’m going to book you. I think I can get you on a six city tour but you need a brand.
Mother– Laura, you know television adds another ten pounds onto you. I hear Dr. Oz has a great diet you can upload on the internet.
Children– Mom, the SATs are tomorrow and prom is next week, and I need number two pencils and black strappy sandals.

A back yard in NYC is a bit different than a back yard in Montana!

A back yard in NYC is a bit different than a back yard in Montana!

But that’s not really the portrait of my life these days. Believe me, it was for a few years!  But things have calmed down, thank God.  No one’s really asking me for much. My kids are so suddenly independent, though I still make them their school lunches and foot the big bills. But it’s nothing like it was before when their lives required me as the master puppeteer. My career has momentum and mostly requires me sitting in my quiet Montana office, doing what I love to do, and that’s write. Novels. Personal essays for magazines. The occasional stab at a short story. And leading writing retreats ten minutes down the road. Walking in the woods for exercise. Eating meals with my kids when they’re not in the trenches of social life, sporting events, school functions. After years of hard-core pressure in every facet of my life, I’m now sort of the pilot of my drive-by. And like the loons, I’ve let myself be a little loungy on Sunday mornings. It’s a lot like being pregnant, these days. I’m going slow. In creation mode. I’ve had to. You can’t go like that year after year, drinking from the fire-hose, hair on fire…without paying the consequences. And those consequences mean half-hearted prose, half-hearted mothering, half-hearted life. Unlike most professions, mine is totally self-propelled. I don’t have a boss. I don’t have colleagues that I run into at the water cooler. I don’t have employees that I meet with in board rooms. For the most part, it’s me sitting here asking myself: what can I create? And last week the answer was: a week in New York City.stoop

It grew out of winter duldrums and an online introduction to the work of the author and blogger Aidan Donnelley Rowley. She leads a salon in her Upper West Side home called The Happier Hour where she profiles different authors and invites friends to sit informally in her gorgeous squash blossom yellow living room, indulge in wine and finger food and conversation. When she asked me to be the spotlighted author, I knew I had to go. Because here’s what Aidan is up to: she’s creating community. My community consists of my small town in Montana which, since I hole up and write most of the time, can feel a little lonely. My fault, entirely as there’s so much to do here. But I find that my appetite for social life tends to happen when I’m in travelling mode, not writing mode. I long for a room full of city people who live in the throb of humanity and are quick with opinions, questions, challenges that come from the daily cutting of teeth on asphalt. Asphalt filled with any number of things they see and filter– homeless people, lovers, street performers, street fights, sirens, bike messengers, horse and buggies, cops packing guns, doormen, honking cabs.  ball The human heart is the same everywhere, but city people seem to linger less in the field of lengthy conversation; pause less to look around or to notice the “loon.” If they didn’t, their heads would explode.  They live in a constant drum beat, percussion under their feet, foul smells, exotic aromas, cupcake and macaroon and pizza and bagel and coffee options on every street corner. They need their filters.  It’s survival.  So I was ready to go to NYC and don the filters I usually don which allow me to navigate all that throb.

I’m not very good at filters.  I consider myself a pro-noticer.  I stop and notice stuff all day long.  You don’t get called a rubber-necker in Montana.  For the most part in my life, there’s no one there to notice me noticing, so it’s all good.  It usually takes me about 24 hours to filter out the pro-noticing when I’m in the city.  So for 24 hours, I’m always sort of a wreck, especially when I’m in New York City. But a wreck I cherish and long for every spring when Montana wakes up and me along with it.  And a Broadway show, dinner at fabulous restaurants, jaunts to indie bookstores, and meetings with movers and shakers and publishing world decision makers…it’s all so electric.

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My editor’s office at Penguin

met

The hallowed halls of the Met

But it was funny this last week in New York.  The filters never came.  They were never needed.  I stayed in Montana mode.   I spent a blissful afternoon at the Met with my friend the fantastic artist Nigel Van Wiek, looking at his favorite paintings, strolling through the collection learning about light and color and painter’s plights.
I had meetings with my excellent star of an editor at Putnam, Amy Einhorn, and chatted shop (publishing houses look like a dorm full of English Majors during exam week, in case you were wondering), dropped by Hearst and went up to the 36th floor which in the magazine world means one thing:  O.  (fingers crossed!), met with online bastions like the wonderful crew at Blogher…and on and on.  I stayed at the Mercer Hotel in Soho and held meetings in their lobby  for one solid day.  I met with my friend who is a 9/11 widow and she generously took me to the memorial which I’d been too scared to see.  Blog post about this deeply profound experience to come…and still…I had no filters.  Even then.  I just took it all in.  And my head did not explode.

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Happier Hour

And then there was Aidan’s Happier Hour, which was a night of sharing about the things I care about most in the way of putting heart and mind to craft, and that’s creativity, self-expression, emotional freedom.  These lovely people wanted to TALK about it all, and we had a powerful powerful evening.  Even Jesse Kornbluth, esq.  (Head Butler) thought so.  (phew…)  Aidan’s account of the evening is also glowing.  As my father used to say, “Takes one to know one.”  My final night, I was lying in my hotel room revving up to meet my producer friend who has HUGE energy, and it occurred to me that the only thing missing in my week of NYC re-dux was a Broadway play.  And do you know that with one phone call, she served up two tickets to the glittery fabulousness of Kinky Boots! kinky One stunner after the next.  No filters necessary.

And somehow, I came out alive, with more inspiration than I’ve had in years, (mountain majesty not included).  I was lit up for a week. And now I’m fried. A spent bulb. The kind you shake and hear that little jangle and know it’s done. I’m back home, in my bed, writing, listening to loons, ready for lilac-time, baby robins , and the quiet of my life under the Big Sky. Thank you, New York and all of you generous, spirited souls!!!

aidan

With author/blogger/Happier Hour host Aidan Donnelley Rowley

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Haven Retreats and “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is” have a trip to the city!

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Welcome Spring!

 

 

 

 

2013 Haven Writing Retreats

June 19th-23rd (full– wait list)
August 7th-11th (now booking)
September 4th-8th (now booking)
September 18th-22nd (now booking)

Thank you for my winter haven respite, wherein I gave over These Here Hills to you, worked on a book, and watched from afar while you created community in your blog entries and beautifully rich interactions.  It was a joy to think that community can happen whether or not face to face.  It can be word to word.  Congratulations to Darla Bruno for winning the contest!  She is the recipient of a scholarship to my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana!  I will be back now at These Here Hills and look forward to sharing with you here.

Some people object to social media.  They say it is not a real community.  Well I just recently did an hour live chat with Book Trib and I loved every minute of it.  I might be a talking head on an awkward laptop camera, and I might be alone in my office answering questions typed in from participants, but in this format…there is still community.  Something happens when we make ourselves available to question and answer whether in person or not.  Thank you Book Trib, and to those who participated!  For those of you who didn’t catch it, here you go.

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The Next Big Thing

Wherever you are in your life of self-expression…come to Montana and WRITE!

Last week, my writer friend Susan Pohlman tagged me to participate in the Next Big Thing online event.  Answering questions that might shed a light on the writing life is one of the things that makes my heart sing, so I was happy and honored to participate. The Next Big Thing is a way for authors and bloggers to share the news about their most exciting upcoming projects.  Susan is the author of  the memoir Halfway to Each Other, an inspiring book about how she and her husband saved their marriage when it was in near ruin, by leaving life as they’d known it behind, and creating a new life with their family in Italy.   She blogs here.

So here’s my attempt at answering these questions about my current writing journey:

What is the working title of your book?

I have never been good at naming things, my children included. My publisher chose the title for my memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, which on her part was a stroke of genius, but from my end has gifted me a fairly decent bout with carpal tunnel. In other words, my next book’s title is going to be a four letter word. For now it’s called NAME THIS BOOK:  A Love Story.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I have wanted to write a love story from the beginning, and when I say beginning, I mean fourth grade. But since I have a personal moratorium on writing sunset and sex scenes, it’s been a challenge. Also, people tend to die in my books, and you really can’t compete with Shakespeare in that regard. I’ve written many unpublished and un-submitted novels, and my only published book oddly enough, is a memoir. As much as I love the creative non-fiction voice, my true love is fiction. I think it’s because of the way you can play on the page with story, characters, narrative drive, empathy. I love crawling into characters and situations I haven’t known, and seeing what it’s like to breathe that ozone. And who doesn’t want to breathe a love story? The inherent problem is, however (and there’s always an inherent problem), that in every story there must be a conflict. And so yes…maybe somebody needs to die. We’ll see. I’m on page 348 and I can’t figure out the ending. Right now they’re standing in a labyrinth in Mexico, where they’ve been since early August and my writing retreats began and my writing practice flew out the window for, yes, better ozone.  At least for awhle.  Sometimes it’s nice to give back and not just be this head floating around on the blank page in this dark office in Montana…

What genre does your book fall under?
Literary Fiction.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It’s not finished, but generally, it takes me about six months. And then another year or so to get the final draft. That was before I was a published author, however. Now, with all that is suggested/required cyberly speaking and in other avenues of the career track (speaking, teaching, leading retreats, etc.) I am finding myself out of a practice which has religiously yielded 5-8 pages daily for my entire adult life. In other words, if you were to sit where I sit at this writing, and look over your right shoulder, you’d see a lavender couch with four stacks of paper peeking out from its nether regions. And if you looked closer, you’d see that they are covered in the dirt from a wet, free-range Montana black lab, sprinkled with mouse turds. It’s nothing short of depressing. I try not to look. I keep telling myself that I have a date with winter. But then again, I told myself I had a date with summer too. And fall. Deep sigh. I’m going to place my money on winter being an exceptional lover.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, that’s easy. Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts. Except for someone else I know already got them. So…I dunno. Maybe Edward Norton and Scarlett Johansen. Just not Owen Wilson. Please God. Not Owen Wilson. I don’t know what Woody Allen possibly saw in him.

For what it’s worth, I doubt a production company would take on a movie with over fifty locations… Unless they could make the SAT equation: Italy is to Greece as Turkey is to the South of France and Morocco and Central Park and London and Paris and Nantucket and the San Juan Islands and Big Sur and Montana and southeast Asia and Cumberland Island, Georgia and… Takers?  Steven?  James?  George?  Woody?  OK fine:  Owen?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
My book chronicles two lovers from the ages of fifteen through fifty, from both their points-of-view, as they meet all over the world at critical stages of their lives.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I have a great agent and we have not attempted a book deal prior to completion of the book. I have every confidence that she will kick some New York butt once it’s ready to go and I hope that she’ll land another book deal for me, preferably with my amazing editor at Putnam, the great and powerful Amy Einhorn, esq.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Well, I’m slightly terrified by this because I haven’t read The Notebook, haven’t seen the movie, and wouldn’t want to sign up for either of the above. It’s not my kind of writing. And yet, I was describing my book to my teenaged daughter, and she said, “Mom, it sounds like The Notebook.” I haven’t read a lot of love stories, really. I think I’d call my favorite book, Dalva, a love story. And Legends of the Fall, both by my favorite author, Jim Harrison. I like an edge on a love story. And I think that’s why my characters are stuck in a labyrinth in Mexico…they don’t want to go to the edge and find a parachute. They just want to free fall and I don’t want to go all Thelma and Louise at the end. You kinda can’t top that, you know? I think they need a carrier pigeon or the Wizard of Oz’s hot air balloon or something. Anyone have any ideas? No letter openers or poison ink or cyanide, please. But also…no picnics or on-your-knees confessionals. Can you feel my pain?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
If I told you that, I might end up in the Hudson River in cement boots. Suffice it to say, a girl can dream, can’t she? Suffice it to say that sometimes when real life is delivering you lemons, a novel can be an exceptional lemonade stand and if it’s YOUR lemonade stand…well then you get first licks. And if you’re in your mid-forties, that might involve vodka. Probably not the answer you were looking for.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
In many ways, this book reads like a travel log, and I’ve had fantasies about writing an accompanying travel book. I have kids at home still, so that’s not probably in the cards. But I think the novel could serve as one in and of itself, without totally exploiting the special places in which these characters meet– all near and dear to my heart.

I also think that to follow a plot outside of the mundane travails of a typical life, that finds two people in different times of their life, in different places, in different forms of physical, emotional, and spiritual being…is disorienting enough to trigger an openness to that which exists between life’s general compass…like energy and negative space and quantum leaps and things that you don’t really get a grasp on from the 9 to 5 of regular living. Or something like that. In short, the suspension of time begets the suspension of disbelief. I like being the reader who experiences this, and I like being the writer who creates it.

And now I would like to pass the torch to writers I love and who have inspired me.  We are all sisters in words.  And so it goes.

 

Priscilla Warner co-authored the NYT bestseller The Faith Club, then toured the country for three years, speaking to interfaith groups from Boise to Boston. In the skies above Oklahoma, she read about Tibetan monks who meditated so effectively that neuroscientists were studying their brains, and vowed to find her inner monk. Learning to Breathe – My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life became an instant bestseller after Priscilla’s appearance on The Today Show. She’s written for MORE Magazine, Huffington Post and Psychology Today and is currently working on a memoir about her mother, making jewelry and blogging/bragging about her new puppy at PriscillaWarnerBooks.com
Links: The Faith Club  Learning to Breathe  Today Show  Priscilla Warner Books 

Beverly Willett had her life reinvented for her ten years ago when her husband of 20 years walked out and served her with divorce papers. One day she was a happy, ex-NYC-entertainment attorney turned stay-at-home mom; the next she found herself in divorce court battling to save her family. After her unwanted divorce was final, she wanted to let other families know about the pitfalls of divorce.  Nora Ephron at Huffington Post Divorce asked her to write for their launch, and her blogs there and at The Daily Beast and Salon began to go virile. Last year, she partnered to form a volunteer divorce reform organization called the Coalition for Divorce Reform. Beverly is represented by The Bent Agency and is at work on a memoir, blogging for HuffPost, the CDR and her own blog, and has some other projects up her sleeve.

Katherine Jenkins is the author of Lessons from the Monk I Married, about her 15-year journey with her husband, a former Korean Buddhist monk. Her book received great reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Beliefnet, Wisdom a la Carte, Lonely Planet Travel Guides, and Shambhala Sun, which called it “…travel writing at its best.” The book is part memoir, part spiritual guide, part travelogue and was nominated for a Pacific Northwest Book Award. Katherine also blogs daily lessons and tidbits about life at http://www.lessonsfromthemonkimarried.blogspot.com She lives in Seattle with her husband Yoon, a popular yoga teacher and owner of Yoon’s Yoga Bliss in the Seattle area. Katherine and Yoon have conducted yoga/writing retreats nationally and internationally. Their next retreat will be in Kona, Hawaii, March 20-26. Limited space is available, so please e-mail info@yoonsyogabliss.com to inquire about this retreat and to secure your spot.

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Fifty Shades of Grey– My Two Cents

As featured on Huff/Post 50

So—zeitgeist being the social tattle-tale that it is, I admit that I recently succumbed to the book phenomenon of, yes…50 Shades of Grey.  I’m fascinated by the collective We and what We want to read.  I once wrote an essay that I never dreamed would get published, and the darn thing went viral and landed me a book deal.  I’ve wondered over and over just why that was.  Because if I could bottle the reason, I might be able to pay for my kids’ college educations.  Not that I’m holding my breath.

On the off chance that you haven’t heard of these books, they would be considered, for lack of a better term…well, smut.  Or as it says on the back of the books, “Erotic Romance/Mature Audience.” Not that there’s anything ultimately wrong with smut.  I just am captivated by the fact that so many many people are so unabashedly hungry for these books.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them were on Michelle Obama’s nightstand.  I have not been captivated enough however to succumb to their charms…until recently.

I don’t usually read smut.  The closest I’ve gotten is Anais Nin in college and maybe a Danielle Steele or two way back when.  In fact, I’m never reading what Everybody Else is reading and maybe that’s on purpose.  I didn’t even read the HARRY POTTER series, never mind anything with a vampire in it.  I read stuff that has my teenager roll her eyes:  poetry and s***.  Not that this makes me better or worse or anything other than just busy and a sucker for poetry and s***.

HOWEVER, a friend recently sent me the 50 Shades trilogy as more or less, a challenge—a dare to be part of the living breathing collective We.  And given this captivation, I decided to take her up on it.  I’ve spent the last month reading these books with disgust and fascination, watching my literary IQ plummet.  Why are these books catapulting like little innocent darlin’s into our mainstream?  Why was the flight attendant on my last plane perfectly content to be reading Book One from her command in the jump seat, full frontal— nary a book cover?  Remember Fear of Flying?  I read that book with brown paper carefully cut and taped around its cover.  Have we no shame these days?  I guess that’s the point, right.  To not have shame.  But seriously…this book is everywhere.  I mean, come on!  Number one, two, and three on the New York Times bestseller list?  Why?  WHY?  As a book author, and as a woman, I had to investigate.

At first I was tempted to scour every last article about it on the internet, but instead, I thought I’d go straight to the source.  From the ladies locker room to the baseball stands, from grocery lines to airport gates…I’ve asked woman after woman what she thinks about this book’s explosion into mainstream America.  And most of them had the same thing to say.

I’ll try to streamline it here:  People want to know that they’re not alone.  I think that’s why we read books.  In the case of 50 Shades, I really don’t think people are going crazy for it because of the sex.  And there’s a lot of it.  (I actually ended up skimming the sex scenes they were so ubiquitous.)  It seems that one of the primary places women in our culture feel alone is in their feminism. This threw me for a loop!  Who knew?  I hadn’t really thought about this before.  According to my research, somewhere along the way, once we got the vote and equality in the work place (though some would say we still have a long way to go in this arena), sexual liberation, and physical rights to our bodies etc…we got stuck.  Stuck in anger.

Anger is good.  It moves mountains.  But being angry at the fact that now we can and do “do it all” in so many cases…feels like a double standard.  And we don’t like that at all.  Take chivalry for instance—we’re supposed to be offended by it.  But are many if not most of us privately wanting chivalry and not feeling like we should admit it?  Hmmm?  Guilty as charged.  How’s that working for us?  Is it?  Do we really hate having the door opened for us, ala 50 Shades’ male character, mega-millionaire Christian Grey?  Do we really despise being seated at a table?  Doted on.  Protected. I don’t know about you, but I love those things.  I feel thought of, respected, and dare I admit: taken care of.  That’s the dirty secret and perhaps part of our anger and I think the baseline reason for the mania around 50 Shades.  When it really comes down to it…what woman doesn’t want to be taken care of?  I can’t speak for men, so I won’t try, and besides, I doubt many of them are reading these books.

I think that E.L. James had a pretty major trick up her sleeve in conceiving these books.  Maybe more so than she thinks, though I haven’t seen her interviewed.  She takes us so far out of our normal realm (that is, if you aren’t into BDSM– Bondage, Dominance, Sadism Masochism), that we can see with new post-feminist eyes that, heck—what’s wrong with our partners providing us a personal trainer to stay fit, a personal chef who cooks us healthy food and makes sure we eat it, beautiful couture clothes, and a great job?  A house we love.  Seriously?  Bring it.

But what drives the reader and the plot, in my opinion and in the running poll I have recently taken, is the dark side of the story which has to do with the “punishment” facet of Grey’s sexual tastes.  The question of pleasure and pain somehow having something to do with each other is new for most people.  I frankly just don’t get that piece and I don’t really want to do THAT research. So I’ll leave it to the therapists out there.  But what I saw in this trilogy was a strong, smart, (even though her vocabulary was appalling—there should be a drinking game called “Oh my”) woman who refuses to stray from her values, even and especially with the pressure of a wildly attractive, successful, powerful man who wants to be her Dominant.  As the book progresses, and a surprise love for each other blooms, she (Anastasia) becomes curious about the dark side of Christian’s past and his sexuality.  And while he agrees to refrain from his usual sexual practices, Ana agrees to let him hit her out of curiosity, but more to see the extent of this man’s darkness.

In the middle of the act, when it becomes too much for her, she fails to keep up her end of the bargain and tell him to stop.  Horrified and understandably so, she leaves and he comes undone because that’s the deal—there are Safe words in BDSM for a reason.  He sees it as a breach of trust.  And this is what is fascinating to me in such a twisted way:  Christian sees the punishment component of what he does in his sexual “playroom” as a way to push limits to, in the end, find…yep, trust.  ???

I can’t imagine letting or even wanting someone to cause me physical pain.  And I certainly can’t imagine that it would somehow bring me to a place of trust.  But then again I have no research in this department.  It’s a gamethat I won’t be playing.  It does however, have me (and millions of readers) wondering about our limits in general, and especially trust in intimacy.  As I was telling my teenaged daughter, any sexual act requires a lot of trust and vulnerability.  And it can be scary to be so trusting because we know damn well that we very easily could get burned.  E. L. James has us looking at trust in a whole new light which gives us new eyes.  With half the marriages out there failing, you can bet that the lack of or loss of trust weighs in somewhere at the top of the list of reasons why.  And what’s interesting about this section of the trilogy is that Ana did not trust herself to know her limits.  A tough pill to swallow when you consider yourself a smart, strong, feminist– which is how her character is packaged.  We’re mad at her just like we’d be mad at ourselves.  As much as we want to hate Christian for hurting her, it’s ultimately something she signed up for and a game she didn’t play well.  Confounding isn’t it.  A double bind.  And so we read on…

Given all this, it’s no small surprise that I spent the first book with my arms crossed, “rolling my eyes,” but as I moved into the second one, I began to see that the protagonist, though she doesn’t ultimately succumb to being a Submissive, was really the one in charge all along.  And what drives her is her deep love and curiosity about this man and his dark past.  She enters into a war with herself.  And what she comes to find is that the more she is “herself” with Christian, the more he sheds his anger and brokenness, and can step into authentic love.  It would look from the outside that he is rescuing her, but really it’s the other way around.

Do I believe in their love?  Yes.  I do.  I won’t give the ending away, but I can say that the mother in me wanted it to end in marital family bliss.  The feminist in me (and maybe the angry feminist in me) wanted it to end similar to my favorite scene in the book:  where Grey drops to his knees in submission in a crazed moment—the love of his life leaving him, so used to control, so knowing that his usual behavior is not going to work with Ana, wanting her beyond any feeling he’s ever known and having no ability to buy his way into getting her…seeing no other choice but to relinquish all control and drop to his knees.  Oh my…that was one powerful scene.  In other words, part of me wanted the third book to end with Ana as the Dominant, holding a riding crop in her hand.

One more note:  for all its “f***ery” it wasn’t really that gory.  I was expecting gerbils and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo craziness.  It was way more “vanilla” than you’d expect, given the way the author sets us up.  And that too drives the reader to endure its scary-bad writing.  Yes, scary-bad.  We’re just plain curious about the whole “playroom” and this darker side of sex. That’s right– even you, Peoria.  Even you.  You told me so in the grocery line.

In the end, it really was a love story.  And it really didn’t promise to be one.  I liked that about it.  And something tells me that…this is not the end.  Will I read Book Four?  Will I see the movie?  Heck.  I just might.  I believe that when a person is that dark and that damaged, it can and usually does come back to haunt them.

Now it’s back to poetry and s***.  It might take Keats to undo the done damage to my literary IQ.

 

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Montana Writing Retreat Registration is Open!

 

Glacier National Park

Montana Writing Retreat

 

With New York Times and international
best-selling author…
Laura Munson

September 26-30, 2012 (sold out)

September 19-23 2012 (still some spots left…)

I will be leading regular retreats in Montana in 2013, however at a higher cost, so this is a special offer.  I have a lot of interested people and so if you want to come, act fast!

I have called Whitefish, Montana home for twenty years.  I have written books here, mothered here, and wandered around in this deep wilderness on foot, horse, skis, kayak, canoe, river-raft, dogsled etc.  Montana has been my best teacher, especially for my writing, and I want to share it with you.  Like no other place I’ve been, Montana gets under your skin and stays there even when you are far away.  Its terrain, sometimes rugged and daunting, sometimes soft and beckoning, sometimes just plain heartbreaking…is that of the written word. 

What We Will Do:

Days:

We will spend three days in intensive small group sessions exploring craft and voice through various writing exercises, one-on-one workshop sessions with Laura, and private writing time.  There will also be opportunities to do yoga, go on guided silent meditation walks on the gorgeous 400 + acres of the Walking Lightly Ranch, and take equine therapy classes nearby.

Evenings:

Evenings will include student and instructor readings, visits from guest writers to share about the writing life, and fantastic meals overlooking the beauty of the woods of Montana.

Food:  All food is vegan, largely grown on property or locally grown, and lovingly prepared on-site by skilled chefs.  *We can accommodate special dietary needs.  And yes, coffee and wine are permitted (favorite question so far) !

Accommodations:  Each person will have a private room in the main lodge or in the guest lodge.  Each has a private full bathroom.

Cost:  The cost is $1,800 which will cover the conference, three daily meals including dinner on the night of arrival and breakfast on the day of departure, rooms, and sponsored evening wine hour.  This price does not include transportation.  

Application:  My retreats are limited to ten participants to ensure proper attention to your work, and are open to all ranges of writers, whether you are in the process of writing a book, have a book idea, or just love to write and want to explore self-expression on the page.  I do have an informal application process which helps to set your intention about why you want to join me on the retreat, and helps me to know what you hope to gain from it.  Simply send a statement of purpose, as well as a writing sample (no longer than 1200 words) to laura@lauramunsonauthor.com.  In your statement of purpose, please tell me about your goals for this workshop and for your writing life, and provide me with any other information about yourself that you feel is important.

Where We Are Located: 

Set in the northwest corner of Montana, The Flathead Valley, is my favorite part of the state– with Glacier National Park just 20 miles away, the 30 mile long mountain-flanked Flathead Lake at its base, and our Whitefish ski
resort at its top.  This is the still-pristine land of lakes, rivers, foothills and Rocky Mountains, charming little towns, and most important:  open space.  I know of no place like it left in the lower 48.  You might want to consider coming early and/or staying after the retreat to experience the magnificent Flathead Valley and explore.

The Walking Lightly Ranch is a ten minute drive from Whitefish, set deep in the woods on a lovely lake, with an organic garden, gorgeous yoga pavilion, and walking paths throughout.  It is a place of serenity and inspiration truly unique in our busy world.

Getting Here:  Flights: Delta, United, Alaska, American, and Allegiant go in and out of Glacier International Airport in Kalispell, with non-stops from San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Las Vegas, and
Minneapolis.  You might find cheaper flights in and out of Missoula (2 1/2 hour drive), Spokane (4 hr. drive), or Calgary (5 hr. drive).  Rental cars are available at the airport.  Taxis run $40.00 each way to the ranch.  Train:
Amtrak goes in and out of Whitefish.

For more information about my writing and my retreats, go to my website.    

Montana and I await your spirit and words…          

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