I first met former Lake Forester Laura Munson more than 10 years ago, just after she had burst on to the literary stage with an essay she wrote for the “Modern Love” column of The New York Times called “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.” And today, March 3, Laura is unveiling her first novel, Willa’s Grove.
“It’s still kind of funny to me that people know me for my non-fiction,” says Laura, referring to the the memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is…A Season of Unlikely Happiness that evolved from her New York Times piece. “Fiction is my real love where I don’t have to be the main character and can distill reality.”
Laura found her inspiration for her debut novel Willa’s Grove from her sell-out “Haven” writing retreats that she hosts several times each year in her happy place of Whitefish, Montana. At Haven, attendees have the chance to write and publish books, or simply seek a deeper level of authentic self-expression.
“It’s just magic,” says Laura of a typical day at Haven. “I think it has something to do with what people are going through in their daily lives and bring to the retreat. People are bridging to our Haven community so they can bridge back to their own when they get home.”
Laura takes this idea of community as the launching point for Willa’s Grove, where three women, from coast to coast and in between, open their mailboxes to the same intriguing invitation. Although leading entirely different lives, each has found herself at a similar, jarring crossroads. Right when these women thought they’d be comfortably settling into middle age, their carefully curated futures have turned out to be dead ends.
The sender of the invitation is Willa Silvester, who is reeling from the untimely death of her beloved husband and the reality that she must say goodbye to the small mountain town they founded together. Yet as Willa mourns her losses, an impossible question keeps staring her in the face: So now what?
Struggling to find the answer alone, fiercely independent Willa eventually calls a childhood friend who happens to be in her own world of hurt—and that’s where the idea sparks. They decide to host a weeklong interlude from life, and invite two other friends facing their own quandaries. Soon the four women converge at Willa’s Montana homestead, a place where they can learn from nature and one another as they contemplate their second acts together in the rugged wilderness of big sky country.
“I’ve lived with these women in my head the last several years. There’s something relatable about each of them. My hope for this book is to help women who are having conversations that start with ‘So now what?’,” says Laura. “Women don’t often create space for this type of dialogue and I think it’s so important that they do.”
Laura is now on a nationwide book tour for Willa’s Grove and will be coming to the North Shore on Tuesday, March 10 from 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. at the Book Stall in Winnetka for a conversation with Val Haller and on Wednesday, March 11 from 10:30 a.m. 11:30 a.m. at The Lillard Science Center at Lake Forest College in collaboration with Lake Forest Book Store.