UPDATE 6/12/13: Laura is booking her Haven Writing Retreats for the rest of 2013. Check them out if you are looking to enhance your writing skills in an inspiring Montana setting.
UPDATE 9/11/12: Laura’s Events on her Website: Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana from 9/19-23 and 9/26-30
By Stacey Gualandi/June 22, 2011
Author Laura Munson never thought she would be called a revolutionary. But her first book, “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness,” sparked such a reaction from readers, she is still feeling the love over a year later.
“Never did I think I’d star as the main character in my first book.” Laura
This Montana-based writer’s overnight success was actually 20 years in the making. Her essay in the “Modern Love” New York Times column about what happened when her husband told her he didn’t love her anymore, touched such a nerve, her story went viral, which led to this best selling book. The paperback version has just been released.
When it comes to marital distress, Munson is an unlikely role model. Instead of reacting, or over-reacting, Munson chose not to take it personally. I had the good fortune to meet Laura recently in Los Angeles at the More Magazine Reinvention Convention. I wanted to find out how she discovered true happiness and ultimately kept her marriage intact…
EYE: You have been writing for 20 years, but found success writing a memoir, not a fictional novel. I guess we do have to accept what we can’t control right?
LAURA: Yes! I have been writing for many years and have completed 14 unpublished novels. They are not all good mind you. Never did I think I would star as the main character in my first published book. It’s a dream come true.
My author statement is: “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others,” so if I have to be the main character every so often, then so be it! The book is being published in eight different countries, so imagine hearing from people in Germany.
I heard from a blind woman in Israel this morning. She never married but she said my book helped her get through the greatest loss of her life: the death of her seeing-eye dog to cancer. That is mission accomplished. Universal messages leap over cultures and oceans.
LAURA: After 15 years of happily being married, my husband came to me one day and said: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out.” Nobody wants to hear those words.
I had been working with rejection for so many years in the publishing industry and I had been doing the work for several years to not take things personally – even when they’re meant personally – and taking responsibility for my own happiness.
So rather than engaging in the drama of this – and you can bet my inner critic wanted me to rage and cry and issue ultimatums – I really knew there was nothing there for me if I engaged in the drama and felt this was a crisis of his own self brought on by career failure.
EYE: How did you meet your husband?
LAURA: We met in our golden 20’s and little by little some of our dreams didn’t come true. I think it’s a lethal equation when you base your happiness on your career success. It’s good when it’s good, but when its not, you have to stand on your own two feet.
Happiness is a choice. It comes from within. So what I said to him in that moment, and rather than raging, I said “I don’t buy it. What can we do to give you the distance you need without taking down all that we have created…two children, horses, land in Montana, a farmhouse we built?”
He could have said “nothing” or “I’m outta here.” But he didn’t. So there began the season of unlikely happiness that is depicted in my book.
“A lightbulb went off and I said what can I control?“
EYE: How did you know how to react the way you did when you heard him say those horrible words?
LAURA: I had been dealing with so much rejection for so many years I realized I was in a miserable place. I was defining my personal happiness on something that was completely out of my control. I realized that was insanity. That is not the way to live your life.
A light bulb went off and I said what can I control? And I’ve got to let go of this. Focus on the work at hand. That’s the same reaction I had to my husband’s words…this is rejection. But in my gut, I felt he was having the same sort of crisis that I had had.
EYE: What crisis had you gone through?
LAURA: Two years before this happened – which was three summers ago – there was a perfect storm of bad things. A very promising publishing deal fell apart and then my dad, who was the greatest advocate in my life, died suddenly, and then our dear dog was mistaken for a bear and shot.
It was a confluence of pain. I just found myself in a puddle. I was miserable. I needed to change my relationship to pain. Life is painful. I had to stop basing my happiness on things that were out of my control.
So I hired a therapist and started being in the present moment, to surrender, I found empowerment and started doing that work. So I was well primed to respond the way that I did when my husband said those words that no one wants to hear.
“I believed in us and I truly loved this man.”
EYE: What if your husband wasn’t going through a crisis of self? What if you were wrong?
LAURA: I love him and know him. We have been together since 1988 and I deeply believed this was a crisis of self brought on by career failure after years of career success. It was the same as what I had gone through.
I had rules and a time line. I wasn’t going to put up with that forever. I gave myself six months. Of course I was wondering if he had an affair. He said no. I chose to believe him. I was not about clinging to my marriage. Some people really missed the message and thought this American woman won’t let her husband divorce her. I didn’t handcuff him to my horse trailer.
I believed in us and I truly loved this man. But this was not about clinging to the outcome of my marriage. This was about letting go. This is not a strategy about how to hold onto your man. This is really my journey to take care of myself no matter what is going on.
LAURA: There was a water skiing mishap and I screwed up with the ropes. My husband, who is normally a kind-hearted family man, my best friend, said to me: “Sometimes you are so incompetent.”
He wanted to escalate the drama; he wanted to fight because that was a distraction from his true feelings. So I simply replied “ouch.” I got to clearly and cleanly share my emotion, and I didn’t lose anything.
EYE: When did you know he was healing?
LAURA: I started seeing a change in him when his sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He went to help her with a clinical trial and when he came back, he was different. He got to see what really matters. It’s not your job. It’s who you love and having your health. I started noticing him fixing door knobs and screen porch doors…
EYE: Does he hire out?
EYE: Throughout this process you also learned to deal with your inner critic. We all have that little voice telling us negative things. You actually named yours….
LAURA: I was unaware of her for so long. She was really mean. She was a character I was letting in my head and so I decided to name her “Sheila.” She was so loud that summer, but I realized she was a scared little girl that I created and she tells me all kinds of lies about where my true power is. She’s gotten a lot more quiet lately…except when I go bathing suit shopping. Haha!!
“I wrote that essay and my book to be true to my author’s statement.”
EYE: Your essay for the Modern Love column in the New York Times, and had enormous, instantaneous feedback…what did you make of that?
LAURA: If I had sat down and said “hmmm… what can I write that will go viral all over the world and get me a great publishing deal, published in many languages? Maybe I should write about my marital crisis,” I would have laughed myself out of my office.
I wrote that essay and my book to be true to my author’s statement. I needed to provide relief to myself and to other people and thought I had a different spin on what society tells us we should do when we get rejected by our spouse.
EYE: What do you make of the book’s success and where you are at today?
LAURA: If this had happened in my 20’s or 30’s, I would be such a deer in the headlights. I said to my publishers, I am so ready for this, this feels so easy and natural. When that happens, you know it’s the right thing.
I’m proud of my husband and how he’s rejoined our relationship as an equal and loving partner. And as a writer, it’s wonderful to have that trajectory met. It’s a thrill! I did tell my husband please no sequel!! If I write another memoir its not going to be about a marital crisis!
“Breakdowns happen in relationships all the time…it’s a matter of when and how you handle it.”
EYE: Would your husband ever write about this?
LAURA: He’s not a writer. I’m a writer, that’s what I do. But if you write with compassion and do it responsibly, you can write about anything. He’s proud of this book. He gets fan mail. He doesn’t feel vilified in this book. He feels like a sympathetic character.
People say all kinds of things when they’re in crisis. And they behave in all sorts of ways. I’m not saying that they’re justified, but I am saying that our reaction to them is our choice. EMOTIONALLY speaking, of course. Physical pain is an entirely different subject.
It’s true that emotional pain is real. And I’m saying that we have a choice over our emotions. In this case, I want to choose powerfully. Breakdowns happen in relationships all the time. It’s a matter of when and how you handle it.
LAURA: They know this isn’t an age-appropriate book and so they haven’t read it. But I do think they know this is helping people and they are applying the principles: we don’t have to turn crisis into our undoing and that happiness and emotions are our choice.
And while they know Mommy is happy she got published, they know this isn’t where the happiness exists. It’s got to start on the inside.
EYE: Do you think your book will be made into a movie?
LAURA: I have a film agent and producers are now looking at it. Fingers crossed! I would love to see it made into a movie. Somebody who wants to make it would totally get it.
I really believe in the power of my book’s message and true to my author’s statement, I want it to help people. I’m honored to be a messenger in this regard.
EYE: Who would play you in the movie?
LAURA: Oh, I don’t know!!! Julianne Moore…. Laura Linney….haha!
“Happiness is really a choice…we can actually be in charge of who we are emotionally.”
EYE: So what is your book’s ultimate message?
LAURA: Happiness really is a choice. If we want to freak out that’s a choice too. There are times to freak out, but I would like to powerfully choose it when I do, so that we are not victims of ourselves.
That we can actually be in charge of who we are emotionally, and that’s good news no matter what’s going on in your life!!
EYE: You do writers’ retreats in your beautiful woods of Montana. Tell me about them.
LAURA: I designed a retreat I wanted to attend. Daily, I lead women through powerful exercises which help free the muse, nimble the mind, move energy and all the old stories we’ve told ourselves. I’m on fire to help people find the freedom of their self-expression.
EYE: Laura, that sounds like a wonderful experience for our readers to keep in mind! Keep spreading your wonderful insight. And be sure to let us know about your next book and that movie deal!!!