Q&A with Laura Munson, a Modern Love success story

If you’ve ever thought about giving up as a writer, this Q&A is for you. Laura Munson wrote 14 books over the last 20 years, while juggling responsibilities as a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. But not one of those books was published — until now.

Laura Munson

Laura’s a Modern Love success story. Her book, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, garnered interest from publishers after her piece ran in The New York Times’ Modern Love column. I’m slightly obsessed with Modern Love, which is why Laura caught my eye. The column features short, narrative nonfiction by a different writer each week, and those who are lucky enough to get a byline often end up with a book deal.

Laura lives in northwest Montana. You can find her at her website (I love its look), on Twitter and on Facebook (fabulous interactive page).

Welcome, Laura! Tell us about your book. Why should we read it? What sets your memoir apart from others on bookstore shelves?

My book is called This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Though a marital crisis is the entry point, true to its title, it’s not an angry, victim-stanced rant. Rather, it’s a book about empowerment. It’s about being responsible for your own well-being, even and especially when you’re in crisis. You don’t have to be married to relate to this book. It’s about a person’s commitment to end her suffering and you can plug that into any or no religion, and any relationship, namely your relationship with yourself.

What writing experience did you have before Modern Love picked up your column?

I’ve been writing for 20 years, and have completed 14 unpublished books. My short work has been published in literary reviews and regional magazines prior to my Modern Love piece. Since then, I’ve been published in The New York Times Magazine, O. Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Week, and The Huffington Post.

What prompted you to write the column for Modern Love? Did you know when you submitted it that writers who are published there often land book deals?

It’s really important in this economy and in the current publishing world for an unknown author to have a platform. I didn’t have one and my books were falling through the cracks even though a few of them almost went all the way. My agent, with whom I’d been signed for several years, told me about Modern Love and that it was a great platform for writers. I’d submitted to ML before, but gotten rejected. While I wrote This Is Not The Story You Think It Is in real time and felt it was ready to submit to editors, my agent felt that this might be a great platform for my work, so I decided to write the short version of my memoir, and send it in to ML. I heard back immediately that they wanted it, it was published a month later, the comments crashed the New York Times website, that Monday my agent sent the book out to editors who had liked my work in the past, and two days later I had a publishing deal. It was a total shock. I never dreamed there was such a need for the message of empowerment in the context of marriage.

You’ve got a great Facebook page, Twitter feed and website. Were you always into social media? Or did you pick it up to publicize the book? Do you have advice on this front for other authors looking to promote their work?

I’ve always been a social person and an extrovert. Not all writers are. Social media comes naturally to me, and while I think it’s so amazing that writers can reach their readers without publishers these days, it can be very distracting. It’s so important for writers to structure their time, and if you don’t already have a strong work ethic or if you get easily distracted, then social media could be a downfall. Luckily I had my writing life in place long before social media existed, so for me it’s a great way to feel connected, especially living in a remote area of the country. It’s also a great marketing tool, but more than anything, I think it’s about connecting and generosity. I’ve made some great friends online.

A reader wrote on your Facebook page, “I cannot believe you messaged me back.” Do you get a lot of e-mails, Facebook comments and tweets from readers? Do you try to respond to them all? How much do you think this helps the sales of your books?

I respond to every comment I get, whether it’s on my blog, or an email from my website, Twitter, my two Facebook Pages, or Shewrites. I do it because I write to help people, and I care about the collective We. I learn a lot from my readers! I’m not sure if it sells books, but I’m not a door to door saleswoman. I’m a person who wants to share and help and learn.

One of the lines in a video (scroll down) I found of you online is “Happiness is a choice.” What does this mean?

I think suffering is so prevalent in our life that it becomes our normal. We don’t even see where we are in pain, and I got sick of that sort of victim’s stance. I got clear about where I was suffering, and started to change my relationship with pain.  I started to use painful experiences. Let them move through me. And in that, I found tremendous freedom. When we are being responsible for our own well-being, or “happiness” if you will, then we are living in emotional freedom. That’s what I’m interested in. I’m not saying repress your emotions. I’m saying feel them all, but don’t become victim to them.

How much interest do you get for Skype interviews with book clubs? Is this something you’d recommend to other authors?

The Skype option is new on my website, so I haven’t really had a chance to see how it will evolve, but I think it’s a great way for book groups to have live chats with authors of the books they’re reading. I love talking to book groups in my travels. It’s so intimate and a great place to be vulnerable and hopefully safe. And Skype allows this to happen without leaving home.

What’s next for you? Will you try to publish one of the novels you’ve already written?

I’d love to have one of my novels published. I just started a new one and have three or four good ones, so we’ll see. Novel writing is the craft I’ve been working on for 20 years, so I’d love to see that voice published. Memoir is quite different. While it’s still crafted and architectural, it’s a different voice. More like one you would use to speak with a friend. I think there’s a time and place for both.

Thanks, Laura!

Laura has agreed to swing by the blog to answer questions, so if you’ve got any, leave them in the comments!

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14 Responses

  1. i loved both Laura’s Modern Love column and her memoir. She is definitely an inspiration. Thank you, Alexis, for featuring her here!

  2. Hey, thanks, Lindsey. You are a loyal fan and it means a lot. yrs. Laura

  3. Thanks, Alexis, for including me here on your great blog and good for you for reinventing yourself! This was a pleasure. yrs. Laura

  4. As a writer, wife & mother, I am captivated by Laura’s story. Both her journey to publication and her book, which I just finished (almost in one sitting)! Really powerful, honest, and surprisingly uplifting stuff.

    Laura, you do touch on this in your book, but I was wondering how you negotiate with your husband what’s OK to make public and what’s not? I am an avid blogger and essayist, and my husband often gets uncomfortable and even upset if I write about him. But I feel like it’s a disservice to readers NOT to discuss some of the more difficult parts of marriage.

    • Hi, Abby– it’s my bday today so I’m just now getting to my desk. Thanks for your question. I think that you can write about anything that you need to write about as long as you do it with compassion and empathy and vulnerability. And gratitude. When you throw anger and resentment into the mix, that’s when things can get ugly. My husband doesn’t feel like a villian in the book. He feels like a sympathetic character and many have thanked him for being willing to be depicted as a person in crisis. So I guess I consider this a case in point. Write what you must. Do it with compassion. Let go of the rest. But yes, writing memoir is tricky terrain. I much prefer fiction. Still…if it helps people, then it’s all worthwhile. There is always the question of personal responsibility. Hope this helps. yrs. Laura

  5. Great interview!

  6. One thing that really stood out to me in this interview is your focus on helping people through your writing. Do you keep this in mind as you’re actually composing, or is this something that becomes important once a piece is completed? I ask because I wondered if focusing on others during the creative process is distracting &/or empowering for you. Also, is helping others as important to you in your novels?

    • That is a great question. I’ve never thought about it from this angle, My Author’s Statement is: “I write to provide relief for myself and others” so that is in my heart and my intention when I sit down to write. However, it all fades away once I’m actually writing. Then I’m just in this sort of trance. Fiction is quite different from memoir. But they’re both about the emaptheitc journey and so the way to help people, in my opinion, is to be as honest and true and real as possible. But I agree, if you are considering your reader AS you write, it will come off inauthentic. yrs. Laura

  7. Thanks for your response, Laura, and Happy Birthday!

  8. I agree that you depicted your husband as a sympathetic character but in some scenes you didn’t mince words about the impact of his behavior on you and the kids. It must be hard to decide what to say and not say.

  9. Hi, Susan. It was indeed hard to know what was important to the story and my own process, and where to draw the line. I had rules for myself, and I feel that I kept them. But I look forward to getting back to fiction because I really don’t want to get anywhere near to hurting anybody with my pen, as it were. And I don’t like writing about real people as much as fictional characters. yrs. Laura

  10. Terrific interview and glad to know that Modern Love is still going strong and helping people to get launched :) Happy Birthday to Laura!

  11. Alexis — I love the Modern Love column. I read it and the Vows story first when I open the Sunday NYTimes, and I didn’t realize it had led to so many book deals.

    Thanks to both of you for this interesting post!

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