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With that in mind, read on!

Montana Women Writers 009

Back row, L to R: Christine Carbo, Patti Dean, Marie Martin, Ann Minnett, Jeannie Tallman, Anne B. Howard, and Constance See

Front row: Gail Ranstrom, Kathy Dunnehoff, P.A. Moore, Marlette Bess, Leslie Budewitz, Nan McKenzie, and Betty Kuffel

Camera shy: Deborah Epperson, Angela Miller, Ina Albert, Karen Wills, and Lise McClendon

What If?

By Claudette Young

Okay, let’s face it. Every story, novel, poem, article begins its birthing process with those two words—what if.

What’s so special about two little words? Well, just say them out loud and then ponder them for a moment. If, when you say them, you have nothing specific in mind, you might find yourself scratching around in the loam of your mind’s depths and answer yourself with a new idea for a piece of writing.

Or, you might stumble onto a question you meant to answer sometime in the past and hadn’t yet done so. Better still, you could trip over a branch of thought leading to an answer never anticipated.

For instance, you want to do an article—say, an investigative piece. Nothing deep or momentous, really. Just something speculative. What if John F. Kennedy had survived the assassination attempt in Dallas? Next question—how would this country have changed? Take one aspect only—the space race, for instance. You could get acres of speculative material because you used two simple words. A book, a movie, who knows what.

Every SF/F writer worth her/his authorship owes a ton of credit to those words. Neither genre would have ever been created without them. Alternative historical fiction is the same way. It wouldn’t exist.

But then, investigative reporting and journalism in general wouldn’t have expanded either. Poets wouldn’t imagine themselves out among the stars. Songwriters would have been left adrift in a sea of perpetual schmaltz in lieu of originality and depth.

This inspiration, however, activates more than a storyline or musical score. It stimulates the writer. What if you took that story idea that just would not work, regardless of your attempts to shove it into compliance and applied it instead to a different time zone. For instance, that story you placed in the present and it just won’t work. What if you turned it around? Made it about the man as the protagonist and the woman as the villain? Or, better yet, do that and place the story’s timeline into WWII and he’s a 4-F non-combatant? Maybe that would give you more grit, more meat and tons of possibilities.

Then again, did you ask yourself “What if …” at the beginning of your war with words. What if I’m no good at writing? What if no one likes what I write?

I doubt seriously if any writer began without asking those same questions. Did you follow them up with “But what if I’m good? What if I have a knack for this thing called writing?”

Questions beginning with “What if” can be negative or positive. They are always worth asking, though. Discovery cannot happen without them.

It’s up to you to determine the question’s answer.  Best-selling author Holly Lisle teaches this major lesson. When you’ve taken your main character to what you believe is her final straw, ask yourself, “what’s the worst possible outcome of this situation for the character?” Think on that answer and then ask, “What if she …” That’s when you run the character into the ground with survival at the end and a lesson learned that leads to the conclusion.

And yes, there is more to that particular lesson, but I’ve given you the kernel. It’s your turn to run with it.

Two words to solve problems, discover unknowns, or to speculate for clarity/investigation. Two words we use all the time, oft times in conjunction wish our personal choices. And yet, that’s all writing is—personal choices strung together to tell a tale, usually about someone/something else. On those rare occasions when a writer tells tales of her own life, the result is the same. The tale revolves around those personal choices made and leads to the person’s final persona.

All creation begins with a “what if?” No matter where you turn or the subject of focus, someone asked the question to begin the hunt for the answer.

I hope you try this, recognize and acknowledge the technique, if you haven’t already. And if you do use it on a regular basis or to get your writer-self out of sticky spots of plotting, share your success with others. Just think what might happen if you spread word of your experience with other writers.

May Book News

From the Bavarian Alps and the coast of Denmark, across the sea to the New World, and into the Mountain West, this book traces 200 years in the lives and struggles of a family learning to make their way in a hostile world.

MFErler @peaksandbeyond.com

My historical fiction book is finally being released, May 15, after 5 years of labor, researching my own ancestry and talking with elderly relatives to glean their stories before it was too late.

From the Cover:

In this historical fiction novel, thirteen-year-old Cinda Parker knows she and her younger brother Ian have a special connection. It’s not until a mysterious stranger named Lexi arrives from the future that they realize they are more than typical mid-twenty-first century children.

Lexi convinces the siblings to travel back 200 years into the minds and lives of their ancestors, in order to help their father, who is dealing with grief over his own father’s death and anger with his brother’s questionable choices. When their family line is disrupted, Cinda and Ian learn the true value of a single life.

Don’t Be Too Careful What You Wish For

Remember the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” I’ve often used it as a guide, but am so glad I held to my wish in the instance I’m about to relate to you.

My husband and I love stories about art, whether visual or written. An art lecture we watched, introduced us to Gustav Courbet’s erotic masterpiece L’Origine du Monde, or Origin of the World. It is an explicit and unexpectedly beautiful painting of the model’s genetalia. She is lying on a bed and the depiction is of her torso only. I read Erin Davies’ review of the novel L’Origine: a Secret History of the World’s most Erotic Painting, by Liliane Milgrom. She is the first artist allowed by the Musee D’Orsay to make a copy of the original. No prude, I clicked on Want to Read, then didn’t think much more about it.

But Emma Cazzabone of French Book Tours emailed me with an offer of a free copy of the book for an honest review. Taken aback, but open to the challenge, I agreed. I agonized several times during the process, wanting to do right by Milgrom who had me in awe at her accomplishments. Here’s my review as it appeared in Goodreads.

L’Origine: a Novel by Liliane Milgrom is the tale of Gustav Courbet’s audacious and explicit painting of a nude model entitled L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World). Milgrom follows the painting from its inception in 1865 through the years it spent hidden from public view by a series of wealthy owner/collectors. They each loved it and tried to protect it through war and personal upheaval until the controversial masterpiece found a home at the Musee d’Orsay (Orsay Museum) in Paris. Milgrom’s book is also a love story that involves her fascination with Courbet’s masterpiece.

Milgrom opens with a prologue that puts her in the story as the first artist permitted by the Museum to be a copiste of L’Origine. She includes some of what I love to come across in fiction: insider information. I’d never known that, for example, the copy has to have a designated size difference from the original, and that the copier has only certain hours allotted to sit and work on the piece. And all this under public observation!

Paris of the mid1860s was light-hearted, open to new ideas, and sexually freewheeling, at least for the wealthy or creative. Milgrom adds enough detail to show the city as the perfect place to incubate a sense of wonder, playful approaches, and skill on the part of those drawn to seek fame and money through art. Courbet was a sensual nonconformist from the country and a firm proponent of artistic realism. Inspired by gazing on his lover’s genitalia, he decided to use it as the subject of a painting commissioned by a Turkish diplomat. The Turk’s mistress posed for the painting.

Courbet created something so masterfully portrayed, and titled it so thoughtfully, that it stopped all who saw it in their tracks. Some were shocked, but most also saw that Courbet had painted so well that what might have been dismissed as pornography was elevated by critiques and appreciators as great thought and emotion-provoking art. It reminds us of romantic love, awakens our desires, or makes men and women think of their mothers. For the vagina, we are reminded, is the place of the origin of life.

Courbet’s fortunes took a serious tumble from which he never recovered, and his art became long devalued. Following the days of the Commune, Paris became prim and proper. When L’Origine did trade hands it was because of appalled or jealous wives. The impressionists came into public favor as well and became the darlings of collectors. Nevertheless, there were always those who became intrigued, enthralled, or aroused by L’Origine. Courbet had forever created a painting that “captured the nebulous world between reality and fantasy.”

Through two world wars Jewish Baron Ferenc Hatvany, a Hungarian artist and collector, did his best to keep L’Origine safe and his. When he decided to let go of it at last in the 1950s, it sold to an artistic, intellectual couple. An example of the author including the zeitgeist of the times in which the painting’s owners lived and worked, Jacques Lacan, the male half of the couple, saw L’Origine as deeply connected to both penis envy and fear of castration. His wife, the former film star Sylvia Bataille believed the painting could be valued and shared by modern women as well as men.

In the end, L’Origine became available to the public via the prosaic demands of property

taxes. But the wider world is richer for it. Those who owned it were remarkable people, and belonged to their times. Milgrom does well at showing us those times: clothing, famous people spotted in café’s by the main characters of each chapter in the painting’s history. And she makes the owners real people with delights, fears, and often struggling to explain life’s mysteries. One of which involves origins.

I wish to thank France Book Tours for sending me a copy of the book for my honest review. To read more about the book and its author, and for a chance to win a copy, visit: https:francebooktours.com

It was a great experience, capped off by lovely notes of appreciation from both the author and Emma. Don’t be too careful about what you wish for. Besides, we all need good reviews.

By Karen Wills


Life’s Impressions from a Tree

A Talking Tree by Laura Thomas

Come along with me, let’s go on an adventure, out into the woods where we will find a talking tree. Now I bet you didn’t know trees could talk, or that I know where one is. Interested in coming along? Ok, let’s go.

We will need to drive by car to our destination; no it won’t take long and be sure to dress warm. The ground is covered in white and the temperature is only about 30 degrees: make sure you have your hat and gloves. Do you have everything? Good. Now grab your backpacks, for one never knows what will happen, so better to be prepared. We are here; our destination is up and over the hill, so ready to hike? Let’s go!

 I want you to walk as quietly as you can, why? Well, we may be able to see an animal, but better yet, I want you to listen. Take a deep breath; what do you smell? Nothing. Try again.  Oh, there you go. Now, tell me what do you smell? Yes, the tart smell of the pine trees, the dampness of the cold air. Now tell me, what do you hear? A soft wind that brushes the tree branches together.  Oh, there goes a bird, and yes, I believe it was a flicker.

Walking further along, we need to climb up this hill.  Look what’s in the snow. Tracks, and I believe they are wolf. Look at the size of the prints and the stride.  Oh man, they are the size of my hand, so that is a big animal! There are also deer, coyote and fox tracks that we can see. With the snow on the ground evidence is left behind that tells us what animals have used the trail.

Look, there is our tree. See it? It’s a huge tree that I can’t wrap my arms around it. Maybe two of us could, but I’m not sure. It’s a tall, stately old tree, and look at the size of the branches.  They are almost as big around as I am.  Now look up to the most unique feature; it looks like an octopus. While most trees only have one trunk with branches, this tree has multiple trunks at the top. These trunks branch off from the main trunk that is missing, at odd, twisted angles.

Come and sit at the trunk of this tree and listen.  This tree is telling us a story–one of long cold winters, ravaged by snow and winds, and hot summers where water was hard to get. The years it has seen come and go. A story of survival.  But most of all, the joys this tree has seen–the birds that call this tree home and raise their young in its protective branches, along with the squirrels that have inhabited it, eating the nuts from the pinecones it grows. This tree has also witnessed the baby deer born and all the wild things that live in these woods.

It is drawing late in the day and we must return to the car. We say good-by to the tree, but we will come back to visit our talking tree.

Alive in the Darkness

by Shira Marin

 “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being

– Carl Jung

Jung’s quote evoked the memory of a deeply sad and grief-stricken moment in my life. My husband walked out one day, and many months later, I accepted that it was likely the end of our marriage. 

I felt extraordinary fatigue in the pit of my soul. The world became a vast, drab gray plane. My existence seemed worthless. Bereft of energy to go on, day after day, I simply sat; I stared into space not only outer but inner. It was there that I saw the vastness of my existence. Would I wander this landscape endlessly?

A notion flitted across my consciousness, a caption across the edge of this vision: What if the only purpose of my existence is to breathe? My breath caught in my throat. Would that be enough? To just breathe, each moment a new beginning? What if I accepted this notion as a true possibility and just started there. If this breathing was enough, then my purpose would be to simply be; that was enough. That certainly would be valid. No one had to know. I needed to know and know ever more simply and deeply.

Just being was enough reason to stay alive; I realized I was actually meant to be alive, that my mere being was actually a contribution to the ecology of the planet, itself in a state of pure being. I began suspecting that this was true of everything on the planet and that we are all related through just being together. 

What could this new reckoning bring into my life? I began looking at where I might be led. Over time, it was following this experience that prompted me to write what I thought was going to be my doctoral dissertation. Instead, a memoir about my relationship with a Titan Greek goddess named Hekate emerged. Eventually, the memoir was published as both an audio recording and a book.

I pondered what would grow if all of us humans were to undergo the experience of being led to face the ultimate being sense of our existence, to see what would arise within us spontaneously. What might intentionally cultivating an ongoing inner world sensibility eventually lead to? And what yield might we harvest from such an effort if it guided not only our personal but also collective consciousness?

 If you work with the process of connecting to your inner world, your psyche, or if this piece has moved you in some way, I welcome your responses.