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Meet Montana Enthusiast Susie Wall

Missoula Valley Lifestyle contributor Susie Wall becomes a publisher author

Susie, you've just had your first book published. Can you tell me how it feels to release this collection of adventures out into the world? What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

It feels amazing! I love seeing the final result after spending all of 2023 researching and writing the book. More than that, it’s a thrill to have this opportunity to share my deep love of Montana on the page.

First, I want to emphasize that the 100 Things are in no particular order. It’s a list, not a ranking, and #100 is just as amazing as #1. Second, I want visitors to Montana to use this book. I’ve tried to fill it with things that locals love to see and do as well as things that are off the beaten path and may not be advertised in other visitor guides. But what I really want readers to take away from my book is that it’s not only a guidebook but also a celebration of the wonderful people and places of Montana.

Can you tell us what this process of writing, editing, and publishing has been like for you? Many aspiring writers are always curious about how finished material like a book winds up in the right hands that will champion it. 

I’ve written dozens of articles but as you mentioned, this is my first book so it was a huge learning experience. I learned about Reedy Press and their series of travel guides, 100 Things to Do Before You Die, through a travel writer friend of mine. After a quick search of Reedy Press’ website, I noticed that they hadn’t published anything for Montana at the time and were always looking for authors. Since then, Nancy Icopini and Gina Tarnacki wrote 100 Things to Do in Billings Before You Die. I approached them about writing 100 Things to Do in Montana Before You Die, and following a brief interview process, I was given the assignment. Then I got to work on the fun part, which was traveling and writing.

Once I turned in my rough draft, Reedy Press did an amazing job of guiding me through the editing process. It really pays to have an experienced editor and publisher on your side. They worked with me on fact checking as well as the layout and wording. They have also been a huge support with promotion and sales. Just about everything about this experience has been a new but very exciting challenge for me.

What does this summer look like for you? Are you traveling to anywhere you've listed within the book or looking to broaden your borders? Any book events that locals can attend?

Summer for me means traveling in Montana! I hate to leave during our few months of glorious sun-filled days. Dave, my husband and favorite travel companion, loves to go with me on road trips but he wasn’t able to join me on several of my trips last year. I’m really excited to return to places like the Bair Family Museum in Martinsdale and Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge in Malta with him by my side. And I’m sure I’ll discover even more wonderful spots.

Other than that, my main goal this summer is to promote my book around the state. I have several book signings on the calendar at some wonderful independent bookstores in places like Butte, Dillon, and Livingston. I’ll be at Travelers’ Rest State Park, which is in the book, for their Expedition Days on June 29 and 30, and I hope to continue to schedule more events in the Missoula area throughout the rest of the year.  

What made you realize that you could write? And how did you get into the travel space?

I’ve always enjoyed writing but I didn’t have an educational background in it, unless you count book reports and college essays. I was living in Colorado at the time and found a night class at a local college that taught tips for getting published in magazines. The instructor emphasized that if you stick to the adage of “write what you know,” you’ll soon run out of things to write about, so I took advantage of the fact that I’m a curious person and looked around for other subjects that piqued my interests like nature, food, and profiles of small business owners and entrepreneurs.

It wasn’t until I moved to Montana that I had any real success. I am forever grateful to Carolyn Kurtz who offered me my first published article on scat identification here in Missoula for Montana Naturalist, the magazine for the Montana Natural History Center. Once I could put “published writer” on my resume, I was off to the races.

My dream of travel writing really came full circle when I discovered Northwest Travel & Life, which focuses on travel in the northwest U.S., including Montana. It’s one of the few remaining print publications that focuses solely on local travel.

Tell us again (for anyone who missed your last travel story in MVL) about how you settled in Missoula. 

In 2007, Dave and I were living in Estes Park, Colorado, and experiencing somewhat of an early mid-life crisis. Looking to shake things up, we shoved all our camping gear and some provisions in our little Toyota Echo and traveled around the country for six months in search of new beginnings. Missoula won our contest for new hometown by a landslide.

100 Things to Do in Montana Before You Die is available here in Missoula at Fact and Fiction and Barnes and Noble.

"I’ve tried to fill it with things that locals love to see and do as well as things that are off the beaten path and may not be advertised in other visitor guides."