'Montana: Warts And All': 'Real Life, Not Lifestyle'

Jan 24, 2016

The next time you’re in a supermarket or bookstore, check out the magazines. On the racks, you’re likely to see a profusion of glossy publications devoted to Montana stories about fly fishing vacations, high-end restaurants, and art, printed on pages supported by ads for trophy homes and custom-built furniture. But the Montana Quarterly takes a different approach, says Editor-in-chief Scott McMillion.

"We try to take a realistic look at Montana. We focus on real life, not lifestyle. And our motto for many years has been 'Montana: Warts and All'," McMillion says.

That motto is now the name of a book—a collection of the best stories published during the Montana Quarterly’s first ten years.

"We’ve got a section called living local," says McMillion, "which is about living in small towns and making a living in small towns and how people make livings there. And one of my favorite story is called “No Child Not Dancing” which is about the school in little bitty Bynum, Montana, where every morning starts with dance lessons for the whole school.

"We’ve got a food and drink section, which is more about drink than food—profiles of several bars, including the Jimtown Bar, arguably the toughest joint in Montana. We’ve got a section of fiction. A section of stories about people who help out, people who are finding solutions to problems and making the world a little better.

"We’ve got a section called 'Truth Tellers' and that is about our artists, people who address truth through paint, sculpture, music, and literature. We have profiles of Phil Aaberg, Floyd DeWitt, Wylie Gustafson, and Paul Zarzyski."

Montana Quarterly Winter 2015

The list of writers who have contributed stories to the magazine is impressive. To name just a few: Tim Cahill, Alan Kesselheim, William Kittredge, New York Times bestselling author Maryanne Vollers, Fred Haefele, Pete Fromm, Jeff Welsch…

"Jeff Welsch wrote a story called “Double Life” about a woman who was a justice of the peace in Conrad and suffered an injury, was stuck in bed for several weeks during 9/11, and taught herself Arabic and became a terrorist buster and helped the feds track down quite a few bad guys."

As the title suggests, "Montana, Warts and All" includes stories about Montanans misbehaving. Even so, when McMillion first received a proposal from Ted Brewer to write a story about a gang of policemen behaving like criminals, he had his doubts.

"It was about some renegade cops in Butte that were staging armed robberies all over town back in the ‘60s. And I was a little dubious and Ted Brewer just turned in a wonderful story. They were breaking into grocery stores, pharmacies, and, I believe, the brothel. They were trying to extort some marijuana growers up by Fort Benton. They were bad boys."

Choosing which stories to include in the book turned out to be a challenge for McMillion.

"The hardest part, really, was deciding what not to run for this book. We’ve got a lot of good stories and keeping it down to about 320 pages was kind of hard. It’s about 10 percent of the stories we’ve published."

As the Montana Quarterly moves into its second decade, Scott McMillion plans to keep publishing stories about remarkable places and people in Montana, whether, or not, they fit into popular, romantic notions about this place .

"Our editorial philosophy is to tell the real stories of our state. And some of them have warts on them."

Montana Quarterly

"Montana, Warts and All"