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Q&A: Laura McHugh

April 17, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

At a Sunday morning book reading, a woman raises her hand and tells Columbia author Laura McHugh that she seems like a genuine person who puts good out into the world. Based on the reaction to her debut novel, it appears karma is in agreement.

McHugh has received national attention for her first novel, The Weight of Blood. Set in the fictional town of Henbane, Mo., the book explores the dark side of loss through protagonist Lucy Dane’s eyes as she deals with the death of a friend and the lasting effects of her mother’s disappearance when she was a child. Reviews and praise have appeared in Los Angeles Times, Vogue and Oprah.com.

Friend Jill Orr says the two met when they were searching for agents for their novels. They would meet for coffee dates and talk about “someday” as Orr calls it.

“I cannot even explain how fun it has been to see her ‘someday’ really come true,” she says. “Things that we didn’t even dare to dream about are happening for her with this book.”

Why did you become a writer?

When I lost my job as a software developer, I decided I’ve always wanted to write a book, and I’m going to do it now. Some people are like, “Oh my gosh, you’re a program writer, how strange that you’d write a book,” but I was always kind of writing on the side.

Describe the process of writing this book?

I didn’t really know how to write a book. I was staying home with my two little kids at the time, so I would just write whenever I could. I got that first draft done, and I just wanted to keep going. I spent a lot of time revising, and even after the book sold, I went through the whole editing process. I feel like by the end of the process, I never wanted to see this book again. Long process, for sure.

Why are you interested in darker subject matters?

I didn’t really think of it as being suspense or mystery when I started writing it. It was really a story about Lucy and how these disappearances had affected her. As I was writing, it sort of became suspenseful and mysterious because I like stories where you want to keep turning the pages.

What’s the hardest part about being a novelist?

I can’t complain too much because I’m so happy that I get to do this for a living. But I think one of the parts that stood out to me was I never realized how much a novelist has to go out and promote themselves. I mean, what I like about being a novelist is sitting on my couch by myself and writing. You can’t just do that all the time. I was having to get up in front of groups of people and talk about my book and try to make it sound interesting. That sort of thing is harder for me than the writing side of it.

When you’re not writing, what are you up to?

I hang out with my kids a lot; meet with my writing group. I like to read. I like to watch The Walking Dead; it’s my favorite, so it’s good it’s only on half the year, so I don’t have to watch too much TV. It gives me more free time I guess. I like to garden; I grow a lot of vegetables, tomatoes, and I have a big strawberry patch.

What are you reading right now?

I’m not reading right now. I love to read, and I have a giant to-read stack, but my deadline is coming up within a few weeks for my second manuscript, and I don’t have time to read, which is sad because it’s my favorite thing. But when I’m done with that — Long Man by Amy Greene. She wrote Bloodroot, and she was kind enough to blurb my book even though she does not know me. Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, and I just finished reading John Searles’ Help for the Haunted. I’ve got a pile. I can’t wait to read someone else’s work.

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