Last night my mom and I attended our first author event, featuring the incredible mystery/suspense writer Laura McHugh.
This is something I’d been looking forward to ever since a date was nailed down earlier this fall. I’m a bit shameless in my admiration of Laura’s work, and my friends and family enjoy teasing me about it. (She thanked me last night for helping promote her books, so there!)
I was pleased to see so many people turn out to hear Laura speak and have her sign their copies of her books (quite a few in attendance purchased them at the event). Because Laura is originally from my area – the setting of her latest novel, “Arrowood” – many of her relatives were in the audience. It was a mini-family reunion of sorts, which was neat to see.
As I said, this was my first time attending an author talk/signing, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I know Laura sometimes reads a passage from one of her books as part of the presentation. Last night, however, she simply spoke about her journey to becoming a published author. After losing her job as a software designer, she attended a number of unsuccessful job interviews while pregnant with her second daughter. Her husband encouraged her to take a break from the employment search and devote some time to her lifelong love of writing.
The manuscript for her 2014 debut, “The Weight of Blood,” was picked up relatively quickly by Random House and she signed a two-book contract. She’s now working on her third novel, due for release in 2018.
I loved hearing about the writing process McHugh uses. She starts with the setting and builds the characters and plot around it. She said novelists are either “plotters” or “pantsers” (who fly by the seat of their pants) and that she falls in the latter category. I think if I ever write a novel someday, I’ll take the same route since that’s kind of how I tend to live my life (which tends to irritate those closest to me). I hate writing outlines, too, Laura!
For someone who had to overcome a fear of public speaking in order to promote her work, Laura certainly kept us entertained. She talked about the culture barrier between her, a lifelong Midwesterner, and her New York-born-and-bred agent, who wasn’t sure where Missouri is and didn’t understand some of the colloquialisms used in “The Weight of Blood” (“What’s a ‘holler’?!”).
I’d heard this story before in a podcast, but I still laughed when Laura told us about a trip she took to Keokuk as she was gathering research for “Arrowood.” While photographing an old home that was for sale at the time, the owner invited Laura and her young daughters inside for a tour. One of the girls didn’t think it was a wise idea, but Laura inwardly reasoned that the guy would know better than to murder the three of them and make a mess if he was trying to sell his place. Fortunately, the guy turned out to be pretty nice and was probably not a serial killer.
Laura fielded several interesting questions from the audience, including one regarding the head-scratcher conclusion of “Arrowood.” She said anyone who’s already read the book could talk to her afterward if they wanted to hear the answer. … So if you’ve read “Arrowood” and you want Laura’s take on its somewhat vague ending, send her a message on her Facebook author page. She loves interacting with her readers.
Thank you again, Laura, for hanging out in Keokuk last night. Here’s hoping you’ll come back to promote your next novel!