After losing her job in software development more than 10 years ago, Laura McHugh turned to her background in writing. “My husband was like, ‘You’ve always wanted to write a book,’” she says. “It seemed insane at the time, but it changed my life.” Now an award-winning mystery writer, McHugh is releasing her third book, The Wolf Wants In, on Aug. 6.
Her newest novel centers around protagonists Sadie Keller and Henley Pettit, who are both enshrouded in the crime — and death — surrounding rural Blackwater, Kansas. After Sadie’s brother dies and bones are discovered in nearby woods, both women are torn between upholding family loyalties and swallowing life-altering secrets.
We sat down with McHugh to learn more about The Wolf Wants In and her experience as an International Thriller Writers Award-winning writer.
Inside Columbia: Should readers be expecting any twists in your newest release?
Laura McHugh: The Wolf Wants In resembles my first book, The Weight of Blood, more than my second book, Arrowood. Although it takes place in Kansas, the setting is actually very similar to the small towns and rural areas I grew up in near the Ozarks. This book is also more personal to me than the other two because it is inspired by my brother’s death.
The Wolf Wants In is in the same mystery and suspense genre as my other two novels. I love the feeling when you’re reading a book and you just can’t put it down — and that’s what I hope to achieve with my writing.
IC: As an accomplished writer of 10-plus years, do you still struggle with writer’s block?
LM: Oh, absolutely. I get stuck on what’s going to happen next all the time. I find when you’re stuck it’s best to try to do something else. Find a change of scenery. Take a walk. But then come right back to what you were working on. If you stay away from it, it becomes harder to jump back in. Even if you’re having writer’s block, you should still write every day. I try to brainstorm and think about the plot while I’m running errands and even driving. I use the recorder on my phone to record my thoughts and then I sit down later to see if it works in the book or not.
I don’t start a book knowing the plot line, or even how it’s going to end. With Arrowood, I actually finished writing the entire book, then read back through it and realized there was a twist I hadn’t realized. I went back and rewrote the ending. It’s more of a wait-and-see approach where I wait for the plot to unfold as I write.
IC: Why write individual books and not series?
LM: A lot of mystery writers do write series. I like to write individual books because I like to resolve something within the plot, and then by the time I do that, I’m ready to move on and leave the characters where they are. A lot of people ask me, ‘Do you ever wonder what Lucy from The Weight of Blood is doing?’ And honestly, I don’t. It’s nice to be able to create a new world and new characters each time.
IC: What does your average day look like?
LM: If my kids are in school, typically once I drop them off, I head to a coffee shop to write. I prefer working at coffee shops because I don’t have as many distractions as I do at home. After everyone gets home in the evening and the kids go to sleep, I typically stay up and continue writing. But, as a writer, you can’t just write. You have to manage social media accounts, respond to email requests and set up interviews. I also sometimes serve as a judge for different awards within my genre, which requires reading between 80 and 100 books in less than a year. Because of that, a lot of my ‘pleasure’ reading resembles my job, but I love it.
IC: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or entrepreneurs?
LM: One thing I wish I had done differently when I first started was to enjoy it more. My first book did very well and I got to fly to different cities and it was amazing, but I felt very stressed about it. I had another deadline at the time so I was more focused on that. I didn’t take the time to sit back and realize that this is what I always wanted to do. Now I try to celebrate things a little more.
I would also say that being able to finish something is so important. There’s a lot of people that have talent and potential, but they spend more time talking about what they’re going to do rather than just sitting down and getting it done. I think talent is important, but dedication is more important when it comes to writing. If you really want to do something, you have to finish it.