Laura McHugh talks about her new, Pushcart-nominated novel, THE WOLF WANTS IN, her brother’s mysterious death, ‘genius Apothic Brew,’ living in river towns, & so much more


By Leslie Lindsay

Set in a small, rural Blackwater Kansas, THE WOLF WANTS IN is stark, startling account of pain, sadness, and poverty.

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Sadie Keller is determined to discover how her brother died, even if no one else thinks it’s worth investigating. Her brother was married, worked an honest job, there’s no reason he’d just up and die. But the authorities are thinking he died of a heart attack Sadie doesn’t buy it. Plus, his wife, Crystle, is acting strange. Still, others grieve differently and this just may be Crystle’s way.

With two previous, highly acclaimed novels, THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD and ARROWOOD, Laura McHugh dives back into her vein of (Spiegel & Grau, August 6 2019). The writing is atmospheric, gritty, and bleak. This is a dark read comprised of a moving study of poverty and rural back-woodsy towns, colorful, often substance-abusing characters with an undercurrent of pain, sadness, and loneliness. The writing is astute; McHugh is a careful observer, which is exactly a skill a good author must possess. The story and the writing is both raw and poetic. 

Told in dual-timelines, a bifurcated narrative, alternating between Sadie (the divorced, single mom bereaved sister of Shane) and also 18-year old Henley who is eager to escape the seedier lifestyle of Blackwater, Kansas, we learn that nearly every story–and person–in this town is interconnected, enmeshed, even, and everyone has secrets. 

In the end, everything comes to one twisting, chilling end, we see how secrets unravel and the undying quest for reinvention. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Laura McHugh back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura, it’s great to chat again. I know THE WOLF WANTS IN was inspired when your own brother mysteriously died. Can you tell us more about that—and what answers you were seeking? Did you find them?

Laura McHugh:

Thank you for inviting me back! I’m the youngest of eight children, and my brother was number seven. His death shocked us all. He wasn’t old or ill, so it was completely unexpected. We weren’t able to obtain much information and still don’t know the cause of death. It was hard to find closure without answers. I wanted to write a story about someone who had experienced a similar loss, one that left many questions behind, but in the fictional story, the mystery could be solved.

silhouette of a man during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

It’s amazing how a personal tragedy can propel a story. Like Crystle in THE WOLF WANTS IN, we all process grief differently. Can you talk about the role grief plays in the character’s lives but also in the art?

Laura McHugh:

Sadie’s grief over her brother’s death is compounded by the realization that she didn’t know him as well as she thought she did. The three siblings were very close growing up, and Sadie doesn’t understand why Shane was keeping secrets from them. It is this mixture of grief and unanswered questions that drives Sadie to uncover the truth, and at the same time, it forces her to confront her own mortality and the way she lives her life.

landscape photography of forest
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Small river towns are quickly becoming your ‘thing,’ in literature. How do you think place shapes an author? Sometimes, it’s our childhood that speaks through in terms of setting, but sometimes, it’s just our fascination with a certain geography. Where and how does it fit together for you? And is Blackwater, KS a ‘real’ place?

Laura McHugh:

I grew up in small river towns, and I suppose that’s why they show up in my novels. I always thought of a river as part of a town’s identity, and it became a sort of touchstone. When I lived in places that weren’t anchored by a river or some other significant natural element, I felt a bit at a loss. What gave a place its identity if the only landmarks were an interstate or an outlet mall? Those places were lacking to me. I live about a mile from a river now. The town of Blackwater in the book is made up, but certainly inspired by real places.


“The Wolf Wants In is a perfect thriller: smart, gripping, lyrical, and poignant. Laura McHugh has pulled off a high-wire act. Her book manages to be both a thoughtful commentary on America’s opioid crisis and an utterly satisfying mystery.”

–JANELLE BROWN, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF WATCH ME DISAPPEAR


Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a great theme of reinvention on THE WOLF WANTS IN. So many people have left Blackwater, only to come back. There are others, too who just want to get out, have a different kind of life. Is the small town dying? Can some thrive?

Laura McHugh:

The small-town way of life holds a lot of appeal, but people have to be able to make a living. That’s the struggle—you might want to stay, but can’t find work. You might feel stifled by the lack of opportunity and dream of escaping, but find it hard to leave your home behind and start a new life elsewhere. I keep hoping the rise of telecommuting jobs will have an impact—that people will be able to stay and work in towns that have lost their industries, or that people will move from expensive cities to small towns where their paychecks can go farther and boost these dying communities.

Leslie Lindsay:

The page is blank. What’s calling to you now? And what advice might you give to others who are between projects? Um…asking for a friend.

Laura McHugh:

I’m currently revising my fourth novel, and after that I have a couple of short stories I’d like to finish. I also need to map out my ideas for book five. The overlapping cycles of writing, editing, and promoting mean there’s rarely a true break between projects, so I would enjoy the lull while thinking about what comes next. When I have downtime, I like to spend time outdoors and catch up on all the books and shows I’ve been meaning to get to—to take a break from creating and enjoy the creativity of others.

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What three things can you not stop talking about? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Laura McHugh:

Crime podcasts…there are so many good ones! In the Dark was one of my recent favorites.

I can talk about cold cases all day. It’s fascinating to see so many now being solved through genealogy.

Did you know there is wine made with cold brew coffee? Apothic Brew. Genius.

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Laura McHugh:

Thank you so much for having me back! I always enjoy chatting with you.

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For more information, to connect with Laura McHugh via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE WOLF WANTS IN, please see: 

Order Links: 

mchugh2019ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura McHugh is the internationally-bestselling author of The Weight of Blood, winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel and the Missouri Author Award for Fiction, and Arrowood, a Thriller Award finalist for Best Novel. Her work has also been nominated for Barry, Alex, and GoodReads Choice Awards and a Pushcart Prize. McHugh’s latest novel, The Wolf Wants In, is out now. The author lives in Missouri with her husband and daughters.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literarythriller #ruralnoir #smalltowns #Kansas #rivertowns #murder #siblings #mystery 

 

[Cover and author image courtesy of Spiegel & Grau and used with permission. Artsy photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1]

 

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