Shocking story from a small town permeates a Columbia woman’s first novel

03/15/2014 9:32 PM

03/15/2014 9:32 PM

Bad things can happen in small towns.

What Laura McHugh, author of “The Weight of Blood,” finds compelling is how those events can remain so long undiscussed.

The novel by the Columbia mother of two details the efforts of an Ozarks teenager to investigate the disappearance of a friend whose body is found in a tree trunk.

“Small towns can be insular,” said McHugh, who attended high school in Lebanon, Mo. “So it’s shocking when news about crimes that happen in small towns comes out.

“I wanted to explore that.”

Almost as compelling as McHugh’s novel, her first, is how she marketed the manuscript. While McHugh knew no one in publishing, she researched how to write agent query letters and then emailed several on a Friday. She signed with an agent the following Tuesday.

“I didn’t know anything but it worked out,” McHugh said.

Before that ovenight success, McHugh spent a year writing her novel and another revising it.

McHugh speaks at 7 p.m. Thursday at Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd St., Fairway.

Another generation

Bill Tammeus has no beef with Tom Brokaw.

Former news anchor Brokaw, in his 1998 book “The Greatest Generation,” attempted to define the values of those who endured the Great Depression before landing on the beaches of Normandy or Iwo Jima.

Tammeus has pondered the values of those who came after. His book is titled “Woodstock: A Story of Middle America,” but the Woodstock discussed here is the Illinois community where Tammeus grew up.

One value of his generation, Tammeus said, is an ability to accommodate change.

“Sometimes it seems like iPhones are changing every two weeks,” Tammeus said.

“I think we are living at a speed for which our bodies are not equipped. And yet Middle Americans have done well with it. We have faced change in how we view race and women’s liberation; movements that we did not just participate in but helped lead.”

Tammeus hasn’t lived in his hometown for decades. Even that, he believes, represents a shared experience.

“We have learned we need to adapt and not be rooted in one place,” he said. “That has been a tough lesson to learn.”

Tammeus speaks Friday during the 6 p.m. services of Temple Israel of Greater Kansas City, meeting at Kehilath Israel Synagogue, 10501 Conser St., Overland Park. His daily “Faith Matters” blog can be found at


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