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SunLit

SunLit Interview: Co-author Laurel McHargue found life lessons, and a collaborator, through puzzles

COVID-19 inspired her to try new projects -- including raising ducklings -- but puzzling led her to write the "self-help-lite" book "Peace by Piece"

Laurel McHargue, left, a 1983 graduate of West Point, is the author of books in multiple genres, including the award-winning fantasy trilogy “Waterwight,” and the host of the podcast “Alligator Preserves.” A former Army officer and public school teacher, she now lives and laughs and publishes and podcasts in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where she also raises ducks for eggs and entertainment.

She collaborated with friend and professional counselor Nadine Collier on “Peace by Piece.”


Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

I’m going to self-quote from my introduction, which explains this fully:

“You should write a book about . . .”

When I hear these words, and I’ve heard them often, my brain chuckles and I listen to the idea, which is always offered generously and lovingly. My response is ready:

“I don’t think I’ll live long enough to write all of the books in my head!” 

Something was different this time, though. 

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

I had just suffered through and triumphed over completing a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle—the first jigsaw I can remember completing on my own, inspired by a period of quarantine mandated after traveling at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—and Nadine Collier, my decades-long friend and creative idea generator, suggested I might write a book about lessons I learned from my experience.

Nadine has completed hundreds of jigsaw puzzles. Pretty sure she could have knocked out mine in a fraction of the time it took me, and possibly with her eyes closed.

I loved the idea.

“Only if you help me, and for real this time,” I said. Her previous suggestion was that I “should write a book about” excuses people make. She would work on a weekly collection and I would add to them, and collaboratively we’d create a new book. I can’t remember all the excuses she provided each passing week for why our plan wasn’t working, but I should have written them down! As a counselor with a long client list, Nadine didn’t need to fabricate excuses for why time had somehow slipped away.

But something was different for her this time too, and together we have created this relatable little narrative. You may discover more than ten lessons in its pages, and that’s okay. We spoke with many people during its creation, and their stories embellish our own. 

Nadine provided ideas and thoughtful questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, and together we found relevant quotations and created Haiku poems to start each new topic. I mulled and dreamed and pieced it all together. This time, our collaboration inspired us both . . . and we hope the result will inspire you, too!

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

I selected the first chapter to give you an idea of how the rest of the book is laid out. Each chapter begins with an original haiku (I love haiku!) reflecting the chapter’s topic and ends with Nadine’s reflections and questions for the reader. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book? 

One of my goals as an author is to publish in as many genres as possible while I’m on the green side of the grass. Although I’ve never been a jigsaw puzzler, the COVID-19 pandemic inspired me to try my hand at new projects I could do from the comfort of my home. 

I researched and ordered ducklings from a hatchery . . . I chronicled their every adorable moment in a YouTube playlist called COVID Duck Chronicles . . . and I pulled out the 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle I’d purchased for when Nadine might visit me again. 

But I didn’t wait for her. It took months, but I built it all by myself. Writing a self-help-“lite” book was on my to-do list, so when Nadine suggested it, I knew this was the one!

Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

My narratives always take me in unexpected directions! As I contemplated how my life events corresponded to each chapter topic, some funny and some poignant memories popped up. With Nadine’s help, we found tidbits of wisdom from sages old and less old, and those often informed the content of each chapter as well. I love it when my Muse takes over!

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book? 

The biggest challenge in completing this book was the formatting as the layout was unlike any I’d done in the past. The biggest surprise was when Nadine agreed to write more than just the end questions! 

Her reflections at the end of each chapter provide a wonderful, professional balance to the more humorous approach I take in the body of each chapter. I also wanted to end the book on a hopeful note, which was a challenging task given the ongoing pandemic.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’m a binge writer. My favorite places to write are at the kitchen table and in front of the fireplace with my feet up and my computer on a little beanbag lap desk. 

I’m definitely not a morning person, and I don’t make myself write every day. When my Muse is excited, I can write for hours and days at a time. To keep my brain from getting too focused on one genre, I enter writing contests of all types. 

Short deadlines motivate me, and the pieces I end up producing are often surprising. I’m a big fan of “voice memo” on my iPhone, and frequently record my thoughts about story ideas that way. Most of my inspiration has come from long walks.

Do you have to like doing jigsaw puzzles to enjoy your book?

Absolutely not! Everyone knows what a jigsaw puzzle is, but the “lessons learned” are applicable to just about any project you might consider tackling!

Tell us about your next project.

I’m working on several right now: a sci-fi military romance set in the far future, a children’s book series about ducks (based on my little quackers), and a coloring book series based on my “Waterwight” trilogy.


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