Author Andrew Welsh-Huggins on Writing Mysteries and Living in Columbus
The 11th annual Ohioana Book Festival is set for Saturday, April 8, at the Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square. Among the nearly 120 Ohio authors appearing is Andrew Welsh-Huggins, creator of the Andy Hayes mystery series (www.andrewwelshhuggins.com). The fourth book in the series, The Hunt, will be released in April.
David: You’ve had a very successful career as a reporter for the Associated Press in Columbus, covering everything from politics to the drug trade. What made you decide to turn to fiction, and particularly mystery?
Andrew: I’ve been a mystery fan my entire life, dating back to the day when I was eight years old and pulled one of my mom’s Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason paperbacks off the top shelf. It had always been a goal of mine to write some of my own. It just took a lot of living, including getting married and becoming a parent, moving several times and establishing myself professionally, to reach a point where I was ready.
David: How did Andy Hayes come in to being? Was there a particular book or writer that served as an inspiration?
Andrew: I’ve always been attracted to the private eye novel, and as a younger man inhaled the works of Rex Stout, Robert B. Parker, Loren Estleman, Stuart Kaminsky and Ohio’s own Les Roberts, all of whom created iconic fictional private eyes. More recently, I’ve been delving into the classic trio of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, with some of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee thrown in for fun. I knew I wanted my private eye to follow in that tradition: the wounded warrior with the world on his shoulders, trying against the odds to do his best. Since I was writing about Columbus, there was no question my character’s backstory would involve Ohio State. That’s why I made him an ex-OSU quarterback who disgraced himself and his team his senior year, and now two decades later is still trying to live that episode down in-between his investigative adventures.
David: Has your training and experience as a journalist been a help in writing fiction?
Andrew: The discipline of writing for a living has helped enormously: there’s no such thing as writer’s block when your family’s depending on you. I also rip many plotlines from my own headlines, since much of what I cover involves criminal justice. The types of writing, though, are very different; the analogy I use is that working for the AP is like running track, with constant sprinting and stopping and starting, whereas writing novels is like training for a marathon.
David: When you're not busy working, what do you do to relax? If Andy Hayes was taking you and your wife out for a night on the town – or vice versa – where would you go?
Andrew: We relax by bike riding, seeing movies or plays, listening to jazz at Brothers Drake or just having a night of Netflix. We love places like Land-Grant in Franklinton or the Thurber Bar downtown, and any food truck festival. If Andy was buying it would probably be beers and sauerkraut balls at the Hey Hey Bar & Grille on Whittier, which is fine by us.
David: You’ve appeared at many of the past Ohioana Book Festivals and will do so again on April 8. What do you enjoy about this event? And what’s in it for the young professionals who may be interested in attending?
Andrew: Ohioana is special because of what ties it together: writers who make Ohio their home or write about it, or both. That, plus the diversity of authors and genres, from poetry to literary fiction to cooking to sports to mysteries and beyond. It’s a wonderful place to meet and greet authors, with all of us happy to talk to visitors about their own interests, personal and professional.
David: What advice would you give someone thinking about writing his/her first mystery novel?
Andrew: The most important thing you can do is develop a strategy for how you’re going to write, and then focus on what you’re writing. In other words, first commit to writing daily at a specific time—before work, on your lunch hour, after the kids are in bed—and stick to it as closely as possible. This is especially important if you’re also working full-time, but it’s true regardless of your schedule. Once you’ve given yourself permission to write every day, then you can start focusing on your characters and plot.
David: Finally, you've written so much about Columbus. How long have you lived here? What do you like most about the city? And what, if anything, would you change?
Andrew: I’ve been visiting Columbus since my wife, Pam, and I attended Kenyon College in the early 1980s. After living elsewhere for several years, we moved here permanently in 1998. We like the city’s vibrancy, cultural diversity, affordability and growing reputation as a cool American city as demonstrated by Columbus’ appearance on just about every Top 10 list you can think of, from food to fashion to music to sports. As Pam says, Columbus now is “the edge of the middle.” If I could change anything it would be to put light rail back on the table; add some more independent bookstores (Ann Arbor clobbers us in this regard, though The Book Loft in German Village is great and Gramercy Books in Bexley is a fantastic newcomer); and bring in another pro sports franchise: a WNBA team, anyone?
Meet Andrew Welsh-Huggins at the 2017 Ohioana Book Festival, taking place Saturday, April 8, from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square, 75 E. State St., in downtown Columbus. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.ohioana.org