Thursday 12 August 2021


A few thoughts on Andrew Welsh-Huggins' latest Andy Hayes mystery - An Empty Grave appeared on the blog yesterday. Andrew was kind enough to submit to some gentle questioning about his reading and writing habits.

Is the book writing full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself? 

I’m a full-time reporter with The Associated Press where I write mostly about state government and crime (or both at the same time, as often happens). A Classics major in college, I started in journalism in the late 1980s as a freelance writer and worked at papers in Bloomington, Indiana, and Youngstown, Ohio, before joining the AP in 1998.

I’ve recently read your latest offering – An Empty Grave - which was published recently by Ohio University Press.  Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? 

An investigation into the fate of a burglar arrested for shooting a Columbus police officer in the 1970s—a suspect then allowed to disappear--leads private eye Andy Hayes down a decades-old path of deadly secrets.


I believe it’s your seventh published novel and they all feature Andy Hayes, a private investigator. What can you tell us about your main man? 

Hayes is a former Ohio State University football star, a revered quarterback who disgraced himself and his team by getting himself arrested the week before the biggest game of his career, costing Ohio State the national championship and forever tarnishing his reputation. After an additional series of personal and professional catastrophes, he ends up as a PI in Columbus, Ohio—the state capital—where he remains persona non grata to many even as he solves crimes.


Having only picked up on the series with the latest book, is there a back story to Andy, or an over-riding story ARC running through the series? 

Each book can be read by itself, but Hayes is also on a perpetual quest to right the wrongs of his past, especially when it comes rebuilding his relationship with his two sons by different ex-wives. If there’s an arc from book to book, it focuses on his boys, plus his never-ending search for a romance that will last.

Do you have a favourite among your books? Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader? 

Of course, I’m fond of the first book in the series, Fourth Down and Out, as well as whichever is the most recent, in this case, An Empty Grave.


Will Andy Hayes be solving cases for a few more books yet, or do you have plans to bench him at some point? 

Hayes has a couple more book-length outings in him, and I’ve also written several stories about him. So, he probably has a few more seasons left.


Can you remember what your first published piece was and when? 

I’ve had journalism pieces published as far back as the 1970s when I was in high school. My first published fiction was my first Hayes adventure, Fourth Down and Out, in 2014.


Do you have a typical writing schedule? 

I’m an early bird, so my writing takes place between 6-8 a.m. weekdays before my day job, along with a couple hours most Sunday mornings. I never write on Saturday, which is my day to stay away from the computer as much as possible.


Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters? 

Frequently, though usually more friends than family. In my new book, the name of an old teammate of Hayes’ belongs to an Associated Press colleague of mine; the name of a reporter from the 1970s who covered the burglary case is a science writer friend; and the dentist Hayes goes to see after getting punched in the mouth is my actual dentist—Dr. Debra Hurtt—who is also a huge fan of the series.


When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along? 
Are there any subjects off limits? 

I usually have an idea about the central mystery, as well as how things will end, which I find a helpful way to stay on track. I plot virtually nothing on paper (which I guess makes me a pantser), but I often outline in extreme detail in my head (which I guess makes me a plotter). I also do multiple edits of my fiction, and things often change as the story comes into focus. As far as things being off-limits, I’m not going to depict harm to children and animals, and I also try to avoid typical tropes about women as perpetual victims. Although there’s plenty of F-bombs and other expletives in my books, I won’t use slurs such as the N-word.


How long from conception to completion did An Empty Grave take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way? 

Normally, I start writing an Andy Hayes adventure in late August and wrap up—with interruptions along the way—by mid-March. An Empty Grave took longer because I scrapped a completed version late in the process, dissatisfied with the major plot line, and rewrote much of it. So, that ended up being almost a two-year effort.


Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different
book to what you imagined?

Given the major rewrite I undertook, the finished book looks very different from how I envisioned it at first, but it’s much better because of the extra time I took, at least in my opinion.


I’m a subscriber to the Michael Bracken & Trey Barker edited Guns & Tacos series published by Down and Out Books. I see you have a part in that series coming out in December – A Smith and Wesson with a Side of Chorizo. How did this one come about? 

That’s an invitation-only series, and I was honored to be asked by Michael to submit a piece.


Similarly, you feature in D&O’s Bouchercon 2021 Anthology  - This Time For Sure and the Mickey Finn Vol.1 Anthology, also edited by Michael Bracken. Have you had many short stories published? 

Close to twenty at this point, and counting. I usually have a short story in the works along with longer pieces.

Do you have a favourite format to work in – short story, novella, novel? Do you have to approach each format differently or is it the same process? 

I’m partial to all three, but must admit that I particularly enjoyed writing the Guns & Tacos novella, which is about 17,000 words. My process is pretty similar; start with a workable idea with an ending in mind, and then write multiple drafts until I’m satisfied (or the deadline hits). Unlike a lot of writers in the word processing age (at least as far as I can tell), I create a new draft each time I’m finished with one rather than just rewrite one draft, which I prefer as a way of tracking my progress. For example, I did sixteen drafts of An Empty Grave.


Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer? 

I have a stand-alone suspense thriller I’ve been pitching, about a young woman who sets out to kill the gangster who shot her boyfriend and left him for dead.

What’s the current project in progress? 

A true crime book about a master thief who broke into a Brink’s warehouse in Columbus and nearly got away with $92 million.

What’s the best thing about writing? 

Having written.

The worst? 

Days when it’s hard to see the end in sight and you’re slogging around in the mushy middle of a draft, trying to remember why you thought this particular idea was a good one in the first place.

Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read? 

A Good Provider is One Who Leaves, by Jason DeParle; This is Ohio, by Jack Shuler; The Case of the Beautiful Beggar, by Erle Stanley Gardner; and two of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels, Black Betty and A Little Yellow Dog.


Who do you read and enjoy? 

Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Stephen King, Karen Dionne (and many, many others). I was bowled over by two 2020 debuts I’ve been highly recommending: Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Crosby, and Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden.


Is there any one book you wish you had written?

A bestseller allowing me to retire from my day job.


Favourite activity when not working or writing? 

Running, biking, reading, watching movies, and spending time with family.


What’s the last film you watched that rocked you? 


TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Welsh-Huggins household? 

Not an addict by any stretch, but recent shows I’ve enjoyed include “Murdoch Mysteries,” “Brokenwood,” “Queen’s Gambit,”  “Justified,” and “Bosch.”


What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to? 

“Toys,” The Epoxies; “Getaway Car,” Enter the Haggis; and “Somebody to Love,” Queen.




What’s your favourite vegetable? Carrot.


When did you last have a fist fight? Seventh grade, ca. 1974.


Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club? Not yet, but the decade’s young.


Do you have any tattoos? Same answer.


What was your first pet’s name? Charley (a cat).


What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten? Lutefisk.


Do you have any irrational fears? I’m not big on centipedes.


What’s your favourite vacation destination? Barcelona, where our son-in-law is from.


When did you last tell a lie? Big lie—as a kid. White lie? Now that’s a different matter...


Many thanks to Andrew for his time.

There are seven books in his Andy Hayes series so far. They are....

   1. Fourth Down and Out (2014

   2. Slow Burn (2015)

   3. Capitol Punishment (2016)

   4. The Hunt (2017)

   5. The Third Brother (2018)

   6. Fatal Judgment (2019)

   7. An Empty Grave (2021)

You can catch up with him here ....

Twitter: @awhcolumbus
Instagram: @awhcolumbus


Check out An Empty Grave. It's well worth a look in my opinion.

Private investigator Andy Hayes takes the assignment against his better judgment.

In 1979, a high-profile burglar shot a cop, was apprehended, and then disappeared without ever being prosecuted. Forty years later, after the wounded cop’s suicide, his son, Preston Campbell, is convinced there’s been a cover-up that allowed his father’s attacker to go free. At first, Hayes dismisses Campbell’s outlandish conspiracy theories. But when a mysterious Cold War connection to the burglar emerges, the investigation heats up, and Hayes discovers a series of deaths that seem to be connected, one way or another, to the missing criminal. Nothing seems to add up, though, and Hayes finds himself hurtling headlong down a decades-old path of deadly secrets.

In the midst of cracking the cold case, Hayes has another mystery to solve closer to home: What’s been troubling his younger son, Joe, and why is his ex-wife so eager to have the boy out of her house? Further complicating matters, Hayes learns that another private eye, the captivating but inscrutable Hillary Quinne, is also on the trail of the vanished burglar and needs Hayes’s help. As their professional and personal lives blur, Hayes wonders what he’s gotten himself into, and whether he really wants out.


  1. Thanks, both, for a great interview. I always enjoy learning about how other authors go about what they do. Nice to "meet" another early riser, too. And the journalism background likely comes in handy when putting a novel together - fascinating!

    1. I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the interview, Margot. I'm no writer myself, but I can imagine that a journalism background would be of benefit when applying the same skills and disciplines to fiction writing.

  2. Good interview, Col. I am going to get his first Andy Hayes novel. Although I don’t know it well, I’ve been to Columbus, Ohio, several times. There’s a terrific little restaurant there called the Flatiron. Wonder if it survived the past year?

    1. Elgin, I hope you enjoy it. If I get to more from Andrew Welsh-Huggins, it will be the first in the Hayes series that I try.