To my surprise, [End of the Road]...drew its heart from my personal and professional lives like nothing I’d written before.
My new crime novel, The End of the Road, is my first standalone following seven installments in my Andy Hayes private eye series. I tend to write pretty methodically, but the first draft poured out of me in a rush in 2015—turns out there’s a reason it’s called a rocket draft. In the aftermath of that summer of rapid typing, I realized it was a book not just years, but decades in the making. To my surprise, it also drew its heart from my personal and professional lives like nothing I’d written before.
The novel loosely uses the structure of Homer’s The Odyssey to weave together the stories of three main characters, and here’s where the personal influence begins. I was a classics major in college, where I focused on Homer, and in fact, completed a senior thesis in 1983—almost exactly four decades before The End of The Road came out—in which I reimagined the life of a Homeric storyteller.
Since then, the notion of a hero on a long and dangerous journey with an uncertain ending has continued to fascinate me. (For example, I embed traits of Odysseus into my fictional private eye, a rapscallion who drives a Honda Odyssey and hails from Homer, Ohio—a real place.) Later on, I found myself channeling lessons from Homer when conceiving of and writing about my own Penelope—a young woman, "Penny," who embarks on a solo quest to avenge her boyfriend’s shooting. Although her journey lasts a little more than 24 hours instead of 20 years, I enjoyed hearkening back to my college-day infatuation with the wily Odysseus as I crafted Penny’s own odyssey and the challenges testing her along the way.
Studying the classics sparked one personal inspiration for the book. The next developed decades later after my wife and I settled in Columbus, Ohio. We live in an older, middle-class neighborhood on the city’s west side on the edge of an even older neighborhood called the Hilltop, a part of town with a long and proud history but also a place where decades of poverty, misplaced government planning efforts, and institutional negligence have made life tough for many of its residents. In writing about Penny and her family, I knew immediately she would be a Hilltop dweller, one of the many hardworking people I’ve observed there over the years who carry on despite numerous obstacles placed in their path. (Like pretty much any locale, the Hilltop also has its share of ne’er-do-wells, and it wasn’t hard to conjure up Pryor, my book’s one-eyed villain, as a composite character based on the neighborhood’s rougher denizens.)
Next came the novel’s professional influences, which stretch back almost as far as my college days. In 1990, as a young reporter at The Herald-Times in Bloomington, Indiana, I started work as a full-time police reporter, joining a long line of journalists who hone their skills covering crime and disaster. In addition to handling coverage in Bloomington, a lively college town, I was also responsible for happenings in the county’s rural areas and many other counties as well. As a result, I spent many nights at gruesome scenes, from homicide locations to car wrecks across southern Indiana, and along the way got to know several sheriff’s deputies.
In hindsight, that experience led directly to the third main character in The End of The Road, a deputy named J.P. who, working for a sheriff’s office in a (fictional) rural county near Columbus, is inadvertently drawn into Penny’s hunt for Pryor. Just as my tenure living near the Hilltop inspired me to pay homage to its residents in the form of Penny, my years covering cops in Indiana influenced the creation of J.P. as a kind of tribute to those deputies who often worked alone and under risky conditions.
Writing what you know—though a bit of a cliché these days—is certainly something that helps fuel many fiction writers, including myself. But as I found drafting The End of The Road, writing what I lived and who I worked with proved just as useful.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins is a reporter for the Associated Press in Columbus, Ohio by day and author of seven books in the Andy Hayes private eye series, featuring a former Ohio State and Cleveland Browns quarterback turned investigator, by even earlier in the day. He is the editor of the Columbus Noir anthology from Akashic Books, and the author of two nonfiction books, No Winners Here Tonight, the definitive history of Ohio's death penalty, and Hatred At Home, about the terrorism prosecution of three Ohio friends. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and Mystery Tribune among others. When he’s not writing or reporting, Welsh-Huggins enjoys running, reading, cooking, and spending time with family.