MA: I am joined today by highly acclaimed author L. C. Hayden, L.C.’s latest Harry Bronson release, Why Casey Had to Die, is an Agatha Award Finalist for Best Novel and a Pennsylvania Top 40 Pick. Casey followed What Others Know, a Left Coast Crime nominee for the prestigious best mystery award.
Besides being an accomplished author, Hayden is a popular speaker often in demand. She has done presentations and workshops all over the United States and was recently hired by major cruise lines to speak about writing while cruising all over the world. From October 2006 to October 2007, Hayden hosted Mystery Writers of America’s only talk show, Murder Must Air.
Hayden, a Texas resident, enjoys traveling, scuba diving, Kayaking, reading, and arts and crafts.
Welcome, L.C. I’m honored to have a fellow Mystery Writers of America member guest-blog with me today. You are definitely a prolific and successful writer. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s all you’ve done, but I’m curious about any pre-writing career you may have had.
LCH: Prior to becoming a full time author, I used to be a teacher. I taught high school English and journalism for 28 years. While teaching, I had three novels published. Then mostly the promotional end of writing started to interfere with my teaching career. I started turning down too many wonderful opportunities. I knew that it was time to retire. In 2001, I did and became a full time writer.
MA: What pulled you to writing fiction?
LCH: In my early writing career, I wrote for magazines and newspapers. One day an editor called me with an assignment. I heard myself saying, “No, thank you. I’m switching gears. I’m going to write a novel instead.” That came out of the blue and it shocked me. I had no idea I wanted to leave nonfiction and join the world of novelists. Since I opened my big mouth, I knew I had to make my statement come true. I wrote my first Harry Bronson book, Who’s Susan? and the rest is history.
MA: Talk about your series and about Harry Bronson. I understand he became an almost accidental protagonist.
LCH: Harry Bronson, my series detective, made his appearance in Who’s Susan? but he wasn’t the featured character. Susan was. He did his job and that was the end of him, as far as I was concerned. When my second book When Colette Died came out, I received tons of emails all basically the same. “Where’s Harry Bronson?” they asked. That’s when I realized that Harry Bronson needed to make a comeback. He did in my third book, Where Secrets Lie. He was also featured in my fourth mystery, What Others Know, but by then, mostly due to reader input, I knew he had to be the main character and not a side character as he was in my first four mysteries. My fifth mystery Why Casey Had to Die was Bronson’s first book where everything centers around him. I suppose I made the right decision as Casey went on to become an Agatha Finalist for Best Novel and a Pennsylvania Top 40 Pick. The next one in the series When Death Intervenes was released in April.
MA: Considering how Harry “fell into” his central role as your hero, how did you go about shaping his character, especially since you didn’t originally intend for him to be the star?
JCH: For Who’s Susan? I needed an elderly detective who could help Susan find her lost son. Since at that time, I wasn’t thinking series, I focused on what kind of character Susan needed. Fortunately for me, I fell in love with Bronson and love writing about him. Bronson is clever, smart, and unorthodox. He does things his way which sometimes frustrates others. He loves his family and loves coffee. Carol, his wife, often gets the best of him. The love for his family is both his strength and his weakness. He also tends to be stubborn which can be a weakness but at times pulls him out of a tight spot.
MA: He sounds a little like my protagonist, Patrick O’Donnell…definitely a real family man. Are your stories hard-boiled, or are the antagonists more like cozy mystery types?
LCH: My bad guys are bad guys—through and through. As of yet, I haven’t had a bad guy cross from one book to the other although I did leave Why Casey Had to Die open-ended.
MA: And do you reflect any of your real life experiences in your stories at all?
LCH: In Who’s Susan? there’s a scene where Susan goes to the daycare center to pick up her kid and he’s not there. That happened to me. I remember seeing the cowboys and cowgirls (it was Western Day) the kids had painted and I kept wondering which one was Don’s (my son.) I knew if I could find which one he did, he’d be returned to me. That scene is in the novel.
MA: I take it you are not going to give up a good thing anytime soon, and that you will keep writing Harry Bronson stories?
LCH: I will continue writing the Harry Bronson series as long as my publisher is willing to publish them. However, I’ve started a standalone set in my home town of El Paso, TX. I’m also starting another series about a reporter in South Lake Tahoe. Mainly because of my grandson, I started writing children’s books. I’d like to do a couple more of those. I’m also working on updating my nonfiction book about miracles and angels, When Angels Touch You.
MA: Any final thoughts you’d like to pass on to my readers?
LCH: As an author, I get asked a lot of questions, but the one I get asked the most is “What exactly does L. C. stand for?” The answer goes back to way before I started writing my novels. Before writing mysteries, I freelanced for several magazines. I looked at the various ones and decided I’d like to write for the treasure magazines. I researched, wrote the article, and since this happened before the invention of computers, I typed the piece. I used my real name as my byline: by Elsie Hayden. My husband, Rich, took the pictures, printed them (told you it was before computers), and I sent the package in. It came back. “Thanks, but we’ve just bought a similar piece.”
I was devastated but did not give up. I researched another buried treasure and eagerly sent it out. It, too, came back. “Thanks, but we’ve just assigned this to someone else.”
Hmm…I wasn’t liking this trend, but I must be from Missouri. I wouldn’t give up. I sent a third, a fourth, a fifth . . . They all came back.
By this time, I felt like a high school dropout. I picked up a copy of the magazine and slammed it down. Talking to myself, I said aloud, “This is exactly what they’re looking for. Why are they not publishing me?”
Rich picked up the magazine and pointed to the title page. “Look at the articles. They’re written by John, by Steve, by Mike. There’s no Marys, no Susies, no Elsies.”
Being a smart cookie, the light dawned on me. I took out the first rejected manuscript and retyped the first page. The only change I made was the byline. I changed it from by Elsie Hayden to by L. C. Hayden. The article was immediately accepted. So were a second, and a third. . . I got used to using the initials and when it came time to write my mysteries and other novels, it felt natural to continue to use L. C. instead of Elsie. And thus, L. C. Hayden, the author, was born (or was I created?).
MA: (smiling) My how times have changed! I’m so happy you prevailed in the end, and continued to pursue a writing career. Many others would have quit in frustration. Thanks for coming over to my blog today. You can read more about L.C. (aka Elsie) Hayden at her websites: http://lchayden.com and www.booksbyhayden.com