Leigh Hearon began her own P.I. agency, Leigh Hearon Investigative Services, in 1992. Her cases have appeared on In the Dead of Night, Forensic Files, 48 Hours, Court TV, City Confidential, Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, and CBS Evening News with Connie Chung.
Hearon was an avid rider of horses throughout her childhood. She currently has a Saddlebred mare, Jolie Jeune Femme, and enjoys watching Jolie and Molly, a rescued Quarterhorse, cavort on a fifty-three-acre farm she shares with her husband.
So how did a girl born in the sleepy mill town of Camas, WA, back when a black and white TV set was the only option, grow up to become a private investigator and mystery author? Rumor has it that I was an adventurous child and that my mother corralled some of this energy with treasure hunts. So I suppose you could say that the seeds were planted at an early age.
There are advantages to spending one’s formative years in a small town. For me, it was a huge confidence builder, perhaps because my competition was so small. I was a happy child, and learned to read, play the piano, and make up stories by the time I was ready for Miss Paul’s first grade class. I also was very much a tomboy. One of my favorite Christmas gifts was the very same Army uniform Rusty wore in my favorite TV show, “Rin Tin Tin.” When I was five, my mother decided to let me pick out my own birthday presents. I chose a cowboy hat and a set of toy guns. I had no interest in dolls; my little sister’s collection was always safe from being plundered.
In 1960, we left this idyllic little town to move to the Bay Area, and the change in scenery was dramatic. And when puberty hit, I was right there with it. I was lucky enough to experience all the groovy stuff in San Francisco and Sausolito as it occurred. I was even more lucky to emerge from it relatively unscathed…but with a lot of vivid memories.
I’d always wanted to be a writer, and so when it came time to choose my major in college, I picked communication, the closest thing to journalism. I graduated, got a job at a local FM radio station, and then wafted over to a muckraking magazine that was published on newsprint and had a circulation of about 500 very dedicated readers. We exposed the dangers of nuclear power plants and other modern threats and took ourselves very seriously.
I was always writing, but as I was painfully aware, not very well. So I went off to Journalism school for an intense year of study in our nation’s capital. Here, and for the first time, I felt as if I was finally developing the skills I needed. Naturally, once I’d obtained my Master’s degree, I had every intention of becoming the great investigative reporter—but I preferred the Northwest over the East coast, and the opportunities back home were slim to none. As time went on, I managed to use my new-found writing skills in a variety of ways—as a speechwriter, corporate writer, advertising copywriter, grant writer—whatever the writing job, I took it on.
In the late 1980s, I ended up at Microsoft, writing about Excel and Flight Simulator. It was in the early days of the corporation, and a fun place to work. One of my fondest memories are the squirt gun fights my editor and I would have in the halls. You could get away with stuff like that back then. But I knew my days were numbered. It was hard to commit to the hours the company required. The work was relatively easy. But the on-the-job-in-the-building expectations were exceptionally high. I developed all sorts of reasons why I didn’t have to be at my desk, and at the end of my tenure, the back of my office door was peppered with Post-It notes of all the reasons I wasn’t there. They surrounded a couple of used targets, usually of bad guys being shot up. By now, I’d already decided on my next career—Leigh Hearon, female P.I. People would come into my office, chat a bit, get up to leave, and then gasp in horror at the sinister target facing them. I never got tired of seeing their reactions. Did I mention that I’m a bit of a later maturer?
Twenty-seven years later, I’m still working as a PI. I love my job, and it’s given me an incredible amount of working material that finds its way into my mysteries. And I’d like to think it keeps my brain cells active and functioning at a reasonably high level. But in recent years, I’ve tempered that career with a new writing one. Yes, all this time, I’d still hoped to write the Great American Mystery. And it wouldn’t have happened if my husband and I hadn’t decided to live on a farm.
When I met Alan, he owned a farm on the Olympic Peninsula, which he’d intentionally purchased and restored to use as a performance venue for his string quartet. When the quartet retired, he hired colleagues to come out and play. Concerts In The Barn eventually developed into a summer-long festival. And that’s where you’d find us every spring and summer.
When I suggested that we experience living on the farm full-time, Alan agreeably went along with the experiment. That was about ten years ago. And here, on 53 acres of rural farmland, I finally found the time and the tranquility to hunker down and see what I could do as a writer of fiction. It didn’t hurt that an old pal, Sandy Dengler, lived in nearby Port Townsend and graciously agreed to read everything I wrote, a decision she’s probably regretted many times but now can’t undo.
Just as I love my PI work, I love writing mysteries. It uses a different part of my brain, and when I’m thick into the writing process, I am infinitely grateful that I am able to spend my time in a kind of suspended creative trance and Make Things Up. When the book is done, I’m always glad to return to my professional role and get my brain involved in fast-paced and fact-filled work. And, after a couple of cases, I’m equally glad to return to my solitary life as a writer.
It’s the best of both worlds. And I hope both will long continue to make up my life.