One of the fabulous things about being a member of writing organizations like International Thriller Writers is that you get to meet some of the most fascinating people. When I met author J.J. Hensley this past summer at ThrillerFest, I knew that I wanted to interview him here on Not Even Joking! I am delighted to have him join us here this month. His path to becoming a writer is truly inspirational.
J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He is the author of the novels Resolve, Measure Twice, and Chalk’s Outline. J.J. graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University. He lives near Pittsburgh, PA.
Mr. Hensley’s first novel RESOLVE was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was named a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.
He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.
Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking! You have had a fascinating career in law enforcement. And now, you write crime novels. Was there a particular moment during your prior career that you realized you would become a writer?
Absolutely not. In fact, I can still be standing in a crowded room and overhear someone say, “He’s a writer” and I scan the room to see who the person is talking about. I can’t say I became a writer by accident as much as by experiment. I was working as a Secret Service agent in Washington, D.C. and thanks to our ridiculous commutes, my wife and I were going through audiobooks like crazy. We had always been readers of crime fiction, but we got into the habit of listening to the same books at the same time and then discussing them in the evening. One day, my wife said, “You should try to write a book.” Now, since I’m a male, I didn’t take her advice for several years, but when I did decide to give it a try, I cranked out a first draft of RESOLVE in about three months. I hoped it might be good enough to self-publish, but the next thing I knew I had an agent, a publisher, and then some awards recognition. Things kind of took off from there.
I recently read a review of your novel CHALK’S OUTLINE, which stated, “the story will make you question the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘justice.’” I love novels that make me consider such questions. Will your newest novel BOLT ACTION REMEDY (due out in 2017) also plunge the reader into the fascinating waters of moral ambiguity?
All of my books deal with some level of moral ambiguity. One of the reasons I decided to take on the challenge of writing was that I was sick of characters being so black and white, good and evil, or right and wrong. Real people are gray and that’s what I wanted to reflect. None of my books are particularly morbid, but they aren’t modern day fairy tales either. BOLT ACTION REMEDY involves a protagonist who is a recovering heroin addict who was forced out of a police department, although there are mitigating circumstances. Like most of my “good guys”, he’s a knight in rusty armor. The main character, Trevor Galloway, probably should be seeking to lead a simple existence, but when he agrees to look into a cold case involving a murder in which the victim was killed by someone skilled in shooting and skiing, life gets complicated when he discovers the crime scene is near a biathlon training camp. The result is an internal struggle that has some external consequences.
BOLT ACTION REMEDY features Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway. Have we seen the last of Homicide Detective Jackson Channing?
To quote Bon Jovi, Never Say Goodbye. I’ve written one book featuring a character named Cyprus Keller, one with Jackson Channing, and one with both of those characters. Now I’ve created Trevor Galloway and he’ll be visiting us in Bolt Action Remedy during 2017 and I just signed on for another Galloway book in 2018. However, none of my publishers own the rights to the characters I create and therefore they will be popping up from time to time in short stories or possibly make other appearances in novels. I’ve been given a lot of latitude and I plan on taking advantage of that fact.
What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)
I have a five-year-old daughter and I’m in my early forties. Not to be dark and depressing, but the reality is that it’s possible I won’t be around when my daughter is in her thirties. Writing, even writing crime fiction, is my way to make sure she can still hear my voice after I’m gone. Not that I’m planning to kick the bucket anytime soon, but wanting to leave an echo for my daughter to hear is what drives me to crank out the words.
What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write thrillers?
This is tough question for me, especially since I didn’t start writing until my late thirties. If a young aspiring writer were to ask me for advice, I’d have to say: Read a lot, live a lot, and integrate those experiences into your writing. We all accumulate a few scars in life—some of us more than a few—so leave some of those on the page. Also: Writing and exercise are great outlets for emotion, so use them. For instance, I’m a runner and lift weights. I exercise angry, I write angry, and doing those things leaves me happy.
Thank you so much for joining me here! What wonderful advice.
You can connect with J.J. Hensley on his Website, Facebook, Twitter and on his blog Steel City Intrigue. Also, he has two books coming out (in 2017 and 2018) and you can find out more about those here: https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/record-scratch-coming-in-2018/