Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author J.J. Hensley

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with J.J. Hensley
with J.J. Hensley

We are delighted to welcome back author J.J. Hensley to Omnimystery News today.

J.J. last visited with us in April, when he told us more about his debut thriller, Resolve, which was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was named a finalist for the Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization. He has since published a new novel, Measure Twice (Bad Day Books; September 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with him to talk a little more about his work.

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Omnimystery News: Both of your novels are stand-alones. Have you considered sequels to either or starting a series?

J.J. Hensley
Photo provided courtesy of
J.J. Hensley

J.J. Hensley: When I wrote my first novel, Resolve, I had no idea if it would get published so I approached it as a stand-alone novel. After completing that book, I had started on my second stand-alone crime novel, Measure Twice, which like my first book is set in Pittsburgh. By the time I was finishing up with Measure Twice, Resolve had received a good deal of attention and I realized I it would be fun to write a third novel and bring some of the characters together. The end result is a book scheduled to be released in late 2015. That book will bring together some of the characters from each of the other novels. These three books may not be viewed as a typical series, but ultimately the readers will have a chance to see how some of their favorite characters interact with each other. I suppose my lack of organizing has actually paid off a bit. Since I never outline before I start writing, I always feel I've given myself a lot of flexibility in the way I want my novels to progress. I can't really mess up my plan, since I never really had one!

OMN: How do you generally categorize your books?

JJH: Resolve is more of a Hard-boiled Mystery and Measure Twice is a Thriller. However, I've found it easier to simply refer to my work as Crime Fiction since I've always had somebody investigating a crime. Part of that probably comes from my having a background in local and Federal law enforcement and tending to write what I know. I love writing about police work and investigative methodologies while giving the reader some insight into the field of law enforcement. Labeling books as Suspense, Police Procedural, etc. can serve a purpose for marketing, but Crime Fiction really captures what I'm doing with my longer works.

OMN: Tell us something about Measure Twice that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsos.

JJH: A portion of the sales for Measure Twice go toward breast cancer research.

OMN: Give us a summary of the book in a tweet.

JJH: 2 men, 2 addictions, 12 steps to stop a killer. #Pittsburgh #MeasureTwice http://tinyurl.com/m8c4kbd

OMN: You mentioned that you don't outline your stories in advance of writing a book. What approach do you use?

JJH: While I don't use typical outlines, I do tend to structure my books in ways that guide the stories. For instance, Resolve — which is set against the backdrop of a marathon — is divided into 26.2 chapters to mirror the mileage of the race. The story is told through series of flashbacks as the protagonist is running through Pittsburgh. A lot of people don't realize that the action of the story in the flashback scenes is largely driven by the terrain of the marathon course on that particular "mile". I used a similar device in Measure Twice. That book is divided into the 12 "steps" of addiction recovery and the verbiage of the step helps determine the action of the characters.

Since I don't outline or write a synopsis prior to writing, structuring my books like this helps me stay on track and generates new ideas as I write. I don't go into a project with much more than a vague concept and a structure and then I see how things develop over time. I've had people read portions of my books while I'm still in the process of writing them and they say, "I can't wait to see how things turn out." My typical reply is, "Me neither!"

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your books?

JJH: A lot of my information comes from my own experiences. I learned a great deal when I was in law enforcement and I typically use that knowledge in my writing. However, technologies and methods change, so I will contact people who are still in the field and ask them about the latest advances or changes in tactics.

Sometimes, I have to research area in which I have no familiarity and that involves tracking down experts who can help me. For example, my current work in progress involves the sport of Biathlon. Knowing next to nothing about the sport, I used the Internet to track down a former Olympic Biathlete and he was kind enough to answer my questions. I find that doing that type of research enjoyable since I love learning about new things and trying to understand the nuances involved with various activities.

OMN: Tell us more about the cover design. How involved were you with it?

JJH: I absolutely LOVE the cover of Measure Twice. The title obviously comes from the expression, "Measure twice, cut once" which plays on the themes of precision and cutting that woven in the story. The publisher, Assent Publishing, had proposed a cover that I didn't care for and then my wife had the idea of using a knife with a handle that looked like a ruler. I thought it was brilliant and the publisher was more than happy to go with that idea.

OMN: Suppose your novels were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the key roles?

JJH: This is an interesting topic to me because I don't spend a lot of time on physical descriptions in my books. Part of this is because I think the reader will come up with their own image, regardless of what I write. An example of this would be that my wife and I are fans of the Vince Flynn series and the character of Mitch Rapp. However, when we have talked about what actor should play that role in a movie, we have very different ideas about that. So, I'm sure my own mental image of my protagonists is much different than most.

However, if I had to choose an actor for Cyprus Keller (Resolve), it would be Chris Pine. If I was to choose an actor for Jackson Channing (Measure Twice), I'd pick Karl Urban. The fact that both of those guys have been in the recent Star Trek movies is a coincidence. I'm not a Trekkie. Really!

OMN: When selecting a book to read for pleasure, what do you look for?

JJH: I look for anything different! There are so many creative small press books out there that don't get the exposure they deserve. Books that have atypical structures and inventive plots grab my attention. However, I still read a lot of mainstream authors in my genres.

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J.J. Hensley is a former police officer and Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service who has drawn upon his experiences in law enforcement to write stories full of suspense and insight. Hensley, who is originally from Huntington, WV, 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. The author is currently a training supervisor with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and lives with his beautiful wife, daughter, and two dogs near Pittsburgh, PA.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at Hensley-Books.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Measure Twice by J.J. Hensley

Measure Twice
J.J. Hensley
A Suspense Thriller

Pittsburgh Homicide Detective Jackson Channing is struggling to break free from an addiction. His alcoholism may have cost him his marriage and now threatens to sweep away his sanity.

When the body of a city official is discovered in a public location, the entire city of Pittsburgh bears witness to a form of evil that is difficult to comprehend. Channing learns the killer is patient, methodical, and precise. In order to stop the killing, Channing will have to pull his live together and come to terms with a secret that is tearing him apart.

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