5 Questions With… J.J. Hensley

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Pittsburgh’s own J.J. Hensley brought some suspense to our Summer Reading book list with Resolve, his award-winning thriller that centers on the Pittsburgh Marathon. J.J’s upcoming novel Bolt Action Remedy, which will come out in October, takes the action to a small town in Central PA.

J.J. will be appearing at CLP – Mount Washington at 6:30 on Thursday, August 24th. J.J. recently gave an interview to give a little taste of his upcoming talk.

CLP: What is the most challenging thing about writing for you? The easiest?

J.J. Hensley: I’ll start by answering the second part first. For me, the easiest part of writing is… WRITING. Well, at least the first draft comes easily. I’m extremely fortunate that once I sit down to write something the words tend to flow. The aspects I find to be the most challenging are pretty much everything else. I HATE the editing process. When I’m driving somewhere, I can’t even stand backtracking to head north when my destination is south, even if that’s the fastest route. So deleting words or entire chapters drives me bonkers. I also can feel uncomfortable with marketing, as it feels like self-promotion.

CLP: What do you hope people will take away from your books?

J.J. H.: When someone turns the last page of one of my books, I want them to keep thinking about the story or characters. The protagonists in my novels are generally flawed and display some level of moral ambiguity. I want my readers to root for my main characters, but not be completely certain they should. If I can keep a reader thinking after they finish the book, then I feel I’ve accomplished something.

CLP: Tell us about your favorite library experience or memory.

J.J. H.: I was the guest at an after-hours library event where two book clubs were in attendance. One of the book clubs had read Resolve and the other had read Measure Twice. It was fun talking to the groups about both books while simultaneously seeing how each club interpreted the story they had read. I couldn’t help but to note the club that chose Measure Twice, which deals with an alcoholic protagonist, was passing around bottles of wine during the discussion. So, I guess they were really into the story!

cover for bolt action remedy

CLP: What interview question do you wish you were asked more often, and what’s the answer?

J.J. H.: It rarely comes up (why would it), but I wish music would be a topic brought up in interviews more often. When I write, I see the story like a movie in my mind. That movie comes with a soundtrack, so I’m hearing various songs while writing scenes. Yes, I hear things in my own head. Don’t judge me.

Anyway… by associating music with what is happening in a story, I think it helps me set the mood for a chapter — and eventually the entire book. I even mention songs in each of my books. For instance, in Resolve, I mentioned songs by Tom Petty and Bob Seger. In Measure Twice, I mentioned “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. In Chalk’s Outline, I have a character listening to a song by Godsmack. In my next book, Bolt Action Remedy (October 2017), the protagonist loves ’80s hair bands. The follow-up to Bolt Action Remedy is called Record Scratch (2018), and it deals with the murder of a musician. The chapters of that book are laid out like tracks on an album, so it’s filled with musical references.

Now, I say I wish the topic would come up more often, but now that I think of it, my taste in music drifts into modern hard rock and heavy metal. Those genres don’t always appeal to many of my readers, so maybe it’s for the best music isn’t brought up too often in interviews.

CLP: What three books should every human read and why?

J.J. H.: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: I read this book in college and I believe it was the most influential work I read as a young adult. It almost made philosophy cool. And it really has nothing to do with Zen Buddhism, so it taught me to get mad any time I see it shelved under Easter Religions in a bookstore.

Crime and Punishment: I don’t know if any other book addresses the human conscience like Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. The concepts of justice and guilt in that book have influenced my writing as much as my personal experiences in law enforcement.

Freakonomics: We all need to be challenged to think outside the box and question conventional wisdom. This book takes an economist’s look at our world and demonstrates things aren’t always as they seem.

-Dan H.

Meet author J.J. Hensley at CLP – Mt. Washington

Join us 8/24 at 6:30 pm!

Dan is a librarian who works on outreach, partnerships, and all sorts of other library work. If he managed to finish half of the books (mostly big novels and nonfiction) he starts, he’d be pretty well-read. Alas, most weeks the poems and restaurant review in The New Yorker will have to suffice.