J.J. Hensley, a former police officer and special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, is an author and a 2010 alumnus who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from CSU. He is currently a training supervisor with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and lives near Pittsburgh, Penn.
He has drawn upon his experiences in law enforcement to write stories full of suspense and insight. In fact, Hensley’s first novel, “Resolve,” was chosen as one of the best books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and 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.
We asked Hensley a few questions about his craft, law enforcement and CSU.
Q: When did you decide to become a writer?
A: In 2010, I decided to make an attempt at writing a novel. I had toyed with the idea for years, but never followed through with writing anything. I was training for a half-marathon and found that I had lots of time to think during long training runs. While I was running, I came up with the general concept for the book as well as character names and the title for the novel, which was “Resolve.”
Q: What inspired you to pursue writing after a long career in law enforcement?
A: When you work in law enforcement, you are exposed to so many situations that can seem stranger than fiction. Once you look back and think about some of those experiences, it’s hard not to imagine integrating them into some type of story. The hard part is that some of those real-life events are so surreal that if you use them in a novel, some people might accuse you of writing something totally unbelievable.
Q: What do you enjoy most about writing thrillers?
A: I love the pacing and the fact that the action defines the characters. You can write a story with the best characters in the world, but if the story is lousy, nobody will want to read it. With mysteries and thrillers, even if characters are lacking in some way, the story can captivate the reader and keep them interested in the plot.
Q: What inspired you to write “Resolve?”
It was an opportunity to combine two things I knew a little about: Distance running and criminal investigation. I wanted to write a book different than anything else out there, so I set the book against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon and each of the 26.2 chapters represents a mile of the race. I decided to take the reader through a journey unlike any other. The main character tells the story while running the race, while at the same time pursuing (literally) a killer. However, it’s not a story that is specifically for runners. Most of my readers have never run a step.
Q: How did it feel to learn “Resolve” was a finalist in the “best first novel” competition of the International Thriller Writers?
A: I started out simply wondering if I could write a book and was ecstatic when I ended up getting published. So having “Resolve” receive an incredible distinction like being named an award finalist by the ITW organization was beyond any expectations I ever had. In a few short years, I went from writing my first chapter to seeing my name on a nominee list with some of the most famous authors in the world. I’ve been incredibly fortunate and I’m not going to take that for granted.
Q: How would you describe your latest work, “Measure Twice?”
A: “Measure Twice” is a fast-paced thriller that deals with the themes of addiction, recovery, and redemption. In the novel, an addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials and Detective Jackson Channing has been assigned the case. The problem is, Channing is battling his own addiction and is holding on to a secret that is tearing him apart. “Measure Twice” is divided into 12 chapters, which represent the 12 steps of addiction recovery. It’s a much different book than “Resolve,” but still integrates aspects of criminal investigation throughout a very original plot. As a bonus, a portion of the sales for Measure Twice (which will be released in paperback and ebook formats this month) are going toward breast cancer research through a nonprofit called Par for The Cure.
Q: What’s the next thriller for your fans?
A: My third, and still untiled, book is scheduled to come out in 2015. It will combine some of the characters from “Resolve” and “Measure Twice,” but will read as a standalone novel.
Q: What inspired you to seek a master’s degree in criminal justice with CSU?
A: I was a police officer in Chesterfield County, Va., and later served as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service. I was looking on a way of furthering my education, but the travel and the odd hours made it impossible to attend classes at many institutions. CSU’s program allowed me the flexibility I needed to work on my degree while juggling everything else in life.
Q: Beside writing and running, what are your other activities?
A: These days, my wife and I have a daughter who is nearly 3 years old. So any additional “spare” time we have involves Dora the Explorer or taking her on our own adventures. I also clean up a lot of glitter. Man, I hate glitter.
Q: With the recent graduation, what advice would you give the CSU Class of 2014?
A: Your life is a novel. One rough chapter won’t ruin the book.
You can learn more about Hensley and his books at his website, www.hensley-books.com.