Allison Again! Yesterday we had J.J. Hensley interview Gwen Florio; today Gwen interviews J.J.! Both are nominees for Best First Novel in the ITW Thriller awards … and both are debut novelists with the same small press publisher, Permanent Press. I’m thrilled for both of them!
J.J.: Oh, it’s certainly ramped up. Many people don’t realize that for every exciting moment you experience in law enforcement, there are fifty boring ones. Sure, I can tell stories about chasing people down alleys and driving a car 100 mph. Things like that sound fascinating. However, I can also remember doing things like standing post for a twelve-hour midnight shift in a hotel in Portland, Oregon. If I incorporated things like that into my work, I would write the most boring stories of all time.
Gwen: Continuing on that theme, your background gives you very specialized knowledge about weapons, police procedure, etc. I’m sure you see other writers (OK, me) getting some of that information wrong. How prevalent is that, and how frustrating is it for you?
J.J.: It’s oddly common to find mistakes like that in novels. I guess I get frustrated if an author misses something that is easily researched. In this day and age, you can pretty much Google anything or find it in the library. Also, I’ve found getting information in person is very simple.
When I started writing Resolve, I needed to know things like what kind of handguns were being used by the Pittsburgh Police. I simply walked into a Pittsburgh-area police supply store, told one of the guys there what I was doing, and rattled off some questions. Not only did he answer what he could, but also put me in touch with a Pittsburgh officer who answered some other questions. People are more than willing to help if you take the time to ask questions.
Gwen: “Resolve” hooked me instantly with its description of the painful difference between running on concrete and running on asphalt. What came first—the running, or a decision to write a novel based on a marathon?
J.J.: I’ve always run to some extent, but didn’t get serious about it until about five years ago. At that point, I started training for a half-marathon and found myself with lots of time to think while I was cranking out the miles. That was when I started contemplating writing a book and came up with the idea to set a story against the backdrop of a marathon. It seemed like a natural fit with what I was doing at the time, and I enjoyed constructing the plot when I would be out on an eight or ten mile run.
Gwen: You have a full-time job, and you and your wife are raising an exceptionally adorable daughter, a wonderful but time-consuming endeavor. Plus, you’re a distance runner. When do you find the time to write?
J.J.: I wrote Resolve and most of two other manuscripts before my daughter was born. For the first two years of her life, I have only written shorter works and I haven’t been able to run nearly as much. Now that she’s a little older and becoming her own little person, I’m finding a little more time to run and write. However, I admit it’s challenging to get into the flow of writing when you are sporadically doing it during nap times and Dora the Explorer episodes.
Gwen: “Resolve” garnered terrific reviews and of course is a finalist for an International Thriller Award. I’d love to hear your thoughts on a publishing industry that saw such a strong first novel rejected by big publishers. What makes you persevere?
J.J.: When I first wrote Resolve, I really didn’t give much thought to whether it was going to get published by a big publisher or a small press. Since it my first attempt at writing a novel, I was simply thrilled it was getting published at all. Now that I’ve seen how many quality books (like Montana, by Gwen Florio) end up with small publishers, I feel like I’m in great company. I think there is something to be said about going the small press route (in fact my next two books – which I mentioned are already completed – are with another small publisher), as there can be a lot of personal attention given to an author.
If I end up with a big publisher someday… so be it. But, I write so that in 20, 30, or 40 years my daughter will be able to walk over to a bookshelf and pick up a novel that I created. She’ll be able to look at the dedication page and see her name alongside her mother’s name. Whenever she does open one of the books to that page, the absolute last thing she will ever wonder about is the size of the publisher. In the end, she’ll see that her daddy loved her and creatively killed off a lot of fictional characters in her name.
Wait… that sounded sweeter in my head than it did when I said it aloud.
Do you have any questions for J.J.? Ask away!