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Author J.J. Hensley told he's 'too original'

| Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, 8:55 p.m.
Author J.J. Hensley, a former police officer and Secret Service agent, talks about his mystery/thriller books.
Tribune Review
Author J.J. Hensley, a former police officer and Secret Service agent, talks about his mystery/thriller books.
“Bolt Action Remedy” (Down & Out Books) by J. J. Hensley
“Bolt Action Remedy” (Down & Out Books) by J. J. Hensley
Ron Chernow
Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures
Ron Chernow
Sherman Alexie
Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures
Sherman Alexie
Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle
Imbolo Blue
Imbolo Blue

J.J. Hensley's new novel, “Bolt Action Remedy” (Down & Out Books) features a well-crafted and original story. That might seem to be a positive, but the book's creativity worked against him when he sought a publisher.

“What I discovered over the past few years is that some publishers will shy away from novels that aren't more formulaic and predictable,” says Hensley, a Cranberry, Butler County, resident who appears Oct. 7 at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont for the book release party. “I've actually had a rejection on ‘Bolt Action Remedy' from one of the main five publishers in the country that said they really liked it, but it was too original, which I thought was fascinating feedback. I don't have problems coming up with original content or surprising the reader, but it can actually make it a challenge to get published with a traditional publisher.”

“Bolt Action Remedy” incorporates a camp for biathlon athletes in central Pennsylvania with the unsolved murder of a rich industrialist in rural Pennsylvania. When former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway is hired to investigate the shooting of Peter Lanskard a year after his death, the remote community holds the newcomer at arm's length, especially when a Lithuanian assassin shows up, seeking to avenge a cousin killed by Galloway during a drug investigation.

Hensley, a former police officer and former special agent with the U. S. Secret Service, set his first book, “Resolve,” against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon. For “Bolt Action Remedy,” he sought another sport that required endurance. Nothing worked until Hensley happened upon biathlon, a combination of cross-country skiing and target shooting with a rifle.

“It dawned on me that if I used the sport of biathlon, not only was it an endurance sport that some people would find interesting,” Hensley says, “but everybody who competes in biathlon is already carrying a weapon, which is a unique way of introducing the sport to people.”

Galloway attempts to solve the murder while battling his own demons. While a narcotics detective, he was kidnapped and forcibly injected with heroin. An addict, but not of his own doing, he doesn't look his age. Everyone who meets Galloway thinks he's 10 years older than his 43 years.

Does being in law enforcement increase the risk of aging prematurely?

“I think it can, but probably not as much as parenthood,” Hensley says. “It does cause premature aging with Trevor Galloway. Once you read the story, the reader discovers he went through quite a bit of trauma. It's taken a mental toll on him as well. So I think that's something that I wanted people to observe without him spelling it out. … He's high mileage, even if he's somewhat young at heart sometimes, and he's definitely showing some wear and tear.”

While an element of gloom runs throughout “Bolt Action Remedy,” Hensley leavens that with doses of humor. Galloway is alternately amused and stunned that his younger colleagues have no idea who he's mimicking when he channels Fonzie from “Happy Days.”

“I think (humor) is vital to do in crime fiction these days,” he says, “simply because people don't want to be worn down by darkness throughout an entire story. They need a little bit of comic relief.”

Galloway's appearance at Mystery Lovers also will be a farewell party. In a few weeks, he and his family are moving to coastal Georgia, where he will work in the training division of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Hensley, a member of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime — “I'm a Brother in Crime,” he says — is grateful for the time he's spent in the area.

“I've been here for over 10 years now and the entire literary community in the Pittsburgh area really embraced me,” he says. “I wouldn't have the success I've had if it wasn't for people like Annette (Dashofy, a local mystery writer and Sisters in Crime member) and the staff at Mystery Lovers. It's amazing how close-knit that community is. I may miss that more than anything else. … It's going to be difficult to leave those people behind.”

Hensley's event at Mystery Lovers Bookshop starts at 2 p.m. Oct. 7. Admission is free. Details: 412-828-4877 or

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Literary events

Events are free, unless otherwise noted.

Oct. 2: Veterans Write launch at University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg. Free workshops for veterans with an interest in writing. 7:30 p.m., Village Hall 118, Pitt-Greenburg campus.

Oct. 4: Imbolo Blue, PEN/Faulkner Award winner for “Behold the Dreamers,” an Oprah's Book Club selection. 8 p.m., Alphabet City, Pittsburgh's North Side. 412-435-1110,

Oct. 5: Book launches for “Drowning Above Water” by Alyssa Herron, and “The Rogue Mountains” by Joshua Tarquinio. 7 p.m., Pints on Penn, Lawrenceville. 412-945-7468,

Oct. 6: Passages and Prose 2017 Preview, author panel discussion, featuring Wendy Walker, Sarah Stephens, Daniel Lowe. Barnes & Noble, Settlers Ridge. 412-809-8300,

Oct. 7: Passages and Prose 2017, featuring panel discussions, workshops and other events with 50 national and local writers. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Twentieth Century Club, Oakland. 621-2353,

Oct. 7: D.C. Poets Come to Pittsburgh, featuring Doritt Carroll, Hiram Larew, Judith Robinson, Joan Bauer. 7 p.m., White Whale Bookstore, Bloomfield. 412-224-2847,

Oct. 10: Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, authors of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign,” hosted by PublicSource and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. 7 p.m., Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, Oakland.

Oct. 10: Patrick Rothfuss, book signing for 10th anniversary edition of “The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle Series #1), Barnes & Noble South Hills Village. 835-0379,

Oct. 10: Thomas McCarthy, one of Ireland's pre-eminent poets, Madwomen Reading Series. 7:30 p.m. Carlow University, Kresge Auditorium. 800-333-2275,

Oct. 10: Eileen Myles, author of “Afterglow: A Dog Memoir.” 8 p.m., Alphabet City, Pittsburgh's North Side. 412-435-1110,

Oct. 11: Drue Heinz Literature Prize Reading, featuring winner William Wall (“The Islands: Six Fictions”) and judge David Gates. 7 p.m., William Pitt Union, University of Pittsburgh, Oakland. 412-383-2456,

Oct. 12: Lynda Schuster, foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor, 8 p.m., Alphabet City, Pittsburgh's North Side. 412-435-1110,

Oct. 13: Lebo Comics Festival, featuring John Kelly, director of ToonSeum. 7 p.m., Mt. Lebanon Public Library. 412-531-1912,

Oct. 14: Libations at the Library, wine tasting and auction benefit for Carnegie Library of Homestead. $50/$60. 1:30 p.m., Carnegie Library of Homestead. 412-462-6956,

Oct. 15: William Wall, Irish poet and writer. 6 p.m., Alphabet City, North Side. 412-435-1110,

Oct. 15: Sherman Alexie, author of “Thunder Boy Jr.,” Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Words & Pictures series. 2:30 p.m., Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, Oakland. $11. Alexie also appears Oct. 16 as a guest of PA&L Ten Evenings Series at 7:30 p.m., Carnegie Library Music Hall, Oakland. $15. 412-622-8866,

Oct. 17: Paul Eprile, translator of Jean Giono's “Melville: A Novel” 8 p.m., Alphabet City, Pittsburgh's North Side. 412-435-1110,

Oct. 18: Books in the Burgh, featuring S.L. Price, author of “Playing Through the Whistle.” 7 p.m., Senator John Heinz History Center, Strip District. 412-454-6373,

Oct. 20: Moth GrandSLAM 2017: Growing Pains. 8 p.m., New Hazlett Theater, North Side. $25. 412-320-4610,

Oct. 23: Lebo Comics Festival, Visible Pictures: Tales of Comic Script Writing with Yona Harvey. 412-531-1912,

Oct. 24: Roddy Doyle, author of “The Commitments” and the new novel “Smile,” Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' New & Noted. $20 (includes copy of “Smile”). 7 p.m., Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, Oakland. 412-622-8866,

Oct. 29: West Side Stories, featuring Clare Beams and Theresa Brown. 1 p.m., Carnegie Library of Carnegie. 412-276-3456,

Oct. 30: Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author “Washington: A Life” and “Alexander Hamilton,” the inspiration for the celebrated Broadway play. Sold out. 412-622-8866,

Braddock Avenue Books

The local independent publisher has just released “The Best Small Fictions, 2017.” Edited by award-winning writer Amy Hempel, the collection features stories by Joy Williams, Stuart Dybek, and Pittsburgh's Sherrie Flick, a South Side resident. Details:

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