I knew from the time I chewed on my first picture book while lying in my crib, I was going to be a published author.
I always had this little voice in my head telling me I had stories to tell the world!
After spending years learning the craft through formal education, I called upon all of that accumulated knowledge to land a book deal.
Yeah. I didn’t do any of those things.
We frequently hear people say that there are many paths to publication. If fact, that statement has become a cliché of sorts and probably falls on deaf ears more often than not. However, there really are many paths and some are a bit unorthodox. My path to getting my first novel traditionally published involved a combination of skill, perseverance, and luck. But, mostly luck. Probably 99% of it was luck. Definitely luck.
My wife and I had always been avid readers of crime fiction, and that was still the case when we moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2002. I was working as a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service and had recently transferred from the field office in Richmond, Virginia. In Richmond, my commute to the office had taken me about five minutes. My commute into D.C. from our new home in Northern Virginia was more like 60 to 90 minutes… each way. If a snowflake hit the ground, then that time could easily double as my fellow commuters would stop their cars on Interstate 66 to witness the moon turning to blood and watch the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse thoughtlessly jam up the HOV lanes. The bright side to traffic Armageddon was that I my wife and I had plenty of time to listen to audiobooks while the Seventh Seal was being broken, demanding motorists take alternate routes that were equally as clogged.
The result of dealing with monstrous commutes was that my spouse and I would go through an audiobook a week in addition to whatever we were reading at home. We would listen to these audiobooks on CD, with one of us listening to a disc and then passing on to the other. Then, in the evening we would sit and talk about whatever book we were listening to and discuss what we liked or did not like in the way the story was constructed. One day in 2004 or 2005, while discussing how we thought a particular book could have been improved, my wife said something she probably now regrets. She said, “Maybe you should try to write a book.”
Well, I’m a male. So, naturally I didn’t listen. In fact, it wasn’t until we relocated to the Pittsburgh area that I even considered taking on such a foolish pursuit. But in 2010 while training for a half-marathon, I got it into my head to write a story called RESOLVE that was set against the backdrop of a marathon. I had a vague concept of the plot, but no real outline or plan. One day I sat down at the computer and typed out two or three chapters, printed them out, and handed them to my wife. I had no idea if I could write, so I wouldn’t have been totally shocked if she set them on fire. Instead, she said, “I think this is really good. I can’t wait to see what happens next!” I nodded with false confidence and thought, Me neither! Because I haven’t got a clue.
It turned out I write fast and I finished the first draft of that manuscript within three months. I then researched what steps to take regarding getting published, which led me to begin the query letter process. Shockingly, there weren’t a lot of agents champing at the bit to represent a writer with no track record, who wrote a mystery that involves criminal investigation and distance running. Go figure.
However, I did land an agent in late 2010 and my book sold to a publisher in 2011. After a grueling two years of waiting, RESOLVE was released in 2013 and—much to my surprise—was well received. Also to my surprise, the book won a couple of awards and was a Thrillerfest finalist for Best First Novel. All because my wife suggested I should write a book. And because of luck. Did I mention luck?
You might think that THIS is How It Happened. But, for whatever reason I didn’t really consider myself a writer until well after the publication date. I don’t think I accepted the title until one day I was walking through a bookstore with my daughter who had just turned two years old. She waddled over to a shelf and pointed to a book cover that she had seen around the house from time to time. She looked at the book and then back to me as recognition set in.
I knew then, I was going to write a lot more books. That’s when I became a writer.
J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He 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. Hensley’s works include the novels Measure Twice and Resolve; the latter was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was a finalist for Best First Novel at the 2014 Thriller Awards.
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