Tag Archives: research

Quoth the Raven… You’re Now On A Watch List!

I honestly don’t know how people wrote novels before having access to the miracles of technology we now have at our fingertips.  I cranked out about 3,000 words over the past two days (hopefully a few of the words are decent) and conducted research along the way.  If not for modern technology, this little section of a manuscript would have taken me days, if not weeks, to construct in any intelligible way.  Allow me to explain while paying tribute to a few wonderful tools of technology.

Spelling and Grammar Checks:  Oh, how I love thee.  Not only do you catch the fact I never type “definitely” right, but you signal me with a little green line if you think I may have meant “lying” and not “laying”.  Sure, you frustrate me when I get on a roll, fail to look at the screen when I type, and then I raise my eyes to see you have underlined most of an entire paragraph in blood.  But, I forgive you.  And you truly humble me when I put forth my very best effort to spell a difficult word and you give me the Microsoft version of the middle finger by telling me “No suggestions found“. That’s right, MS Word.  You have a gazillion words saved to memory and you’re telling me I’m not close to ANY of them.  Awesome.

But, if not for you many a proofreader would have seen my many spelling and grammatical flaws.  I still love thee.

This Internet Thing:  Occasionally, I’m writing a section of a novel and come to the realization I need to research something.  Edgar Allen Poe would have had to have gone to a library and spent hours finding the chapters in the right texts.  Mark Twain would have had to interview countless people, take copious notes, and then try to make sense of them later.  Now while I do both of these things, sometimes I just need to nail down a few facts to make sure I’m not making a colossal blunder.  Thank you, Internet.


The Internet – Circa. 1974  Tin cans on a string.

Where else can you get two-minute YouTube videos of someone pushing buttons on a stereo system (yes, this was part of my research this week).  And while the Internet can be a huge distraction, it is incredibly convenient when a writer needs basic facts or a visual or audio aid.  However, it’s just as well this technology wasn’t around in the nineteenth century.  Can you imagine seeing Poe’s browser history?????  Quoth the Raven… Dude, you’re now on a watch list. 

The third one is…


Sorry, I checked Twitter and got sidetracked.  Damn Internet.

Movies and Television:  You might be thinking, Movies and television?  Are you insane?  My answers to those three questions are, Yes, you read that right and Possibly.  While these mediums have been around for quite some time, shows and films have never been – for better or worse – more detailed and descriptive.  While some may argue this leaves little to the imagination, I believe the vivid images people see may in some ways help readers envision what a novelist is attempting to describe.  That being said, novelists have to be cautious as to not get lazy and paint a superficial picture and expect the latest big prime time drama to fill in the unpainted sections.

A movie theater. You probably knew that.

A movie theater.
You probably knew that.

I’ve had many people tell me that my novels read like movies.  They mean it as a compliment, so I’m assuming they aren’t referencing the second Star Wars trilogy.  What I think the readers  are saying is that they had no trouble seeing the action play out and the story was paced appropriately.  Or they consider my characters’ dialogue to be similar to that of Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.  In which case, I need to dig up my old Rocky IV soundtrack, crank up some Survivor, and work on my dialogue writing skills.

What are some technological advances that have made your work easier?  It doesn’t have to be writing.  Anything at all!  Comment below.

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

Twitter @JJHensleyauthor


An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.



In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.


Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

Legacy cover


That Time I Accidentally Helped David Baldacci with Book Research

Polygraphs and Paperwork

From 2002 – 2004, I was stationed at the Washington Field Office (WFO) as a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.  I had started my career in 2000, arresting mostly counterfeiters in Richmond, VA.  Three years later I was a team leader in WFO, helping to supervise a squad that – among other things – conducted polygraph examinations.

Admittedly, this was not the most exciting task I was ever assigned.  Part of the squad conducted background investigations and the other part ran polygraph exams.  I wasn’t a trained polygraph examiner, so I pretty much left the examiners alone, other than to make sure their paperwork was correct and their travel orders were processed.  I admit that having been subjected to extensive employment/security polygraph exams in the past, part of my mind simply wanted to create some distance between me and those imposing machines that have a way of making the most innocent of individuals feel like they spent their youth on a killing spree.


Although I did not personally conduct the exams, I did have a good understanding of the methodology and, due to my position, knew when and where examinations were taking place.  Some of the exams were for criminal investigations, while many were conducted on applicants hoping to get into the Secret Service.  Regardless of the reason, or the level of innocence with the subject of the exam, the process is long and stressful.  Additionally, the information disclosed by the subject is often personal, sensitive, and should be handled with great care.  So, you never discuss the details with anybody.  Not friends.  Not family.

And never, EVER a bestselling novelist.



“Hey, aren’t you that guy?”

During my time in D.C., I’d seen the occasional celebrity come through the office.  One moment that stands out in my memory is when a few high-level supervisors were escorting a rough-looking individual through the building.  The man was unshaven, his hair was a mess, and he was wearing a beat-up denim jacket and ripped jeans.  Part of my brain told me that he was a suspect, but the fact he was not handcuffed and was being led around by high-ranking supervisors made me look twice.  It turned out the man was Sean Penn and he was touring the office because he was researching his role as a Secret Service agent in the movie The Interpreter.  He was getting a lot of cooperation from the agency and it seemed most of management knew he was on site.  However, it turned out some celebrities were a little more low-key.

At some point in 2003, a female agent I had worked with a couple of times approached me outside my office.  She was new to the office, so I didn’t think twice as she asked me a few innocuous questions about the number of polygraph exams we ran in a week, the purpose of the exams, and some other basic administrative questions.  Fortunately I wasn’t very specific, because I hadn’t seen the man who was taking notes while standing behind her.  After I had finished spouting off some information, my colleague stepped aside and said, “J.J., I’d like you to meet David Baldacci.”  How in the world had I not seen him?  I was a trained observer!  Seriously, the man was like a ninja with a notebook.


Back then, I had absolutely no idea I’d become a crime novelist and I had never written a word of fiction.  However, I certainly knew of David Baldacci and had recently finished reading one of his novels.  I shook hands with Mr. Baldacci while asking myself several questions of my own.

What information had I revealed?

Had I revealed anything sensitive?

If I had disclosed anything sensitive, should I ask Baldacci to autograph my termination papers?


The Genesis of a Future Career?

As it turns out, I hadn’t said anything more than one could read in an official Secret Service brochure or find on the Internet.  After a few pleasantries, the female agent and Mr. Baldacci went on their way and I was left wondering if anything I had said would end up in a book someday.  Since then, I’ve read several of Baldacci’s novels and I can’t recall seeing anything about polygraphs… yet.

When my first novel Resolve was up for an award at this year’s Thrillerfest in New York City, I had hoped to see the famous writer (who I was sure would not remember our 30 second conversation) and ask him if he had ever used the information.  Unfortunately, he had left the day before and I never got a chance to ask him the questions or to tell him that a quick conversation in 2003 may have played an inspirational role in my becoming a crime novelist.

If nothing else, I learned that someday I wanted to have his ninja-like research skills so that one day someone may write a blog post about the way they accidentally helped me with my research.

Have you ever met a celebrity who left a lasting impression on you?  Comment below!

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and Measure Twice. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

RESOLVE was a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization, was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine, and is one of Authors on the Air’s Best Books of the Year.

Twitter @JJHensleyauthor


An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

Measure Twice 750 x 1200 jpeg