Tag Archives: J.J. Hensley

Readin’at: J.J. Hensley; Conversations and Connections; Podcamp 9

You may have noticed that it has been several weeks (maybe longer) since I wrote a Readin’at post here on the blog, contrary to my intention to make this a weekly feature.  I still have those aspirations (always good to have something to strive for, right?).

God knows it isn’t for lack of content ideas. All kinds of great things have been happening in the Pittsburgh literary community lately.

Measure TwicePittsburgh writer J.J. Hensley has a new novel, Measure Twice. Official book launch is Friday, October 10 from 5-6 p.m. at The Shops at Heritage Station, 201 Eleventh Street, Huntington, WV.

Hensley will be donating a portion of sales from Measure Twice to Par for the Cure, a nonprofit dedicated to raising money for breast cancer research.

One doesn’t usually think of Huntington as the go-to-spot for book launch parties, but Hensley is a Mountain State native and wanted to introduce this book in his hometown. Those closer to the ‘Burgh will have several chances in October to catch Hensley closer to home, including at one event at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop on October 25.

Hensley has chosen Pittsburgh for the setting of Measure Twice. In this novel, Pittsburgh Homicide Detective Jackson Channing’s alcoholism addiction may cost him his marriage, sanity and career. When the body of a city official is discovered in a public location, the entire city of Pittsburgh bears witness to a form of evil that is difficult to comprehend and Channing must face more than one demon.

Conversations and Connections, a one-day writer’s conference that brings together writers, editors, and publishers in a friendly, supportive environment, comes to Chatham University next Saturday, October 18.   The conference is organized by Barrelhouse, a literary magazine based in Washington D.C., Keynoting is Roxane Gay – who seems to be everywhere these days. For your $70 registration fee, you get A LOT, including fantastic sessions, speed-dating with editors of small presses, a featured book of your choice, a subscription to a featured literary journal of your choice, and a boxed wine reception. Event proceeds go to Barrelhouse and participating small presses and literary magazines. I’m registered and cannot wait.

Finally, Podcamp Pittsburgh 9 is happening! Point Park University will be the place again when Podcampers convene on November 22-23. I’m a maybe at this point; the Sunday portion is a more likely bet than Saturday. Look for more details on the Podcamp Pittsburgh Facebook page. 

Keep readin’at!



Thanks for sharing this post!

READIN’AT: Pittsburgh Novelist J.J. Hensley Nominated Alongside Stephen King for International Thriller Award

Since moving to Pittsburgh, one of the things I have been pleasantly surprised to discover is just how much this city embraces the written word and the authors who bring them to life. We’re quite the literary town. As a way to celebrate all things “bookish in the Burgh,” I created this occasional blog feature “READIN’AT” where I talk Pittsburgh-based novels, authors, and more. 

It’s not too often that a newly published author from Pittsburgh sees his first novel nominated for an award.

It’s even less frequently that the author sees Stephen King’s name nominated as a contender for the same award – albeit it in a different category.

(You may have heard of this guy. That would be the same Stephen King who gave us The Stand, Carrie, and Cujo.)

ResolveBut that’s exactly what’s happening to Pittsburgh writer J.J. Hensley, whose debut novel Resolve has been nominated for a 2014 International Thriller Award.

(That would be the J.J. Hensley, former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, now living a quiet life with his wife and daughter here in the ‘Burgh.)

J.J. Hensley’s thriller Resolve is set in the midst of the Pittsburgh Marathon as Dr. Cyprus Keller is plotting a murder as he runs the 26.2 mile race course. (Back in June, J.J. wrote a guest post here on the blog about the book’s message amid the coincidences of the Boston Marathon.)

In the meantime, Resolve has been no stranger to the literary awards scene, already having earned the Best of 2013 Award for Best Debut from Suspense Magazine. But being nominated for the same award – albeit in different categories – as Stephen King carries a different kind of cachet.

The International Thriller Awards are scheduled to be presented during ThrillerFest IX, taking place July 8-12 in New York City, NY. A complete list of award nominees are listed here.

Many congratulations on a well-deserved honor, J.J.  You’ve made Pittsburgh proud.

Click here for more information about J.J. Hensley’s novel Resolve as well as his e-book Vehemence, with two bonus stories.

Connect with J.J. on Facebook and Twitter.


Thanks for sharing this post!

Podcamp Pittsburgh 8: Books, Blogs, and the ‘Burgh Session Notes

We had an incredible audience join us for “Books, Blogs, and the ‘Burgh” during Podcamp Pittsburgh 8.
This photo, taken by me while at the podium, represents only part of the group. (There were two additional rows.)

I made a promise to these folks yesterday.

I promised them that my Podcamp Pittsburgh session notes for “Books, Blogs, and the ‘Burgh” would be online, on this blog, last night.

(It took me a little longer than I thought, thanks to my boy needing my laptop for a project and my girl needing some time to talk. Priorities, y’know.)

Anyway, I’m so grateful for everyone who came to my Podcamp session, which also included Pittsburgh authors J.J. Hensley and Laurie Kooser. (As opposed to “two of Philadelphia’s most exciting authors, which is how I inadvertently introduced them, much to my chagrin.) Our session was wide-ranging, and I got the sense we could have talked books and blogging for much longer than our allotted 45 minutes.

This post isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing recap of either my session or Podcamp itself – just some of my prepared session notes because I tried to cover a lot.

Here you go:


1. Don’t talk books all the time. Let your readers get to know you! 

I spoke about how the book blogging community is both a big and a small one. We’re big in a sense that there are a lot of us and many of us are in very specialized niches. But we’re also a tight community, particularly those of us who have been doing this for several years (in my case, five years). We know each other pretty well and that’s because most of us write about more than just books on our blogs. Because most of us, in our lives, do more than one thing, right? Same with us.

 2. Don’t make your reviews a personal attack on the author.

This is where high school English comes in handy. It’s fine to be critical, to say that you didn’t connect with the characters or that the writing wasn’t strong enough. It’s quite different to engage in name-calling and threats. This is actually becoming a big deal lately where some bloggers are refusing to write negative reviews for fear of repercussions from the author. There have been incidents of people being targeted because of their opinions about a BOOK. There’s a nice way to say you didn’t like a book.

 3.   Be careful about having too many memes.

The book blogging community LOVES memes and features and events. And we have a lot of them, several for almost every day of the week. Remember that you may have readers who may not be as big of bookworms as you are, so they might not want to see this kind of content every day.

That said, there are fun virtual events in the book blogging community, like Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon where we read for 24 hours and blog about our progress. (It happens every fall and spring. The fall incarnation is NEXT WEEKEND.) It’s incredibly nerdy fun at its finest. And it’s not too late to sign up. Reading for 24 hours … or, as long as possible. You know you wanna.

4.   If you’re stuck for content ideas, connect your posts to something in the news or that’s the talk of the town.

I talked about how, in celebration of the Giant Rubber Duck’s arrival in Pittsburgh, I wrote a post about two of my favorite children’s books, GERTIE THE DUCK and LITTLE QUACK.  

5. Make your reviews personal.

This isn’t your 5th grade book report. What about the book resonated with you? Was there a personal connection with this book? Is it set in your hometown or a place you know well? Is there something compelling about a character that you identified with? Tell your readers that. Those are the things that make your review stand out and resonate with your readers.


1.   Do your research. Which blogs review books similar to yours?

I guarantee that no matter what topic your book is about, someone is writing a blog about it. And the same goes for the genre of the book. When I started book blogging 5 years ago, it was more general. Now, we’re a very niched community. There are bloggers who only review teen paranormal romances. Or steampunk. Or children’s books. Or Christian fiction.

2. There are also now actual CONFERENCES for specific types of book bloggers, such as KidLitCon, the KidLitosphere Conference. So, if you write in a specific genre, you want to see what blogs and what events are talking about books like yours.

Of course, there is the giant of all book shows – Book Expo America, which is the biggest book trade show and which has, since 2009, had a Book Blogger Convention (now called BEA Bloggers Conference) as part of it, albeit one that has gone through various changes and inceptions.

3.   There’s marketing power in these conferences and in the book blogging community.  What this means for you if you’re an author or have a product, you can offer your book or a free download of your book as a giveaway.

4. Most bloggers have a book review policy on their blog that spells out what kinds of books they review, if they’re currently accepting books for review, what their turnaround time is, what happens if they don’t like your book. READ THEIR POLICY.

5. Pitch us over email. Use our first names – not the names of our blog. When my blog was The Betty and Boo Chronicles, I can’t tell you how many times I got “Dear Betty and Boo” or “Dear Mrs. Chronicles.” Do not use DEAR BLOGGERMost of our names are on our blogs or in the profles.

6.  In your pitch, don’t overdo it with the flattery. We all know we write the most fantastic, most amazing blog you’ve ever read in your life. And we all know you’re full of shit and are saying that to everyone you’re emailing about reviewing your book.

7Make sure to give the blogger plenty of time. Bloggers are busy. We’re not doing this for pay. We get hundreds of requests. One blogger I know gets 50 book review requests a week. We have jobs, kids, responsibilities – we’re not just sitting around eating bon-bons and reading. Don’t expect your book to be read in two weeks.  It is not unusual for bloggers to be booked well into 2014 right now. Lead times of six-12 months to review a book are not uncommon.

8.   By all means, make sure to offer the blogger a free copy of your book or a free download. DO NOT TELL THEM TO GO BUY YOUR BOOK. As much as we want to support writers, we also need to support our families and book blogging is a hobby for us.

9.   A blogger isn’t your employee. If he or she hasn’t answered your email, that’s a no. Don’t be a puppy.  Similarly, if a blogger declines to review your book, don’t hound them by asking if they might change their mind. When someone says, “I’m sorry, this isn’t right for my blog,” respect that. That’s their way of saying “no” in a gracious way.

(J.J. interjected here to say that real authors should be used to this kind of rejection from dealing with agents and publishers and the like.)

10. Finally, the most important tip for pitching a blogger: READ THE BLOG before asking a blogger to review your book. Not every post from the beginning of time. The most relevant ones. Do a search. Has the blogger reviewed books similar to yours?  Written on topics that your book is about? See what he or she thought about those. If your book is similar to The Help, you’ll want to target bloggers who review books like that – and liked them.

Don’t limit yourself just to a blogger’s reading choices. This is where the broader picture of a blog comes in handy. With J.J.’s novel being set during the Pittsburgh Marathon, one of the audiences he focused on were running bloggers and the running/fitness community. That’s a whole new market of readers for his book.

Another example: my son has Aspergers, and I’ve written about our family’s journey with this frequently on my blog. I’ve also reviewed several autism memoirs and nonfiction books. If you’ve written an autism memoir, I’m more likely to take a look at your pitch.

Likewise, I’m from Philadelphia. If you pitch me a novel set in Philly, chances are I’m going to be interested. I’m also going to be reading that novel extremely critically. You also have to know that your novel needs to be impeccable with the details in these areas. I wrote a review for the Post-Gazette that didn’t get printed about a book set in Philadelphia where they called hoagies “subs,” which is sacrilegious. There was also a hospital in a location where there wasn’t a hospital. So, be careful.



I don’t make any claims that this is a comprehensive list, but rather just a few of the local Pittsburgh book blogs and book bloggers that I enjoy reading. Keep in mind, not all of these bloggers may do book reviews but by reading them you can absolutely get a sense for writing your reviews. 

Perhaps the biggest and well known is Tiffany Harkleroad, who wasn’t able to be at Podcamp this weekend. Her blog is  Tiffany’s Bookshelf and can be found at tiffanysbookshelf.blogspot.comShe is an absolute reading machine.

Our guest author, Laurie Koozer, writes a blog called Yinz R Readin, which is at www.yinzrreadin.com.

Laurie just introduced me to a great blog called The Pittsburgh Novel. It’s an annotated bibliography of fiction and drama whose settings are in Pittsburgh or the 26 counties of Western Pennsylvania, including hard-to-find and long-lost titles. This is some seriously fun reading at http://www.thepittsburghnovel.blogspot.com/

Karen the Small Press Librarian is the most dedicated individual person I know regarding the small presses. Her blog is also fairly new to me and can be found at Karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com

Eleventh Stack, which is a blog coordinated by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is fantastic and can be accessed at www.eleventhstack.wordpress.com

Remember, not all of them do reviews, however.


Finally, I encourage you to check out our two authors and their books. J.J. Hensley‘s novel is Resolve, a novel set in the midst of the Pittsburgh Marathon where 18,000 people from all over the world will participate – and one man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows who is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill them.

As a professor of Criminology at Three Rivers University, and a former police officer, Dr. Keller is an expert in criminal behavior and victimology. However, when one of his female students is murdered and his graduate assistant attempts to kill him, Keller finds himself frantically swinging back and forth between being a suspect and a victim. When the police assign a motive to the crimes that Keller knows cannot be true, he begins to ask questions that somebody out there does not want answered.

In the course of 26.2 miles, Keller recounts how he found himself encircled by a series of killings that have shocked the city, while literally pursuing his prey – the man who was behind it all. For ordering information, click here.

What Happens On SundayWhat Happens on Sunday is Laurie Koozer‘s novel about what happens on football Sundays in Pittsburgh. Football is much more than just a game – and for six women during the 2005 Steelers season their complicated relationships with the team provides solace, distraction and occasionally frustration. Jen is a very young and very pregnant newlywed who worries that getting married on the same day as a Steelers loss will doom her marriage. Megan never met a tailgate or a man she couldn’t conquer but is scared of losing her best friend to a relationship. Desiree is a brash professional struggling to deal with her husband’s ex-wife and children and beginning to wonder if it’s the right time to start a family of her own. Angela is a high school senior long ago branded bad luck for the Steelers and all she wants to do is get the hell out of Pittsburgh even if it means leaving behind her best friend Robbie. Patty, a mom who sends a pair of sexy panties to a different player every week, hasn’t been on a date since her divorce five years ago. And then there’s Shannon, she spends the majority of her days navigating Pittsburgh traffic and her evenings tending bar and pining after her sister’s boyfriend. As the Steelers make what seems to be an impossible run to the Super Bowl, their lives will intersect, each of them finding connections in the most unexpected places. For ordering information, click here.

If you were with us at “Books, Blogs, and the ‘Burgh” during Podcamp Pittsburgh, I hope we connected with you. Thanks for sharing part of your Saturday with us! Feel free to email me at thefirmangroup AT gmail DOT com with any additional questions you have.





Thanks for sharing this post!

Join Me for “Books, Blogs, and the ‘Burgh” at Podcamp Pittsburgh

Podcamp Pittsburgh - blue

In retrospect, Podcamp Pittsburgh 7 (held in October 2012) was a pivotal moment for me.

It was my introduction to Pittsburgh’s social media scene – and make no mistake, this town absolutely does have a social media scene.

As a way to meet some of the folks behind the keyboards, I volunteered to help out at Podcamp and got assigned to a session moderated by Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Blog Since 2005. Sue has since become a good friend. Also on the panel was Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who has since given me a slot on his team of freelance book reviewers in the PG’s Books section.

When the call for Podcamp Pittsburgh speakers went out this year, I submitted a proposal for a session I created titled Books, Blogs, and the ‘Burgh – and voila! That’s what we’ll be talking about this Saturday, October 5 at Point Park University.

Here’s the description:

With Pittsburgh being the 4th most literate city in the U.S., we’re pretty passionate about the written word. Perhaps you’d like to start reviewing books on your blog but need help starting out. Perhaps you have written a book and you want to make connections with Pittsburgh’s bloggers or simply talk about your writing in a way that doesn’t sound pushy or sales-like.

We’ll talk about the qualities of an engaging book blog; how to connect with authors; best strategies for getting bloggers to review your book; and how to let your creativity shine when reviewing books you love and hate.

Joining me will be two of Pittsburgh’s authors to talk about their experiences:  J.J. Hensley, author of the critically-acclaimed novel RESOLVE, a murder-mystery set in the midst of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and Laurie Koozer, author of WHAT HAPPENS ON SUNDAY, a novel about six women and their connections with the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers’ seemingly impossible Super Bowl quest –  and each other.

Sound like a good time? Join us! Podcamp Pittsburgh is FREE and offers something for everyone, regardless of your level of expertise. More details are here. Let’s get together to talk books, blogs, and the ‘Burgh!

Thanks for sharing this post!

READIN’AT: Timing is Everything ….But, So Is the Message (Guest Post by Pittsburgh Author J.J. Hensley)


J.J. Hensley, author of RESOLVE

Since moving to Pittsburgh two years ago, one of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised at is just how literary this city is. So … I started a feature on this blog to celebrate that. It’s called READIN’AT, and one of its goals is to celebrate all things bookish as relating to the ‘Burgh. I especially want to highlight Pittsburgh area authors in hopes of giving their work a little more exposure. Make them household names in their own hometowns, so to speak. Every bit helps, y’know? 

Today, I’m hosting Pittsburgh author J.J. Hensley. We belong to the same church, and after I mentioned my latest book review being published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, J.J. reached out to me and we began an email exchange. That led to a conversation about the timing of one’s novel when it coincides with events in the news.

You see, J.J.’s latest novel is RESOLVE, a thriller set at the Pittsburgh Marathon. I asked him about that (like probably everyone else has since the tragedy in Boston). His response in this guest post is absolutely well-worth the read. ~ Melissa

Timing is Everything – But, So is the Message
by J.J. Hensley, author of RESOLVE 

It had to be one of the worst-timed mailings ever.  It was about 10 in the morning and I had just come back from a Post Office north of Pittsburgh.  I had mailed an unsolicited, complimentary copy of my recently-published book to the Editor-in-Chief of Runner’s World magazine. The hard cover version of my novel, Resolve, had just been released and many buyers had emailed me, telling me the book had just been delivered on their doorstep from Amazon or another retailer.  I had a few extra copies, so I figured, why not?  Maybe the main guy at Runner’s World will read the thing, like it, and mention it in the magazine.  The book involves running, so it was a no-lose situation for me, right?

That was 10:00 AM on April, 15 2013.  At 2:49 PM the first explosion occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  It was followed by a second explosion, and for the next several days and weeks the nation’s attention was focused on the hunt for both suspects and explanations.  And somewhere in the halls of the Runner’s World headquarters sat a book I had mailed just hours prior to the bombing.  Normally, this would not be of any consequence, except the book is a murder mystery told as the main character runs the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Obviously, my first thoughts were the same as most who stared at their televisions sets, watching the events unfold.  First, most of us felt shock.  Then, horror.  Then, probably a good amount of rage.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that nobody looks at the postmark of a package.  It could have appeared that I mailed the book after the bombing and that I was trying to profit off of an unimaginable tragedy.  Days later, I attempted to send an email of explanation to a general contact email address, but I would not be surprised if it is still out there in cyberspace and was never read.  Somewhere, somebody at the magazine probably thinks I’m a major jackass.

Over the next few weeks, I had several people comment on the unfortunate luck of having the release of my first novel coincide with the Boston tragedy, especially given the premise of the book.  I did my best to keep things in perspective and to remember how little being published means in comparison to those who were directly affected by what occurred in Boston.  That was easy to do.  I’d been a police officer and seen examples of terrible heartbreak.  I was a Special Agent with the Secret Service and remember the atmosphere after 9-11.  The book thing was not a real tragedy by any means.  But, over time I got mad.  However, my anger had nothing to do with the unfortunate timing of the book release.  It was something else.

When I was initially coming up with the concept of Resolve, I knew I wanted it to be a murder mystery and for the story to somehow involve distance running.  I wanted this to happen because of the stark contrast between a positive event like a marathon and an atrocity such as a murder.  Distance races are wonderful examples of how the human spirit strives to push toward new limits and how the mind can be convinced that the body can do amazing things.  In my opinion, running is not only a wonderful way to exercise, but is a confidence-building, inspiring, anti-depressant.  To create a fictional account where the possibility of a homicide is present during such a wonderful event is one thing.  To see it come to life in Boston was another.  That was why I was mad.  Some very misguided people took something very positive and beautiful and tried to destroy it.  Tried.

Over the past few months, fewer and fewer people have made any mental connection between my book and Boston.  The truth is there really wasn’t much of a connection to begin with.  Resolve is set in Pittsburgh and has nothing to do with terrorism.  However, it was understandable people made the inevitable link between the words “marathon” and “murder”.  I have to admit, I’m glad the connection has mostly vanished and I rarely have to take the time to remind people that the book has underlying messages about the wonders of distance running and the determination we are capable of as human beings.  But, as I’ve discovered throughout the publication process, authors are greatly responsible for the marketing of their work before and after a book is published.  Publishers can only do so much.  It brings up an interesting question:  How does an author market his/her work when the work addresses topics that may make others uncomfortable?

I can tell you that in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, I did not market.  Not only did I have no desire to, but it would have been tasteless and tacky, not to mention incredibly insensitive.  Writing is not my “real” job and my family does not depend on that income, so shutting down the marketing was a no-brainer.  Over time, I gradually started marketing again, but tried to stress the positive components of the book and of the sport of distance running.

Now, when I’m marketing I could probably go back to writing and talking about the murder part of the murder mystery, but I’ve found I enjoy discussing the positive much more than the negative.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a good murder mystery, but I enjoy them more when the protagonist is someone you can really root for and when the plot takes us to the heights of the human condition and not just the depths we try to avoid.  Is this the most effective way for an author to market a book?  I don’t have a clue.  I have never enjoyed the marketing aspect anyway and probably never will.  But, am I more comfortable pointing out the inspirational rather than the simply dwelling on the dark side of life?  Absolutely.  Besides… this is Pittsburgh.  It’s all about staring down challenges and testing our resolve.

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, a thriller set in modern day Pittsburgh. As a former police officer and Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, he has drawn upon his experiences in law enforcement, and a love of distance running, to create a novel full of suspense and insight. Visit him at www.hensley-books.com  or www.facebook.com/hensleybooks. Resolve is available on Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com, and several other outlets.

Mr. Hensley 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. The author is currently a training supervisor with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He lives with his beautiful wife, daughter, and two dogs outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Thanks for sharing this post!