I have definitely regretted becoming friends on social media with some people. People who in real life I might’ve enjoyed or found pleasant, but who turn into utter ugly monsters when you see their news feeds.
But then every once in awhile you find those people who you like way more after becoming friends with them on social media. Enter J.J. Hensley! I love his posts, which always feel well thought-out, interesting, and honest. He also has a fascinating background, which you’ll find more about as you read below, and this informs a lot of his fiction and his opinions.
His newest book, The Better of the Bad, is the fourth book in his Trevor Galloway series, was released just this month, so click on over and get it now.
I’m honored to have him here, on this my favorite day of the year and my birthday, to talk more about what scares him.
What is your greatest fear?
I’m a parent, so that’s an easy one for me. It’s a combination of something horrible happening to my child along with a healthy dose of me not being there when I’m needed. I’ve always had a strong, and often illogical, guilt complex when it comes to not being present when something tragic is happening and I think I could have helped. I was a Secret Service Agent taking a training class about 12 miles away from the Pentagon when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and I’m still bothered that I wasn’t able to do anything to help. When the attack occurred, I was sent back to my field office and later deployed to the White House, but never got to assist those at the Pentagon because there were more than enough first responders at the scene. I wasn’t needed and would have just made matters worse by being in the way, but it still grinds on me. So amplify my weird compulsion by a million if my family was to be in trouble with me not being able to help and then you can imagine my fear level.
What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?
When I was six or seven years old, I saw An American Werewolf in London on HBO. I know that film is categorized as a horror-comedy, but my little brain didn’t find ANYTHING funny about that movie! Also, there was a movie called Dreamscape starring Dennis Quaid. In that film there was a snake man that scared the bejesus out of me. I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m still scared of snakes to this day, but that’s another story.
Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life? How has that changed you?
It’s odd, because I was a fairly timid kid and, although I’d played sports, I certainly didn’t like any sort of violent physical contact. I was pretty sure I was going to go into law enforcement by the time I was in college, so I forced myself to take a judo class. Then, after graduation, I went into a police academy in Virginia, where there was plenty of violent physical contact. After a few years of working the street, I joined the Secret Service, and it was literally my job to be a human shield. Although I’m out of that particular line of work now, and I still dislike getting hit or shoved, I keep challenging myself with Krav Maga and other pursuits in order to not let the old fears get the best of me.
What is your weirdest fear?
I wouldn’t call it a fear, but I’m weirdly uncomfortable anywhere where the land is really flat. I’m much more at home where there are rolling hills or mountains. Even when I was with the Secret Service, I’d take off from Virginia or Maryland and be fine, but then I’d land in Iowa or Missouri and feel completely out of my element. It really bothered me. Now, keep in mind I currently live in Coastal Georgia where you can see for miles around, so I’m pretty much on edge most of the time.
What is your favorite urban legend?
In my hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, there is a story many people swear by. Several drivers have encountered this mysterious form on rainy nights going up or down 5th Street hill. Drivers have reported seeing a woman in a white wedding dress walking up the steep incline, where no pedestrian should be. Whenever the driver stops or unrolls a window to ask if she’s okay, the woman just keeps crying uncontrollably. The driver inevitably looks away to call 9-1-1 or loses sight of her in the driving rain and then when he or she looks back… the lady in the wedding dress is gone.
“Drivers see a woman in a wedding dress walking where no pedestrian should be. When they look away to call 9-1-1, the lady is gone.”
Do you have a recurring nightmare?
My only recurring nightmare is one where I’m confronted by an armed suspect and he’s raising a shotgun at me. I have my gun out and I’m trying to pull the trigger, but my finger is frozen. No matter how hard I try to will it to move, it’s locked. The dream ends with the shotgun blast.
What is your favorite villain?
My favorite villain is Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I’m always drawn to villains who are portrayed as human and relatable. Raskolnikov is all of us who can be driven by desperation and then weighed down by a conscience. In fact, he’s what most of our hero protagonists should be, and some would say he is the hero of the novel, which is also correct. The best villains are actually a roll of the dice or a flip of the coin away from being the true hero of most stories.
What’s worse: being haunted by a demon or having a stalker?
Oh, give me a stalker any day. I might be flattered by having a stalker, but I get the feeling demons aren’t that discriminating.
You are renting a remote house with a few close friends when all the electricity cuts out. Are you the friend who goes down to the basement to check on the situation? If not, what do you do when someone else does, and you hear them calling your name from that dark basement? (Assume your cell phones don’t work out there in the remote wilderness.)
Oh, I’m definitely the person who would head down to the basement without regard to my own safety. Of course, if the electrical issue turned out to be anything more than flipping a switch on the circuit breaker then I would have to yell for someone else to come help me because I’m less than useless with most home repair matters. So, put that on my list of fears — electrocuting, disabling, drowning or maiming myself via home maintenance — because any of those are a solid possibility.
J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He is the author of the novels Resolve (named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and a Thriller Award finalist for Best First Novel), Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, Bolt Action Remedy, Record Scratch, Forgiveness Dies, and The Better of the Bad. He resides near Savannah, Georgia. He can be found at www.hensley-books.com, www.facebook.com/hensleybooks, and on Twitter at JJHensleyauthor. He blogs at Yinz to Y’all.