Ladies and gentleman, my edits are done!

Friends, I need to chat for a moment about edits.

I heard a lot about the dreaded second book. How hard it is to write. The worries about if it be as good as your first book. The pressures of writing to a deadline if you have a contract.

I believed all those warnings, I did. But I don’t think I was prepared for just how hard it would be.

It didn’t help that on top of a deadline and performance pressure we were hit with a deadly global pandemic. A fraught presidential election and insurrection. Countless examples of racial injustice. Writing fiction at times felt both pointless and frivolous when so many others were suffering so badly.

But write I did. I crafted an outline, with the help of my agent and editor, and went for it. I thought it would be so much easier this time with a road map. I knocked out 70,000 words and a rough first draft in about six months.

And then we figured out that the book wasn’t working at all. I tried to resist it at first, but alas, it just wasn’t fixable. I cried. I threw things. I said some mean and snotty things about myself.

And then I sucked it up and tossed it all out and started again.

But now I was severely behind in my timeline. No one else seemed to think this was a problem. My agent and editor were like, “Oh, you got this. No worries.” My husband was like, “You’ll be fine.” I was like: “HOLY SHIT I’M DOOMED THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK I’M MOVING TO A REMOTE ISLAND AND HIDING UNDER A BLANKET FOR FOREVER.”

But then I sucked it up and started writing. Again. And again I got about 10,000 words in and realized I needed to change the point of view.

I cried. I threw things. I said mean and nasty things about myself.

You can sense the cycle here. Needless to say, it never really got easier. I did finally find the POV I needed. The story got tighter and tenser and more suspenseful. I threw in some crazy shit that I love–like Halloween, like creepy urban legends, like cultish friend groups. I cursed some more and cried some more and all through it my editor, my agent, my husband, my friends were like, “You’ve got this.”

(Moral of the story here: Surround yourself with some good people.)

I wrote another 70,000 words. More than that, if you count all the shit I threw out. I edited those words. I edited it more. And again and again. My eyeballs fell out of my head a few times. I had to start PT for my shoulder and neck issues. I haven’t watched much TV in a year unless you count Murder, She Wrote (and you should always count Murder, She Wrote.)

The piles of pain (double-sided).

And this morning I finally turned in the book for galleys. It will still go through copy editing and proof reading, and yes, I’ll have more edits to do. But it’s there, it’s done. People will read it. (Hopefully some will like it).

I. Did. It.

But yeah, what they say is true. Writing the second book really sucks.


The Mother Next Door, my second novel, will be out October 12, 2021 from Graydon House Books. You can pre-order it now!

What Scares You, Sean Murphy?

Sean Murphy is the founder of 1455 Literary Arts, a Washington, D.C.-area literary arts foundation that conducts festivals, workshops, residencies, and is friend to many writers and artists in the area.

Sean and I met very recently, even though we have a million friends in common, and we chatted as part of his 14:55 Interview series (we went slightly over the 14 minutes and 55 seconds). It was a brief meeting, but even so I could tell he was one of those people I’d love to have beers with and chat about everything from books to ….well, terrifying memories. So here we go:

What are your phobias?

Acknowledging this is the epitome of first-world fragility, I have what some might consider an unhealthy fear and loathing of public bathrooms. I, of course, consider it a healthy obsession, or phobia, having borne witness to the ceaseless parade of anti-hygiene everywhere from locker rooms to airports (ugh) to the banal atrocities of the corporate men’s room. There’s a recurring theme in my novel NOT TO MENTION A NICE LIFE where the narrator riffs on the sights, smells, and crimes against humanity he endures on a regular basis.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

Two in particular, and they are at once absurd and inscrutable. The first always finds me back in high school, and I’m in between classes but have forgotten my locker combination. It’s ridiculous, because obviously some administrator should be able to assist me, but worse (in that weird way dreams work) I’m usually me, now, yet somehow back in high school, still worried that everyone will mock me, or that I’ll be late for class. WHO CARES?!

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What Scares You, Helen Rye?

Fun fact: Helen and I were twins in another life. Now in this life we are almost-sisters. I’ve only known her for about three years, but she’s one of my favorite people in the world and she’s a kick-ass writer. Too bad there’s an entire ocean between us, keeping us from hanging out in pubs every night and singing karaoke. However, I’m convinced one day we’ll be old and retired and sitting on a porch drinking lemonade spiked with gin and laughing about nothing at all.

Enough sentimentality, though. Let’s get to the terrifying shit.

What is your greatest fear?

I have one or two people I just can’t imagine life without and I’m no-filters terrified of something happening to them. I’m never far removed from the raw, existential sense of all of us as a bunch of small, soft animals clinging onto the surface of a rock, alone in infinite space. I don’t really understand how we’re supposed to live day to day with the knowledge that everyone we love is going to die. This makes me a LOT of fun at parties.

But seriously, it’s a scary old life, and I think the ability to forget this has never been hardwired into me in quite the same way it seems to be for some people. I suspect this proximity to mortality and the baffling, shooting-star fragility of life is one of the things that makes us write. I know if I said this sort of thing in a pub, most people would suddenly recognize someone they knew on the other side of the bar and not come back, but writers would nod in silent recognition and get another bottle of bourbon for the table. And then we’d all get really drunk together and do karaoke and have a rare old time. Because there’s nothing like an awareness of the ephemeral nature of everything you care about to make you want to really live, while you’re here.

Anyway, in practice this translates to me worrying horribly when someone I love has a health scare and doing reassuring things like crying when they tell me stuff because I can’t bear to think of them being really sick. And writing stories about apocalypses and singing in the darkness at the edge of the world. It feels like the pandemic has kind of brought everyone else to where I am, in terms of trying to work out how to live alongside this inescapable awareness of death, and suddenly everyone’s writing about how fragile everything is. I’m a bit Get your tanks off my lawn about it, honestly.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

I grew up on a ‘70s TV diet of action movies and the Dukes of Hazard. Every TV car crash I’d ever seen ended up with the car blowing up in a spectacular fireball, so when I was nine and the car we were travelling to our holiday in suddenly lost its steering, flipped over and over and landed on its roof in a field, I knew exactly what to expect. I remember the interior of the car spinning around us like we were in a washing machine, and then the next thing I knew I was standing on the other side of the field with my little brother shoved protectively behind me, waiting for the explosion and the blooming cloud of flame. Of course, nothing happened. It was a solid, ancient Volvo estate; everyone was fine, even the dog (who I’d forgotten about, and who was in the boot with a load of deadly projectiles in the form of camping gear and food cans). I was the only one to execute that classic run and dive into a protective hedge I’d seen modelled so many times. So the scariest part of the whole experience never actually transpired, which you’d think would be a lesson in not being scared of things that might not happen. It was pretty freaky, though.

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What Scares You, Donna Andrews?

Thrilled to welcome the great Donna Andrews to What Scares You on this icy, chilly, spooky February day. Donna’s award-winning Meg Langslow series has given her loyal, dedicated fans. I especially appreciate the bird puns in each title, and fun fact: my son Dash actually helped her name one of her Christmas books: Owl Be Home for Christmas. What scares the pants off Donna, you ask? Well, read on to find out…

What is your greatest fear?

I think for most of us the greatest fear is, ultimately, the fear of death. Which is unavoidable . . . but we all deal with it by channeling it into lesser fears, fears of things that can be avoided. If you’re afraid of heights, confined spaces, crowds, rabid beasts, clowns, zombies, penguins—you can at least try to avoid them.

What are your phobias?

I think my biggest one is claustrophobia, with a generous side order of acrophobia. Which is what makes my experience with caving so peculiar. Some of my friends used to go caving quite often, and the very thought of it both terrified and intrigued me. It took me quite a while to get up the nerve to even ask if they’d take me, preferably to a really easy cave that they were thoroughly familiar with. When we got there, we all half-walked, half-slid down a gravel-covered slope, rather like an amphitheater, to a hole in the side of a cliff. So far, so good. But the actual cave opening—I pictured a rough-hewn archway. Okay, there it was. Check. And some rough-hewn rooms. Check. But the entrance to the main body of the cave was just a hole in the ground, like something a large mole could have dug. I panicked. Somehow I levitated to the top of the gravel-covered slope—I really don’t remember climbing up—and stood there, trembling, telling them not to wait for me.

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What Scares You, Kristopher Zgorski?

Kris Zgorski is truly a gift to the crime fiction writing community. I’ve discovered many of my favorite crime writers by reading Kris’s reviews at BOLO Books. He has a distinct talent of getting to the heart of every book he reads, making his reviews works of art in and of themselves.

Since he reads and watches so much crime, horror, and mystery, is there anything left that can truly scare him?

Why, yes. There is.

Read on to find out what…

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I have a distinct memory of being put to bed one night as a young child and for whatever reason, being conscious of my heartbeat. As I started to drift off to sleep, I could sense that it was slowing down. Of course, it turns out this is perfectly normal and expected, but my young brain was not aware of this, and I became convinced I was dying. I believe this was the beginnings of the mildly hypochondriac side of myself.

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What Scares You, Kellye Garrett?

I’m excited to end the year of fear with my agent sibling Kellye Garrett. Kellye’s won or been nominated for nearly every major crime fiction award out there, and for good reason. Her books are funny and smart, so I was curious about her dark side. I wanted to find out what really freaked her out. This interview does not disappoint!

What is your greatest fear?


Fear of failure. It’s the reason it took me thirty years to write my first novel.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I didn’t until my Dad unexpectedly passed away the day before Easter 2018. If you use Snapchat you know that it will put filters on two people in a frame. I had Snapchat up because my niece and nephew love the filters. I was the only one in the frame, but Snapchat put a filter on me and the empty space next to me. A week or two later, I was lying in bed with my computer open next to me just super depressed trying to figure out everything in regards to his funeral. Wrapping up someone’s entire life is not an easy thing. I put my head down and when I brought it back up, a picture of my Dad had opened itself on my laptop and was smiling at me. So I truly believe that my Dad was sticking around right after he died to make sure we were okay.

Another reason is that we noticed my niece and nephew would randomly have glitter on them when they were babies. And the joke became that someone from heaven came to visit them. I will very randomly have glitter on me after major events—both good and bad—and I see it as a sign that one of my ancestors is reminding me they have my back.

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What Scares You, John Copenhaver?

I’m so excited to welcome one of my very dearest friends to the site today. John and I met a very long time ago in grad school at George Mason University and became insta-friends. It helped that we admired each other’s writing and that we each had a love for creepy things. Our writing styles are very different, but we did take a somewhat similar path by both starting out in a very literary MFA program and then veering back to our childhood love of crime and mystery.

John’s debut, Dodging and Burning, is excellent and was nominated for nearly all the awards for a good reason. John himself is pretty excellent, too. Read on for more about his deepest, darkest fears.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

When I was a child, I was obsessed with the paranormal. I lost my father to lung cancer when I was eight, so you’d think that was the reason, but I have memories of being enthralled with ghosts well before his death or the onset of his illness. Fascination with the unknown—that morbid curiosity—has always been with me. I remember seeing ghosts as a kid. I’m certain now that I summoned them from my imagination after hours of staring at the Time-Life books series Mysteries of the Unknown, but what scares me is that, as a child, I really thought I saw a black shadow gathering density and shifting in the corner of my bedroom, or an old decaying farmer walk into my room and sit on my legs in the middle of the night. I mean, I just imagined it, right?

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What Scares You, Colleen Kearney Rich?

I’ve known Colleen for almost half my life (NOW THAT’S SCARY, COLLEEN!) and I never heard her tell the ghost story below. It gave me shivers. I love her stories because they always incorporate some element of ghostly encounters or verge just on the edge of something creepy, something terrible. We also have a mutual obsession with Bunnyman Bridge, and she was the first person to ever drive me there to see it. So excited to have her chat with me on Friday the 13th about what scares her.

What is your greatest fear?

Not being as interesting as some of the people you’ve already interviewed. Just kidding. I have a real problem with heights, and it translates into other terrors like bridges you can see through as you are driving over them. Why would someone make something like that? And really steep escalator stairs like with the Washington, D.C., Metro. I’m pretty sure the Dupont Circle stop is a hellmouth. Can’t do it. Nope.

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

Of course, but I don’t know why. It just makes sense to me on some level. Whether there is life after death is a theme in some of my work. I want to believe that there is more than to this experience than we are capable of seeing and sensing. If there aren’t ghosts, I’ve had experiences that are difficult to explain.

What is your favorite urban legend?

I grew up in Philadelphia, and I can remember my grandparents teasing us kids about the Jersey Devil. But I could never really picture him/it, and I guess I felt safe being on the other side of the river from New Jersey.

Bunnyman Bridge

Here in Virginia, near where I live, we have the Bunnyman. The Bunnyman legend has never really scared me, but those dark country roads are always creepy. It is a good story with violence, an escaped criminally insane person, and a spooky wooded area where there is this strange little bridge that is nicknamed the Bunnyman Bridge. There is some basis for the legend—a hachet was thrown and the attacker described as wearing a bunny suit. It is fun to see the legend get picked up by various podcasts and other shows, and it is interesting to see how the legend gets retold and embellished. It is a source of inspiration. I have written a story about Bunnyman Bridge that is forthcoming from Heavy Feather Review.

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What Scares You, J.J. Hensley?

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.comwww.facebook.com/hensleybooks, and on Twitter at  JJHensleyauthor. He blogs at Yinz to Y’all

Boucheron 2020–Virtual and spectacular!

The Bouchercon World Mystery Convention was supposed to be in Sacramento, California, this year. I should be on a plane right now, in fact, flying home with a suitcase full of books (and a mild hangover).

Instead, Bouchercon came to our living room this year. Great panels and interviews, and a live Anthony Awards celebration. Thanks so much to all the committee members for their incredible work transitioning to a virtual conference and making it special for all involved.

One Night Gone was a finalist for the Macavity Award and the Anthony Award for Best First Mystery, and I’m thrilled to say it won BOTH AWARDS! I had to give the Anthony acceptance speech live, and I was incredibly nervous, so I forget everything I said but hopefully something nice was said in there somewhere. I’m still in shock, honestly. My fellow nominees for both awards–Angie Kim, Tori Eldridge, Samantha Downing, J.P. Pomare, Lauren Wilkinson, John Vercher–wrote some of the best books last year. Read them all.

It was also a delight to discuss research with my fellow panelists Terry Shames (moderator), Cara Black, Ann Parker, David Schlosser, and Linda Townsdin.

My awesome research panel at Bouchercon 2020!

Thank you to everyone who read One Night Gone, reviewed it, emailed me pictures of it in Target, and did anything at all to support the book, big or small. It is much appreciated, and a very bright light in this otherwise dim, scary year.