Scratching Out a Record for a Book

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, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, Bolt Action Remedy, and Record Scratch. 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. Mr. Hensley’s first novel Resolve was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was named a Thriller Award finalist for Best First Novel. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers.

“In Record Scratch, Hensley, a former secret service agent, gifts us with a bounty of goods: a solid mystery, a damaged but relatable main character—one you root for, and swift plotting that weaves a compelling, compulsive tale of music and death and the demons carried by those in law enforcement. Bring me more Trevor!”
—Shannon Kirk, international bestselling author of Method 15/33

I don’t outline.

Let me say that again.


Except I kind of outline. But, it’s not really an outline. It’s more of a structural choice in which I determine the sequence of the action, define the parameters of the story, and it gives me an overall summary of the project before I write out the novel.

Okay, that sounds like an outline but it’s definitely not an outline.

I haven’t even done it for every book, but I did do it for my first. For Resolve, I decided I would set that mystery against the backdrop of a marathon and there would be 26.2 chapters, one for each mile (and the two tenths at the end). The story was told by the protagonist through flashbacks while he was running the race and the action in the story he was telling loosely mimicked the terrain and surroundings of whatever part of the course he was running. It kept me on track and within certain boundaries, but allowed me the freedom an outline would not since I’m the type of person who feels compelled to stick with an outline once created.

I did something similar with another novel titled Measure Twice in which each of the twelve chapters was labeled as one of the twelve steps of addiction recovery. In case you were wondering, it’s not easy getting Narcotics Anonymous to give you reprint permission for their steps when you explain you plan on brutally killing people in your chapters. You have to call back several times. Anyway, they eventually let me use the steps and the action in each chapter reflected something about the particular step linked to that chapter number.

I didn’t use the themed chapter format for my first Trevor Galloway novel, Bolt Action Remedy, but I wanted to come back to it for the sequel. After racking my brain to come up with an idea for the structuring, it finally hit me. And it’s still not an outline. Or maybe it’s an internal outline. Is that a thing?

In Record Scratch, former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been asked to solve the cold case homicide of music legend Jimmy Spartan. Spartan’s sister not only wants the murderer caught, but has also asked Galloway to find Spartan’s final recordings which are on a vinyl record. Galloway is already reluctant when he takes the case and has even more doubts when she ends their first, and last, meeting by killing herself. More out of a feeling of obligation than anything else, Galloway pursues the case and uncovers a dark side of the music world while battling old enemies from the past.

Before I wrote the first word of Record Scratch, I created the last album of Jimmy Spartan. Here it is:


Track 1: You Puzzle Me

Track 2: Listen and Learn

Track 3: Picture Imperfect

Track 4: Always a Woman

Track 5: Complicated

Track 6: Broken Compass

Track 7: Like a Hole in the Head

Track 8: Fooled Me Twice (The Heart of Shame)

Track 9: A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

Track 10: An Early Wake-up Fall

Track 11: One Last Shove

Track 12: Fight to the Breath

Don’t search for it on iTunes. It’s not there. Jimmy Spartan isn’t real, but he’s basically every 80s rocker who loved cocaine and women and faded throughout the 90s. You probably had a poster of him. Maybe you still do. We won’t judge.

As you might have guessed, Record Scratch is divided into twelve tracks, so the album is essentially a table of contents. Each song title relates to the action in that chapter. Now, I didn’t know the entire story when I initially wrote out the song titles, but I had a basic idea of the story concept. However, it’s not an outline (see, I told you!), so I felt free to go back and change some of the titles to better fit whatever I ended up writing. So, not only did I end up writing a book but I created a rock album. Except there is no actual music. Because I have no talent in that arena. None. But, that’s another story.

“J.J. Hensley’s Record Scratch is a tersely written and tightly plotted
gem, featuring one of the most unique protagonists around, Trevor
Galloway, a man who has a way of getting himself into and out of
trouble at an alarming rate. The book is action-packed with a dash of
mordant wit, and I can’t wait to read more in this intense, engaging series.”
—David Bell, USA Today bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter

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