HANK: How do we find our path in this writing world? How do we know where to go, and what to do, and who to ask, and who to rely on? When we start as a new author, what’s paramount is writing our book, right? And we work on our craft, and try to do better. But so many of us, myself included, did not quite comprehend everything else that’s included in being an author.
That is where the fabulous Julie Hennrikus comes in. She not only successfully navigated a new career, new authorness (is that a word?), and then multiple successes and brilliant networking--she also saw the need to help the newer new kids.
With exceptional generosity and superior knowledge— plus savvy business sense and engaging presentations-- Julie decided to not only continue her writing career, but to create a brand new organization designed to smooth the potentially rocky pathway for those starting their writing career—or trying to make it grow.
A true Sister in Crime, Julie Hennrikus has a fabulous sense of humor, an encyclopedic knowledge of the theater, and a quick and brilliant mind. Plus she’s a dear friend. And agreed to take time to answer our Sister to Sister questions. Take a few minutes. Listening to Julie could change your life.
HANK: Do you remember the very first time you thought: I’m going to write a book, and I can do it. What was that moment?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: In the mid 1990’s I had a health scare that helped me clarify a few goals in my life. I’d always loved writing, but I decided to become a writer. I took lots of classes, including one at Grub Street. I was writing a short story that was very, very boring and one of my classmates asked me why I wasn’t writing a mystery, since that’s the genre I always talked about in class. I dropped a body and voila, but the story got more interesting. Eventually it morphed, and became a book I worked on for a very long time.
HANK: So fascinating how adversity can be so focusing. And such a funny moment about the body! Did that first book sell?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: It did, eventually. Terri Bishoff bought it for (the late great) Midnight Ink. Happily, I’d started writing another series (the Clock Shop series written as Julianne Holmes), and I’d figured out how to write a book, which benefitted A Christmas Peril. I also had a great editor at Midnight Ink, Sandy Sullivan, who helped me shape the book and the series. I am self publishing A Christmas Peril and the follow-up, With a Kiss I Die, this fall.
HANK: How many of your books have been published since then? What do you think about that?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: This summer my eighth book, Digging Up the Remains written as Julia Henry, was published. Honestly, it’s thrilling. When my first book was published, my agent told me that we got me published, now we needed to focus on keeping me published. That helped me understand that I needed to separate my writing journey from my published author journey. One is my craft, the other is the business.
HANK: Yeah, exactly. And you can’t succeed at one without the other. But talking about craft. Do you outline? Has that method changed over the years?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: When I first started writing books I sort of outlined. I soon discovered that I needed to plot in order to get as many words written as possible when I sat down. Between working, teaching and the rest of my life I can’t hold a book in my brain, so I need a map. Paula Munier’s book Plot Perfect was an a-ha book for me, and I plot using scenes, paying attention to structure. I do make changes while I’m writing, of course. But I always trust the plotting I’ve done for major scenes and only allow sub plots to veer off course.
HANK: What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: There are two hard parts. The first is finding my way into the novel. What’s the idea that engages me, and how can I turn it into a book? I turned a book in last month, and it was a struggle while I was writing it because the idea was good, but it wasn’t enough of an idea to be a book. I stopped halfway and replotted, something I’ve never done. I blame the pandemic.
The second struggle I have is making the time. I love writing, but too often I don’t honor my writing schedule and make the time to sit down and write.
HANK: Oh, that is such a task. And so hard to focus, especially these days. But writing is still writing, and as you well know, it’s still our job. Is your first draft always terrible? Has it always been?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: Because of my plotting, my first draft isn’t good, but it isn’t terrible. I feel as if the plotting is my real first draft. That said, I don’t expect brilliance with the first draft. I had to learn that first drafts being terrible are part of the process. I’ve learned to give myself enough time between drafts to let the book marinate, and so my first draft is all about getting the words into Scrivener so that I have enough time to fix them.
HANK: How often do you have doubts about what you’re doing? What do you tell yourself during those moments of writing fear?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: Usually at some point in the middle of the book I wonder if this is the one I’m not going to be able to finish. But having done it so many times means that I’ve learned to trust myself. I’m also pushing myself to write better, and I do worry about pulling that off.
HANK: Exactly. Exactly. Me, too. I always think—how did I forget how to do this? And then I just write one more line. Do you have a writing quirk you have to watch out for?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: I have so many writing quirks I have a list of them for when I edit. I have words that I overuse, like “well”, “just”, “so”. I have a habit of not tagging dialogue, so even I get lost in some scenes. I forget characters' names or change them in the middle of the book for no reason. I could go on and on.
One odd quirk as far as the writing itself is that after years of working full time and only writing nights and weekends I’m still on that schedule. My power hours are from 7pm - 11pm.
HANK: Sister! Mine, too. Those people who write at the crack of dawn? Well, more power to them. Tell us about your newest book!
JULIE HENNRIKUS: Digging Up the Remains is the third in my Garden Squad mystery series. Halloween is just around the corner, and there’s a pesky reporter who has moved to town to dig up the secrets on some of Goosebush’s citizens, including Lilly Jayne, my main protagonist. When he’s found dead under a pile of leaves Lilly and her friends try to figure out where else he was digging, and who had the most to lose.
HANK: What’s one thing you always do—write every day? Never stop at the end of a chapter? Write first thing in the morning?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: I schedule a block of time on my calendar every day for writing. I move it around as needed, but I do my best to keep that appointment with myself. If I delete it, I do that mindfully. Writing can be hands on the keyboard, researching, plotting--anything that supports my next project.
HANK: What’s the biggest mistake you see people make in their career decisions?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: I started a company last year called Your Ladders, which was created to help artists and writers develop confidence for their creative journey and develop tools to get past the blocks and obstacles in their path. One of the most important things a writer needs to understand in order to build a career is that publishing is a business. You can and should do everything in your power to show up, put your best work out there and move forward. But you can’t measure your art by awards or contracts. You have to find satisfaction in the process of writing, the part of the journey that you control. You’ve got to find joy in that part of the journey.
HANK: You’ve seen so much change in the publishing industry, what do you think new writers need to know about that?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: When I talk to folks about their creative journey I talk about the 3 C’s--craft, community and channels of distribution. You need all three C’s. Craft--learning, always learning. Community--finding your people. Sisters in Crime was and is a huge part of my community. Then there’s channels--the business side of writing.
Explore all publishing paths, because there are a lot of them. Understand the business, and the choices you’re making. If, for example, you decide to self publish, make sure that you’re taking care of all aspects of the business that a publisher would normally take care of like copyediting, proofs, covers, marketing copy. If you’re traditionally published, understand that you’re still going to have to market your book.
Don’t take the business personally. As long as you’re doing your part by writing a good book and being a good community member you’re doing what you can do. When a series gets cancelled or a publisher goes out of business take a deep breath and then figure out the new path forward.
HANK: You've been so successful, and now helping other authors--What secret of yours can we bottle up and rely on?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: You are so kind! My best piece of advice is something that I learned early. Enjoy the success of other people and celebrate it as if it was your own. Jealousy is poison. When I was invited to be part of what is now the Wicked Authors blog I didn’t have a contract. Everyone else did, and I was thrilled for them. When it was my turn I had a cheering section that still makes me tear up. Do I wish I had a movie deal? Sure. But instead of being unhappy that I don’t, I believe that I will, and keep writing.
HANK: What book are you are reading right now? And what are you working on right now?
JULIE HENNRIKUS: I’m reading an ARC of Isabella Maldonado’s The Cipher, which I’m enjoying. I’m also reading Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. I have two projects I’m working on. I’m plotting book #5 of the Garden Squad series. I’m also working on a thriller that I’ve been noodling for a while. We’ll see what happens with that.
HANK: Yes, cannot wait to read it! Give us one piece of advice!
JULIE HENNRIKUS: Progress over perfection. If you want to write, write. Accept that it won’t be perfect, but you’ll make it better. Perfectionism derails too many people on this path. If you want to be a writer, claim your space and write. Build your craft, find your community, and write.
HANK: Thank you so much, dear Julie! Let’s practice what Julie always talks about—tell us one writing thing that’s made you happy in the past week. Stay safe, you all. As I always say--it’s always safe inside a book—or at your writing desk.
Julie Hennrikus writes under several names. As Julia Henry, she writes the Garden Squad series for Kensington. The most recent in the series, Digging Up the Remains, was released in August. As Julianne Holmes she wrote the Agatha nominated Clock Shop Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. As J.A. Hennrikus she writes the Theater Cop Mystery Series. In 2018 Julie opened her own company, Your Ladders, help artists and writers develop the confidence for their creative journey and develop the skills to get past the obstacles in their path. She blogs with the Wicked Authors. You can find her at
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the USA Today bestselling author of 12 thrillers, winning the most prestigious awards in the genre: five Agathas, three Anthonys, the Daphne, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is also the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's WHDH-TV, with 37 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. Book critics call her “a master of suspense.” THE MURDER LIST is a current Agatha, Anthony, Macavity and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. Hank’s newest novel is THE FIRST TO LIE, and the Publishers Weekly starred review says "Stellar… Hank Phillippi Ryan could win a sixth Agatha with this one."