36 Finalists Blog: James Densley

James Densley, author of The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting, co-authored by Jillian Peterson

General Nonfiction Category, sponsored by The Duchess Harris Collection

Each week leading up to the 34th annual Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.

Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why?

To write this book, we built the first comprehensive database of mass shooters in the United States and conducted one of the largest studies ever on the topic—examining hundreds of data points in the life histories of more than 170 mass shooters. We interviewed the living perpetrators of mass shootings in prison and the people who knew them, plus shooting survivors, victims’ families, first responders, and leading experts to get a 360 degree look at this vexing social problem. The book is hopeful and solution focused—we conclude with 34 potential solutions to the mass shooting epidemic. 

What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?

Mass shootings are preventable, not inevitable and we don’t have to wait for policymakers to act to stop the violence because there are simple, subtle, things we all can do to prevent it. Sometimes, a simple act of kindness is all it takes. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category? 

Stay true to the data, but remember it is the human stories that bring the data to life and give it meaning. The human stories also give you, the author, purpose. Writing this book, sitting with mass shooting survivors and victims’ families, but also the perpetrators of these horrific crimes, gave us insight into humanity that truly changed our lives. 

Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known.

I was once “bath crashed” on HGTV 

Minnesota enjoys a reputation as a place that values literature and reading. If this sentiment rings true for you, what about our home state makes it such a welcoming and conducive place for writers? 

It’s the winter hibernation period! For me, there’s nothing better than writing and reading at home in the warm when you’re snowed in and it’s 10 below outside. It allows ideas to gestate. Cold temps also boost your brain. I must add, Minnesota is passionate about the arts and invests heavily in them and this makes it such a vibrant state. 

Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. Has COVID-19 (and its fallout) impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past two years influenced your writing output in any other ways that you can pinpoint? 

We actually write about this in the book. For almost exactly a year (366 days to be precise), as COVID gripped the country, there were no shootings that killed four or more people in public places. Then, starting in March 2021, as businesses and workplaces reopened and people started gathering in larger numbers, we experienced a series of mass shootings. This “natural experiment” changed how we thought about mass shootings and inspired some of the solutions in the book.  

COVID also meant some of the interviews for the book had to be done remotely. At the same time, working from home gave us the time to write the book (as college professors, the pandemic changed our daily routines)! 

James Densley, PhD, is a professor of criminal justice and first University Scholar at Metropolitan State University. He has established himself as one of the world’s leading experts on street gangs and youth violence, including cyber violence.