Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Author Joel Fox Uses History In His Writing

Please join me in welcoming author (and a bit of a politician) Joel Fox as the special guest blogger here today as he makes a stop on his virtual blog tour with his book.

Joel’s release is LINCOLN’S HAND. Here’s a brief synopsis of it: Unable to close his previous case against the monument bomber, senior FBI Special Agent Zane Rigby has been reassigned to uncover a secret. Is Abraham Lincoln’s body in his grave?
When DNA from a hand found with a blackmail note traced back to 1901 matches the DNA from bone taken at Lincoln’s autopsy, Rigby is shuffled off to Springfield, Illinois where all manner of obstacles threaten his success. He discovers a local congressman hiding a dreaded secret, a strange doctor who claims he can perform medical miracles, and his own ill-timed urge to rekindle a relationship with his college sweetheart.
And then there is the dead body of a young woman found near Lincoln’s Tomb.
As the Monument Bomber threatens to strike again, Rigby searches for redemption in solving the murder and discovering the secret buried in Lincoln’s Tomb.

Joel has stopped by today to shed some light on his writing of this intriguing book.

Mason - Your book, LINCOLN’S HAND, use history for the basis of your mystery. I’d say you have an obvious passion for history.

Joel—Yes, I love American history. I would have been a history major in college if it weren’t for that darn language requirement. History can be very dramatic. Like any good drama, stories from history contain conflict, interesting characters and unusual settings, especially unusual to the modern eye. I like all of American history: the Revolutionary period, westward expansion, the turbulence surrounding the Civil War era, the old west right up through World War II.

Mason - You have taken an unusual story from American history as the catalyst for your modern day mystery story. How did that come about?

Joel—I learned about the attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body from his grave from an old movie. The movie, made in the
1950s starring one-time Oscar winner Victor McLaglen, was titled the Abductors. It was a B-movie that didn’t receive a lot of attention. When I saw it as a teenager on a late night television showing I was shocked at the outrageous idea of trying to steal President Lincoln’s body. I was more amazed to find out the story was true. Eleven years after the assassination thieves tried to steal the body in hopes of exchanging it for a counterfeiter who was in prison. They were foiled. But the idea stuck with me and I realized it could make part of dramatic story.

Mason - But your book, while based on that strange historical event, is a modern day mystery. Is history woven throughout your story?

Joel—I don’t use flashbacks, but I use the strains of history that makes us the people we are as a fabric that runs through the story. Not only is the story driven by the question: Is Abraham Lincoln in his tomb – a reasonable question, by the way, because the coffin was moved many times and opened twice after the grave robbing attempt to be certain it was there – but I also have a terrorist attacking American monuments. The terrorist’s goal is to attack this country by attacking its history, its myths, as he says, that are represented by the monuments. Myths become an important part of the American story. They are built on facts. The rugged individualist American attitude that turned into the myth of the lone cowboy seeking justice in the old west. That’s an important piece of America’s makeup. Cheering for the underdog comes naturally to Americans because this country started as an underdog in battling for independence against the world’s strongest power, the British Empire. History can show us where our attitudes of today came from. It so happens that my protagonist, FBI agent Zane Rigby, possesses those culture traits of the lone man seeking justice and fighting for the underdog.

Mason - How did the idea of Abraham Lincoln’s DNA come to be part of your story?

Joel—Well, no one would be allowed to open a president’s grave without an extremely compelling reason. Finding the DNA, which matches DNA in bone kept from Lincoln’s autopsy, made a compelling reason and moved the story along.

Mason - So did you have to do a lot of research?

Joel--I had to do enough to make sure the history was right. But the favorite thing I did was travel to the place where most of my story takes place, Springfield, Illinois. I spent days there visiting the historical sites and driving around the countryside. I had a small tape recorder and I would record my observations such as the endless sea of corn cut by roads that were numbered but carried no name. When I got back to my hotel at night I would transcribe my notes from the recorder and would have them when I needed them once I started writing to describe a setting for the book.

Mason - Is Zane Rigby, your FBI protagonist, a series character? If so, can we expect more “presidential” plots?

Joel—Exactly right. I’ll take some unusual historical note from a president’s story and use that as my catalyst for Zane Rigby to solve the historical puzzle and an associated modern day murder. The working title of my next mystery is: FDR’S TREASURE.

Joel, thank you so much for guest blogging. It sounds interesting weaving true history facts in with your story. Does make one wonder about Lincoln’s body.

Now for a bit of history on Joel. He likes to say he has a long rap sheet in California politics. For three decades he has been a taxpayer and small business advocate, served on numerous state commissions appointed by governors and assembly speakers from both major political parties, worked on many ballot issue campaigns, and advised numerous candidates, including Arnold Schwarzenegger in the historic gubernatorial recall election of 2003. He is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.
Joel has authored hundreds of opinion pieces for many publications including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, as well as his well-respected blog on California business and politics, Fox and Hounds Daily.
His non-fiction works include a book, THE LEGEND OF PROPOSITION 13, about California’s most famous ballot measure, and a chapter in the book, What Baseball Means to Me, sanctioned by the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2008, Joel completed the Los Angeles FBI Citizens Academy program gaining a deeper understanding of the FBI and its mission. He grew up in Massachusetts. Joel says he got his love for history breathing the air in the Boston area, often driving past the homes of the presidents Adams and visiting many historical sites.

What are your thoughts on weaving history in with a modern mystery? Are you curious about the attempt to steal President Lincoln’s body?


  1. What a great concept!!! I love to read books that offer a historical aspect. Good luck, Joel.

  2. I love history. At times it can be so interesting.

  3. Fascinating story behind the story! And the story sounds so interesting, too. Best wishes with your release, Joel. :)

  4. Joel, thanks again for guest blogging. I think your use of history in your book is intriguing. Wishing you much success with your writing.

    SinC, Niki and Elizabeth, thanks so much for stopping by.

  5. Mason - Thanks for hosting Joel.

    Joel - I enjoy reading about history, so for me, it's fascinating when an investigation has a nice, strong dose of history in it. This sounds really intriguing! I wish you much success with Lincoln's Hand.

  6. I like the idea of weaving history with a modern fictional mystery. I think what we might find is that fact can be stranger than fiction!

  7. Wow! This book sounds amazing. I'm a Civil War buff and have read several books on Lincoln. I'll definitely have to check this one out.

  8. I've got one for you, Joel - have you ever heard the urban ledgend about U.S. Grant's body not being in Grant's Tomb because his widow said she wouldn't spend eternity next to a drunken old sot and had his body moved. I've come across that one a bunch of times over the years and wondered if there could be any truth to it. It would make a heck of a story.

  9. Thanks for all the encouraging comments. hope you enjoy the book ... i think you will. I never heard the story about Grant's body, but at the end of his life (Grant knew he was dying of cancer) he rushed to finish his biography so his wife would have an income after he was gone. He was successful with that and I imagine Mrs. Grant was grateful so she probably didn't kick him out of the tomb.


  10. Very cool concept! I love taking an old story or a historical event/person & twisting it :)

  11. I love stories where history is weaved in.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.