My Interview with Joel Fox
Many years ago I watched an old movie called The Abductors about the attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body and starring one time Academy Award winning actor, Victor McClaglen. I can’t say it’s a great movie and it was quickly lost to the memory of the movie world. But, the film captured my imagination and I never forgot the outrageous, devilish, irreverent plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body. It was hard to believe it was true, but it was. I thought it was a natural story to build a mystery around, especially when I learned years later what happened to Lincoln’s coffin over time after the grave-robbing attempt – all an integral part of the book.
But, Lincoln’s Hand only uses the mystery within Lincoln’s Tomb as a starting point for my story. My novel is a modern day mystery, as well, dealing with terrorism and a murdered young woman.
Obviously forensic science is a key element of this story. Have you always been interested in Forensics?
That’s the funny part. I am not really a scientific type or follow forensics. I think forensic science is interesting, but it is not something I spend a lot of time studying. Yet, I knew that for my mystery to work I would have to add a forensic element.
How much research was involved in the technical aspects of the forensics in your book?
I did some research but the key for me was attending some writing conferences and meeting Dr. Doug Lyle here in Southern California. The good doctor is not only a practicing physician, he is also a practicing mystery writer with published novels to his credit. He has a website and is willing to answer medical questions from mystery writers. He also wrote a book titled, Forensics for Dummies http://www.amazon.com/Forensics-Dummies-Douglas-P-Lyle/dp/0764555804 I bought the book and talked to him a couple of times at conferences and sent him a couple of questions. His answers provided the bulk of my research on forensics. Of course, I acknowledged his contribution in the book.
With the popularity of forensic science in television did you feel including it in your book was essential to success, or did you feel it completed the story?
There is not a lot of forensics in my story. The story is not a science based mystery by any means. However, there is one key forensic component that makes the mystery work, so it was essential for that piece to fit.
Can we expect further adventures of Agent Rigby?
That’s my goal. In fact, at the end of the novel, Special Agent Rigby finds a file on his desk dealing with a small incident in the life of President Franklin Roosevelt and the FBI Director orders him to follow up.
Was Abraham Lincoln a favorite president of yours? Is that why you chose him as the focus of your novel, or was there another reason?
I think President Lincoln is a favorite president of many, many Americans. He led an intriguing and fascinating life, and for writers he truly is a compelling character. But, saying all that, the reason I chose this subject was my fascination with the idea that someone would try to rob the grave of such an iconic figure and the historical shenanigans that followed the graver-robbing attempt. It’s a heck of a story.
Would you say there is a lot of Joel Fox shining through Agent Zane Rigby or just a little? Did you base him on somebody else in your life?
There are attributes of the Rigby character that come from me. He has a lot of attitudes that I possess, and even some small details of the character. He talks about once being a runner but time had slowed him first to jogging and now to power walking as exercise. I followed the same path as I aged from cross-country runner to marathoner, to jogger, to race walker so that aspect of Rigby’s character is a reflection of me.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing and seeing your work through to publication? What part did you have the most fun doing?
The most fun is occurs when something you write works. For instance, the tension builds on the page to a cliffhanger ending of the chapter. When it truly works, I get a great sense of satisfaction. It may not work the first draft just so, but when it eventually succeeds, I really enjoy the end result. The greatest challenge is one I share with countless writers—getting someone to read your work who is in a position to get it published and finally saying, “Yes.”
You are obviously a master of mystery; do you have any plans to tackle different genres after this?
I write non-fiction mostly in the form of newspaper opinion pieces and website blog posts. However, my current plan with novels is to continue writing mysteries.
I hate to compare works with having a child, but that’s what it feels like sometimes. What character, scene, or story point in Lincoln’s hand are you most proud of?
As with children, you can have a number of them and love them. So, too, with the book, I have a many aspects that I like and am proud of. Not to pick favorites, but I am pleased that I created a mystery puzzle using actual historical facts. If a historian reads my mystery, he or she would see the resolution of the mystery questioning whether Lincoln’s body is in its grave, strange as it seems, is solved using actual historical facts.
Thanks for the interview, Sean.
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