On July 18th, John was interviewed by The Ventura County Star about The Shroud Conspiracy and his new career as writer.
The original article is available here.
Executive director of Reagan Foundation embarks on second career as thriller writer
Writing is therapy for author who is diagnosed with cancer
John Heubusch is best known as the executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the nonprofit that sustains the Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley.
But he’s beginning to make a name for himself in a second career as a writer of thrillers.
Heubusch’s first novel, “The Shroud Conspiracy,” was released earlier this year by Howard Books, an imprint of publishing giant Simon & Schuster. With a taut plot centered on the Shroud of Turin, which many Christians believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, the book has received mainly glowing reviews and according to Heubusch, has been selling briskly.
Heubusch, 59, has written a sequel — working title “The Second Coming” — scheduled to be published in the spring.
Heubusch, who has bachelor’s degrees in English and political science and a master’s in national security studies, has done his share of nonfiction writing throughout his career. His resume includes stints as chief of staff for then-Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole from 1989-91 and executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 1995-96,
He has penned newspaper and magazine opinion pieces, speeches for Dole and President H.W. Bush, introductions to speakers and countless memos.
But he never thought he had the discipline to write a book.
‘I can do this’
“I’ve always kind of fancied myself a writer,” Heubusch said recently, sitting in his second-floor office at the library where shelves display dozens of books. Heubusch has interviewed or introduced the vast majority of their authors at programs at the library.
“But I never thought I had the patience or the stamina to sit down and chain myself to a desk to write something over 300 pages,” he said. “I always thought that was an impossibility.”
That changed one day in 2012 as he stood on the second floor of the Barnes & Noble book store in Calabasas, where Heubusch lives with his wife Marcella and their two children. He has a grown son from a previous marriage who lives in San Diego.
“I was looking out over the sea of books in front of me, and I just thought to myself, ‘I know I can do this. I have to be able to do this,'” he said. “So a few days later, I just sat in front of my computer at 10 o’clock at night and started on chapter one.”
Five nights a week after putting his children to bed, he’d write for four hours with the goal of producing half a chapter a night. After finishing a chapter, he would spend the next several nights rewriting.
“And after six months of that, from September 2012 to February 2013, I got the book done,” he said.
He almost immediately started writing the sequel, completing it in five months in the late summer of 2013.
Writing books, he discovered, was a labor of love, Heubusch said.
“I thought it would kind of be drudgery because of so many words,” he said. “But I absolutely loved it.”
He signed with Simon & Schuster in late 2015 and “The Shroud Conspiracy” was published in March.
On March 14, it was Heubusch’s turn to be the author interviewed at the library. His interviewer was actor Gary Sinise.
Heubusch’s Catholicism strongly influenced his choice of subject matter for “The Shroud Conspiracy” and “The Second Coming.”
In his senior year at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C., Heubusch watched a documentary on the Shroud of Turin produced by the Catholic Church.
“It just fascinated me,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe that I might be staring at the image of Jesus Christ. It just stunned me that something like that could exist.
“So I always had it in the back of my mind that this relic could be a really great premise to build a novel on. And eventually, 40 years later, I acted on it,” he said.
The book’s main character, atheist forensic anthropologist Jon Bondurant sets out to prove that the Shroud of Turin is fake, but concludes otherwise. He then races to stop evil forces who want to use DNA from traces of blood in the fabric to clone Jesus and usher in a Second Coming of their own design.
“That makes for a pretty exciting book. Where science and faith collide,” Heubusch said, bumping his fists together. “I’ve been told I’ve written a page turner, so I’m happy about that.”
The book has gotten its share of rave reviews.
New York Times best-selling thriller writer Brad Thor, who Heubusch interviewed this month at the library, said “The Shroud Conspiracy” “is an absolutely brilliant thriller. This riveting, intrigue-filled mystery is like nothing you’ve ever read before.”
Another New York Times bestselling thriller author, Ted Bell, said “The Shroud Conspiracy” is “Indiana Jones meets ‘Da Vinci Code.’ Definitely, one of the most intensely exciting thrillers you’ll read all year.”
But not all the reviews have been so favorable.
Publishers Weekly praised Heubusch for his “thought-provoking conceit” and “interesting premise,” but criticized his “dense exposition and clunky characterization,” calling the book “cumbersome.”
Heubusch said the book has been selling “really well.”
“It went to No. 30 on Amazon on its first day,” he said. “That’s overall for all books. And it hung in there for many weeks. It was No. 1 for science mystery thrillers. Simon & Schuster seems to be happy, so that makes me happy.”
But the book hasn’t made the coveted New York Times best sellers list, even though Heubusch said: “the math is such that it should have.”
“What happened is that when we launched the book here at the Reagan Library, we sold several thousand books to several thousand people,” he said. “But the Times didn’t count those sales, and I really can’t tell you why.
“Somehow they considered it a ‘bulk’ sale, and as a result, didn’t include it in with their numbers,” he said. “I thought it was a bit unfair, but you know, life’s not fair.”
One of the reasons it took four years for “The Shroud Conspiracy” to be published is that Heubusch was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May 2013 while writing the sequel.
“It’s a wildly rare cancer, and there’s no cure,” he said. “So the best thing the doctors can do is a triple shot of chemotherapy, radiation and serious radical surgery, and I’ve done all three.”
He undergoes regular treatments in Houston, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and in Los Angeles.
“Admittedly, in some respects, it might be why it took me a few years to go from a finished book to a published book,” he said. “I was going through many treatments at the time, and I was weak and it was kind of hard to be out there, so we kind of put off the day of promotion until I was feeling better.”
In an eerie twist, before his diagnosis, Heubusch had created a character for “The Second Coming,” a priest who didn’t know he had cancer.
“And here I was with one of those cancers, not knowing it,” he said. “That was the strangest of strange things.”
He said he nearly gave up editing “The Second Coming” when he began chemotherapy and radiation treatments, “but I figured I needed to finish what I’d started.”
Writing is therapy for him, he said.
“Part of the race to beat cancer, I think, is to give yourself a reason a get up every morning and loving life and doing things that you’re just fascinated by and that keep you engaged and interested in living, and for me, writing fits squarely into that category,” he said.
“So, to be able to write novels that sell well and to be able to open up that avenue in my life has been really important I think in terms of my ability to survive the cancer,” he said.
Cancer has also strengthened his faith as a practicing Catholic.
“It has,” he said. “In some respects, I’m a little sorry to say that. Faith is faith, and I’m sorry it had to take a tragic circumstance to polish or improve on my faith. But it is what it is.
“And here I am,” he said. “I also got my family and a great job, so I’m alright.”