2017-03-17 / Neighbors
Foundation director dons his novelist hat
Reagan Library’s John Heubusch writes new thriller
During his seven years as the president and public face of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, Heubusch, 58, has conducted onstage interviews with the authors of nearly all of those books. It’s been an integral part of the museum’s guest speaker series featuring conversations and book signings with the writers.
But this week the tables were turned.
On Tuesday, it was Heubusch who was answering the questions as actor Gary Sinise interviewed the newly minted author at a book signing at the presidential library for “The Shroud Conspiracy,” a fictional thriller published by Howard Books which was released March 14.
The book’s fast-paced plot about an anthropologist who authenticates the Shroud of Turin, purported by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, sprang from a seed planted decades ago in the mind of a teenage Heubusch.
“I actually saw a documentary about the Shroud of Turin when I was 17 years old in a religion class in high school,” the Calabasas resident said. “The fact that this shroud existed was just remarkable to me. I just remember at the time thinking, ‘If this is really real, it has to be the result of some miracle.’ So I just put it in the back of my mind and many years went by.”
Controversy over the authenticity of the shroud only grew in the years after Heubusch first became aware of the cloth and its image of a crucified man bearing signs of torture consistent with descriptions in the Gospels.
Radiocarbon dating tests conducted in 1970 on tiny strips of cloth from the shroud dated it to the medieval period, but the results were disputed when critics claimed the samples came from a section of material added to the original by nuns during a later period.
Another test in 1988 on pieces taken from a different section of the shroud confirmed its medieval provenance. But in 2013 the Vatican released new test results showing the cloth dates to ancient times.
What scientists have yet to figure out is how the image on the cloth was made.
Such questions have left a mystery rife with possibilities for a novel.
But it wasn’t until 2009, while exploring another mystery—the disappearance of aviator and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart— that Heubusch’s far-reaching imagination turned again to the matter of the shroud.
At the time, he was serving as president of the Waitt Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to historical discoveries and scientific exploration, which was conducting the search for Earhart’s plane.
Heusbusch never found the aircraft. But while spending months aboard a research vessel using sonar to scan the sea floor in the South Pacific for traces of the plane, Heubusch found himself with a lot of free time on his hands.
“That’s when I kind of formulated in my head what the story might be,” he said. “Essentially what I tried to do was take some fictional characters and place them into the middle of this controversy that I had been following on and off for years.”
Although Heubusch had written speeches and had articles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, he had “no clue about how to write a novel.”
“I literally made it up as I went along, which is not the way most writers do it,” he said. “I got halfway through the novel and it was akin to being in the middle of the woods with no idea how to get out. So I took some time out and actually wrote out an outline for how the rest of the book would go, chapter to chapter.”
After putting his two youngest kids, ages 10 and 12, to bed at night, Heubusch would work until 2 a.m., cranking out half a chapter a night until completing his novel in six months. He invested another six months edit- ing the manuscript before turning it over to an agent four years ago.
Somewhat like Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” but with the action of an “Indiana Jones” adventure, “The Shroud Conspiracy” dissects the arguments for and against the shroud’s authenticity, using the latest scientific research to create a realistic world. But the book also serves as a subtle commentary on religion versus atheism.
It ends in a cliffhanger desperately needing a sequel, which Heubusch has already written and plans to have published next year.
So what does the devout Roman Catholic feel about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin? Is it real or fake?
“Until science proves otherwise, I believe the shroud is the real McCoy,” Heubusch said. “I don’t think science has yet disproved it.”