Today I’m excited to be featuring friend, author and speaker Adam Henig. Adam is what I refer to as an investigative research author. His books are based on the behind the scenes of historic pieces of Americana.
As a memoir writer myself, I’m always facinated by biographries of those who’ve left an imprint on life and so today I’ve asked Adam to share a little about himself, his writing and research process and what inspires him to want to delve into the fascinating topics of turbulent times and issues that he loves to write about. His newest upcoming book is titled Watergate’s Forgotten Hero. A story about the man Frank Wills, the night watchman at the Watergate Office Building who was in charge of making sure the doors were locked in that building, but who opened the door himself to the Watergate hearings and the eventual downfall of Richard Nixon. Adam is going to share a bit about the making of that book with us.
“Adam Henig is the author of ALEX HALEY’S ROOTS: AN AUTHOR’S ODYSSEY (2014) and BASEBALL UNDER SIEGE: THE YANKEES, THE CARDINALS, AND A DOCTOR’S BATTLE TO INTEGRATE SPRING TRAINING (2016).”
Adam’s first book on Alex Haley’s Roots – An Author’s Odyssey take us into behind the scenes of the life of the author Alex Haley – politics, race, truths and lies and the downfall of the author of one of the most watched TV series of our time. Read more about this book on Amazon
Adam’s next book Baseball Under Siege takes an investigative look into the world of baseball and the doctor who helped abolish the racist stigma of blacks separate from whites with his integrating black baseball players to not only play together but stay together in times where civil rights were actively being sought out to achieve for all. Read more about this book on Amazon
Adam is currently working on his next book publication Watergate’s Forgotten Hero . The book focuses around Frank Wills, the night watchman on duty at the Watergate building who discovered the ‘burglars’. This should prove to be a fascinating book, especially current in today’s times. We will learn a little more about this upcoming book from Adam and I find it ironic and at the same time fascinating that Adam shares with us that he began writing this book before the 2016 US elections.
Let’s get to know more about Adam and his writing.
What inspired you to want to write books about people involved in historic political issues?
When I was eight years old, I watched my first presidential convention. It was 1988 and the major party candidates that year were then Vice President George H. W. Bush and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. When they were discussing the various issues, being so young, I didn’t understand what they were talking about. Then I began asking questions and my parents told me to read. So I did. I read the newspaper and moved onto books, mainly biographies about famous Americans, such as John F. Kennedy, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bob Dylan. I was fascinated about their trajectory from anonymity to greatness and, in some cases, to public embarrassment—as experienced by Alex Haley, the author of Roots and the central figure of my first book.
Can you tell us a bit about how you do the background research process for the books you write about?
When I begin a new project, I start with the newspaper. Even in the digital age, newspapers remain a biographer’s best friend. Assuming there is a sufficient amount of articles about the person I’m investigating, the paper can provide a chronology of my subject’s activities. Newspapers can also provide intimate details that not only affect the central figure, but those closest to him. As I collect more and more articles, I take notes of names, locations and events mentioned, so I can follow up on those leads and see if there’s anything else pertinent. During the research process, I reach out and request interviews from family members, friends, neighbors, and anyone else that might have known the subject. There are certain “go-to” places that I check because I’ve found that these are central depositories of information—the National Archives, FBI files (declassified, of course), and the New York Public Library.
Was your original intent as a writer to write in the biographic genre?
I’ve always enjoyed learning about other people’s lives, especially those who were at the center of American society. In particular, I appreciate when a biographer etches a comprehensive portrait of his figure. A case in point was Manson, a recently published biography about the convicted mass murderer Charles Manson. It’s easy to dismiss Manson as a deranged killer, but, to his credit, Manson author Jeff Guinn humanized him. That is a difficult task. I like the challenge to portray one’s subject in full dimension; in other words, to bring him or her to life.
I happen to know you were interviewed for a TV documentary for your book Baseball Under Siege. How did that come about? Did you contact those people about your book or were you found because of the content subject matter of the book?
When I was interviewed for the documentary television series, “Baseball From the Beginning,” I was contacted by the program’s producer, who was referred to me by Ralph Wimbish, Jr., the son of the central subject of Baseball Under Siege. I had interviewed Ralph, Jr. on several occasions and since I had developed a strong rapport with him, he was comfortable connecting me with the program’s producer. After settling on a date to do the taping, I flew to Florida and met the producer and his crew at their studio. Since it was the first time I was ever involved in a documentary, it was an exciting experience and I hope to do it again.
I’ve noticed by following your blog/newsletter that you frequently do book signings. Can you share how these signings come about – are you ‘pounding the pavement’ or are you getting requests to appear?
For the most part, it’s good-old fashion cold calling, or rather, cold emailing. Aside from a couple of book talks where I knew someone connected to the venue, the other presentations I have given involved contacting a representative from that organization. My protocol is to identify the program or event coordinator and then write him or her a short email, attached with information about my proposed talk, its length, type of media needed (e.g., projector, sound, etc.), its relevancy to their organization’s mission, and how I would market the event. Although most of my gigs have paid an honorarium, I’m not opposed to doing it for free as long as I can sell my books (and collect emails for my monthly newsletter). I have found the most success speaking at libraries, museums, and historical societies.
The characters you write your books about seem to all have a theme in common. In a sense, they are forgotten heroes, people who played a major part in historic moments of history. Can you tell us what it is that makes you write about the ‘underdogs’ so to speak, shining the spotlight on them and bringing them back into visibility?
All too often, the same historical (e.g., Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, JFK, and FDR) and cultural figures (The Beatles, Elvis) are written about time and again. I believe biographers are afraid deviate from writing about unknown characters because they feel that the publisher won’t accept their manuscript. It’s too much of a financial risk. If you’re an indie author like me (few biographers are), you can write about who ever you want. Having that flexibility coupled with an affinity for writing about historical figures that have been largely forgotten, this is why I choose the subject.
In addition, there is something to be said about being the first to document a life that has never been extensively written about. From then on, that book serves as the foundation for all other research related to that subject. When I chose Alex Haley to be the subject of my first book, I selected it because I was genuinely interested in the topic and no one before had, surprisingly, written about the controversial life of the author of Roots.
I’m curious to know if it’s the current political climate in the U.S. that inspired you to write about Watergate?
Frank Wills was the security guard who worked at the Watergate Office Building and discovered that there was a burglary in process, which led to arrests, a political scandal, and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. I have been working on this topic since May 2016, more than six months before the 2016 election. Suffice to say, it’s just a bizarre (and I suppose a welcome) coincidence.
Please tell us about your latest book, Watergate’s Forgotten Hero and I would be honored if you could share an excerpt with us.
Thanks to Alex Haley, the topics for the books that followed can be attributed to him. In Baseball Under Siege, I came across an interesting magazine article Haley had written about Dr. Wimbish and his quest to integrate spring training. (Segregation in Major League Baseball was still occurring fourteen years after Jackie Robinson had integrated it.). Since no one had written about Wimbish or the integration of spring training, I put aside that article and knew that this would be the topic for my next book. Frank Wills came about in a similar way. In the 1980s, after Roots made Haley a household name, he was tinkering with the idea of writing a biography about Wills. He never followed through with it. As the case with Wimbish, I looked into Wills’ life and knew this would be a fascinating topic about another forgotten figure.
Frank Wills never adequately received credit for his role in Watergate. Or did he? His celebrity status was short lived: he played himself in the award-winning 1976 Robert Redford film, “All the President’s Men;” delivered paid speeches; was the topic of numerous news articles and television news clips; and even had famous musicians write songs about him. Yet, twenty-five years after he discovered the Watergate burglars, he lived a lonely life in poverty before dying at the age of 52. While many of the figures closely associated with Watergate such as journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, President Nixon and members of his cabinet (many of whom were convicted for their roles in the cover-up that followed the burglary) all benefited (financially and otherwise) from the scandal, Wills did not. Why? What happened?
That’s the story.
EXCERPT of Watergate’s Forgotten Hero: Frank Wills, Night Watchman by Adam Henig
June 17, 1972
It was a typical June evening in Washington, D.C. – warm and sticky.
As most DC residents were coming home from a day’s work, Frank Wills was beginning his job. The twenty-four-year-old night watchman was scheduled for the graveyard shift, midnight to 8:00 a.m., at the eleven-story Watergate Office Building. The lanky, six-foot South Carolina native was dressed in his company-issued uniform: blue button-down shirt, blue slacks, blue jacket, and a can of Mace.
On that particular humid summer evening, Wills opted to walk instead of taking the public bus.
He was working for General Security Services, his employer, for more than a year, yet he felt like he “wasn’t going anywhere” with this job. Paid a paltry $80 a week, the young watchman often thought about “getting a better job and making some money.”
Wills was assigned to guard 2600 Virginia Avenue, one of the six new buildings located in the ten-acre Watergate Towne Complex. Of the six towers, four were residential (including a hotel) while the other two were used for offices. His main duties were to check every door, hallway, parking garage, and potential entry point of one of the office buildings to ensure it was locked and secured.
That evening, Wills arrived ten minutes early to his shift. The guard he was relieving told him he would be on his own; the colleague who was supposed to work alongside Wills had called in sick.
Normally, activity at an office building like this one winds down by the dinner hour. Recently, though, the building had a steady flow of young and ambitious workers who were entering to and leaving from the sixth floor, home to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters. Less than four months until Election Day, the DNC was in full swing, not allowing a single minute to go to waste.
But on that night, the Watergate was eerily silent.
Thanks to his keen observational skills and self-confidence, within two hours of his shift Frank Wills went from obscurity to celebrity.
His life would change forever. And so would the nation’s.
I hope you enjoyed the abbreviated introduction to my next book, Watergate’s Forgotten Hero: Frank Wills, Night Watchman. If you’d like to follow my progress in the writing of Frank Wills, please sign-up for my monthly newsletter by clicking here or visit www.adamhenig.com/newsletter
Follow Adam on Twitter for his updates and progress @AdamHenig
Thank you for being with us here to day Adam. It was a pleasure to have you over and share your books and writing/research processes with us. I’m sure your writing methods of investigating your research will prove invaluable for many of us writers particularly for those of us who write in the nonfiction/memoir/biographic genres. Wishing you much success with your new book. I for one can’t wait to read it!