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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Spring '04 Issue
click here for this issue's photos
Dear Gentle and Prodigious Readers:
Spring has come and gone here on our little mountain. Everything has turned green, the birds and bugs are many and happy, and the cats are lolling around on our deck. The days are long and gentle, not counting the occasional thunderstorm. It could only be the season I love the most: Summer! It's enough to make me sing that old rock and roll standard by the Jamies (a one-hit wonder group):
It’s summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime,
Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime,
Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime,
Well, shuck them books and throw ’em away.
Say goodbye to dull school days.
Look alive and change your ways.
And every night we’ll have a dance,
’Cause what’s a vacation without romance?
Oh man, this jive has me in a trance,
Because it’s summerti-i-i-i-i-me.
Well, whatever the lyrics may have lacked in poetry, they more than made up with spirit! Every time I hear that song, I'm instantly beamed back to good old Coalwood, West Virginia. I'm hanging around the pool down by the Company Store, watching the girls go by. What fun we had!
THIS WRITER'S LIFE
Spring for me was dedicated almost entirely to completing The Ambassador's Son, my next novel and the second in what I call the Josh Thurlow series. The good news is that it's turned in, and I've very pleased with the way it evolved. I think you're going to like it. There's lots of action, adventure, and romance in this one, perhaps even more than The Keeper's Son. It's set in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific during 1943, and is a story of the strange kinds of love that can only occur during times of war. Josh and the boys manage to get themselves into a lot of trouble in this one. A lot of times, I really wondered how I would get them out of their various scrapes. I think you're going to like the women in The Ambassador's Son, too. I've always liked to write about strong women characters. Here's one of them in a brief excerpt of the book:
Josh Thurlow was hopelessly lost on the island of New Georgia. But then . . . "Cheerio, Mastah," came a lilting, feminine voice.
Where a moment before, there had been but a charnel house of massed vegetation, there now stood a young Marie wearing nothing but a bright blue lap-lap that started at her slim waist and ended about six inches above her pretty, dimpled knees. She walked toward him, her bare feet somehow impervious to the thorns and stickers that littered the clearing, and came so near that Josh had to lift his eyes from where they'd naturally been diverted, to her full and round and gorgeous breasts. Her skin, black as the night sky, was oiled, and she exuded the scent of sweet coconut. There was a bright pink hibiscus pushed into her short, curly hair just above her left ear. She smiled at him with fulsome lips, seemingly taking delight in his open-mouthed astonishment at her appearance. "You afraid good fella Marie?" she asked.
"No," he said, although for some reason, he was. "The Whitman Plantation. Which way I go?"
She pointed off in a direction that seemed random. "No worry-worry," she said. "My name Penelope."
"Penelope?" Josh pushed up the brim of his cap with his finger in a gesture of confusion. "That's no usual Marie name."
"Well, Mastah, you see, I'm no usual Marie," she replied, switching to King's English. "And what, pray, would be your name?" And after Josh told her, she said, "Hello Josh. Now you will give me a present."
"I pointed you to the Whitman Plantation and therefore you owe me a gift for my work. That is the local custom."
"But I don't have a present."
"Look in your pockets."
Josh looked in his pockets and brought forth a small copper wire he'd picked up on the cave floor near Stobs's radio, a washer found on the deck of the PBY, and a spool of brown thread he kept to patch tears in his uniform. "The thread, please," the girl said.
Josh handed it over. "How do you know English so good and how come you spoke pidgin?"
"I know English well, " she corrected him. "I was raised in a missionary school, which also explains my English name. As for the pidgin, I used it because it amused me to do so. Don't you like to be amused, Mastah Josh?"
And here's another of the lively women in the novel:
Every morning, Missus Felicity Markham made an appearance at the Raider camp on Melagi, walking from the old plantation guest house along a well-worn path that led between the few stately coconut palms left standing. Her procession was invariably greeted by a gathering of Raiders and other strap-hangers, hungry to see an actual white woman, and a damned fine-looking dish at that. Some were even so inspired, they sang Bless 'em all to her, while others simply stared, holding their caps in reverence as she passed.
Such devotion might seem to a man just arrived from the outer world as more than the woman warranted. There was nothing even faintly sensuous in the way Felicity Markham walked. She kept her back as straight and her shoulders as square as a parade field Sergeant Major, and she held her chin high, aloofly so. She had sharp cheekbones, clear blue eyes, concerned lips, and long, thick brown hair she usually kept tied up in a tight bun. She hid her figure, though evidently a fine one, beneath a uniform of baggy culottes, and loose cotton blouses. She was also not young, being well into her thirties. Even so, she was one half of an intense fantasy devised by nearly every Raider on Melagi, each of whom had made up a kind of little story in his mind that would eventually see Felicity Markham and him clinging to one another beneath a Monkey Pod or Frangipani or any other kind of tropical tree available at the moment, lost in hot and sweaty love of the most explosive variety.
"Good morning, ma'am," the shaved-headed Marines said one by one, tearing off their caps as she and her son John-Bull passed through their gauntlet. Felicity heard a few low wolf whistles, which made her frown even though inside she was warmed. Little did they know she had managed a few fantasies of her own about some of them. It had been a very long time since Felicity had embraced a man and wrapped her long legs about him. The malarial black water that had taken her husband Bryce had debilitated him for weeks before the final ravages and that had been now three years ago. In the meantime, no suitable man had presented himself to her at her Noa-Noa plantation, which was located far to the north. Now, there was the war, and a hateful quarantine on Melagi, and the need to remain chaste in a sea of men who might go a bit bonkers if she selected but one of them for her favors.
I hope you're going to enjoy meeting these intriguing women and learn how they and Josh and the boys become even more entangled in a great chase across the Solomon Sea.
Now, the bad news. The Ambassador's Son won't be published until next Spring. St. Martin's wanted to get on the other side of the Presidential elections before publication, don't ask me why. Actually, I know why. Nobody's going to be reading much next fall, or so the theory goes. We hope everyone will read The Keeper's Son out in paperback in September though! (Photo 1)
JUST OUR LIFE
We hope to hear news on Hallmark’s making of Sky of Stone any day now, but you can’t hurry Hollywood. We will post any news on the home page of the web site.
My Mom Elsie Hickam turns 92 June 15! Unfortunately I can’t be there with her as Memphis, Tennessee has chosen Rocket Boys/October Sky as their “Same Book Same Time”, a community-wide reading initiative where all of Memphis and Shelby County reads the same book and discusses it together. Linda and I will be at events for the Memphis library on June 15. As you can imagine, it is quite exciting for an author to have a huge group of people read his work all at the same time! Thank you, Memphis!
By the way, so many cities have chosen to do a city read using Rocket Boys/October Sky that Linda has made up guidelines to assist communities. It is available on our Reading Group button on http://www.homerhickam.com. I think you also know that free discussion questions for book clubs are there, too. If your club is reading one of my books, get in touch with Linda at LTHickam@homerhickam.com and, schedule permitting, I will be happy do a speaker-phone visit with your group.
You all know how much we love our cats. (New photos 2, 3 and 4) Our old fluffy boy Paco has been gone now a year and in his memory we just established a “Paco Fund’’ with the Friends of Ferals, a small but very dedicated local cat rescue. Linda is an enthusiastic FOF volunteer. “Paco” means friend in Spanish, so it is a good name for a fund to help with neutering, vet bills and medicine the foster mothers who take in these homeless kitties often incur. They work long and hard to socialize them and find them good homes. The time, love and effort of FOF members for their foster kitties is priceless, and we feel Paco would agree that these wonderful folks should not incur a monetary burden also. If you would like to contribute to Paco’s fund, we would be appreciative. Donations are tax deductible. Checks should be made out to GHHS Friends of Ferals Paco Fund and please note that it is a memorial in honor of Paco. Send to Greater Huntsville Humane Society/Friends of Ferals Paco Fund, 2812 Johnston Rd., Huntsville, AL 35805. Contact Linda for any other information at LTHickam@homerhickam.com.
Please, please support your local rescue groups and spay and neuter your pets, and help stop this heartbreaking problem of too many animals for too few homes. Thank you so much for your help.
As mentioned above, I've been staying home writing so travel has been limited. However, Linda and I did get the chance to go up to Chicago where I gave a speech for the Ragdale Foundation, a wonderful organization that supports writers and other artists. We also drove down to Birmingham to support the city library's Alabama Bound reading festival. As always, we had a good time down there.
We also made time on May 22 to go to Virginia for the Team America Rocketry Challenge 2004. Winning high school and middle school teams were awarded a total of $60,000 in bonds. Three ninth graders from Penn Manor, Lancaster, PA, claimed the honor of first place with a perfect score in the world’s largest and most challenging model rocketry contest. The 700 teams from across the nation who competed in the first round were eliminated down to 102 teams who attended the final event. These student teams were asked to design and build a two-stage rocket that could fly to an altitude as close as possible to 1,250 feet, and return a payload of two raw eggs to the ground unbroken. Homer’s Mom sponsored a team from Myrtle Beach again and Waccama High School tied for 22nd place, a disappointment from their 4th place last year, but a prodigious accomplishment nevertheless! A special surprise was that the event had named one of the launch sites “Hickam Field!” (Photos 4 -8)
Numerous volunteers and corporate sponsors worked very hard all year to make this event a success, and our thanks go out to all of them. Please see photos and info here www.rocketcontest.org, and perhaps enter your school next year.
Now that my novel is done, I get a chance to play, if just a little, before starting the next one. I'm off dinosaur-hunting in Montana next week. Frank, Bill, and I have been planning all year for this one. We're going out to a place called Gilbert Creek, and there we hope to make a big discovery! Toward the end of June, Linda and I will go down to our place on St. John, USVI, where we'll be met by some old friends and fellow scuba divers. Can't wait to see Skyridge again. I do so love that little house high on the mountain overlooking the sea...
I hope you are having a wonderful 2004! Until next time, dear friends and prodigious readers...
As always, thanks to everyone who has written Homer about enjoying his books! I was going to stop collecting letters and posting them on our Fan Mail page, but you keep writing such great ones!! See a new set here. A writer never tires of hearing his words are appreciated, even loved...
At Homer’s editor’s request, I recently collected many ones about The Keeper's Son and Sean Desmond used them to get more interest and support at the publishing house for the sequel, The Ambassador's Son. As good as a book is, over 1000 books a week are published and to get a book noticed out of that crowd is very difficult. So we especially appreciate all your reader reviews on book sites and recommendations to friends to read Homer’s books!
Some new letters to Homer (see lots more at Fan Mail)
Dear Mr. Hickam, I loved reading Back to the Moon, your book about your cat Paco flying on the shuttle, but..... I have a cat too.
How did Paco get fed on the shuttle?
How did the "box" question get taken care of? Mary
From Homer: Please click here for the answer!
Homer Hickam is a true American classic writer, April 14, 2004
Reviewer: Paula Dian Taylor from Oklahoma City, OK
The Keeper's Son is in the tradition of classic writers like Herman Melville. The fact and fiction of the time period are the artist's tools by which Hickam creates his story telling masterpiece. The juxtaposition of German and American characters provided a perspective on World War II that I had never previously considered. Who would have thought that battle scenes on the Atlantic ocean would appeal to women? Redemption and romance are the central themes of this historical fiction which appeals to both men and women. The book was well researched and contains symbolism, fiction, and facts that both entertain and educate the reader. I can't wait for the next adventure on the Outer Banks!
Homer, Been greatly enjoying We Are Not Afraid. It's format allows me to pick it up and read potent snippets, put it down when interrupted by life's demands, then pick it back up again a week later, without having to retrace where I was... Some of the sections, especially the part about dreams being no good if you do not have the work/discipline (Homer's "3 P's") to follow through, were so "on point" that I had my wife and, more importantly, her son, (now 18 and getting ready to graduate from high school and head out into the big world), read it. Homer's "plain-speak, Will Rogers-type-horse-sense" is so down to earth and full of sound wisdom that this book should be required reading for all teenagers. Really. I have been underlining various sections that I thought were important enough to want to be able to flip back to...Love the scene where Homer told his Dad that he (Homer) wished he'd die, which causes his Dad concern, which, in turn, gave Homer pleasure, and how Homer's Mom spurred his Dad into saying such a moving prayer that Homer hastened to 'fess up that he really didn't want to die after all. Homer is so darn good with dialogue - he realistically captures how a conversation went, or would go, and in the process, describes feelings and people and relationships... You have got a gift, I'm tellin' ye! You keep strapped in to that desk and writing! BM
Dear Mr. Hickam, I just finished reading your Rocket Boys memoir for school and have found myself most inspired. Your words, how they are used in a sentence, captivated me where I couldn't just put the novel down... but had to remain reading it, despite teachers complaints. The way you described Coalwood, the southern part of West Virginia, and the characters names were so vivid that I felt as if I were there. Please, I urge you, though you need no urging, to continue writing novels. I, too, hope to one day become a writer... now that I have found your work... a writer like you. Sincerely, MC
Dear Homer, I am one of the many people that wrote to you last summer about using October Sky with my students.
I teach in a public middle school that serves my county's mentally and physically handicapped students. My students are not able to read or write, and many have severe communication challenges. We embarked on a new adventure this year when we decided to teach our kids age appropriate literature. We used books such as Sarah Plain and Tall, Where the Lilies Bloom, and Stone Fox. We felt that it was important that each book be paired with a video which we showed them at the beginning of each of our 6 week units. One of the books that we chose was October Sky because the regular 8th grade students in our school were also studying it. This certainly was our most ambitious book. We used it in a unit about Jobs - "What do you wantto be when you grow up?"
Earlier this week we had the students vote on the book that they liked best and they chose October Sky!!!! We were all surprised and thrilled at that--they chose the biggest book with the most complicated story line. I know that you get many letters from teachers across the country using October Sky as part of their curriculum, and I wanted you to know that these special students also identified with Homer's story. MW