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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Fall/Holiday '04 Issue, December 2004
click here for this issue's photos
Dear Gentle and Prodigious Readers:
This newsletter is mainly to wish you and yours a wonderful Holiday Season. Please see our 2004 Christmas card here (photo 1). Left to right, you'll see Rocky the Raccoon (our outside friend), Maxx (our bobtail alpha female cat and my computer buddy), Homer, Flopsy (who's no trouble), Linda, China (the newest addition to the family, a special needs kitty with one damaged eye that sure doesn't slow her down. More below in Linda’s section), and Batman (our diabetic but still capable of a few tricks kitty). This card was done by Don Howard, a wonderful artist. To see more of Don's great work, or to commission a keepsake caricature of your own, I recommend you visit his web site at http://www.howardstudiosltd.com/.
Here in Huntsville, we're into the wonderful Holidays of December. We had a very nice and colorful autumn but all the leaves still haven't fallen. Little by little, they come down. One more good cold spell and we should get the rest. Linda's new pond in the front yard catches leaves, unfortunately, and it isn't good for her fish, so we put a net over it for now. (photo 2 and 3) Still, it's a lovely pond with two nice waterfalls and we're proud of the addition to our yard, a yard that's all rocks and trees. We built the pond ourselves with some expert help from Linda’s brother Chris. Sometimes, we sit on our screened-in front porch and just marvel at our view, remarking to ourselves that some folks pay thousands of dollars to rent cabins in the Smoky Mountains for the view we have all the time. I love mountains, wherever they're found, whether here in Huntsville, or in West Virginia, or in the Virgin Islands. As Mr. Dubonnet, Coalwood's union chief, once famously opined to me in Rocket Boys, the mountains are in my blood and no matter where I go or what I do, they will reside in me forever.
Speaking of Rocket Boys, here's some news that "Sonny" Hickam, the boy in that memoir, would have really liked. Mr. Sean O'Keefe, NASA Administrator, has asked me, the grown-up "Sonny," to serve on the NASA Advisory Council. This is a great honor that I just could not refuse. I look forward to working with Mr. O'Keefe and providing whatever support I can toward his endeavors to return our nation to the moon. He also wants to develop advanced propulsion machines that will eventually let us head for the stars. I think he just needs to read my book Back to the Moon! Let's go!
It's easy for me to become nostalgic during this time of the year because I can't help but think of the Christmases I had in Coalwood. Oh, what fun they were! I wrote about the last Christmas I spent in my old hometown in The Coalwood Way. See the cover here (photo 4) That book should have been titled A Coalwood Christmas. That's what I wanted it to be called and I should have stuck to my guns.
The final chapter in TCW is a description of Coalwood's last great Christmas Pageant, held when the town was trapped in a vast blanket of snow. I was the author of the pageant that year and essentially wrote Coalwood into the Christmas story. Here's a little piece of it:
And it came to pass, the miners said one to another, Let us now go down past Tipple Row on Main Street and past the school and the Big Store and the Club House and the Community Church and Snakeroot Hollow and the machine shops; let us go even unto Middletown before Mudhole and Frog Level and stop at the old mule barn, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, swinging their lunch buckets, and found Mary and Joe and the baby just as the angel said they would.
The miners walked across the Club House lawn to the manger and took off their helmets and knelt to the side of the sleeping baby in the cradle. The choir sang:
Joy to the town! The Savior reigns:
Let all their songs employ,
While mountains, mines, and hollows,
And slack dumps and coal trains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy.
Repeat, Repeat the sounding joy.
I loved writing The Coalwood Way, more than even Rocket Boys because "Way" is for me a much more personal and savored story. I hope you discover it this holiday season and enjoy my last Christmas with the unpredictable (though always wonderful) people of Coalwood. By the way, it is not too late to get specially personalized and autographed Hickam books for Christmas gifts from Shaver’s Bookstore – see our Gifts button for details. Also there, you can buy an art print of the beautiful TCW cover and of the cover of Sky of Stone, available from the cover artist, signed by him and by me if you like.
THE WRITING LIFE:
The advance reading copy of The Ambassador's Son, the next Josh Thurlow novel, is out and being mailed to booksellers across the country this month. The book itself will be out to the general public beginning March 1, 2005 and I will do a national book tour. I will post the tour on the website and send it to you in the winter newsletter. To read the first chapter and see some early reviews, go to our homepage on http://www.homerhickam.com. I think you're going to enjoy this book, an adventure in the South Pacific.
Here's a new FAQ we'll soon be adding to the website that has to do with the new novel:
Q: Why do you have John F. Kennedy as a character in The Ambassador's Son? Isn't that disrespectful?
A: The reason I have JFK in the novel is because he served in the Solomon Islands at the same time (1943) as Josh Thurlow and I thought it would be interesting for the two to meet. That's all I was going to do at first. But the more research I did, the more I wanted to explore young JFK's character. The only way I could do that was to bring him even more into the story. Ultimately, he became a major character. I believe that his service in the South Pacific as a PT-boat commander was the last time that John F. Kennedy was happy. By making him part of Josh's adventure, I could bring out the circumstances that would ultimately lead to the tragic arc of the rest of his life. As for being disrespectful, I think JFK would have enjoyed reading The Ambassador's Son and I hope you do, too. Why didn't you ask me about Richard M. Nixon? He's a character in the novel, too!
At present, I'm writing the next in the series (tentatively titled The Mandarin's Son) and also finishing a screenplay that might also turn into a novel. It is based on my adventures in Montana but I won't say anything else about it until a little later. Some things, like brownies, are best provided after they've cooled a bit.
On the movie side of my books, Sky of Stone is off the tracks. A wonderful screenplay by Pat Duncan (Mr. Holland's Opus) was turned in but the family that owns Hallmark had decided in the meantime that they prefer films with strong female characters. I'm scratching my head over that for who could possibly be stronger (or tougher) than Rita Walicki? Mickey Freiberg, my agent in Hollywood, is now trying to find this wonderful screenplay a home elsewhere. The Ambassador's Son has an interested party who wants to option it. We are excited at who this producer is... more on this later!
Here's some especially good news. We are 99% sure that the long awaited Special Edition DVD of October Sky (the movie) will be out in late January, 2005. It includes the following extra tracks:
* Aiming High: The Story of the Rocket Boys - Starring the real Rocket Boys and many of the actual townspeople of Coalwood. This is an inspirational piece that should be seen by every student in the country, as it emphasizes the value of higher education for a happier life.
* Feature Commentary with Homer Hickam (the movie plays and Homer comments the whole time)
* Feature Commentary with Joe Johnston, the director (the movie plays and Joe comments the whole time)
* Spotlight on Location
* Production Notes
* Theatrical Trailer. . . and more
Coalwood - We once more attended the always wonderful and colorful October Sky Festival in Coalwood. It was a great day but slowed a bit by a steady rain. See photos here: http://www.coalwoodmemories.com.
I signed books all day, Linda helped manage the crowds, and the people of Coalwood worked hard to raise some funds for the churches and youth recreational activities. Roy Lee, Billy, and O'Dell were there in support. Quentin couldn't make it this year. It's a long way from Texas to West Virginia. Next year, I hope to get a little more involved with things and see if I can't scare up an astronaut or two to enliven the proceedings. In any case, we anticipate better weather. Keep an eye on our Coalwood page on the web site for October Sky Festival 2005 updates!
Skyridge in St. John - We went down to our place in the U.S. Virgin Islands for Thanksgiving. We had it all to ourselves. We snorkeled some, dived a little, and hiked a lot, discovering some new trails. Here's a photo (photo 5) from our front porch taken on a calm morning.
Other Special Trips -- I traveled several places during the fall for speeches and Community Reads. As always, I was shown a wonderful time by appreciative audiences. Here's a short list of some of them:
* Celebration for Astronaut Kathy Sullivan's Spacewalk - Columbus, Ohio
* Speech honoring Cabell Huntington Hospital Auxiliary - Huntington, West Virginia
* Community Read (Rocket Boys) – Jackson County/Scottsboro, Alabama
* Community Read (Rocket Boys) - Guntersville, Alabama (photo 6)
I had a great time at all of these but the reunion with my old classmates at Virginia Tech was especially nice. We're all aging gracefully (or at least so we tell ourselves). I also got to visit the Skipper cannon crew. As many of you know, I spent my years in college mostly building a big brass cannon. I named it "Skipper" after President Kennedy who was assassinated the week before the cannon was completed. After decades of use (it was fired during ceremonies and after touchdowns at Va. Tech home games), the Skipper was finally retired to the Cadet Corps Museum. But now a new Skipper has been acquired by the Corps. I'm so proud of the crew that serves her. They're a great bunch of young men and women. They even let me fire her and then joined me for a special photo! (photo 7)
A SPECIAL WISH:
Linda and I plus our strange but happy little family wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season. I'll end with the last paragraph of Sky of Stone (photo 8) which sums up my feelings for the future:
As for me, I hope to continue writing and entertaining my fans, and maybe even providing some occasional illumination on life as it was, is, or shall be. I am a lucky man and I know it. The Engineer of the Universe has looked after this Coalwood boy, don't ask me why. The wheel of Jeremiah continues to turn with those great hands on it, shaping me, shaping us all. There are miracles everywhere, although sometimes they are concealed, not by God, but by our own eyes. All we need to do is look, and they will be seen.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful and meaningful holiday!
Cat news of course! China, more about our new baby China :^) ! We had decided with our other three cats who are older and Batman sick, we certainly could not have another cat….but we also felt “down a cat” with only three. I had been working with my cat rescue group, Friends of Ferals a lot in October and fell in love with a six-month old fluffy torti-shell fireball with a damaged eye. Still cute with it, but people wouldn't consider adopting her, she was passed by by everyone. She has seen a specialist, and the eye will always look cloudy but she seems to have some vision in it. (photo 9 & 10)
Within moments of bringing her home Homer renamed her "China." I told him that that morn when I let her out of her cage, she had a small gold tag hanging on her fluffy tail and it said "Made in China"!!! (it came from a cat toy I am sure). He says she is our little China Doll, damaged already. . .
China lives to play, very lively, but is sweet too and kinda boneless like a ragdoll breed. She a is such a doll and a joy. I had forgotten what young cats are like and it has perked up the household! She squeaks instead of meows. The girls hate her but surprisingly Batman and she are friends. All enjoy snoozing the cold weather away though.
Several local schools read Rocket Boys together and Homer went to speak to them. We reward readers only! (photo 11) What an amazing surprise it has been that this book is studied all over the world and enjoyed in so many Community Reads. Remember we have free material to support teachers under the Educators button and for book clubs under Reading Groups.
This is neat: Have lunch with Homer Hickam! The Communities In Schools’ “Lunch With A Leader" Online Auction is your chance to have lunch with some of America's most intriguing leaders, and support a great cause. Communities In Schools is one of the nation's leading community-based organizations helping kids succeed in school and prepare for life.
Go to http://www.lunchwithaleader.com and choose from dozens of personalities such as Homer Hickam, Lionel Richie, Rosalynn Carter, Michael Imperioli, Larry King, Chris Matthews, Richard Petty, Russell Simmons, Marilu Henner, and Sam Donaldson. The auction will go live December 15, 2004 and runs from January 18 through February 11 on eBay. To learn more about the organization it supports, log on to http://www.cisnet.org.
I'll end with a couple nice letters as usual - another marriage because of the book! Thanks as always for your kind mail to us. Happy Holidays and a Prodigious New Year! LTH
* Dear Mr. Hickam, I have so much to thank you for. First for the wonderful series of Coalwood books you have written. They allowed me to escape to your hometown in my mind when days were tough. I lost my grandmother, best friend, mother, father and dog in three years time.
Secondly because of your books I had a great desire to go to Coalwood and visit the places I had read about and perhaps see you and the Rocket Boys. My wish came true October 4, 2003. More than that, I had been emailing an old boyfriend from time to time (we dated 22 years ago) and mentioned the festival and he asked if he could take me. To make a long story short, he did and we are getting married October 16th...no other month would do for us! Were it not for you, Coalwood, and the festival we probably would still be just "old friends", emailing and exchanging birthday and Christmas cards.
So thank you for sharing your life with your readers. I know you've probably changed a lot of lives without realizing it, you certainly changed mine! LF
* Homer, I think that The Keeper's Son was a beautifully balanced piece of work. I see that many of the reader reviews on Amazon talk about the book being a real "page turner", and it's narrative drive definitely makes it that - but it's also a page-turner with meat on its bones, a novel that lingers in your memory after you've finished it, a novel that deepens and enriches your connection with the world rather than just taking you away from it for a brief joy ride before dropping you off again with an empty feeling.
I can't say how much I'm looking forward to The Ambassador's Son. And I will definitely contact Mr. Shaver about purchasing autographed copies of some of Homer's previous books. JH
* Dear Mr. Hickam, I just finished reading The Keeper's Son, and I couldn't put it down! Thank you for writing such an warm and enduring story. Your blend of interesting characters, attention to detail, historical fact and fiction, with just the right amount of romance thrown in made for a fascinating story line that had me wanting more. I found myself not wanting the book to end! I am ashamed to say that I had never read you before, although I knew you wrote Rocket Boys and I thoroughly enjoyed October Sky. While I am anxiously awaiting your next Josh Thurlow novel to come out, I intend to correct this oversight by reading everything else that you have written. Thank you again for your wonderful book, and keep up the good work. DM
* Dear Mr. Hickam: As the great grand son of a lighthouse keeper in Nova Scotia, I wanted to thank you for your wonderful book, The Keeper's Son. Twenty years ago my wife and I bought a home on the Outer Banks, intending to retire there when my career at Frostburg State University in Maryland is completed. We have watched in dismay as the "old timers" have been driven from the Banks by big money and bigger houses. We know folks like "Dosie," including my eighty-nine year old mother who still lives on the Banks. For what it is worth, Mr. Hickam, the tone and the flavor of your book is right on the money. Anyway, thanks so much for bringing life to 1942. We still haunt the beach and find flotsam from that era and earlier.
* Homer, I have just finished reading your book Sky of Stone which someone gave to me. What a wonderful story it is. From the time I picked up the book until the time I turned the last page you captivated me as if I were right there living through each moment.
Usually I read John Grisham's books and can't put them down, but when I looked at the cover on your book, I knew there had to be a great story and it sure was.
Thanks for many things, for being able to pull together years of memories and make then interesting to a total stranger, for showing each character right down to their soul, and lastly, for fighting overseas so that guys like me and others can speak and write freely.
As I sat and read your book while listening to the gentle ticking and chiming of my grandfather's clock your book made me forget how time was flying by.