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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Summer-Fall-Holiday '05 Issue, December 2005
click here for this issue's photos
Dear Gentle and Prodigious Readers:
I have missed a couple of newsletter issues, thus this one combined for several seasons. I will simply claim the truth. It has been a very busy time and somehow the newsletters just didn't get written. Still, I apologize and hope to keep up better in 2006 (although that looks like a busy year, too, perhaps even busier)!
As I write this, we are just back from our home in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands and I will confess to some painful withdrawal symptoms. I miss most of all our friends there, wonderful friends, and the color redolent on that most splendid of islands. Huntsville, though it has its charms in the winter, tends toward drab in contrast, the leaves down off the hardwoods, the poor cold fish in our pond miserably huddled, the two cats allowed outside (Maxx and Flopsy) frustrated that they can't stay long (they're spoiled and therefore easily chilled).
Yet, with my complaints made, I feel the quickening pulse of the Christmas season. I am always reminded of the Christmases of my youth which I wrote about in The Coalwood Way. I can still see those bobbing miner's helmets up and down the streets of Welch, the county seat of McDowell County, as the miners and their families worked their way through the crowded streets lined with little shops. And in Coalwood, every family worked diligently to put up their Christmas lights in the hope theirs would be the best. It was always my job to put up the "greens" around the windows of our house which required a journey to Pine Tree Valley high in one of the mountains surrounding Coalwood. It was also in The Coalwood Way that I wrote about the last time I did that as a Coalwood boy when Sherman Siers and I journeyed there, only to make a sad but remarkable discovery. Because Christmas was the fulcrum around which much of the story in that book was written, I originally wanted to call it A Coalwood Christmas. I wish I had stuck to my guns. It might have become a Christmas classic if I had, rather than being considered only a sequel to Rocket Boys. Live and learn, my friends, a lifetime occupation.
THE WRITING LIFE:
The next "Josh Thurlow" novel tentatively titled The Far Reaches is moving along although much work remains. I hope to turn it into St. Martin's in January. Publication dates are always tricky so I'll just say it should be out in 2006, maybe in the summer. I anticipate that The Ambassador's Son paperback should be out in the spring or early summer as well. Although no author is ever completely satisfied with the sales of his work, I am pleased with the reception of both The Keeper's Son and The Ambassador's Son. The series has quietly been building a following and I was very happy when the publisher came out with a second printing of the paperback version of TKS. Readers have been raving over both novels in the reviews found in internet stores such as Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com and also in your kind fan mail. I have been particularly heartened at the reception of Penelope in TAS. Men can't get enough of her but, for one reason or another (jealousy, perhaps?), the women don't seem to like her much. But women do especially love the romance in The Keeper's Son. I don't write any of my books for a particular audience, neither age or gender, but I will confess that TKS seems to be loved by women and TAS seems to be more for the men. I won't know about The Far Reaches until I get feedback from readers.
I have also recently signed with WestBow of Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc. for my tenth book, a novel, untitled as of today, that will take place in my beloved Coalwood. It will be fiction and not be about the Rocket Boys or any sort of a memoir. All I know about it right now is I think it will be the most romantic book I've written to date. As you may know, Thomas Nelson is one of the largest publishers in the world and is mostly known for its Christian-oriented books. The WestBow imprint, however is desirous of going mainstream with its fiction and I have signed on to help. I am to turn in the manuscript next September. Publication date is presently scheduled for the autumn of 2007.
There is lots of interest and action in the movie arena for my books and projects but no definite news to report. Sadly, many novels are optioned but few are made into films. We are looking for time to write our own screenplays but so far, it has been difficult to find that precious commodity. We're working on it, I swan!
And speaking of screenplays, probably the most movie-optioned book I've written is the novel Back to the Moon. It's gotten close to production a couple of times but there seems to be always something that kills it. Now, I'm thinking maybe that will change. I note with some satisfaction that the United States is thinking seriously about going back to the moon. I've decided not to charge NASA for the idea but trust they'll read my novel when they're stumped for answers on how to do it. The Chinese also purchased the rights to that book, translated it and sold quite a few copies. For those who might not have read it (Linda's favorite novel of mine, by the way, and dedicated to her), it has as a plot device the recovery of Helium-3, a source of nearly limitless energy that just happens to cover our nearest celestial neighbor (and that's not fiction). I was pleased when the Chinese announced they were in the new race to the lunar surface to recover-what else?-Helium-3! Glad to see you're paying attention over there in the Celestial Kingdom! Now, maybe if I get around to writing the screenplay, the Chinese will finance it!
Here's some more good news. The long-awaited book with the selected works of Hildegard of Bingen for which I wrote the foreword is out. Its full title is Hildegard of Bingen: Selections from Her Writings (HarperCollins Spiritual Classics). You can find it at your local bookstore or on line. For those readers not familiar with this most remarkable medieval woman, I think you'll enjoy learning something about her.
And a bit more, this on the Broadway musical based on my first memoir Rocket Boys. We're still trying to assist the young, talented group of writers and musicians working on this project. They came to visit us and we were so impressed with their talent and passion. I have no doubt of its success if it is allowed to proceed. There are legal complications, however, having to do with the movie October Sky. I won't go into detail but it is a complex situation and we are working on it. I hope to have more news in the next newsletter. Keep your fingers crossed!
I spent most of June in deepest Montana hunting and finding dinosaurs. For those of you who have read our older newsletters, you know that in 2004, I discovered the toe and claw bones of a most interesting juvenile T.Rex which paleontologist Jack Horner instantly named the H-Rex in my honor. Jack sent out a team headed up by Nels Peterson this past summer to dig up the rest of her (I'm quite certain she is a young female). Sadly, only a few more bones of her were found including a very nice metatarsal (photo 1). The H-Rex remains in seclusion, therefore, waiting to be re-discovered. Or perhaps she was destroyed 65 million years ago. I will keep looking for her, in any case. While doing so in June, my dino-hunting buddy Frank Stewart and I found two very nice specimens of Triceratops which Nels and crew were happy to dig up. Here's a photo as it was just coming out of the ground (photo 2 ). We also dug up a sacrum (probably of a Hadrosaur but possibly an Ankylosaur) that Frank found in 2003 (photo 3). As always, I dearly love the stark, sacred landscape of northeast Montana where I feel so much at home (photo 4).
In July, Linda and I plus our friends Carol and Al English ventured to our home in St. John. We had a ball snorkeling and playing poker! One of the fun things we did was hide our own cache for the folks who like to geocache. Go here to look at it, and, should you find yourself on St. John, maybe you can find it, too!
Later in September, my friend Carl Spurlock and I returned to St. John to supervise some remodeling on the house. Carl, a professional "voice" for commercials and other dramas, is also an excellent mechanic and spent quite a lot of time repairing our ancient but beloved Suzuki Sidekick nicknamed "Dosie" after Dosie Crossan in The Keeper's Son (photo 5 & 6). She's sweet but a little cranky at times! "An island car, don't need to go far." In any case, the remodeling was accomplished (all new tile upstairs and a new kitchen) plus we got new furniture (photo 7).
Carl and I also did some local fossil-hunting, down near Jasper, Alabama. While looking for the fossil beds, we got lost but luckily came across a church with some sage advice (photo 8). I would suggest every politician of every stripe might also be a beneficiary of this counsel as well.
On October 1, Linda and I plus her parents and brother Chris were privileged to journey once more to Coalwood for the annual October Sky Festival. This was the best one yet, I think. A beautiful sunny day, thousands of attendees, and just good fun. An attendee was inspired to start a wonderful website about Coalwood. Please see it at http://www.coalwoodwestvirginia.com and many festival photos are there marked 2005 October Sky Festival, on the left in blue. Make plans now to attend the next one, October 7, 2006! Janice Parker of Coalwood was kind enough to make us the most soft beautiful pink blanket. . . guess who likes it the most though? (photo 9)
As mentioned above, we are now just back from our third trip to St. John this year. This time, we welcomed Linda's parents and two of her brothers, Clay and Chris, plus Clay's wife Ginny for Thanksgiving week. We celebrated Thanksgiving in Coral Bay at a potluck for over 200 islanders called "Thankspigging". A great good time for everybody!
Speeches and Community Reads:
As I wrote in the last newsletter, Rocket Boys continues to be one of the most oft-chosen books for City and Library Reads across the country. It is a phenomenon that very definitely seems to have a life of its own. No matter what else I write or what else I do, the enthusiastic fans of this memoir keep calling me back to it. I guess I'm just going to have to accept that I've written a world-wide classic that is going to keep going on and on no matter what I do or don't do. Random House has a new printing of the hardcover with a new attractive cover (photo 10). Among many other speeches in October, I visited Ohio State University which picked the book for their Freshman read. I had a wonderful time there and enjoyed meeting many students (photo 11).
Coming up: I may be heading to Mongolia next fall to look for dinosaurs. More on that as it evolves. Back to St. John for my birthday in February and somewhere for Linda's in May.
Of course, we are pleased when you choose one or more of my books as presents for friends and family. For special autographed and personally inscribed books, please contact our friend John Shaver of Shaver's Bookstore here in Huntsville, Alabama. There is no extra charge for this but DO IT NOW in time for slow holiday mailing! Here's all the contact information you need to make that happen:
2362 Whitesburg Dr.
Huntsville AL 35801
256-536-1604 (The store is open 10:00-5:30 CST)
Happy Reading! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!
Your writer and friend,
Happy Holidays indeed! Just ordered some cat treats for their stockings - China is hooked on a C.E.T. tooth cleaning chew and gets the bag out with them in it herself and asks me to open it. While we were away, she opened them herself – all gone! Maxx, Flopsy, and Batman are fine too, happy we are home from the two weeks away.
Some of you kindly wrote concerned that hurricane Katrina had affected us, as we live in Alabama. We do, but very far north. We did get lots of wind and rain and a ten inch in diameter tree limb broke off and took out our hours-old new Trex deck railing, but that was all. We have indeed stayed busy busy and can't seem to catch up. Homer and I were chairs for a large fundraising dinner for our beloved cat rescue group and Dr. Marty Becker, friend and "America's Favorite Vet" came all the way from Idaho and gave an outstanding speech. His just out Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul and Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul would make great gifts for any pet lovers and are available from booksellers everywhere. And of course cute cat photos are needed (photos 12, 13 & 14)
A couple great letters:
* Dear Homer, I just finished your novel, The Keeper's Son, and wanted you to know that it temporarily kept me from finishing my third novel, Castles of Deceit. No, this isn't a push for endorsement or anything of the sort, just a plain compliment that I really enjoyed your novel to the point that I couldn't put it down.
It's a keeper and will remain on my bookshelf until some friend or family member silently carries it away. The Keeper's Son falls into that scarce category of a book I couldn't put down, only did so when I had to go to the bathroom or it was time for bed, couldn't wait to get back to it, and was damn sorry when it was over.
I can only hope that my novels can combine tongue-in-cheek humor, adventure, romance, and easy reading to the level you have achieved.
Thanks for a good story,
* Homer: I just finished The Ambassador's Son, and wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it. I am retired Army and was "raised" on Victory At Sea (initial programming and subsequent reruns) and as well have read many books, fiction and non-fiction, about the war in the Pacific. Though by no means an expert on the subject, I feel that your book gave an excellent portrayal of a tiny piece of that conflict.
I enjoyed meeting JFK, Nixon and Michener and, as a 35-year resident of Colorado, Whizzer White. I have ordered The Keeper's Son and look forward to Josh's next adventure. Cheers, JPS
* Linda, You don't need to answer - don't want to do anything to slow up completion of Homer's next book! Just had to let you know how much I continue to enjoy Homer's books. The praise on the reverse of The Ambassador's Son by James Reasoner (whose work I'm not familiar with) just said what I've been trying to say since reading Homer's first book - his work "creates a genuine emotional resonance in the reader" - I'm not good at putting things into words and this just said it for me!
Loved the ref to Hickam Field and to "The Deerslayer" and Natty Bumpo (a favorite for a long time) and having Michener in the book.
I can only wish you could turn out a book a month - but I'd never get
anything done! Looking forward to more of Josh's (or anyone else he
decides to "create") adventures! May our Lord continue to bless the 2 of you (thereby blessing the rest of us as well). Ms KD
Dear Homer Hickam, You gave me encouragement during my apprenticeship several years ago. I made Journeyman in 2001 and was just promoted to a position as a Chief Engineer in a large powerhouse. From a dyslexic kid that everyone thought was going to fail in life to a skilled tradesman it has been a long road. I am forty six years old and have enjoyed every book you have written. YOU are an inspiration that proves that if you work at it you can get there. Thank you for being you Homer. CFH