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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Spring '06 Issue, April 2006
click here for this issue's photos
Dear Gentle and Prodigious Readers:
Spring, 2006, has proved to be a busy, busy time for us with projects of all types vying for our time. That still doesn't keep us from occasionally stopping and going outside and enjoying the usual delights of spring in northern Alabama. What a magnificent area of hills and valleys we live in. Huntsville during this season is a natural garden of colorful dogwood, redbud, cherry, and peach blossoms, collected as if by angels for God's bouquet beneath a great and gloriously blue sky. Our two cats (Maxx and Flopsy) who are allowed to go outside have been busting down the doors to get out and chase chipmunks and moles and loll in the sun on the deck. The two indoor kitties (Batman and China) have our screened-in porch to dream and chatter at the marauding squirrels (as I watch them play, I always think of Mom's pet squirrel Chipper and especially the time I lost him. That story is in the chapter titled "A Disaster of Squirrels" in The Coalwood Way). The fish in our pond are happy, coming out of their winter funk and ready to chow down. We're hiking and jogging and geocaching (more on that from Linda below) and, of course, writing and speaking and doing all the things that allows me to wake up every morning and think, "Oh, boy! I can't wait to get going!" By the way, here's a suggestion. If you wake up and find that you dread the day ahead, maybe you need to read We Are Not Afraid (http://www.homerhickam.com/books/wana.shtml) and change your approach to life. It's never too late! Life is meant to be fun!
THE WRITING LIFE:
The next "Josh Thurlow" novel titled The Far Reaches is complete! Erin Brown, my new editor at St. Martin's, loves it, and thinks it's the best one yet. Publication date will probably be about this time next year. Here's a quick synopsis: Like an old warhorse, Josh Thurlow joins the invasion of Tarawa and is spun off on one of his greatest adventures. Sister Mary Kathleen, a pretty Irish nun harboring a shocking secret, shanghais Josh and sidekick Ready O'Neal to The Far Reaches, a group of lovely tropical islands conquered by a bloody Japanese warlord. Josh and Ready must decide whether to help Sister fight her lonely battle against the Japanese or settle down as "family men" in the romantic splendor of the South Seas.
A word about Erin: She's a Texas girl, a graduate of the University of Texas, who fearlessly came to New York for fame and fortune and is well on her way. I am so impressed that she came to the Big Apple without a job offer, just a determination to make a success of her life. First stop was as an editor for Avon, and now the Thomas Dunne imprint of St. Martin's Press. Although I will, of course, miss Sean Desmond, my previous editor (he's gone on to greater things), I was immediately pleased with Erin's fine edit of The Far Reaches. She helped me make it an even stronger piece, which is what good editors do. And that, as I told her, is the truth and not me tuning her fiddle (as Ready O'Neal would say). Here's a photo of Erin and her husband Aaron (also a Texas boy making his way in the big city) on a recent vacation (Photo 1). Welcome aboard, Erin. Now, let's put some great books out there!
The mass market paperback of The Ambassador's Son (http://www.homerhickam.com/books/tas.shtml) will be out the first week in May. It will include a teaser of two chapters of The Far Reaches. Look for it in your favorite bookstore. If you don't see it, I'd appreciate it if you mentioned it to the bookstore staff. People can't read my work if the books aren't there to buy! You might mention it (and my other books) in airport bookstores, too. Airport bookstores have not often carried my books, which has always been a mystery to me. Not even Rocket Boys/October Sky! Any mention to the supervisors in bookstores that they should carry my work would be vastly appreciated. Write us and let us know what they say.
With The Far Reaches finished, I now turn to my next novel, this one written for WestBow of Thomas Nelson Publishing. All I can tell you right now is the story will take place in today's coal mining country of West Virginia. The tentative title is The Red Helmet. An apprentice miner is required to wear a red helmet, in case you wondered where my title is coming from.
What a wonderful time Linda and I had in February! We spent nearly the entire month at Skyridge, our home in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. I just love that place. We hiked, snorkeled, scuba dived, and enjoyed relaxing with our many island friends. While there, I also supported a fund-raiser for the St. John Library by giving a little talk about writing and the joys of reading.
One of the things I did in St. John, don't ask me why, was build a potato gun (actually more of a cannon). It was amazingly successful. St. Johnians were making excuses to come by for visits just to see me fire it off. Sometimes, they would even bring their own potatoes. I tried soursops and papayas, too, but good old Idaho spuds were always best. Linda and I developed a ritual for the firings. To alert our neighbors and any wild goats and donkeys in the area, she would blow a blast through a conch shell horn, and then we would count down and I would fire the cannon. When it went off, it was with a very satisfying roar that echoed across our ridge. We got some amazing altitudes and ranges. So why did I build the cannon, I mean really? OK, OK. I'll tell you. It was the same reason I built my rockets back in Coalwood. It was fun! (Photo 2).
Prior to our island time, a most unpleasant duty came to me and that was to comment on the Sago mine disaster where 13 miners were trapped by an explosion, with 12 ultimately killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. As soon as the accident was reported, I was contacted by multiple national media outlets, including CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox News Network. Although many who know me only through the movie October Sky think I am against coal mining and careers in that field, the truth is I honor coal miners and think they are among our nation's heroic few. After all, I grew up amongst coal miners! Did you know over 50% of our energy needs are provided through the burning of coal? Can you imagine how much more control OPEC would have on our country if it wasn't for coal? It would be a nightmare. In several of my interviews, I described mining as actually quite beautiful, "a ballet of men and machinery." This concept was intriguing to many interviewers who usually report how terrible and dirty mining is. For a few days, things here on Hemlock Drive were just a little crazy with one interview after another, satellite trucks outside the house, and the phone ringing off the hook. When a memorial for the Sago miners was scheduled, I was asked to come up to Buckhannon, West Virginia, and give the keynote address. I was glad to do it and it was carried live across the country and the world. For a look at what I had to say, go to our home page on http://www.homerhickam.com and look under "What's New?" on the right side. Senator Robert Byrd, in the audience at the memorial service, later entered my remarks in the Congressional Record. It was the first time I had met Senator Byrd and I found him gracious with a dignified bearing. My good friend Senator Jay Rockefeller was in the audience as well and it was so good to see him. I generally side with the Republican conservative point of view but Senators Byrd and Rockefeller, both Democrats, are good fellows in my book. I even campaigned for Jay!
Linda and also headed to Ardmore, AL to visit Genie's Magic, a star character in The Keeper's Son. I just love that mare and that was why I included her in my first "Josh Thurlow" novel, although in a fictionalized form. In TKS, she's Dosie's horse. With her mistress, Genie joins the Beach Patrol to fight Nazi U-boats! I first met Genie when I rode her at the Steel Prize stables near Huntsville. A barn queen if there was ever one, she likes little girls but doesn't appreciate men. I found her full of tricks. She'd take a deep breath so it was hard to cinch up her saddle. Then, she'd let out her breath so the saddle would be too loose and I'd have to start over. Another trick was to shift all her weight on me when I was picking out her hooves. That's a lot of horse flesh to hold up! If all else failed and I persisted in tacking her for a ride, she would simply bite me. My defense plan was to keep her crunching on the delicious carrots I would shove in her mouth. Oh yes, I love my Genie (or Gene-pool as I like to call her). Here she is in her well-deserved retirement (Photo 3). To be sure, her stomach is filled with carrots which I had just used to bribe her into a good mood long enough for a photo!
While in New York in March to visit my publisher and Frank Weimann, my agent, we met with the talented "Rocket Boys, the musical" composers for brunch at the Round Table in the Algonquin Hotel (Photo 4). This is where writer Dorothy Parker and other writing icons of the 20's and 30's hung out and traded barbs and anecdotes. It was a good meeting. We are still working to get permission from Hollywood to go forward with the musical developed by these fabulous, talented young folks. The play is based on my memoir Rocket Boys (and not on the movie October Sky which is a lot different). Wish us luck!
Our Rocket Boys play team also got us tickets to see the Broadway play Avenue Q. We loved it! We also sat near Nicole Kidman who is somewhat a Linda look-alike, although taller.
Speeches and Community Reads:
Rocket Boys continues its record of being one of the most oft-chosen books for community reads across the country (we think it may be the most oft-chosen). The latest news about this is that California's Los Angeles County has picked it as their community read in 2007. Speeches over the last couple of months have included visits to West Virginia University on Feb. 3, and to Mobile, Alabama on April 5 to support the library system there, so hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. Photos 5 and 6 show the yummy cakes Chef Henry Douglas and his talented students from Bishop State/Carver Campus created in honor of that event. I also visited the Governor Dummer Academy in Massachusetts on April 7 where they are studying Rocket Boys in several classes. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the bright young people of that fine private school.
Coming up: I will be a headliner at the Alabama Reading Festival in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 22. Then, it will be on to Plano, Texas, for the 2006 Southwest Forum on April 28. Although I will be talking mostly about Rocket Boys there, I'll sneak in a few references to my more recent work as well. Next stop will be on May 6 for a visit to Monroeville, Alabama, the literary capital of Alabama. I will be speaking at the Alabama Writer's Symposium (Click Here). After that, Linda and I have a holiday in Alaska in celebration of her birthday. We have chartered the good little ship Sikumi to take us and three other couples (all good friends) up the Inside Passage (http://www.sikumi.com). We anticipate a fine time of whale-watching, hiking, kayaking, and admiring the view. We'll let you know in the next newsletter how we enjoyed it. After that, in-between working on The Red Helmet, I anticipate doing some more dinosaur-hunting in Montana and another quick trip to lovely Skyridge. Come on, folks. Let's all have as many adventures as we can squeeze into our lives! Life is supposed to be good and we're supposed to be happy. That's why the men and women who invented and fought for our country put right up front in the Declaration of Independence that all people have the right to pursue happiness. Now, go get all you can! But remember, always, to respect others as you do.
Gifts: 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. 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 Spring and Have Fun Reading!
Your writer and friend,
It truly is a glorious spring here, our favorite time of year! Our Huntsville, Alabama was recently chosen for a list of top 10 best Green Cities with parks and trails and things to do outside. It is number nine, surprisingly above Denver, Colorado!
We described the fun world-wide treasure hunting game of geocaching in our last newsletter (see http://www.geocaching.com) . It is just another excuse to stop working seven days every week and get out in nature! We have a group of friends and family to meet on weekends and do it. When Homer and I were in Manhattan, we even located one there. Fun! In addition to finding geocaches, we have hidden four caches ourselves this year; one on St. John, one off a trail very near our home, and two on a seven-mile hike we took last weekend to a neat park called the Walls of Jericho. (Photos 7 ,8 and 9)
I took a fun trip to Mexico with girlfriends Lynn and Michelle (Photo 10), then another girl trip with my mom and sister Elaine to Callaway Gardens. (Photo 11)
Photo 12 is this year's Coalwood's T-ball team, The Rocket Boys. . . which includes girls! We are so proud of them!
Enough from me, let me share a couple great letters and say bye for now. Linda
* Dear Mr. Hickam, When the Sago mine disaster made the national news in January, I read a reference in the on-line version of the New York Times to your books on Coalwood. Having never heard of them, I spent the past several weeks engrossed in your books, so engrossed, in fact, that I actually put down Charles Dickens' Bleak House in favor of the Coalwood trilogy! Last night I finished Sky of Stone and was saddened that the book was coming to an end. Thank you, thank you for recreating the world of Coalwood and giving us the chance to meet all of the wonderful people and experience vicariously the events of your youth. The lessons of courage, perseverance, and community, that permeate your stories are an inspiration for us all.
As sad as I was this morning about having to return your book to the library, I later discovered your tribute to the Sago miners on the web. It made me realize that the message and meaning of Coalwood will stay with me long after I put your books down. And for this, I thank you. PM, Wilmington, Ohio
* I have just finished The Keeper's Son, and it is a beautifully written story. I have never cared for ”war stories" as such, but I was intrigued after our book study group read your Torpedo Junction. What a massive, frightening story that was. Your research was impressive, to say the least.
Another book club I belong to will be discussing The Keeper's Son next month. I have told everyone in the book club, this is a wonderful story, beautifully told, and will invoke many threads of discussion.
Thanks for a wonderful story. Naomi
* Homer, What a wonderful story (The Ambassador's Son). It made wish to know more about the Solomon Islands. When I entered Solomon Islands, I was impressed with what it brought up. Please feel free to share the following link with your readers. Click Here.
Here is my review I submitted to Amazon. I never have reviewed a book, but I wanted to write this one: I guess like previous readers of The Keeper's Son I didn't know what to expect. I just knew I looked forward to reading about Josh Thurlow's new adventure. The first fifty pages were hard to get through, but the table has to be set sometimes, before the main course can be served. I would recommend that one read The Keeper's Son, in order to know more about Josh Thurlow and crew. I did miss the characters of Killakeet, but came to really enjoy the new ones in The Ambassador's Son. Pongo, Dave, Felicity and Penelope where a great additions. Even Nick, I must admit was a fascinating person and I'm a big Kennedy fan myself. I loved the portrayal of Shafty and the tragic story about Rosemary. Once Josh was given his mission, things really started to take off. Homer took us once again on a another wonderful and exciting adventure, giving us a history lesson along the way. NC
* Dear Homer, I am 36 years old and I left college after I received my associates degree. After watching the movie and reading your book I have begun my path to my masters degree. I know this will not be easy but I know it can be done. You are a real life hero to me. Thanks very much for once again for showing me the importance of education. I now want to teach and I hope that I can give children some of what teachers have given you. Once again thanks for being a real life hero. KD