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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Fall '08 Issue, October 2008
click here for this issue's photos
Dear Gentle and Prodigious Readers:
Autumn! We're having some glorious fall weather here in north Alabama. The leaves haven't started to seriously turn but it seems they're mulling it over. Soon, the hills that surround us will be bright and colorful. Of course, winter will follow but then the lovely spring. I have hope this is also the course of our country during this economic crunch. We're into some hard, disappointing times right now but such travails can make us strong. If you find yourself upset and fearful, perhaps it is time to read the book I wrote after 9/11, We Are Not Afraid, Strength and Courage from the Town of October Sky. This book outlines the wisdom of a people who always lived in perilous times, and recommends their way of life as a model for living without fear. I think it will help you. You can find more on this book here: http://www.homerhickam.com/books/wana.shtml .
There is much to tell you of our days since our last newsletter. As always, thank you for letting us share our stories with you! You are so important in everything we do.
Although we started writing our Newsletter in Huntsville, we're now at our place (Skyridge) in St. John, US Virgin Islands. I must say it's been interesting since our arrival. Here's the note we sent out to our close friends and family:
Hey all - just wanted to let you know that we're having SOME FUN here in beautiful, lovely St. John! We had a nice 6.1 earthquake on Saturday (rock and roll, baby!) and now we've learned we're in the path of Tropical Depression 15 which may turn into Hurricane Omar (which is what I think I called the shopkeeper who got Song drunk in Red Helmet for you karma fans). If it is a hurricane, shouldn't be more than a category 1 so wish us luck because we could then cross if off our life list of things to be experienced (e.g. Go to war, Get decompression sickness, Ride out a hurricane, etc.).
We are now putting up the hurricane shutters. If you want to see what's happenng with this storm, go to http://www.wunderground.com/US/VI/Cruz_Bay.html, pour yourself a Cuba Libre' and laugh while Omar does his thing with us.
Miss you all (I'm serious),
THE WRITING LIFE:
Red Helmet, my love story set in today's West Virginia coalfields, will be out in trade paperback in November. There is also an audio just out, read by the wonderful actress Kirsten Potter. Go here to order directly from the producer - http://www.oasisaudio.com/product.php?prod=9781598594263. It really is very well done. Linda and I listened to it on the drive up to West Virginia for the October Sky Festival (more on that below) and were extremely pleased at the job Ms. Potter did. She really captured the accents and voices with just the right tone and emphasis. By the way, at the end of that audio, there is my recording of the speech I gave to memorialize the Sago miners in 2006.
In any case, think Christmas now! Nothing like an autographed, personally inscribed Homer Hickam book for your friends and family who love to read. And it won't cost that much! Look on our homepage and also here (http://www.homerhickam.com/gifts.shtml) to contact Shaver’s Books to get this special service. That page also shows some other really fun gifts including books straight from Coalwood with a special stamp showing they were signed in my hometown, a collector’s item for sure.
Something we've decided to do in the next few weeks in put up on our website the first 3-4 chapters of ALL my books. We still hear from so many folks who think Rocket Boys/October Sky is the only book I've written. Maybe by giving them a chance to read some of my other work, they'll find they like it, too! Rocket Boys, meet Josh Thurlow! You get the idea.
I'm also pleased to announce I have completed the manuscript of the memoir of Anousheh Ansari (http://www.anoushehansari.com). The title is Be the Change: or How I escaped from Iran, fell in love, made a fortune, rode a rocket into space, and discovered what was really important in life. (Photo 1) The manuscript is off to Frank Weimann, my agent in New York, I hope it will be out about this time next year. Stay in touch and we'll let you know about it through this newsletter or announcements on www.homerhickam.com.
I've got three writing jobs waiting for me right now. First, the musical script for Rocket Boys has been refined considerably since our stage reading in May. That's why these readings are held, to see what works and what doesn't. I took the first crack at the changes, then sent it on to Carl Tramon, my co-writer and also the director and actor who plays me in the musical. (Photo 2) Carl is a very talented young man! I've received Carl's version and now I have to dig into it. We're very, very close to a finished script and that's a good thing!
Another job I have is to write the screenplay for Red Helmet. A well-known producer in Hollywood who loves the book asked me to write a version and then he'll add his two cents and take it to the studios. Wish me luck!
The third necessity is to begin writing my long-awaited novel set in my beloved Montana titled The Dinosaur Hunter. As most of you know, I venture into the Montana badlands every summer, searching through the remnants of the Cretaceous to find dinosaurs. Over the years, I've fallen in love with that country and its people. The novel will not be science fiction but more in the vein of Red Helmet, a tale of a special, courageous people struggling with a changing world. Of course, all the fun and adventure of my dino-hunting will be there on every page as well. I'm supposed to turn it in sometime during June, 2009 so look for it summer, 2010. Authors work long-term!
For you "Josh Thurlow" fans, I am not through with the series but ol' Josh will have to wait his turn. After The Dinosaur Hunter, I'm supposed to write a juvenile for Thomas Nelson, the publishing house that did Red Helmet. Of course, if Sarah Palin asked me to help her with her memoirs, everything else would be put on hold. I'm standing by, awaiting her call!
Just a reminder, The Far Reaches, the third in the Josh Thurlow series, was published recently in trade paperback format. This novel, set in the glorious south Pacific, had wonderful reviews and readers have also written to tell me how much they loved it. For you paperback readers, be sure and check it out! Lots of info here: http://www.homerhickam.com/books/tfr.shtml.
Another reminder: The unabridged audio book of Rocket Boys should be available soon for all you folks who keep asking for it. Teachers in particular have wanted the unabridged for their slower readers to be able to read along with the audio. Keep your eye on Internet sellers or our website for this announcement. All of these books are available in Kindle and other electronic versions, too.
In July, Linda and I spent two weeks at our home in St. John, US Virgin Islands with our friends Al and Carol English. Al and I used to work together at NASA and Carol is one of our blessed school teachers in Huntsville. She's also a hockey mom! I don't know about the pit bull and lipstick thing but Carol is a great lady and we surely enjoy her (and Al's) company. We had a lot of fun and even went night snorkeling, always a thrill in shark-infested waters. We didn't encounter a shark but a nice big tarpon made us jump! On this trip, Linda chose some new furniture for the house so we'll go back down in October to get it all in their proper place. I'll do my usual work on the house, always good physical and psychological therapy!
In August, I returned to the Montana dinosaur hunting grounds with buddies Frank Stewart, Al Cunningham, and Art Johnson. We had a great time and found a few bones but not the elusive articulated T.Rex we promised our paleontological mentor Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies. We will try again next year. Frank and I found a nice sacrum of a Triceratops which we at first confused with a T.Rex skull. (Photo 3) T.Rex skulls are made up of many bones so identifying one can sometimes be tricky, especially when all we see are a few small bones protruding from the Cretaceous mud. While in the area, I also donated funds to the Jordan, Montana Volunteer Fire Department, a most worthy organization. Fire is always feared in those ranchlands. While we were there, Frank, Al, Art, and I passed through huge wheat fields being harvested. One spark and millions of dollars of wheat would have boiled aloft in dirty smoke. We're very careful about fire out there!
This summer, I drove over to Myrtle Beach to visit with my mom. Elsie, even at 96 years old, is doing well but, of course, the years do tend to take their toll. Happily, her mind is sharp as ever! For all of you who ask about her, she appreciates the attention and wants to let you know she's fine.
Also during the summer, I did a few local speeches for teachers attending the Space & Rocket Center programs. I'm always willing to help out the SRC programs when I can! The teachers were wonderful as always. Most of them had read at least Rocket Boys and we, of course, encouraged them to read more of the Coalwood series.
In early September, I was proud to drive up to Roanoke, Virginia, for the dedication of "Jim Hickam Field" in recognition of my brother's years as head football coach at Northside High School. Linda and I had a delightful time with Jim and wife Betty Jane (Photo 4 & 5). Just as I wrote in the epilogue of Rocket Boys, I am now and I have always been proud to be Jim Hickam's brother.
Finally, there was the October Sky Festival on October 4, held annually in my old hometown of Coalwood, West Virginia. This was the festival's tenth anniversary and it was a great event! As special guests, we had Astronaut Tom Jones, Grace Corrigan (Challenger Astronaut Christa McAuliffe's mom), and Dreama Denver, widow of Bob Denver of Gilligan's Island (he was Gilligan) along with many other guests including Rocket Boys Roy Lee Cooke, Billy Rose, and O'Dell Carroll. Busloads of kids and teachers and just plain folks from everywhere were there to enjoy a day of books, rocket launches, music, and good food (Photos 6, 7 & 8). As soon as we can, we'll put up more information on the festival on www.homerhickam.com. Keep your eye out for it!
The wonderful Minnesota teachers in the "Coalwood to the Cape" program, headed up by Brad and Julie Blue, came to the festival for the 6th year. One of the teachers, Steve Date, has done a wonderful website about the town and the people of Coalwood with tons of photos and videos. A movie will also be coming soon. The site is linked from our home page, the first item under FAVORITES, or go to http://web.mac.com/stevendate/Site/Welcome.html
I have speeches and events scheduled in Paducah, Kentucky on Oct. 24 in celebration of that city's choice of Rocket Boys as their community/library read. Linda is helping five communities across the nation having city-wide reads of Rocket Boys right now. What an honor and joy for an author! After Paducah, I'll be giving a speech in support of the great rocket boys and rocket girls of the Rocketdyne Corporation in Los Angeles (October 29). Several speeches are set in November around the country which will lead us right into Thanksgiving and Christmas! By the way, all of my speeches are handled by the Greater Talent Network. Go here for more on that at http://www.greatertalent.com/HomerHickam.
Hope you have a wonderful fall with lots of great reading!
Your writer and friend,
Gosh, it indeed has been a long time since our last newsletter, but I swan, we have been pretty boring, just staying home and enjoying summer in Alabama. One thing we really have loved is becoming quite expert at our Trikking ability. OK, what is that? A Trikke (pronounced trike) "is a three-wheeled cambering vehicle using a fundamental physics principle known as the Conservation of Angular Momentum. While traveling on a slalom-like path, a rider moves his center of gravity (his mass) from left to right to propel himself forward." In other words, you swerve, or carve to go forward. It is an excellent full body workout and so much fun. We have a super place to ride - a Greenway paved bike path next to a creek, where we can ride eleven miles round-trip, without too many hills. That is good since hills are hard! We do about eight miles every day which takes us about an hour. Every time we ride, people ask "What is that?" or "Is it as fun as it looks?" It is fun! They also comment, "That looks hard!" Yep it can be, especially on hills! See http://www.trikke.com (Photo 9).
Oh, here's another thing. We are remodeling two of the original thirty-year old bathrooms in our house and that has been hectic, dusty and slow. The poor cats get locked up in our bedroom each day the workers are here. They're being patient and so are we but it will be wonderful when it is all done.
The kitties are fine otherwise and always a joy to us. Bit and Buddy, our inside fish, continue to grow and prosper (Photos 10 – 13).
Lastly, here is a neat letter and Homer’s response.
All best, We Are Not Afraid! Linda – and Maxx, China, Mango and Flopsy (plus Little Bit, Buddy, and the outside fish, too).
**Dear Homer, You must understand with the situation we are in, how great our need is for someone like you to step in and run for President. The country has imbeciles for candidates, and no one but imbeciles want them running our country.
You would be a shoe-in. I don't suppose you really want the job but this would be the ultimate accomplishment for you in a sector where you are desperately needed. Your country, Homer Hickam, really, truly needs you. You have all the qualifications and friends behind you that would rally to your candidacy and assist in any area in which you might need help.
This is not a frivolous request. It's a plea for help for a country that will lose everything if the wrong people are elected. We are all so tired of these self-serving politicians who want only the perks and power of the presidency.
I'm not asking you how to build a rocket, just to wear the "Red Helmet" into the White House for us. Please, put your name on the ballot, we will all snatch you up as drowning people would a "life preserver". More Than Sincerely, BMc
**From Homer in response: Dear BMc, Thank you for your note and the great honor of suggesting that I might be Presidential timber! I fear, however, that it is too late this year to stop the nominees of our somewhat less than great political parties. That neither nominee is the best our country can do is obvious but it seems they are what the process these days produces. We as a people will therefore go out and vote for the one we think will do the least damage, knowing full well that it could go either way.
My mom used to paraphrase Mark Twain by saying God looks after fools, drunks, the United States of America, and my little Sonny boy (the latter meaning me). I think she's still onto something. With so many citizens out there such as yourself who care about our magnificent country and our hard-won freedoms, and who also don't buy into all the silliness of the present national political campaigns, I believe the USA yet has the capacity for greatness. But for a country to be great, it must do great things. I've said should I ever be put in a position of leadership in this country, my platform would be simple: "The USA first in every way." It only makes sense. That's what the government is for, after all, to make certain our country excels in every thing it attempts while representing all that is right and good as a beacon to the world. Moreover, I would refuse the grossly inflated pensions provided these days to Presidents and send every penny of any book I wrote of my government years straight to charity. Making money should not be the object of government service nor ever the result. An honorable man or woman would not have it any other way.
In any case, recognizing that we are stuck with unhappy choices this year for President, I will endeavor to keep writing here with the hope that my thoughts might encourage all Americans, indeed people everywhere, to do their best and to keep aiming high no matter who occupies the White House. Thank God we as a people are still able to make that occupation temporary, no matter who might set up shop there for four years.
Be assured your note has touched me to the marrow. Thank you again and please give my regards to all your family and friends.
All the best, Homer Hickam