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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Spring '09 Issue, April 2009
click here for this issue's photos
Dear Gentle and Prodigious Readers,
Where to begin? 2009 has been filled with unexpected challenges and sadness. Such things are part of life, though we wish they weren't. As I write this, spring is drawing her colorful, refreshing veil across north Alabama and we are not unmindful of the blessings the season represents. And, just as the title of my book of Coalwood values indicates, We Are Not Afraid. Armed with an optimistic spirit, the unhappy aspects of life serve to make us only more resilient.
My “challenge” began with a routine examination, a colonoscopy, in early January. My family has a history of colon cancer so this has been an annual screening for me. I've always been clear before but this time, there was bad news. A probable cancerous growth was there and it had to come out. Now. Barely a week later, I went into surgery where a foot or so of colon was removed. In a couple of days, we had the bad news. It was cancer but the good news was it was at a very early stage and had not spread. No radiation, no chemo, just a little discomfort and I went home from the hospital four days later, feeling very, very lucky. I'm back to near-normal and looking forward to some good times ahead. And, for those of you over 50, when was the last time you had a colonoscopy, hmmmm? I'd like to hear "Yes I did!" from those of you who have had a recent one. Or you others who have been putting off some routine screening for which you know you're overdue … OK, folks, make it so.
In mid-February, just before we were scheduled to go to Skyridge, our home in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, we were saddened to learn our very dear friend, Wayne, had suddenly passed after a massive heart attack. A former Navy SEAL, he was not only our friend but looked after our island home. Only 53, Wayne kept himself in shape, swimming, punching a weight bag, pitching horseshoes, and working on Skyridge. His passing, then, was a great shock although we learned later that his father died of the same thing at about the same age. Because he knew he was at genetic risk, maybe that was why Wayne was such a happy guy, always smiling, always friendly, always with a song in his heart. Wayne, we hardly knew ye. You are missed more than you know, buddy. Go here for a little more on Wayne: http://www.skinnylegs.com/ComingEvents.html#HH
Another loss of a friend came the same week. Konrad Dannenberg, a true rocket scientist who came over from Germany with the von Braun team, passed at the age of 96. Konnie was an exuberant lover of life, a heroic figure of the space age, and still perfectly capable of building a rocket engine to his last day. They don't make 'em like that anymore and the world is poorer without him in it.
And so life passes by with the good and the bad. As much as you can, just as Wayne did, keep it sweet. In his honor, you might want to sing “Don't worry, be happy” often and well (Photos 1 & 2 ).
THE WRITING LIFE:
I'm happy to report that my co-written memoir of Anousheh Ansari (presently untitled) has been snapped up by the very fine folks at Palgrave-McMillan. (Photo 3) Anousheh and I are pleased to be published by such a fine house and look forward to working with the talented editors there. Go here for a little more: http://sfscope.com/2009/03/anousheh-ansaris-memoir-to-be.html.
We mentioned in the last newsletter that there's a fine audio book of Red Helmet read by the very talented actor Kirsten Potter (http://www.amazon.com/Red-Helmet-Homer-Hickam/dp/1598594265/ref=ed_oe_a). What do you know? It has been chosen as a finalist for 2008 Audio Book of the Year Awards by ForeWord Magazine. Winners will be announced on May 30, 2009 at BookExpo America (BEA) in New York. Thank you for a great job, Kirsten!
For those "Josh Thurlow" fans who have still missed it, don't forget there's a trade paperback of The Far Reaches now available. This is one of Josh's best, an adventure in the South Pacific of World War II. Go to http://www.homerhickam.com/books and you'll be able to take a look at it.
Right now, I'm working hard on The Dinosaur Hunter, a novel for St. Martin's. If all goes as planned, it will be out Summer 2010. More on this one in subsequent newsletters. I'm also working with a talented screenplay writer/producer on a proposed movie loosely based on Red Helmet. Lots more to come on this, too.
And here's some more news on Rocket Boys and Vietnam. Linda and I are scheduled to visit Vietnam in September in behalf of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education in Vietnam and encouraging students there to attend American universities. At about the same time, Rocket Boys will be published in Vietnamese, an exciting and interesting prospect for this Vietnam veteran! We will be traveling the length of the country from Hanoi to Saigon. I also hope we will be able to get up to the area where I served during the war, the Central Highlands which I knew as II Corps. It is a beautiful area of mountains and lush plantations and it will be nice to see it at peace.
In February, as mentioned above, we went to our home in St. John, US Virgin Islands. It was a strange combination of sadness and goodness for us. After the memorial for Wayne, we had twelve of our friends we call the Mountain Marauders down to visit us and we celebrated my birthday. Certain that Wayne would have made fun of us for feeling sad, we went ahead and had a good time with the MM's and our other interesting island friends. We snorkeled, hiked, ate good food, danced, enjoyed sunsets, shot my potato cannon, and had some great conversations. (Photos 4 - 7) After the MM'S left, we met up with our good friends Mary Jo and Rick who live just a couple of houses from us on the same St. Johnian mountain. They invited us out on their wonderful boat and naturally we said OK. We first visited fancy and posh Peter Island in the British Virgins for a great lunch, then went snorkeling at the wreck of the Rhone and The Caves. The wreck of the Rhone was where Jacqueline Bisset went scuba diving in a wet t-shirt in the movie The Deep. Oh yes, I remember that!
Other fun trips included a speech in Danville, Virginia, to support the Boys and Girls Club there. I was privileged to help out this great group of folks who are doing wonderful work in behalf of some bright but underprivileged children.
Here's another reminder about my once-a-month visit to the Gary and Toni Show at WBHP, a local north Alabama radio station. We manage to have lots of fun and provide a little commentary about life and such, too. Go here to listen to the live broadcast: http://wbhpam.com/main.html. I usually get going around 7:30 AM Central. I try to keep my WBHP schedule current on www.myspace.com/homerhickam. Check it out! I'm also now on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/profile.php?id=1264202654). Check it out, too!
AND, don't forget to order Homer Hickam autographed books for special people from my buddy, John Shavers. See info here: http://www.homerhickam.com/gifts.shtml.
That's it for now. Have a great spring, folks!
Your writer and friend,
Oh boy, what a year this has been already indeed! When that dreadful “C” word is used in conjunction with someone you love so much, it just stops everything, and the family had just gotten my mom well from surgery for colon cancer last year. Homer did wonderfully though, and was a great patient, something I really didn’t expect as he is plenty grumpy with just a cold! Luckily he tends to be a very healthy guy.
We had so many caring people leave messages saying they were praying for Homer and I am quite sure the angels were looking out for him. He is back full steam though, working on three writing projects (or rather four, now that I think about it, as he's also working on the musical play Rocket Boys (http://www.rocketboysthemusical.com) and back to exercising as before. We are still in love with trikkeing, (see http://www.trikke.com)and do eight miles daily as the weather permits. It is a full body workout and a better cardio burn than running, plus great fun and different. We are so lucky to have nearby a great paved bike path which runs alongside a pretty little river. The only downside is the wind is often fierce there. It takes a lot of work to move a trikke against the wind but, oh well, it's supposed to be a workout I guess! Other days we walk or Homer runs and I do yoga and weights.
Homer’s mom, Elsie, will be 97 in June and she is a bit frail, but still lives at her home. Luckily, she has two great helpers, Donna and Jonnie, to look after her. She was in the hospital recently but enjoyed being a celebrity as October Sky was being shown on AMC TV and many watched it in the hospital and chatted to her about it.
Our kitties are fine also. (Photos 8 -11).Our oldest gal Maxx is eighteen and sadly starting to show it, but we hope to keep her with us as long as we can. Flopsy is seventeen and her arthritis is very bad but she gets “Advil for cats” and a heating pad bed that keeps her comfy. China is our fluffy doll and loves to get her water from the faucet and of course we indulge her. Mango was honored to be Shelter Cat of the Week on a national cat internet site (http://cats.about.com/od/catadoption/ig/Adopted-Shelter-Cat-of-Week/Mango.-Pue.htm) and still enjoys ALL the attention he can get.
Our electric bills this winter were quite high during this longer and colder than usual winter (WHAT global warming?) and certainly not helped by THREE heating pads for the cats! But spring is here now (Photo 12) and Alabama is lovely with many blooming trees and flowers. Huntsville was honored recently to make a top 10 list for cities with best green spaces. We sure enjoy that—rockets and parks!
Anyway, some letters below. Keep reading (Homer Hickam books) and Happy Spring!
**Mr. Hickam, I felt compelled to let you know how much I am enjoying The Far Reaches. On a recent trip to the library to get an audio book, I quickly grabbed for a WWII topic. I hate to say I was judging a book by the cover. Well, as a Coast Guard Officer I was thrilled to have a story with a CG character. I was further thrilled to see that you wrote it! It is a great story that helps me in my commute.
I am also a big fan of the movie October Sky and recently watched it again with my kids. What a great inspiration! I grew up launching rockets so your story really resonated with me. Without a doubt, I will look at your other books for future reading or listing. Keep up the great writing! Respectfully, AB
**My name is Kerri and about 3 months ago I saw a commercial for "October Sky" on TV. I have seen the movie before but the thought came to my head, I wonder if it started as a book. So I went to the library, read the book, plus "The Coalwood Way", "Sky of Stone" and I am now reading "Red Helmet" and I just have to say I love your books! I live in northern MN, famous for a big lake, dog sledding and iron ore mining. Whenever I'm in Silver Bay I wonder if they use the same lexicon like tipples. I haven't read any Josh Thurlow books yet, I'm way into the mining aspect and am not too ready to voyage into WWII. I know how Red Helmet ends...I peeked but after reading the 1st 3 books I wish Song could be with Cable BECAUSE he's a coal miner. I don't know, I guess I'm a hopeless romantic and totally dig Cable :-D If you can suggest other good reading material, I'm game. I've only become an avid reader in the past year, even though I'm 35, because of Harry Potter, but your series are my favorite adult reading. Thank you so much and I would love a sequel to Red Helmet. KB
**Dear Homer...There are very few people who can honestly say that they have made a difference in the world. Homer is one of those people. Through Homer's books, the world will know of a special time and place in West Virginia, a place with special people, a place with wonderful stories and ideals that will be enjoyed for centuries. None of us has unlimited time on Earth. All we can do is to try to enjoy the time that we do have ... and to try to leave the world a slightly better place than we found it. Homer has accomplished that, and we are all grateful that he did.
May God bless you and Homer.