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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Spring '03 Issue
click here for this issue's photos
Since I last wrote you, there have been some ups and downs along the trail of life for Linda and me. Of course, that is to be expected. The worst of it is that Paco, our sweet old cat, passed on after a long illness. We think Paco was twenty years old or so. He'd been a part of our lives for so long it's difficult to imagine being without him. Paco had quite a history. When we bought our home in Huntsville on the slope of Weatherly Mountain, we found Paco camping out in the backyard. It turned out that he had belonged to neighbors and when they'd moved some miles away, he'd hiked back. He liked the neighborhood, I guess. He was a pretty cat, a fluffy black-and-white "Sylvester" type with lots of personality. (See Photo 1) He was quickly adopted and made part of the Hickam family. Long before I became slightly famous, Paco was truly famous as he was the first cat to meow in space. In 1992, an astronaut cat-lover was having some difficulty on a Spacelab mission. I was working as a crew interface coordinator at the time and it was my job to talk the astronauts through their science work. To cheer the lonely astronaut up, I recorded Paco's delightful meow and played it for her. It worked! She was thrilled to hear his voice. Later, NASA Public Affairs called me to tell me they were pretty sure Paco had the distinction of being the first cat to meow in space. Later, to solidify his fame, I put Paco in my novel, Back to the Moon, as the first cat to go to the moon. It's hard to say goodbye to old friends and members of the family. Paco qualified as both. We buried him in our front yard, beside a rock where he loved to hang out. Many artifacts of his life mark his grave including, most appropriately, a model of the space shuttle.
A few days after Paco died, we were struck by a flash flood after torrential rainfall in Huntsville. Our bedroom and foyer were soaked. Things are dried out and back to normal now but it continues to rain so we're keeping our eye on the slope above us. My brother Jim also had hip replacement surgery just recently. Reports are that the operation was a complete success and we'll see Jim out on the football field this fall with his team from Northside High in Roanoke.
As usual, there were plenty of ups, too. Some of them are written about below but among them were some wonderful trips to speak to various groups who have seen fit to honor my work, and some exciting news about my upcoming novel The Keeper's Son as well as a previous work, Sky of Stone. Life, I've learned, tends to even out if you'll give it time. So goodbye dear old Paco. We'll miss you but also hope you're up there playing with other cats in our lives, my dear sweet Daisy Mae, old tom Lucifer, good bud Gato, and all the other kitties who once shared their lives with us and we still miss.
THIS WRITER'S LIFE:
In January, The Keeper's Son was turned in to St. Martin's Press. As with all manuscripts, however, that didn't mean that all I had to do afterwards was sit back and enjoy publication and collect royalty checks. No, indeed. An author's work, in many ways, is just beginning after initial turn-in. First, the editor reads through and makes suggestions. My most excellent editor Sean Desmond did that and I received his comments and suggestions in mid-February. The Keeper's Son has a fairly intricate plot so to change one part is to possibly cause problems throughout so I had to keep my eye on that. Mission accomplished and Sean was enthusiastic. A month later, I received the copy editor's mark-up. Copy editors are the ones who worry over grammar, spellings, consistency, and accuracy of the research. Next to come was the printer's typeset version of the manuscript, the one that will end up in the Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of the book available in June. It is also the version that booksellers will first see (and make a judgment as to how many copies they'll order) and the one reviewers will base their reviews on. Sadly, it had quite a few spelling and other errors in it, introduced when the manuscript was manually keyed. Linda and I spent a week marking up these errors to be corrected in the final draft but it will be too late for the ARC. Booksellers and reviewers may believe that the errors were mine, but I swan I didn't do it! In any case, the version that will go to the reading public will have these problems solved. If you ever get your hand on any ARC, don't blame the author unnecessarily when you find errors. The publishing industry still does a lot of things manually, introducing anomalies along the way. See the cover, Photo 2. Photo 3 is of our cat Maxx, who helps me write every book by parking her tail (or lack of same, as she is a stubtail) on the left shift key and refusing to move. Here she sits in Linda's IN box.
In any case, I think you are going to enjoy The Keeper's Son. It is different from anything I've ever written but I hope you'll agree it is a crisp read. As always, it is my goal to give my readers a book that will make them want to curl up and keep turning the pages! The characters in TKS are salty and romantic, but what else would you expect in a novel which takes place on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and features a lighthouse, wild horses, beaches, and U-boats? I think you'll especially like the love story between Josh and Dosie, my two main characters. Dosie is a wonderful, crazy (in an interesting way), and sexy girl and Josh doesn't ever quite know what to make of her! TKS will be published in October. See http://www.homerhickam.com and click on the cover there to preorder the novel from Amazon.com or preorder one autographed from Shaver's Books, info at the bottom of the main page. If you'd like for me to come near you on the book tour this fall, please see your favorite local book store and ask them to contact St. Martin's Press (Thomas Dunne imprint) very soon and ask that I be put on their schedule. It could happen! Also, if you know anyone with the media, alert them to the up-coming publication of TKS and see if they'd like to schedule an interview. Linda will schedule them and our addresses of course are on the Contacts button on the website or just reply to Linda from this email! This is a time when I become very available to everyone, no matter where.
Some excellent news came along late in April concerning my memoir-novel Sky of Stone. It has been optioned by Hallmark Entertainment for a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie. Options don't necessarily mean that a movie will be made but it's an important step. My agent tells me Hallmark usually makes properties they option so it could happen! Sky of Stone is the third in the Coalwood books. It is a bit of a mystery story and, if you haven't read it, now's the time to try it. It takes place in my hometown of little Coalwood, West Virginia, during a summer when I worked in the coal mine to help pay my way through college. My father was accused of contributing to the death of one of his foremen in the mine but refused to defend himself. The reason for that refusal plus an exciting race to lay track in the mine and the introduction of a most seductive "enginette" are the keys to the story. Read it now and then get ready for the film!
Right now, I'm in the research phase for the next book which will probably be titled The Ambassador's Son and take place in the South Pacific during war-time 1943. Very soon, I'll start writing it. Can't wait!
Linda and I had some super nice trips over the last couple of months. One of them was to our home in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands to celebrate my 60th birthday. We had many friends down to enjoy the occasion with us and had a wonderful couple of weeks on that most delightful green rock surrounded by turquoise waters. We snorkeled, scuba dived, hiked, and enjoyed the ambience of several of the interesting gathering spots on our end of the island. I worked some actually, doing editor's changes on TKS.
Recently, several more areas have selected Rocket Boys as their "One Book, One Community" group read. To help celebrate, we visited Winchester, Virginia, followed by trips to Barnesville, Cadiz, and Bowling Green, Ohio. We had a wonderful time in all these fine towns and were treated like royalty. I can't say enough on how well organized everything was. (see photos 4 & 5) If you're interested in selecting one of my books for your city read program, please see the Reading Group page for more information on how to do it!
Another great trip was to Virginia to help celebrate the first annual Team America Rocketry Challenge contest sponsored by the National Association of Rocketry and the Aerospace Industries of America (www.aia-aerospace.org). Hundreds of high school rocketry groups competed over the past year to get there. The purpose of the event was to encourage students to consider an aerospace career. Each team had to design and build their own two-stage rocket and fly two uncooked eggs to as near 1,500 feet as possible and recover them safely, uncracked. The top 100 teams came to The Meadow, Virginia for a final day of competition. Linda and I spent the day with them as they completed their final competitions. The weather was rainy and windy but it was wonderful to meet all the new Rocket Boys and Girls and their teachers. I must say I think the spirit of the Big Creek Missile Agency still lives in these groups! Each one seemed to have their own Quentin, Sonny, Billy, O'Dell, Sherman, Roy Lee, and Ginger. The Team America Rocketry Challenge was originally planned as a one time event, but due to the unbelievable number of requests, the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Association of Rocketry have decided to hold another contest for the 2003/2004 school year. See www.rocketcontest.org for details - great prize money! We were pleased to see a group from Hurricane, West Virginia, too. Also, a group from Pawley Island, South Carolina was sponsored by none other than the "Rocket Mom", my mom, Elsie Hickam, 91 years young next month. See the article about them here.
Looking ahead, we're excited about a few trips coming up. Linda's off to Utah soon for a very well-deserved birthday adventure spa vacation with girlfriends. On May 30-31, I will be in Los Angeles for the 2003 Book Expo to sign advance copies of The Keeper's Son and to convince booksellers to stock up on them. From there, I will proceed on to Montana for my annual dinosaur-hunting with Jack Horner and friends. This year, it is our intention to dig up a couple of finds we've made in previous years including a big Tyrannosaurus Rex (possibly the oldest every found) and also an ornithomimosaur, probably one of the last of the dinosaurs. As always, going out to Hell Creek to track down the wily, elusive dinosaurs results in some kind of adventure, usually involving wind, rain, dust, mud, and various interesting characters! We also will have a family reunion of Linda's family on St. John in July.
We're excited about the Fifth annual October Sky Festival in Coalwood on October 4. The Keeper's Son will be available for the first time anywhere then. I'll be autographing it and all my other books all day long. Mack Truck is bringing in a display of their trucks including a giant "show truck" painted with the old Olga Coal Company logo and named "Big Jeb," after one of the characters in Sky of Stone. O'Dell's dad Red is excited about driving it! We may also have an astronaut there and perhaps some other surprises. My mom might turn up too, brought by the Waccamaw Rocket Club she sponsors!
An upcoming trip I'm excited about is part of the book tour. That will a visit to Cape Hatteras for the 200th anniversary of the Hatteras lighthouse October 17 & 18. Since The Keeper's Son takes place on a fictitious island near Hatteras, it is an appropriate site to celebrate the new novel.
That's it from here. I hope to see you all on book tour this fall! As soon as we know it, the cities I will be touring in will be posted on the main page of the website. Come see me if you can!
As usual, I like to include a few special letters and photos. The city reads and school reads always bring the most inspiring mail, thanks for letting us know. Photo 6 is of Rocket Boys Roy Lee and Billy, visiting Bowling Green Ohio for their city read. Photo 7 is of a beautiful cardinal that hit our window and was stunned. Homer let him sit on his finger until he recovered and flew off. Photo 8 is of young Nevada Shelton of Tennessee, future aviator and astronaut and current writer and faithful Hickam reader!
A couple letters:
Linda, we are rapidly closing out another successful year of school, and I want to say once again that I had a successful year teaching Rocket Boys. It is such a joy teaching that book. Along with teaching English III, I also sponsor the yearbook. I would like to ask Homer's permission to "use him" on the closing page. This is what we would say: As we finish another successful school year, and as we put the finishing touches on the 2002 Tiger, we, the 2001-2002 yearbook staff, would like to echo the words of best-selling novelist Homer Hickam, Jr., the author of Rocket Boys, and encourage everyone to AIM HIGH!
Dear Mr Hickam, My name is DJ and im 15 years old. I want to thank you for writing your books, they have changed my life so very much, and they bring a smile to my face just thinking about them. I just finished SKY OF STONE and I just cant stop smiling. Everytime I read your books, even though i know what's going to happen i am so excited to turn the page. I just can't put any of your books down. When I read your books I only wish i could be a part of Coalwood. I always catch myself thinking about what it would be like to be there in the days of the Rocket Boys and too see first hand the odds that you and your fellow Rocket Boys overcame. Again I say THANK YOU for writing your books, they mean so much to me.
Hi Mr.Hickam, I'm Megan. I would just like to let you know that I watched the movie about you and I thought it was great. I would just like to let you know that the movie influenced me in many ways. I also like space and many other things about it. It is one of my dreams to maybe one day go into space and see it for myself. I've always wondered what kind of things are up there and how beautiful it would be to go and see outer space with my own eyes. I wish I had more teachers like you did who would push me to do what I want. Rocket science is another thing I like. I really like anything to do with space or some kind of engineering that relates to it. I know that with me being only 14 I can't really do alot of anything right now, but I would like to make a difference or be someone like you are. People think it is silly when I tell them what I would like to do when I get older and its because I'm goth, but my image really has nothing to do with how smart I am, and what goals I would like to accomplish. I am still young and have many things to learn, but science is my favorite subject and always will be. You see, the thing is, is that I would like to someday get out of this world and go to space, but I have no idea where to start. I was hoping you could help me out with that. I love space with a passion. I want to one day discover, see or go to another planet. There are so many things that I would want to figure out about space, that I couldn't even list them all. Any time I look into space at night, I honestly want to cry, because if you think about it, we know hardly anything about space compared to how massive it is. I really hope that you read this e-mail and respond. I would really like to know how to start if you could help me with that. I really liked the movie and it pushed me even more to do what I really want to do. I really hope this letter means something to you, because one day I want to be able to go into space and you could have really helped me accomplish this goal. Thank you very much for your time and for reading this. I look up to you in many ways.