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HOMER HICKAM QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER
Fall '03 Issue
click here for this issue's photos
Dear Gentle and Prodigious Readers:
I hope you'll enjoy this little review of the last few months of my life. And thank you so much for being a reader of my work. Next to my wife and family and a few close friends, you are the most important people in my life. I hope that only good and wonderful things come to you during this holiday season and all the days to follow!
THIS WRITER'S LIFE:
On Weatherly Mountain, this is the season of falling leaves and cool, fresh winds and frosty mornings and fluffed-up cats finding their cozy places on chosen sofas and chairs. Winter is the season facing us now so we look for color and warmth where we might find it, not so difficult for me since I am so often in another world of my own choosing. Presently, I am in the hot, sultry South Pacific high on the island of Melagi, poking around Josh Thurlow's cave, seeing Iron Bottom Bay from his vantage, waiting for the Marine Lieutenant trudging silently up the mountain with the orders that will take Josh and the Maudie Janes on another journey, this one even more adventurous and romantic than the one in The Keeper's Son. Outside my window may be a dense gray sky, a damp breeze, and piles of cheerless, sodden leaves but in my head the sky is blue and the sea a florid turquoise and the breeze scented with fresh split coconut and over-ripe mangos. Josh and the boys will soon be on a chase up the Solomon Island chain and, oh boy, I get to go with them! You'll get to enjoy the journey with me next year. In the meantime, if you haven't read it, I hope you'll seek out The Keeper's Son and enjoy that adventure of lighthouses, U-boats, horses, islands, loss, redemption, and love. If our mail is any guide, readers have had as much fun reading the new novel as I had writing it!
Here's a little more news on the next novel, a continuation of the Josh Thurlow series begun with The Keeper's Son. The writing is well along but it first required quite a bit of research. As I delved into the military operations that occurred in the Solomon Islands during 1942-43, I began to understand how little I knew about that place and those times. I kept being surprised as I read the histories and memoirs and talked to the men who'd actually served there. The South Pacific of that era was a place of awful combat set incongruously on sandy white beaches washed by warm, crystalline seas. It was also a place where sanity and insanity seemed to merge. This is the world in which Josh Thurlow and the Maudie Janes will find themselves. It's quite a change from little Killakeet Island of the Outer Banks but it's my job to recreate this peculiar world as precisely and dramatically as possible so that at the end of the novel, you will feel as if you were actually there.
The first seven chapters (the work is tentatively titled The Ambassador's Son) have been written and sent to my editor at St. Martin's for a look. To quote him: Wow, Homer, you're really on to something this time! I think I am, indeed. This novel is going to surprise a lot of folks and it may stir up a bit of controversy, too. And what might that controversy be, you ask? Well, let's just say it's a novel that is something more than a novel. But, as always, it will be my intention to give my readers a few grins, a tear here and there, some heart-thumping armchair adventuring, and just pure entertainment.
This fall was touring time for The Keeper's Son. Before it began, Linda and I joined the Shallow Divers for a marvelous barbeque at the state park on Monte Sano Mountain that overlooks Huntsville. Who are the Shallow Divers? Well, it may surprise you that once upon a time, my ambition was simply to be known as the best scuba instructor in Huntsville, Alabama. To reach that ambition, I recruited the most remarkable band of brothers and sisters, fellow divers all, to assist me in my classes. Oh, what wonderful times we had and grand adventures! We taught thousands of students, designed the underwater tank at Space Camp (Photo 1 - That's me top left and Linda bottom right in the bubble helmet) , and traveled the world in search of diving adventures. We don't get together like we used to and much of the reason is because of my success as a writer and all the time it takes from my life these days. Still, it was most wonderful to get a chance to be with the Shallow Divers again (our motto: The deeper we go, the shallower we get!). They are my best friends and I love them all. Here's a photo (photo 2) of me and some of them (the girls, of course!).
Then the book tour began with an exciting night in Montgomery, Alabama, where I accepted the designation of author of the year from the Alabama Center of the Book. It was nice to get the award and even nicer to be recognized as an Alabama author. I've only lived here for thirty-four years! The next stop was Coalwood, West Virginia, for the 5th annual October Sky Festival. As always, Linda and I had a grand time in my old hometown. Joining us were Rocket Boys Roy Lee, O'Dell, Quentin, and Billy. Also Captain laird's grandson and family, Emily Buckberry and Mrs. Dantzler and daughter Eleanor. A real rocket boy, Astronaut Joe Allen (Photo 3) and his wife Bonnie also made a guest appearance and Joe most kindly signed autographs all day long. The Boy Scouts who camped at Cape Coalwood really appreciated Joe's visit with them. Queen Elsie, my mom, came all the way from Myrtle Beach and held court in the church basement and also had a long autograph line. She would never admit it, of course, but I think she was thrilled. The Mack Truck company pretty much sponsored the event and brought in a number of show trucks including a special rig painted in old Olga Coal Company colors, complete with an authentic Olga logo! It was named Big Jeb after a character in Sky of Stone. I was surely proud to see it sitting in Coalwood. Here's Jack the Mack's Rocket Boy Ryan in front of Big Jeb (photo 4) as well as O'Dell's dad Red Carroll. (Photo 5) Of course, all I could do was look at it since, as usual, I did nothing all day but autograph books and get my picture taken (photo 6). I'm not complaining, not really, since I got to meet an awful lot of wonderful folks in the process. Before the day was out, according to what I heard, two Coalwood houses and Big Jeb had been purchased. Also, the Community Church and Little Richard's church had both been adopted by some good people from the wonderful city of Greensboro, North Carolina who visited en masse by bus and convoy. The Rocket Boys of the West Virginia SOAR rocket club also did their usual splendid job of running things down at the old Cape Coalwood launch range, shooting dozens of rockets into the air, recalling those old, nearly lost dreams of boys. Thanks to them and to all the people of Coalwood for a great festival! On the way home, we stopped at one our favorite bookstores, Hearthside Books in Bluefield, West Virginia. Oh, they always do it up right there! Go here (Photo 7) for their most prodigious display for Keeper's!
After that, things get a bit blurred. Knoxville, and Birmingham had book signing stops. I recall the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, then a stop at Books & Company in Dayton, followed by Louisville, Kentucky for the Borders store that was once Hawley-Cook. The name may have changed but not the wonderful folks who operate that special store. After that particular signing, I was taken out by some former classmates from Virginia Tech. We spent the evening over beers talking about all the professors who had flunked us! Va. Tech is a tough school, I swan.
Next up was a sojourn to the glorious Outer Banks. Ah, there was an adventure, me hearties! Linda joined me and we spent three days on Hatteras Island, there to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Hatteras lighthouse. Our hosts were Cheryl and Bruce Roberts, famous in their own right for their magnificent lighthouse books and for starting the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society. We started with a nice tour of the island, poking into Duck and Corolla and climbing the Currituck lighthouse, then each of us taking a photo op at the base of the steps featuring those marvelous marble squares that are used for the ground floor on most of the lighthouses of the Outer Banks (Photo 8 & 9). Then we had an autographing session of The Keeper's Son and Torpedo Junction at Lighthouse Gifts in Nags Head. The next day was spent at the Hatteras Lighthouse park, more autographing (Photo 10), then climbing that tower, all followed by a wonderful dinner with Cheryl, Bruce, and our new-found lighthouse friends of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society. I got to give the keynote speech and what fun that was! (Photo 11) The next day we visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse (Photo 12 & 13), and spent some time with the real Keeper's Son John Gaskill (Photo 14). Hollywood producer Ken Wales and I visited a bit and also discussed some of the Bodie artifacts in the old Keeper's house (Photo 15). Next was an autographing session at Manteo Booksellers, a wonderful store. The line was long there, too, and I also got to meet some of the divers who had worked with me on the wreck of the old U-85 so long ago.
Then the tour gets a bit blurry again. Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh was great, I recall, standing room only, then off to Cincinnati to sign at the Joseph-Beth store there, always a good experience. Chicago was next and it turned out to be the highlight of the tour. Author escort Bill Young and I hit twenty-two stores for stock-signings in one day! I didn't believe it could be done but we did it, just the same. Then I had the most wonderful time on the Steve Dahl Show. Steve was supposed to have me on for about fifteen minutes but I ended up talking with him an entire hour with no commercial breaks! We were on a roll and I doubt my reputation will ever quite be the same in the windy city. I love Steve. He is the absolute best interviewer/personality out there! I left Chicago with tremendous momentum for the book. It was on its way up after that!
Denver was next at the ever popular Tattered Cover bookstore. Another standing room only event with more Virginia Tech Hokies in the crowd who invited me out afterwards. I agreed and had the most pleasant time. I guess this was a smarter bunch as none of them had flunked anything. I hardly knew what to talk about! I recommended Sky of Stone to them which tells a little about me nearly being kicked out of Va. Tech for low grades followed by a long summer in the coal mines. That novel-memoir, by the way, is still on track to be a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Hallmark just signed Patrick Sheane Duncan, the writer who wrote Mr. Holland's Opus and other fine screenplays, to write Sky of Stone! We're excited about that good news.
Next, in quick succession, was Atlanta where I appeared on CNN's Headline News with Stephen Frazier who allowed me to talk quite a lot about The Keeper's Son to a national audience (thank you, Stephen!), and then off to Washington, D.C. where I had two bookstore engagements, both great. Unfortunately, this visit overlapped our 5th wedding anniversary. I sent a dozen red roses to Linda but it wasn't enough. Still, somehow, amazingly enough, she remains my greatest supporter and recognizes I have to do what I have to do to support my books. Thanks, LT!
Linda was also able to join me on the final leg of the tour which took us to Nashville for a signing at Davis-Kidd, always a great store, and thence to Lexington, Kentucky at its justly famous Joseph-Beth store. What a great turn-out that was! We then went to the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort where I was taped for C-SPAN II's Book TV talking about The Keeper's Son. It should air very soon, so please look for it. It was the perfect cap to a great trip.
So, here I am, back home and sitting in front of my Mac. As you may recall, I spent a good part of the last newsletter worrying over whether The Keeper's Son would be accepted by my readers. I am happy to report now that clearly it has been - thanks for all letters saying so! Sales are strong and we look forward to more during the holiday gift-giving season.
And so there it is. There were other journeys that I haven't covered such as speeches to the gracious folks of Clark County, Ohio, and the Franklin Institute in the fabulous town of Philadelphia, PA. They were wonderful. And thanks to all of you for having me in your towns and cities and bookstores during the tour. I had a ball!
Incidentally, while I've been on tour, Linda has been hard at work in the office and updating and redesigning our Web site with our prodigious Webmaster Jeremy Capp, owner of Cre8ive Web, Inc. Expect a completely revamped http://www.homerhickam.com very soon. I think you're going to like it even better than the old one. The contests continue with another drawing November 30th for a beach glass necklace made by Linda and an autographed The Keeper's Son. Her two beach glass necklaces auctioned at the Keeper's Dinner in Nags Head for $250 and $125!
And now . . . we're off to Skyridge, our home in the Virgin Islands, for a week plus a few days of rest and recreation. It's been mostly raining down there for the last month, so we hear, but that's not all bad. Our cisterns should be full for a change and we will have plenty of water. We also hear that the sun is starting to break through the clouds but, no matter, it's our home away from home and I can't wait to sit out on our deck in my favorite hammock chair and just watch the world and the sailboats glide by...
Cat Update: For all those who have written with concerns about Batman and his diabetes, here's the situation. He is on a daily regimen now, consisting of special low-carb food and a morning dose of insulin. Linda and I have worked hard to become proficient with the needle and Batman has been gracious enough to allow us to practice on him. Of course, he gets a little tuna treat for his trouble. All in all, he seems healthy and happy and we hope we caught his condition before any permanent damage was done. Maxx has gained a little weight but otherwise is also doing fine. She continues to like to help me write by sleeping within petting range and occasionally touching the shift key with her tail-nub as I work, resulting in some interesting capitalizations! Flopsy, as always, is no trouble. She loves to sleep late and spend as much time outdoors as possible. They're all good cats and we're lucky to have them although we still miss our old boy Paco who sleeps now with the angels, God bless him.
Until next time, dear friends and prodigious readers...
Happy Holidays and a wonderful 2004!
My favorite thing we did this fall besides the wonderful trip to the Outer Banks was visiting Earl and Josey Stamm and their NetworkArts students in Philadelphia at C.W. Henry school. These enthusiastic students, led by the Stamms have studied a hard course in Astronomy and Space after their regular class hours and then built a beautiful mosaic on their school's outside brick wall to teach others about what they have learned. (Photo 16) This organization has done a study program and mosaic for inner city students for ten years, resulting in over one hundred large murals. Hats off to NetworkArts and their participants!
Although we are still receiving a lot of letters about the Coalwood books, and especially Rocket Boys/October Sky for city reads and being studied in classrooms, I would like to put a few letters up about the new book The Keeper's Son. Remember it is not too late to order any of Homer's books from our friend John Shaver at Shaver's books: Info is on the main page of the Web site at the bottom http://www.homerhickam.com or the Gifts button http://www.homerhickam.com/gifts.htm.
"Fair winds and following seas!" Have a wonderful December and a grand new year! Linda
Homer, I wanted to write to tell you that I greatly enjoyed reading The Keeper's Son. I will have to admit that I am nothing of an avid reader, but when I got started reading it, I could not put it down. I work lots of hours (on third shift) and I looked forward to coming home each morning. I was able to escape the goings on of everyday life and get "lost" in the story, imagining what it would be like to have lived the events in the book.
I look forward to the next book in the series, and I plan to read the other books that you have written. Thanks for sharing this story with us and turning me in to a book lover.
From S. W. Nov. 2003
I'm a retired newspaper publisher and read four or five novels a week. The wonderful folks at the . . . Library keep introducing me to new authors. This week Homer Hickam became a part of my favorite authors list. I started reading [The Keeper's Son] Thursday after baby sitting with two grandsons, seven and five. Finished the book at midnight. It was simply fantastic. One of the greatest stories that I've read in many months . . . the story line and the characters in the book are fascinating...like folks we all know. I can't hardly wait to read the next of the "Thurlow series." Enjoyed the news letter immensely. For your effort, you and Homer are hereby awarded my personal D.W.D.!
Now I have to get . . . started on the rest of the Homer [Hickam] creations.
P.S. Your news letter is great. Love the photos and the personal stuff. Look forward to the next issue.
From J. B. Nov. 2003
Dear Mr. Hickam: I just had to let you know how much I loved The Keeper's Son, which I picked up on a whim because of the lighthouse on the cover, and purchased after reading the synopsis on the jacket. I read voraciously, but most of the books disappear into the vortex of "Books I've Read, But Don't Remember". Not since The Lovely Bones have I been so affected. Your book spoke of so many things that are near and dear to me: living on the water, lighthouses, boats, WWII, honest people living a simple life, humor, romance, honor, mystery--even beach glass. I, too, regret the changes brought by "progress" that do away with things like lighthouses and small towns . . . I could go on and on...
I will end by saying that I neglected everything else I could while I read your book . . . and never so hated finishing a book. I will read it many times over. Thank you for writing it.
From P.S. Nov., 2003
Dear Homer: I finished your book last night. I had about 80 pages left to read & made everybody at home leave me alone until I got done. The book was great! I couldn't believe the goose bumps I got when (deleted - spoiler!) . . . It was really neat the way you weaved this whole story together. I can picture exactly what the Lighthouse looks like and what the inside of a U Boat is like. Your description of the U Boat at the beginning is so real it almost made me seasick . . . I will now read Torpedo Junction, because I never knew something like that happened so close to home.
From R. H. Oct., 2003