Tuesday, July 14, 2015

International publishers line up for "Carrying Albert Home!"

It's always interesting when an International publisher buys your book. In the case of Carrying Albert Home, world-wide publishers have been lining up in an unprecedented way.

So it's more than interesting this time. It's exciting!

Here's an article on the HarperCollins approach to overseas publishers and why Carrying Albert Home is such a big hit there and elsewhere.


This all reminds me of the excitement there was for Rocket Boys: A Memoir which went on to sell over two million copies and is now the most-picked library and community read in the nation, ahead of even To Kill a Mockingbird. It would certainly be pretty wonderful if libraries and communities saw the same eclectic value for their readership with Albert.

Three months to go until Albert is published here. In case there's any confusion, this is a book for adults, not children. There are, let us say, some "vivid" scenes in it that help tell its tale of love, redemption, heartbreak, joy, and the true things that make life worth living even when they hurt.

Albert in his washtub, the Rooster, the 1925 Buick Touring Car, Elsie, & Homer

Here is a teaser, just for fun.

And for those wanting to order an autographed copy (think Christmas now!), please peruse this poster for all the information on how to do that!

Bottom line: To order autographed copies, email lterry@hiwaay.net
To pre-order Carrying Albert Home, these fine on-line stores are also ready and willing to send you the novel the moment it comes out!

Publication date October 13, 2015.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

"NOVOIRS" - The Genre That Isn't But Ought to Be

by: Homer Hickam
Critique Magazine

On the Set of <i>October Sky</i>Update: Since the publication of my series of books about growing up in the little town of Coalwood, West Virginia, I have been astonished and frankly humbled by the heartfelt messages sent to me from all over the world praising my work. Thousands of people have written to say that these books have given them hope, inspiration, and the realization that dreams can be turned into reality. Although I certainly appreciate these sentiments, I have to confess the letters that make me the happiest are the ones written by readers who tell me they couldn't put my latest book down and that they stayed up all night to finish it. They nearly always add that they were surprised that the book was so compulsively a page-turner because, after all, it was a memoir. I understand very well their surprise. In the last couple of years, many new books in the memoir genre have tended to be a bit tedious, if not outright boring. That's why I'm ready to chuck the subtitle A Memoir on my "Coalwood" books entirely.

It was just a few years back when memoirs became hot properties in the publishing world. Authors who wrote them were considered pioneers working in a new arena of literature. Because of the success of books such as Angela's Ashes and Rocket Boys, publishers hurried to sign up as many writers of memoirs as they could. Sadly, this rush to publish created a spate of depressing, loutish, and self-absorbed writing. Now, when a publisher tags a book with the A Memoir sub-title, readers often subconsciously think Boring. Memoirs, as they have evolved in the last few years, have too often become exercises in arm-waving, self-absorption, and, worse, failures to tell a good story. I therefore propose that a new genre be created for those writers who write non-fiction books in first person but also know how to tell a good, absorbing story. This new genre would be called novoirs, or novel-memoirs.

Novoirs, according to my definition as the coiner of the term, are books that tell interesting true-life stories about people through the eyes of the writer but are written first and foremost to intrigue readers, to get them to turn the first page and then the next and the next until the very end. I am a firm believer that I have a contract with my readers. If they're going to spend good money for one of my books, I'm going to give them the best, most entertaining story I possibly can, no matter what kind of book it is. A good story, well-told, that's my goal, no matter what label the publisher chooses to place on it.

When I began to write Rocket Boys, there was no clear guide as to how to properly write a memoir except as autobiography, usually the province of elder statesmen and people famous for one thing or another. I, on the other hand, was not at all famous. There was not much about me that was of interest but I still thought I had a good, true-life story to tell. As a boy growing up in the coalfields of West Virginia in the 1950's, I built rockets and eventually, along with five other boys, triumphed at a National Science Fair. Although certainly unique, it was essentially a straightforward story. I wanted, however, to do a lot more than just tell my tale in a flat rendition of sequential events. I also wanted to tell the story of Coalwood and the good and noble people who lived there. How to balance the exceptionally clear and strong tale of the Rocket Boys while bringing in the miners, housewives, teachers, preachers, moonshiners, and even prostitutes that were part of the surrounding culture was the challenge. Although it was my plan to tell the story in the voice of the boy I'd once been with all the innocence of the time, I also wanted to write seemingly unwitting humor through my narrator's voice that would allow the occasional belly-laugh by my readers. I also wanted to use that same voice to capture dramatic and mighty moments that might bring the occasional tear trickling down my readers' cheeks. It was quite a challenge but I thought I was up to it, even though I wasn't quite sure how I was going to pull it off. I therefore started to think, always a good idea when you're going to try something new.

After some thought, I realized that there were plenty of other authors who had already accomplished what I intended and done it very well. The only problem was they were writers of fiction. In other words, they made everything up, manipulated events, invented characters, and did anything they wanted to do to advance their story. I couldn't do that, not with a true story. Still, there was no denying what I wanted to write was nothing like a stale autobiography but more like Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other novels I admired. Accordingly, I took a deep breath and set about writing Rocket Boysusing the techniques of fiction to build my characters and create tension as the events moved along. This included writing down conversations between my young narrator and other characters in the book as I imagined them to be, moving events and situations around here and there to allow the story to build tension, and not shying from taking very real people and combining them into composite characters that I could better manipulate to make the story unfold in an intriguing manner. I did this all for the purpose of creating a good tale, well-told, memoir or no. I also believed that by using these techniques, I could actually come closer to letting the real truth of what happened shine through.

It took a lot of hard work but the result was successful. Rocket Boys, the first in my series, was nominated for the prestigious 1998 National Book Critics Circle award, was designated as one of the Great Books of 1998 by the New York Times, and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. To top all that off, Hollywood produced a well-received, although vastly simplified, version of the story in the major motion picture, October Sky. Soon afterwards, the follow-on book, The Coalwood Way, was published and it also became a bestseller. Now, Sky of Stone, the last in the series, is out. It, like the other Coalwood books, is sub-titled: A Memoir, even though I wish it wasn't.

When I'm out on book tour, I often ask the book-seller where he plans on shelving my Coalwood books after I'm gone. I tell him that it is wonderful how he has my books up front where everybody can see them, but I'm not so foolish to think that's where they're going to stay after I leave. "Well," the book-seller says nearly every time, "I suppose we'll put them on either the Biography shelf or maybe in American History." My response to that is, "Why don't you just take them out on the street and burn them?"

Putting my books on shelves meant for non-fiction history tomes is like putting Huckleberry Finn in the Travel section or To Kill a Mockingbird in with the Law books. In my most persuasive, tactful manner, I suggest to these book-sellers that perhaps they should erect a new shelf, title it Novoirs, and place it, along with the latest fiction, in the brightest part of the book store. There, not only my Coalwood books would be found, but other fine novoirs such as Frank McCourt's 'Tis and Rick Bragg's Ava's Man. (I found McCourt's books, by the way, on the "Irish Studies" shelf in a bookstore in Atlanta. I complained enough that the book store manager promised to move them, but he wouldn't say where).

With Sky of Stone, I asked Delacorte to not add A Memoir as its sub-title. "But that's what it is," my editor argued. "What else would we call it?" When I gave her my novoir idea, she shook her head and said, "There's no such thing!" "Well," I said, "how about we just call it a "Homer" book, then? A lot of my fans do." The icy response was to the effect that there were already "Homer "books, the Illiad and the Odyssey, for instance. A bit exasperated, I told my editor I'd take my chances over the confusion. The conversation, however, such as it was, was over. Sky of Stone, A Memoir is what came rolling off the presses. Look for my page-turner, at its heart a mystery story with far more in common with John Grisham than John Adams, at your local bookstore on the (sigh) Biography or American History shelves.

I am well aware that I will probably continue to fail to win my battle to call my Coalwood books, and books like them, novoirs. But sometimes just putting up a fight is enough. I'm proud of my books and purely pleased to have such a host of enthusiastic readers who have discovered them, no matter what they're called or where they're put on the shelves. For the next year or so, I'm going to be working on a couple of epic novels, pure pieces of fiction, so I won't be fighting this battle. But if I ever decide to write more Coalwood books, I'll keep arguing for the classification of the novoir. I think the original Homer, who also wrote a couple of page-turners and would probably hate to see them on the dull old Classics shelves, would at least admire my pluck. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rocket Boys the Musical to be presented at Atlanta's Legacy Theatre April-May 2015!

April-May 2015

Dear Friends and Readers:

This is a special newsletter to announce the opening of Rocket Boys the Musical at The Legacy Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.

Opening night (already sold out) is on April 17, 2015. After that shows will be presented on April 18-19, April 24-26, May 1-3, and May 8-10. I hope that you will make plans now to go see this amazing production! To order tickets, just go to www.thelegacytheatre.org!

If you haven't heard about the musical, go to www.rocketboysthemusical.com for a taste of the music.

Here's a little background on how the musical came about. I had always thought Rocket Boys would make a good play and had it in the back of my mind to someday get around to it. But then, one day, a package arrived and in that package, I found a CD with a note that it was music written by some young people that could be the basis for a musical based on the Rocket Boys of October Sky. Quite honestly, I came very close to tossing the package into the trashcan but, at the last minute, decided to listen to the music.

It was amazing! I was nearly reduced to tears listening to the haunting melodies and made to laugh at the vigorous songs! The composers were geniuses! So I reached out and contacted Diana Belkowski and Dan Tramon, the composers, and writer Carl Tramon and told them I was in!

The Rocket Boys the Musical Creative Team!
From L-R: Carl Tramon, Homer Hickam, Diana Belkowski, and Dan Tramon

Now, after a three year development run at Theatre West Virginia, we are able to take the next step and that's this production in Atlanta's magnificent Legacy Theatre (actually located in Tyrone, Georgia, just south of metro Atlanta). After that, who knows? We intend to take the show as high as it will go.

Please come and join us for an evening of fun, adventure, drama, songs, tears, and laughter! We are especially pleased to announce that Broadway star Melissa Van Der Schyff will be taking the role of Elsie Hickam! I'd especially like to thank Mark and Bethany Smith, owners and operators of The Legacy Theatre, for choosing our musical for their spring run. Mark is also our most prodigious director!

Homer Hickam with the Cast and Crew of The Legacy Theatre's
Production of Rocket Boys the Musical!

This much I can guarantee. After seeing Rocket Boys the Musical, you will leave the theater ready to take on the world!

Keep Aiming High!

Homer Hickam

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Here Comes Pluto!
Homer Hickam

       The first time I heard about Pluto was when Mrs. Brown, my second grade teacher at the school in Coalwood, West Virginia, said it was our 9th planet. As far as I'm concerned, it still is. Everything Mrs. Brown taught me has proved to be true so I have no reason to doubt her about Pluto, either.
Homer "Sonny" Hickam about the time he heard
about an odd little world called Pluto
      Of course, Pluto is a bit different from the other eight worlds circling our sun. For one thing, it's smaller than the others and has an odd, tilted, eccentric orbit that requires 248 years for it to move around the sun. Pluto also has several moons that Mrs. Brown didn't know about. The biggest one is Charon that we think is about half the size of its host. Imagine an Earth with a moon half its size! Talk about a high tide! The other Plutonian moons, Nix, Hydra, Styx, and Kerberos, are probably just big icy rocks but we don't know for certain. That, fortunately, is about to change.
       Any time I want to the see our solar system, I don't require fancy computer graphics. All I have to do is mentally hover over the Sun and watch hot Mercury, cloudy Venus, blue marble Earth, red Mars, the jumbled asteroid belt, banded Jupiter, ringed Saturn, robin-egg blue Uranus, and blue-green Neptune rolling along on their endless orbits. I can even swoop in and see most of the solar system's moons. There's our boot-printed Luna plus Jupiter's ice-bound Europa, Saturn's Titan with its methane seas, and all the rest. The reason I can picture these planets, moons, and asteroids is because I've seen pictures of them that were taken by spacecraft swinging by for a close look.

Our Solar System (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
     But Pluto is still a mystery. What does it and its moons look like? We won't know until a plucky little spacecraft named New Horizons soars by this summer. It should be an amazing encounter.
      Sending a robot to Pluto wasn't easy but the initial steps here on Earth were perhaps the hardest. One of the scientists who fought to send a probe to Pluto happens to be a friend of mine, Dr. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. Before Alan got involved, NASA and the United States Congress had promised to send a couple of robotic craft to visit Pluto. The first one, the Pluto Fast Flyby, was cancelled for the lack of funds. The next one, the Pluto Kuiper Express, was cancelled for the same reason. When Alan came on board, he fought hard to get Pluto back on the "great place to visit" list and he was successful. In January, 2006, an Atlas V rocket sent New Horizons hurtling into the far wayback and the adventure was on!
New Horizons spacecraft (photo courtesy of NASA)
The New Horizons spacecraft is a pretty amazing little flyer. First off, after Jupiter gave it a gravity assist, it became the fastest spacecraft ever, zipping along at around 50,000 miles per hour. It will still be going 30,000 miles per hour when it zooms past Pluto so it will have to do a lot in a hurry. New Horizons isn't very big, only about the size of a grand piano, but packed aboard it are some amazing instruments.

Photograph of Pluto and Charon
taken by New Horizons, January 2015
(photo courtesy of NASA)
    Besides cameras, New Horizons has an ultraviolet spectrometer that will tell us a lot about Pluto's geology. It also has devices designed to measure its atmosphere, a solar wind detector, and a dust counter. It also contains the ashes of the man who discovered Pluto, an interesting fellow named Clyde Tombaugh.
Clyde Tombaugh (photo courtesy of NASA)

By every measure, Clyde Tombaugh shouldn't have discovered anything. The son of a Kansas farmer, Tombaugh put off college after hail ruined the crops and he had to work the farm. But, between plantings and harvestings, Tombaugh's eyes always strayed upward, so much so he built his own telescopes and set them up around the farmhouse. Eventually, he got a menial job at the Lowell Observatory and was tasked to look for anything that might be out beyond Neptune. A tenacious fellow, Tombaugh not only found Pluto but, beyond it, the Kuiper Belt, a primordial parking lot filled with careening planets, asteroids, rocks, and comets that had been overlooked for centuries. It was only after those amazing discoveries that Tombaugh took the time to get a doctorate in astronomy. Clearly, he was a man who couldn't wait to do what he was born to do.
          New Horizons is going to reach Pluto on July 14, 2015 but, well before that, photos of the planet and its moons are going to be sent out for us to enjoy and ponder. What will Pluto and its moons look like? Although gone now to the great schoolhouse in the sky, I'm sure Mrs. Brown would be pleased to know that one of her students is going to find out!

The Coalwood School where all the planets were taught

Monday, December 8, 2014

Autographed books available for the 2014 Holiday Christmas Season

Holiday Homer Hickam Newsletter
November, 2014
For description of each book, go to the BOOKS page on Homer's website and click on each cover. 

Dear Friends and Readers,  
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our friends and readers! Normally, we send along a newsy, chatty newsletter for the holidays and we promise to produce one of those the first minute we get the chance. But right now, I am deep into my next book, a family epic tentatively titled Carrying Albert Home (which stars my parents and a very special alligator.) It will be published in Fall of 2015.  And Linda is covered up with letters from fans that need answering. As for our cats, they're assigned to the bookstore shipping department and are busy at this very moment shredding wrapping paper and boxes in preparation for the upcoming gift sales of my books!

This missive therefore is being sent entirely to apprise you of the fantastic deal that my wife Linda's little KnowInk bookstore is offering for your holiday gift-giving pleasure. For you, our loyal newsletter subscribers, from now until December 21, she is reducing the price of every one of my books by 10%, each autographed and inscribed according to your instructions.

These have proved to be fantastically good surprise gifts for folks who enjoy good books or have a connection to my life in the coalfields and beyond! To figure out how to order these very special, valuable, and collectible books, just go to the list of books below and subtract 10% from each price listed.  

Shipping costs, of course, remain the same, but note that up to 6 books fit in the medium priority box and Linda will only charge you $11 if your books fit, which is actually less than the cost of shipping it.
So to get your order in, all you have to do is let Linda know what books you want by emailing her at LTHickam@homerhickam.com. The DVD of October Sky is also available with the 10% reduction in price. Easy? You bet! So get your orders in early, please. There are limited quantities available so do not wait until the last minute and be disappointed!
Happy Holidays to all of you.  
May there be Peace on Earth.
                                                            Homer Hickam

Note From Linda
BOOKS AUTOGRAPHED AND PERSONALIZED BY HOMER HICKAM AVAILABLE BY MAIL Special gifts to that "hard to find a gift for" person. Homer's many books can be personalized, autographed and mailed to you or the person gifted, even gift wrapped for a small price :)! Great gifts for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, special teacher, Father's Day, graduation and more!! If you want inscriptions on them, remember to let us know.

Thank you for shopping  
Small Businesses! 

How to order: PayPal is best, paid to LTHickam@homerhickam.com. Use "SEND MONEY" area at top and in comments area please include inscription wanted on each book and the shipping address.

Questions? Email Linda at LTHickam@homerhickam.com. The shipping listed after each book is for that book alone, BUT remember, up to 6 books can fit in one $11 priority box so keep that in mind and just order more books for the same shipping cost! :)

Choose from the list below and subtract 10% from the price until Dec. 21:

Rocket Boys, hardcover $30. Autographed and personalized by Homer Hickam, with special Rocket Boys authenticity embossed seal (we have seen forgeries!). ($11 priority mail shipping) - the box can hold up to 6 books, but this size is needed to keep this book safe. I am sorry at this time I cannot fulfill international orders.

October Sky DVD, autographed $16 ($6 Shipping)

NEWEST! Crater Trueblood and the Lunar Rescue Company (A Helium-3 Novel): $12, ($6 shipping for one or two, $11 for more)

Crescent (A Helium-3 Novel) $12, with ($6 shipping for one, $11 for multiples)

Crater (A Helium-3 Novel) Trade, $12, ($6 shipping for one or two, $11 for more)

All Three Helium-3 novels! $30 ($11 shipping) Great young adult gift!

The Coalwood Way, hardcover, 1st edition, collectible $25 ($11 shipping)

Sky of Stone hardcover, 1st edition, collectible $25 ($11 shipping)

The Coalwood Trilogy Set (Rocket Boys, The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone) SPECIAL, $65 (all but Rocket Boys are first editions and out of print, so collectible already!)

We Are Not Afraid Trade $15 ($6 shipping)

Back To The Moon hardcover VERY collectible, unavailable

My Dream of Stars co-written with Anousheh Ansari, hardcover, $30 ($11 shipping)

Red Helmet hardcover, 1st edition, collectible $30 ($11 shipping)
Red Helmet Trade, 1st edition, $15 ($6 shipping)

The Keeper's Son hardcover VERY collectible, (unfortunately not available at this time)

The Ambassador's Son hardcover, 1st edition, collectible $25 ($11 shipping)

The Far Reaches hardcover, 1st edition, collectible $25 ($11 shipping)
The Far Reaches
Trade  $15, ($6 shipping) 
The Dinosaur Hunter hardcover, 1st edition, collectible! $25 ($11 shipping)
The Dinosaur Hunter
Trade 1st edition, SPECIAL $5 ($6 shipping)

Paco: The Cat Who Meowed in Space
Trade $8 ($6 shipping)
From Rocket Boys to October Sky Trade, the behind the scenes story of how the movie got made! $10 ($6 shipping)

All shipments are USPS Priority. This is for US mail only. We're sorry, International readers, but at this time, it's nearly impossible for us to ship overseas due to the long lines and customs forms required.

Remember, pay by PayPal to LTHickam@homerhickam.com.
 If you do not have PayPal, you may send a check. Be sure to include any inscriptions desired and your mailing address to: 

Linda Hickam
4906 Whitesburg Dr. S
PO Box 16053
Huntsville, AL 35802

Books mailed when payment received,  

so PayPal is quickest!
Thank you! - Linda Hickam

In This Issue
Quick Links
Speaker, Homer Hickam
Homer is an often requested and talented speaker. However he cannot travel and speak and get a book or more written a year without it being well worth his while. Honorariums go towards maintaining our five college scholarships. Thank you for your understanding.
Please contact
Greater Talent Network
to find out his availability.

Eagle Scout Congratulations
This is a prodigious award and Homer could not be prouder of the young men who achieve this major landmark in their lives, but he has been put on some lists where he is receiving up to 50 requests a week! PLEASE, we require a SELF ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE for return congratulation letters. Send the requests and stamped envelope to:

Homer Hickam
Eagle Scout Request 
4906 Whitesburg Dr. S
PO Box 16053
Huntsville AL 35802

Stay Connected - these are Homer's links, say HI!

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All photos and content owned by www.homerhickam.com and cannot be used without permission

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Of Chained Dogs and Careless Cruelty

Of Chained Dogs and Careless Cruelty
Homer Hickam

As I sat in my office perched on the top floor of my house near Coral Bay on the isle of St. John, I lifted my eyes from my computer and took in the view which was spectacular and inspiring. As always, the magnificent blue sea and green forests of this magic island made me think: "What a wonderful place this is!"

But then I heard dogs barking. The way sound carries and is accentuated along the slopes of our neighborhood, it was almost as if they were just outside my window. Once begun, the barking kept going, eruptions of—what? Distress? Anger? Pain? Boredom? Entrapment? Thirst? Starvation? I had no way of knowing, just as everyone else (except perhaps their owners) who could hear them.

It is well known that there are certain sounds that cut deep into the hard-wired parts of the human brain. One of these is the sound of a crying baby. Babies who cry, our brains tell us, must be tended to. But what about barking dogs? Biologists who study these things believe that many humans respond to a barking dog very much the same as they do to crying children. Every time a dog barks, a shrill alarm goes off in our heads. Something must be done! These continual alarms sadly meant, for me, no work at my writing desk and, as the barking continued, little sleep at night. Night after night, day after day, barking and more barking.

Investigation was clearly in order to discover the source of the barking dogs and to determine if something might be done to solve their distressing behavior. My ears led my eyes toward an inholding property alongside the Johnny Horn trail in the National Park. The corrugations of the land near the Johnny Horn make it a perfect soundboard for vocalizations easily heard along our ridge. The barking was a combination of yelps, whines, and full-throated wailing. This dog (or dogs) clearly had problems.

Four-wheel drive and boots took me to the Johnny Horn property whereupon I discovered a ghastly sight, two big dogs with collars so tight they could scarcely breathe strung up on steel cables. Beside each of them was an empty food bowl and, scattered about, water bowls filled with filthy rain water, leaves, mosquito larvae, and mold. The overpowering stench of dog feces struck me full in the face. One of the dogs, a black female, had a nasty, rotten wood box for shelter although its cable made it nearly impossible to enter and the other one, a brindle pit bull, had no shelter at all. The lot was essentially a junkyard, a battered trailer in one corner, a plastic Home Depot-type tool shed nearby, rusted machinery all over, crushed plastic water jugs tossed about, and general filth and litter tossed indiscriminately everywhere. The dogs greeted me by leaping and straining against their ropes and steel tethers, not to attack but with plaintive, gurgling pleas for attention and assistance. This I provided in the form of food, fresh water, much petting and hugging, and a call to the St. John Animal Care Center.

 The St. John ACC does a magnificent job of caring for animals on our island and is particularly concerned about dogs that are chained up and neglected. The ACC representative I talked to was immediately concerned and subsequently spoke to the owner of the two dogs in question. Unfortunately, the report that came back was that the ACC probably couldn't do anything about the two "Johnny Horn" dogs because said owner told them he fed the dogs. The barking and crying and whimpering continued.

I also spoke to their owner and offered to buy and foster the dogs, or to help in any way I could to relieve their distress. The response from the owner was loud anger and a growling assurance that he would care or not care for his property—meaning the dogs—in any manner he pleased. And there the matter presently rests.

Of course, I haven't given up on saving these dogs. It is not in my nature to do so but I know it won't be easy to make the change for them because the man who owns them must change his view of what it means to own and care for an animal. Cruel people are usually miserable and, I suspect, must occasionally wonder why they are so afflicted. It is my belief that their misery comes from the negative karma that continuously washes across them because of their cruelty to those who depend on them the most, their innocent animals and, usually, their spouses and children, too. I'm not certain there is such a place as Hell but I kind of hope there is, just for people such as these. — Homer Hickam, November, 2014