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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Some perhaps contrarian thoughts on To Kill a Mockingbird upon the passing of Harper Lee




Some Perhaps Contrarian Thoughts on To Kill a Mockingbird upon the Passing of Harper Lee
by
Homer Hickam

            With news of her passing, we now accept that we live in a world without Miss Nelle Harper Lee. Although sad, it won't change much for most of us. In some ways, Miss Nelle's been gone for a long time. After the dizzying success of To Kill a Mockingbird, she tucked herself away in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, and wrote no more. Yes, we heard that she occasionally made secret trips to New York, and there walked incognito through its bustling streets as some sort of literary ghost but, for the most part, she had long since gone away for reasons that only she would ever know, but about which the rest of us are free to speculate.
            My speculation is that Harper Lee became a recluse, not for any contrived purpose, but because she had an instinctive sense that to add anything to her masterpiece, even her opinions about things that had nothing to do with it, might disrupt the sense and power of the story as she told it. In effect, she allowed herself to be a blank canvas on which we could paint our own portrait of Mockingbird's author, thus not clouding in any way the text itself except in the manner in which we personally understood what it meant. Yes, yes, I am aware of Go Set a Watchman but I believe, as long as her mind was clear, Lee wouldn't have allowed that book to be published. Like most authors, I have books in my filing cabinet that require more work to get ready for publication than I think they're worth, or I have come to accept were part of my growth as a writer, their value only to me and not to my readers. Watchman, I believe, was never meant for the rest of us.
            With her passing, a ripple in time most of us will not feel beyond a vague knowledge of the fact, we are still left with that most important thing Harper Lee accomplished, the writing and publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. For years to come, academics will dissect this classic novel and try to determine why and how it is an important part of literature and where it fits in the lexicon of books that define our civilization. This is well and proper. After all, according to most of its acolytes, To Kill a Mockingbird is a brilliant book about social injustice. Perhaps, but I take a somewhat contrarian view. I think the brilliance of Harper Lee's novel was that it managed to accomplish the most astonishing and improbable deed: It made the vast majority of Americans who read it, and indeed the citizens of the world who turned its pages, come to love characters who were Southern white people.
            Ever since the Civil War, Southern white folks have been the objects of a certain amount of derision from people who reside outside the boundaries first established by the Mason-Dixon Line. Indeed, it has been perfectly acceptable, and often considered clever, to refer to and think of white Southern males as rednecks, meaning rough, angry, and bigoted, and white Southern females as belles, charming, perhaps, but ultimately vacuous. Their proclivities, amusing and frightening all at once, are evident in such matters as their outrageous affection for the Confederate flag, their tendency to be Bible thumpers, their honey-dripping mannerisms, and their general love of firearms. To those of us who were raised in the South, it's just the Southern way and certainly doesn't define our souls. To outsiders, however, our souls and even our hearts are indeed defined by these things and in a way that isn't good. Yet, in To Kill A Mockingbird, the people who embrace Southern civilization are not only good but even admirable.
             If a writer wanted to do it, I think it would seem an impossible task to write a novel that would refute the stereotypes placed upon Southerners for nearly two centuries, but Miss Nelle did it with astonishing ease. There are people out there right now who are afraid to set foot in Alabama lest they be set upon by a mob of cross-burners, and think General Robert E. Lee the worst rascal who ever strapped on a sword, and also think every southern politician is a George Wallace of some stripe. Yet, these same people swoon over Harper Lee's novel and have even been known to name their children after its characters! With her remarkable talent, she managed to make heroic the most unlikely of folks, the people of Maycomb, Alabama, the progeny of those who fought for the Confederate States of America.
            How did Miss Nelle accomplish this remarkable feat? She did it primarily by allowing her readers, as Atticus Finch recommended, to walk around the streets of Maycomb and in the shoes of its people. In Mockingbird, even the bigots are made understandable and nearly sympathetic, as when the Jewish store owner reflects about that time when the KKK came to his house only to be reminded by him that he'd sold them their sheets, thus causing the hooded mob to sheepishly slink off without doing any harm. Bob Ewell, an ignorant, perhaps incestuous creep, is presented ultimately as a victim of the society in which he was raised and, although we shed no tears when he is killed, we are made to understand his impotent rage by having to wear his ragged clothes, feel his empty pockets, and suffer beneath the grinding, pitiless pity of his white betters. In contrast, black people in Miss Nelle's world were downtrodden but psychologically the freest people in town because they were allowed to be who they were without the weight of societal opinion. After all, they already knew that opinion and couldn't do anything, good or bad, to change it.
            By resting awhile with Harper Lee on the porches of Maycomb, and watching her people go by and even entering into their company, we begin to understand their perspective, that perhaps it's best to take what life has given us, mind our own business, be brave when it counts, but not to do anything too outrageous which might upset the communities on both sides of the track. That doesn't mean, however, that we shouldn't work to lift our heads high enough to hear the angels sing. Yes, that's in To Kill A Mockingbird, too. You just have to feel between the lines.
            And that, I think, is the genius of the entire enterprise. The author of this classic novel made us feel and care for a people who, if only observed from the outside, might otherwise be thought of as nothing but cornpone racist rascals. Atticus Finch, a graduate of the University of Alabama, is noble because he acted nobly when put to the test. Before that? The jury is out. He's nice to his children, is kind to his black housekeeper, takes care of the poor whites who need his help, but we're not sure what else he believes deep in his heart past a wish, we suspect, that Alabama would win every football game it ever played. Nonetheless, when given the task to defend a black man, he takes it on even if, as we learn, it will be to the detriment of his reputation. That's why the black preacher stands when Atticus passes, not because Scout's father has defended an innocent black man, but because the preacher knows he has risked the scorn of his white peers. Atticus has heard the angels sing, although they may be far away and not exactly singing the chorus we hope we're hearing. Sheriff Tate confesses he's a bad man but he, too, lifts his head to hear the angels sing as he recommends a crime be ignored because otherwise a greater crime, this one moral and not of the law, will be committed. All of Maycomb ultimately hear the angels sing, even those miscreants who found guilty an innocent man. Through Scout's telling, we sense their shame and understand that the jurists perhaps finally understood that when they found Tom Robinson guilty, they also found themselves guilty and thus began their long, hard road toward redemption. Our personal discovery, through the tale as it is told, is that we are all on that same long and hard road, whether we are from the South or anywhere else, and thus the novel's true value.
            So goodbye, Miss Nelle, and thank you for the gift of To Kill A Mockingbird. May your novel forever remind us that people are people, even when they're not us, and that we should always try to walk around in their shoes before making a judgment about them. You have done your job, the one you were meant to do, and I trust now you are resting easy as you should.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Valentine's Day Specials for Homer's Most Romantic Books!

VALENTINE DAY'S SPECIAL!
for
Homer Hickam's
most
ROMANTIC
books.


What? You didn't know Homer writes Romantic books?

Indeed he does! And these love stories, signed by Homer and inscribed with your beloved's name, are perfect for Valentine's Day! Not only that, we're discounting their prices!

Here are the top three Homer Hickam romantic books:

CARRYING ALBERT HOME






Carrying Albert Home tells the sweet, funny and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a young couple and their special pet on a crazy 1,000 mile journey. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking novel is truly a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we call love.


RED HELMET




From the author of the #1 New York Times best-seller Rocket Boys, comes the exciting story of a woman deeply in love with a man so different from her, no one believes she can possibly win him over. To do it, she must work in a deep mine where danger and even murder awaits her in the darkness.  Red Helmet is a stirring and unforgettable love story of a woman, a man, and a proud people lost in the cracks of American society, told by the author born to write it. 


THE DINOSAUR HUNTER




Actually, Homer and Linda have a bit of an argument on this one. Homer maintains The Dinosaur Hunter is at heart a love story, Linda isn't so sure. Homer points out these lines in the novel to prove his case which occurs after Mike, the narrator cowboy detective in the story, confronts Jeanette, the love of his life (and his boss), after they've given medicine to a calf who, insulted by the whole thing, shows it by, well, pooping on Jeanette:


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            I turned around.  "What's it to me?  What's it to you?  I don't know, Jeanette, except for this.  I love you.  I have always loved you.  I loved you from the moment Bill first introduced me to you.  Sometimes, when I'm around you, I think my heart is going to tear itself right out of my chest.  When a day goes by and I don't see you, I think my soul dies a little.  If there wasn't you, there wouldn't be me.  Not the same me.  Some other me.  Some sad, unhappy, poor in spirit, poor in life me."
            I started to say more but she held up her hand which was, I had the presence of mind to notice, covered in manure just like her face. "I never knew," she said.
            I reentered the barn and went down on one knee beside her, grabbed her, and kissed her full on the mouth.  "Now, that's love, honey," I said.  "Ask another man to kiss you when you're covered with s**t."
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Anyway, The Dinosaur Hunter  lets readers in on a world that has fascinated Homer for decades, drawing on his own experiences fossil-hunting and getting to know the people of Montana. In the vein of the novels of Larry McMurtry and Tony Hillerman, The Dinosaur Hunter pays tribute to the still amazing and glorious American West. 



Here are the prices and how to order Homer's autographed and inscribed Romantic books for your beloved Valentine. It's pretty simple.

1. Carrying Albert Home - Only $25 (regularly $30)

2. Red Helmet - Only $20 (regularly $25)

3. The Dinosaur Hunter - Only $18 (regularly $25)

Shipping charges for Priority is $14 for one book or same price for up to four books.


Email LTerry@hiwaay.net to make arrangements as the website bookshop does not reflect sale prices. She will send you an invoice for Paypal or other arrangements.

OK, Valentine's Day is around the corner. You don't know what to get him or her. Problem solved! You're welcome. Let's go!!!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Remarks by Homer Hickam at the Challenger Remembrance, Space & Rocket Center, Jan. 28, 2016

30 Year Anniversary Remarks
 as given by
Homer Hickam
in Huntsville, Alabama
at the USSRC Remembrance Day for Challenger
beneath the Space Shuttle Replica Pathfinder
January 28, 2016

We come here today to honor the men and women who have gone on before us, they who were lifted from the Earth 30 years ago today, they who were determined to venture into the far reaches of space, they who met with tragedy instead, a tragedy that still causes pain in the hearts of not only those of us who knew them but in all of us who believe in our future in the great beyond, the great beyond of our solar system and, yes, even the stars.

I was in Japan that day, there to train the first Japanese astronauts who were to join us in a Spacelab mission. The schedule showed that in all probability they would fly aboard one of America's sleek space shuttles, the one called Challenger.

Although I was not there, I was told it was not a normal day at Cape Canaveral. Ice was on the launch pad, icicles hung from the tower. Yet, the sky was blue, the air clean. The countdown, after days of frustration, was at last proceeding. An expectation was in the air. Challenger was going and where it would go, so would its crew and, in a way, so would we all.

The call in Japan was very early in the morning. In disbelief, I heard that Challenger had come apart in the sky. How it had happened, my caller didn't know, just that it had. Within a few days, the mission for the Japanese astronauts was put on hold for how long, we didn't know. For all we knew, it might be permanent. I came home, home to Huntsville, home to Marshall Space Flight Center, home to a shaken agency, a shaken country, a shaken dream.

As the tragedy unfolded, and we began to learn the physical causes of the accident, the national media and many elected officials kept demanding: Of what value is all this? Is it worth seven lives or even one life? Why proceed? Maybe what we should do is just give up. Maybe this was the reckoning that had always been there, the bitter fruit of an endeavor that is too much for the grasp of mere humans.

I had met all the crew and knew fairly well El Onizuka. El came up to Marshall often, to put on a space suit and venture underwater in the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator. I was often his safety diver. He was a brilliant man with a fine sense of humor. All of us at the tank liked him a lot. I also met another of the crew. Christa McAuliffe. The teacher in space. She came to the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator on a tour and I was there that day. We only shared a few words but her excitement for all things space was truly evident. She was on a mission to show school children in the country and the world the value of education, the value of exploration, the value of pushing into the high frontier.


There is a beauty in anything well done, and that goes for a life well lived. Christa lived a fine, productive life.

She was not afraid. None of them were afraid. And that was why we were and are not afraid to continue her dream which we do today.

There are many space programs in the world today. In many ways, they share the dream with us. How could they not? We are all humans. But we often forget, in our rush to be inclusive and fair, that there is something unique about any great endeavor in which Americans are part and this is especially true of the movement into space, there to explore and even live.

We represent a minority but very important view in this world of people as individuals. From our founding as a nation, we have believed that we have the natural right to be free, that no man or woman is inherently greater than another, that we do not have to accept tyranny as a way of life, that we can remake and reshape ourselves any way we like without others telling us we can't.

This outlook is actually a heavy burden. It would be easier to let someone high and mighty tell us what to do. But that's not our way. Those are not our values. When they go anywhere, even into space, often without even realizing it, our people carry with them the values of freedom, of representative democracy, of a disdain for oppression, and an overarching optimism that if the goal is important enough, it will be obtained, not by a collective following orders, but by individuals voluntarily bound together for a common goal. That is our heritage. May it ever be so.

Of course, we make mistakes. Launching Challenger that day was one of them. Seven extraordinary men and women died because those who held responsibility for their lives did not fully understand their vehicle.

Afterwards, it was not a time for heroics. It was a time for reflection and then to roll up our sleeves and get back to work. This we did at NASA, at our contractors, and especially here at Marshall Space Flight Center. When it was clear that President Reagan, God bless him, and the Congress were telling us to go ahead, the engineers at Marshall got busy. They solved the problem that caused Challenger and we began to fly again.

If they had not, if they had failed, there would have been no Hubble Space Telescope, no Hubble repair missions, no Spacelab missions which included those first Japanese astronauts and many others from around the world, no International Space Station. The ISS could not have been built without the shuttle. Those things we did but always, I think, with the Challenger and her crew on our minds.

As we come together today, in the shadow of the past and the literal shadow of this magnificent space shuttle replica, we recall a failure that was followed by the triumph of the human spirit and a series of great missions.

The temptation always is to remember those triumphs and those missions and put aside our failures but we must never forget the awful lessons of Challenger even while we dedicate ourselves anew to the high frontier.

The people who raised me in the coalfields of the Appalachian mountains were no strangers to hardship and death. But they sustained themselves by following a few simple rules of life. They said to themselves and anyone who wondered about them:

We are proud of who we are.
We stand up for what we believe.
We keep our families together.
We trust in God but rely on ourselves.

By adhering to those simple approaches to life, they became a people who were not afraid to do what had to be done, to mine the deep coal, and to do it with integrity and honor.

I believe we of NASA, we of the American space program, also adhere to those rules.

We are proud of who we are.

We not only hold the dream of space. We're doing something about it.

We stand up for what we believe.

We are not afraid to voice our belief that the future for mankind is not just here on this planet but other planets and moons and stars.

We keep our family together.

We are a family, just as sure as blood relatives. We are bound together as a family because we have a belief that what we do is not just a dream but a requirement for the survival of mankind.

And we trust in our Maker but rely on ourselves.

Yes, there is a spiritual side to what we do, a sense that there is something far greater than ourselves urging us to do what we do, to climb off this Earth and try to touch the stars. We know it's not going to be given to us. To reach this great goal, we will have to strive for it, to sweat, and, sadly, sometimes to die.

And so we find ourselves here, 30 years after Challenger, challenged by the memory of that vehicle and its crew to dedicate ourselves anew to go forth from this place with not only the latest technical marvels and the most advanced machines possible, but also with an enduring belief in the old ways, the old virtues, the old truths that all but force us to lift our heads from the darkness to the light, and say for the nation and all the world to hear:

We are proud of who we are.
We stand up for what we believe.
We keep our family together.
We trust in our Maker but rely on ourselves.

We do what needs to be done.

We are Americans. We are NASA.

We are not afraid.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Special offer for Carrying Albert Home and all Homer Hickam books for the Holiday season

Dear friends:






Since Carrying Albert Home was published in October, my novel has become a bona fide, award-winning, best-selling hit, not only in the United States but Canada and the UK! Reviewers have used words such as masterpiece, brilliant, and journey of a lifetime to describe this novel. I am properly humbled and pleased at the amazing reception for what might be my best work to date. Next year, 14 International publishers will also be bringing "Albert" out. 

Fans of Carrying Albert Home line up for Homer's signature in Orlando, Florida


Homer showing the love for a modern Albert at Gatorland, Orlando, Florida
With the Holiday season upon us, may we suggest an autographed, personalized first edition collectible Carrying Albert Home might be just the gift you're looking for to give to that special person?



Linda's little on-line bookstore can provide "Albert" with my signature and a personal note to your loved one. Also included with every order will be a FREE never-before-published short story about a couple of the famous Rocket Boys of Coalwood, West Virginia, and the Big Creek Missile Agency! Not only that but an autographed "Albert" bookmark will be included. All are truly collectible but this offer is good only for the holiday season!

To order an autographed and personalized Carrying Albert Home and also my famous memoir Rocket Boys plus any other Homer Hickam books, just go to Knowink, Linda's on-line bookstore and order away. She'll make sure you get your copies before Christmas IF you order prior to Dec. 13. She will be on a special, well-deserved vacation from Dec. 14-20 so be sure to get your orders in right away. If your order comes in late, be assured she will still do her best to get those orders out on Dec. 21 so they may still make it! But why wait? I look forward to signing and sending a personal message to that special person on your gift-giving list.





PS - BTW, for folks in Book Clubs! We have created a Toolbox for book clubs and Community Reads that choose Carrying Albert Home that include discussion questions and suggestions for meals and decorations. 

Special Offer: I am offering a 15 minute Skype/phone session with any book club or community read that chooses
Carrying Albert Home
as their pick
before Jan. 31, 2016. 
Please get in touch here.
 
  
You can also check out the on-line Hickam book sellers on each books' page on our website.

PPS - May I share a recent sweet note with you about my latest novel, Carrying Albert Home? I'll keep the writer anonymous but I can tell you she's a Canadian librarian.
---------------------------------

Dear Mr. Hickam,

By the end of the third sentence in your book, Carrying Albert Home, I had a lump in my throat. I had to stop. Then when I tried to explain to someone that I was about to read the most romantic book ever, I couldn't speak. I couldn't get any words out. I just cried. Now I am on page 67 and I have written quite a few sentences down from the book (a few involving the rooster) that I will keep in my book journal where I write down such quotes I love. I have been recommending the book even though I never do that until I am finished; and I have been carrying it with me to work (although I don't read at work) just so it's near me. I never do that either. 

I had to write you and tell you this book is amazing. I love Elsie and Homer and Albert and the Rooster. Your writing makes me laugh, and also cry in ways I cannot explain or control. 

I am going to make sure we buy a copy so I can place it front and centre on my staff picks shelf at work. 

Thank-you
------------------------

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Carrying Albert Home during Christmas and the Holidays

Dear Readers:

Is it ever too early to think about Christmas and the Holidays?


Well, I think so. The drumbeat seems to get earlier every year.


On the other hand, it IS almost Halloween and you know how those days fly by to Thanksgiving and then Christmas.


So...


Let's just say I think giving a book as a gift to a reader is never a bad idea, especially if it's a really special book.


And I think Carrying Albert Home is pretty special. OK, I wrote it so I would have that opinion but I'm not the only one. "Albert" has been picked by 15 International publishers, is a Book of the Month Club selection, soon to be a Reader's Digest Condensed Book, and the winner of several literary awards including the Southern Independent Bookseller's Association Okra Award.




Consider also these mainstream reviews and book bloggers:


The Huffington Post: "Oh and when they turn Carrying Albert Home into a movie (and they will), here's a great idea for casting: Jake Gyllenhaal. Now he's old enough to play the father of the character he played at 16!"


Book Page: "An intentionally improbable, bizarre trip through Southern Americana that is a tall tale blend of fact and fiction."


Book Reporter:  "Don’t miss CARRYING ALBERT HOME. It will surprise, delight and enchant you!"


The Book Diva:  "Don't put Carrying Albert Home on a "To Be Read" list, go out, grab a copy, and then sit down and read it...you won't be disappointed!


The London Diary: "There are gangsters, bank robberies, baseball teams, ship wrecks and kidnappings to contend with before the touching and heartbreaking end.  I won’t lie, I found myself sobbing when I finished this book.  It ended way too soon."


The Frugal Mom in Canada: "I came away from Carrying Albert Home feeling completely invested in the “characters”.  What a read, indeed."




The Kahakai Kitchen: "There is a sweet earnestness to Carrying Albert Home and it is easy to get caught up in the storytelling.


Sarah's Book Chaos: "I am telling you right now, if you are one of my friends who I normally give a book to for Christmas, this is probably going to be it because I enjoyed this book so much."


The Savvy Reader: "It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam, and with my own trip booked to Florida, I knew this was going to be the perfect vacation read."


Net Galley: "Something about Albert the alligator has touched my heart, and I dare say he will touch many more hearts, as he takes you on his journey home."




Carrying Albert Home is available in just about any bookstore across the country plus all the on-line booksellers. You'll see them on this page on our website.


But for a special Christmas and Holiday gifting, you might want to consider a personalized copy of Carrying Albert Home for your favorite readers. And that, as it turns out, is very easy. Just go here to order a personalized, autographed copy of my latest work and all of my backlist, too

Thanks!







Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The First Day of the Second Week of Carrying Albert Home



Today is the first day of the second week of the publication of Carrying Albert Home. With this novel, we've tried to take fans and friends through the process of creating a book from conception to having it stocked in the bookstores. We knew you'd enjoy following all that and we've heard from many of you that you have, indeed.
With that said, we know that some folks are getting tired of our promoting the novel but the first two weeks of publication is extremely important to a book's success. Publishers base their marketing decisions on these initial sales so we're bound to get out there and promote as hard as we can during this period. Forgive us.
Surveys are made on the book sellers to see how they're doing with new books. It's our understanding that in many, many instances book stores have sold out of Albert. Now, they need to restock. That's key to a book's success. Some do and some don't. That latter group, well... 
Carrying Albert Home is a book that anyone from anywhere will enjoy, especially if they like a humorous read that will lighten their lives and maybe slip in a few things about love and family that will be nice to read.
Reviews are incredibly positive everywhere such as these on Goodreads or this one in the HuffingtonPost or this one on Bookpage. There are lots more out there.

Look under Appearances on www.homerhickam.com for the book tour as it exists today. Or head on over to your favorite bookstore or on-line bookseller and get a certain lively book about a happy alligator and his "tail" of adventure and love.