Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guest Blogger: Homer Hickam

What's your dream?

Do you remember the final scene from "Pretty Woman?" The one where the man calls out, "What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'."

Today we welcome back friend-of-the-Playground Homer Hickam who talks about his newest release, which just happens to be about dreams. Please give a warm Playground welcome to Homer.

It's always fun to write for fellow writers so I appreciate the opportunity to write for the Playground. This year sees two of my books published, one of them a co-written memoir and the other a novel. Neither are remotely alike which is a good thing as I always like to make each book a challenge and therefore interesting and fun. With that in mind, let me tell you first a little about the memoir and the process I used to write it.

In September, 2006, I noticed in the newspaper that a young Iranian-American woman was about to be launched by the Russians to the International Space Station. The article said she had financed her journey herself, paying around $20,000,000 for the opportunity. I thought to myself—Wow, I bet there's a story there! At the time, I had contracts for two novels and was about to sign for three more so I knew I wouldn't have time to write it. Still, I was moved to email this woman, Anousheh Ansari, and wish her well. To my surprise, I heard back from her assistant who said Anousheh was happy to get my message and hoped to talk to me when she got back. And that's what happened! She called, and then we emailed back and forth with me encouraging her to write her story. She replied that she didn't know how and, anyway, she was immersed in building a high-tech company with her family. I gave that some thought and, against my better judgment because of the other writing contracts, called her and said I might be willing to help. Subsequently, she flew to Huntsville and we talked it over and I agreed to co-write her memoir. We made up an agreement between us, which specified my agent would also be hers, and then got going.

The first thing I did was go down to Dallas where Anousheh lives and works. She invited me to have dinner with her family the night I got there, then I spent the day at her office, interviewing her husband Hamid, her brother-in-law Amir, and Anousheh herself. It quickly became apparent that I was dealing with a very private woman and also a very private family. Anousheh was passionate about discussing her voyage into space but was reluctant to talk about much else. This, then, was my first challenge, to get her to open up on her life in Iran, how she came to the United States, how she made her fortune, and then how she came to fly into space. After awhile, I saw that talking about herself was difficult face to face but easier over the telephone. So, with that in mind, I began to tease out her story over the phone. Actually, that was a good thing. It kept me from having to travel so much!

As we talked, Anousheh dropped subtle hints about her childhood and the experiences that had formed her. One of them was her love as a child of The Little Prince, the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I saw that it had influenced her early thinking so it became a bit of a touchstone as I fashioned the story of her childhood. There was pain and heartbreak to the story of her life in Iran, so I had to work diligently and gently to bring her to talk about it. When I didn't think I was getting enough detail, sometimes I would write about an episode telling it the way I thought it might have happened. This always evoked a response from Anousheh. "I don't remember saying that," she'd say, then tell me how the event really happened, dropping in fascinating details. After a while, I began to realize her story was a love story more than anything else. It was about Anousheh's love for Iran and for the United States, her passionate love for her husband, and her love of the stars and space. That's why the memoir begins with these words, Call this a love story.

Another challenge, one that I very much enjoyed, was learning to write in the voice of an Iranian-American woman. I have a good ear for that kind of thing, fortunately, and used phrases and words just as Anousheh would use them. I think she is pleased with the result which is, of course, the highest praise.

While Anousheh and I were writing the memoir, my agent was anxious to get to work shopping it but I asked him to hold off. I was convinced that to fully appreciate Anousheh's story, the entire manuscript needed to be read. I was leery of an editor buying it just for the space angle and I knew there was so much more to this lovely woman's life. Only after I'd finished a complete first draft did I give the go-ahead and, fortunately, it didn't take more than a couple of weeks for Palgrave-McMillan to pick it up. Now, we had a contract! Of course, there was still a lot of work to do but Anousheh and I did it and the result is My Dream of Stars. Its publication date was Mar. 2, 2010.

These days, book tours are the exception rather than the rule, but Anousheh and I are doing a few appearances together. One of them was in Huntsville a couple of days before the book officially came out. Naturally, in the Rocket City. the signings were a great success. Anousheh is such a gracious woman. I'm sending along a photo of her with a young fan named "Commander Paul," and the two of us at our signing at the Jones Valley Barnes & Noble. Interestingly, the Huntsville signings were so successful, Anousheh asked Palgrave-McMillan to set her up with some more. Now, she'll be signing in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Dallas, Houston, and probably a few more cities. So far, sales are brisk, always a good thing, and it could be the book will break out of the pack. Naturally, this isn't certain and no one understands how it happens when it does, but I think this book is certainly deserving.

My next book is titled The Dinosaur Hunter. It is a novel set in today's Montana, one of my favorite places in the world. I wish I could show you the cover as I think it's one of the best I've ever had for any of my books but it hasn't been completely settled so I have to keep it under wraps. Anyway, The Dinosaur Hunter is a fun, adventurous, romantic tale of murder, mayhem, the beautiful (but lonely) women and rugged men of the ranchlands, cows, dinosaur hunting, Russian Mafioso, and the big Montana sky all told through the voice of a former Los Angeles homicide detective turned vegetarian cowboy who is trying to escape from life which is obviously proving to be an impossible job. Whew! It opens with the c-section of a scared little heifer having a too-big calf. I always like to challenge myself and that scene required some work! The Dinosaur Hunter will be out on Nov. 9, 2010, just in time for Christmas shopping. St. Martin's is really high on this book and has all kinds of marketing schemes which I thoroughly hope will work. Like most writers, I savor a hit. Anyway, we write them to be read, correct? For more on these books and others I've written, plus also some advice to writers, I hope folks will visit my website at That's also the place to sign up for our quarterly newsletter.

So that's where I am right now in the writing life. Oh, that and the fact I have a delivery date in June of my next novel and I am presently on chapter one which is making my wife Linda more than a little nervous. I'm challenging myself on this one, too. The story takes place fifty years in the future but is being written by a historian looking back after a hundred and fifty years. I get to put in all kinds of spurious footnotes and references. Some fun! And that's what writing is all about, anyway. Fun and more fun, especially if we challenge ourselves along the way. I hope you have fun today!

So... what's YOUR dream? I think we know what Commander Paul's is.

P.S. Here I am with Anousheh and Homer getting my copy at their booksigning.


Angel said...

Wow! How totally awesome. Thanks for hanging out on the Playground today, Homer.

Vegetarian cowboy? Wow, you DO like a challenge, don't ya? :)


Problem Child said...

Cool! That's a huge range of books -- you really do like a challenge!

~terribly impressed and giving her WIP the hairy eyeball now...~

Welcome back to the Playground, Homer! We're always glad when you drop by.

Julie Miller said...

The Dinosaur Hunter sounds like my kind of book--lots of things you mentioned about it interest me. I'll be sure to look for it in November.

I love that you like to challenge yourself with something different each time you write a story. Keeps the process exciting, I'm sure.

Julie Miller

Anonymous said...

Anousheh sounds like a very interesting person - someone you'd like to get to know over lunch. I'm looking forward to reading the book!