Rocket Boys/October Sky author and retired NASA engineer Homer Hickam (HomerHickam.com) will be in town to sign his latest romance/adventure novel Red Helmet on Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. at Kingsbury Hall (after the Jim Brickman Show) and on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Sugarhouse, 1104 E. 2100 South.
The character wearing the titular red helmet in your new book is an Asian woman. How often do you encounter women in the male-dominated coal mining industry?
Actually, she’s all-American, a rich, tough businesswoman from New York City with an Anglo father who is a ruthless acquirer of companies, her mother a deceased Hong Kong heiress. As for women in the coal mines. there’s a few. The starting salary of $50,000 is very attractive. Still, the work is claustrophobic, the hours terrible to try to also raise a family, so this keeps the numbers of women miners small.
You’ve written novels, memoirs and self-help books. How was writing this romance/murder mystery a challenge for you as a writer?
No great stretch. In fact, I had a great deal of fun writing it. I’m an eclectic writer and don’t like to get pinned down to one genre. My publisher hates that because I can’t be branded like a John Grisham but I still have a knot of rabid fans who love all my stuff. Next up is a romantic thriller set in Montana titled The Dinosaur Hunter. I’m also an avid amateur paleontologist who recently found a T.rex.
While you set your sights on the skies by ultimately becoming a NASA engineer, you pay homage to your coal-mining roots in your novels. How did your upbringing in Coalwood leave such a lasting imprint?
I am now and forever a Coalwood boy, shaped by the people who raised me. Writing about my life there in Rocket Boys/October Sky was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. That book has gone on to be a classic. It is the most selected community and library read in the country, is studied or assigned in most school systems, and is presently being adapted into a Broadway musical. There were three sequels, all best sellers. Red Helmet marks my return to writing about my beloved people of the mountains, hollows, and mines, this time in a novel.
What’s your view on global warming and coal burning’s alleged contribution to it?
Global warming is a stew of politics and science. My advice is to ignore the Cassandras of doom and gloom. The truth is no one knows the truth. The USA should remain calm while working to keep pollution to a minimum. That’s just common sense. Coal, the only true American alternative energy source (we have more of it than anybody else), can be burned cleanly in modern plants. That would be cheaper and more effective than anything we could do to stop polluting while also maintaining a healthy economy. I’m confident this will happen. Our country has a tradition of always doing the right thing after it’s tried everything else.