Thursday, October 1, 2015

Interview With Author Homer Hickam

Author of Carrying Albert Home

  1. What inspired you to write this novel? After the film October Sky, which was loosely based on my memoir Rocket Boys, was released, I realized that it probably had left a decidedly erroneous impression on who my parents were and what they were actually like. Far from being an angry bully, my father was actually a kind and quietly heroic man. Not a plain Jane wimp as shown in the movie, my mother was not only a gorgeous young woman but a feminist well before her time. When giving speeches, I began to tell the story of my mother's pet alligator and my dad's reaction to it as a fun story on who they really were. It was the most popular story I told and pretty soon, wherever I went, people would say, "Please tell the alligator story." After a while, it occurred to me that the story of Albert the alligator and how my parents carried him home might make a good novel. When I suggested the idea to my agent, he immediately took it to William Morrow/HarperCollins, they loved it, and now I needed to write the damn thing! And so I did.

  1. What is it about? The novel takes place during the Great Depression and it's about my future parents, Elsie and Homer, and how they carried their pet alligator, a handsome and thoroughly delightful creature named Albert, from the West Virginia coalfields to the sunny village of Orlando, Florida. During that journey, according to the tales they told, they encountered desperately poor families on the road, got caught up with a bunch of radicals, accidentally robbed a bank, rode the thunder road with bootleggers, and wrote poems with a crazed poet. My future father also played for a semi-pro baseball club, joined the Coast Guard, and fought pirates. Elsie worked as a nurse for a fabulously wealthy man, ran a boarding house along the South Carolina coast, and learned to fly an old airplane. Both of my future parents would go on to star in a Tarzan movie, and survive the greatest hurricane in Florida history. They also hung out with John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and a famous movie star, Buddy Ebsen, he of Beverly Hillbillies fame. In fact, their journey was Buddy's fault since he was the fellow who gave a baby alligator to my future mom as a rather strange but quite meaningful wedding gift.

  1. Why should someone invest time and money reading your book? Carrying Albert Home will lighten the heart of its readers while also providing some deep insight into the nature of love, not the easy kind of love but the love most of us experience throughout our lives.

  1. What are some of its takeaways?  I think the last paragraph in the Introduction to the novel says it best: After Dad went off to run heaven’s coal mines and Mom followed to tell God how to manage the rest of His affairs, a quiet but persistent voice in my head kept telling me I should write the story of their journey down. When I heeded that whispering voice and began to put all the pieces of it together, I came to understand why. Like a beautiful flower unfurling to greet the dawn, an embedded truth was revealed. The story of how my parents carried Albert home was a bit more than their fanciful tales of youthful adventure. Put all together, it was their witness and testimony to what is heaven’s greatest and perhaps only true gift, that strange and marvelous emotion we inadequately call love.

  1. What challenges did you overcome to pen this book? The first challenge was to assemble all the stories my parents told me over decades into one coherent tale. Once that was more or less done, the next challenge was to figure out how to best tell it. I decided to tell it as they lived it interspersed with scenes where my parents are telling me about their journey and why. Another challenge was making an alligator into a lovable character. As it turned out, that wasn't hard. Albert was a lovely little 'gator with a big smile and happy personality. The rooster who also went along was a little more difficult since I was never certain why he was there and what he meant. The rooster will probably be a topic of much discussion in the book clubs that choose Carrying Albert Home. After he read the book, my brother told me he thought the rooster was . . . well, on second thought, I better let readers figure that out for themselves.

  1. Any advice for struggling writers? To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Writers should study books and authors they admire and figure out what they're doing that makes them successful. It isn't a matter of copying another author's style but being aware of the techniques those writers employ to tell their stories and make their readers want to turn the page.

  1. Where do you see book publishing is heading?  When I started being published, all the old publishing houses were solidly in control of the book market. These days, of course, the big Internet booksellers are moving steadily into the publishing business. Increasingly, authors are also self-publishing, utilizing the Internet as a way to get their work out to readers. I try to be successful in all arenas by writing for the big New York publishers as well as occasionally publishing an ebook on the Internet. Where it will all go from here? I have no idea. The trick for me and for all working writers is to stay flexible.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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