If your dream is to become an established writer, you may want to stop by your local bookstore or library to see what’s available.
“To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader,” Hickam said during his visit to West Virginia University on Tuesday, Oct. 6 for a guest lecture in Assistant Professor Mark Brazaitis’ English graduate fiction workshop.
“Without even realizing it, you absorb what works for you in writing by reading. What is it that the author is doing that makes you want to turn the page?”
Hickam, who was born in 1943 in Coalwood, W.Va., is best known for his 1998 memoir, “Rocket Boys,” which details the story of his childhood dream to build rockets and how it became a reality. The memoir was adapted into the critically-acclaimed film “October Sky.”
Hickam signed books in the Mountainlair during his visit and fans lined up waiting to shake his hand, get an autographed book or have their picture taken with the renowned author.
“To write that book [Rocket Boys],” he said, “I had to get inside the mind of young Sonny Hickam and learn who he was again to get him to tell the story.”
WVU English graduate students listened intently to details of Hickam’s “serendipitous” journey of becoming a writer during his guest lecture.
Hickam first began writing in 1969 after serving six years in the U.S. Army including active duty in the Vietnam War. He wrote stories about his own scuba diving adventures for a variety of magazines, and the dives led to ten years of research about German U-boats for his first novel, “Torpedo Junction” (1989).
He began working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1981 as an aerospace engineer where he assisted with spacecraft design and crew training until his retirement in 1998.
Some of Hickam’s other works include “Back to the Moon” (1999), “The Coalwood Way,” (2000), “The Keeper’s Son” (2003), and “Red Helmet” (2008).
His latest book, “The Dinosaur Hunter” will be published in fall 2010, and it is his first venture into the mystery genre.
“I got interested in hunting dinosaur fossils about 10 years ago, and so I go out to Montana every year to hunt for them,” he said. “I never expected to write anything about it and I’m not a professional paleontologist, but I fell in love with the people and the ranchers in this small county in Montana. I wanted to write about these special people, and combine the characters with my interest in dinosaurs.”
Hickam told WVU students that learning to develop strong, interesting characters is an important element of good writing and they should also be mindful of the marketing component that accompanies a career in writing.
“Marketing is now a major part of writing these days, and you have to learn to market your writing,” he said. “Put your mind on how to get the book out there.”
He suggested young writers create their own Web sites, Facebook pages and scan marketing books for writers to get more ideas.
Kelly Sundberg, an English graduate student who attended Hickam’s guest lecture, found much of his advice useful for her own career.
“He was pragmatic in his advice to us as writers especially about writing query letters in order to freelance for publications,” Sundberg said. “I was also interested in what he had to say about marketing. I think writers don’t like to think about the marketing aspect of publication because it can conflict with their artistic side, but the sad reality is that marketing is an integral aspect of the contemporary publishing world, and he was very honest about that.”
Student Heather Frese also found inspiration from Hickam.
“What I most took away from Hickam’s talk was to be persistent and smart about publishing, and to have faith in your own talent and drive,” Frese said. “I definitely feel that the education I’m receiving in my writing workshops at WVU is helping me to develop and maintain an artistic sensibility that also has the potential to translate into publications.”
For more on Homer Hickam, see http://www.homerhickam.com.
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