Homer Hickam (also known as Homer H. Hickam, Jr.) is the bestselling and award-winning author of many books, including the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Rocket Boys, which was adapted into the popular film October Sky. Today, Homer joins us on LLF to share his love for libraries and more about his upcoming novel, Carrying Albert Home.
During a long book tour that sometimes found me at loose ends during the day in towns and villages across the USA, I discovered the best way to learn about a town was to visit its library and take a gander at its bulletin board. This was usually a rectangle of cork hung off in a remote corner where, amidst notices of yard sales and offers to mow lawns, were also announcements of arts and craft fairs, church services, club meetings, and school events. I would study these, salting away the information, with the idea of talking knowledgably about the town during my book event later in the day. This tended to endear me to my audience which I took as a very good thing, indeed.
Visiting its library also gave me a sense of the overall health of the town. The number of patrons was certainly a clue to the literacy of the population but a palpable sense of excitement inside the library was even better. Libraries that had things going on—adults reading to children, students diligently doing their research, folks reading newspapers and magazines, and whispered requests at the desk for the best of the new books just in (I always hoped it would be one of mine)—meant to me that this was a town on its way up. An empty, dull library invariably meant the town was on its way down and out. My presumptions, based on my library sleuthing, were rarely wrong.
It occurs to me that I scarcely have a book that doesn't include a library scene in it. Certainly, the Coalwood books, of which Rocket Boys is best known, have lots of things happening in school libraries, including whispered assignations and passed notes between boys and girls. In The Dinosaur Hunter, Mike Wire, a detective turned cowboy, confesses to a small town librarian his inability to understand things about certain diabolical events, whereupon the woman slides her glasses down to the tip of her nose and explains everything. Librarians know their towns and the people in them. In Carrying Albert Home, Elsie (my future mom) heads for the library after she takes a job as a nurse, a profession about which she knows very little. Books soon tell her a lot of what she needs to know and, from that acquired foundation, she is able to figure out the rest herself, at least enough to keep her employer fooled. The point is that authors should always consider the local library as a place where things can happen and where certain plots points might be resolved. From my perspective, a visit to the local library by my protagonists also gives me the opportunity to write about some of my favorite people in the world, those fine folks who know more than most of us about everything and carry with them that most exalted title: Librarian.
Note: More on Homer Hickam and his books and his profound (and perfectly understandable) adoration of librarians can be found on www.homerhickam.com
Thanks, Homer! You still have a bit of time to download an egalley of Carrying Albert Home—the emotionally evocative story about a man, a woman, and an alligator—before it goes on sale on October 13th.