I was born and raised in Coalwood West Virginia, a small mining town in the middle of the woods. My time there was precious as that's where I my dreams of launching a rocket into space with my friends began. I plan to tell my story in this book to show what it was like growing up in this time as well as having big dreams like my own.
-Homer H. Hickman Jr.
I must credit the childhood I had, in the small town of Coalwood, West Virginia, for somehow shaping me into a NASA engineer. Coalwood is a small mining town, where everyone basically knew everyone, each child for generations learned from the same teachers and most boys grew up to follow in their fathers' paths of being a miner. My story features how, and why, I didn't follow that same path; and how I grew up and gained independence in a town only known for being covered lightly in coal dust. With this memoir of my youth, I hope to not only recollect on my own life, but also on the lives of many others in my small mining town who all taught me some valuable lesson in one way or another.
With chapter one, I felt the need to begin with background information, the history of Coalwood and the history of my family, so readers can practically relive my childhood with me while I write this and they read it.
I wanted to start off my book by introducing important characters, building background and explaining the setting of my hometown. Since this is a memoir, I wanted to get to the part of my life where I started building rockets as soon as possible. What's better than starting of with inspiration, a spark of an idea, that where Sputnik came in. That night Sputnik flew over head, I feat overwhelmed with a sense of importance I can't wait to get my readers hooked.
As I write this memoir, the memories that come flashing back to me are as vivid as ever. Mom's rose garden, her fence being thrown into the sky, my brother doing his hair up in that ridiculous curl. I have not considered my childhood for a very long time, and the memories that do come back are clear, but some are foggy. As I continue to write this novel, I am sure that my life will come back, in better detail.
The Alpha III
I am writing this book in addition to a movie script with the intent of showing the childhood I had and the profound impact of things around me (and above me) had on my childhood.
I used the first chapter as a way to introduce the rest of the story. In a way I almost told the entire story though the first paragraph, with the actual interesting parts having to be explained later. It's almost like an elongated essay, with the first paragraph being the thesis, the first few chapters being the introduction and the rest being the body and conclusion.
I am starting off the book with a little introduction of my early life as a child. I am going to write about how life was in Coalwood and how my family was. I really hope that the reader will be able to understand everything that is going on because there are a lot of charactacters being introduced and very quickly so I hope that the reader can keep up with it. I believe this book is going be really great and that many people are going to want to read it. I really hope it comes out as good as I think it will.
I grew up in a small mining town called Coalwood. When I was younger I found an arrowhead with an engraving on it. This motivated me to get my three friends together and create a new Indian tribe called coalhicens. We would go around with a bow and made up arrows and target the single miners on their way home from work. We were even in the news paper!! I loved that town
Writing out this memoir in addition to writing this book has helped me reflect back on my life and my childhood. I hope through writing both the book and the movie script I will begin to see how the people and interactions changed my life. Both in positive and negative ways. My goal for this book is to show how teenagers lived in the 1950's, and how the time period was different than the one before. The cultural changes and the changes within my own small town of Coalwood.
Today, I finished chapter 2. This chapter is important for a few vital reasons. One of those being that it's my introduction to my high school years, meaning the beginning of the rest of my life. These years are where I started building rockets, and with that, building a future for myself. The specific day that everything changed for me was also introduced in these pages. October 5, 1957, when Sputnik reached space. The Russians beat us at a game we thought we had created and mastered. But for me, in my little hometown, I was finally awakened and I realized what I wanted to do with myself, though I didn't know it right away...
Today I relived my first ever rocket launch. As I wrote about the fateful experiment, I saw my mothers fence flying sky high, a colorful inferno. I remembered the blast that sent us to our feet, and the ringing in my ears that only subsided after I stopped thinking about it. I remember especially the talk my mother gave to me, outlining her dreams for me. In retrospect I can understand why she did that. Why she prized me above Jim, and why she wanted me to prove my father wrong. Once I stop to think about it, it all becomes clear. Maybe this book was a good idea after all.
I felt it only right to start a memoir off with something a little special, giving the audience the whole story right off the bat will induce the perfect amount of mystery and context to make anyone want to keep reading. Then I can add all the details that filled up my four years of life I spent in high school building rockets and forging my own story, with this my memoir will be spectacular.
The Alpha III
I'd like to explain the purpose of my first chapter. I'm using the first chapter as a way to introduce the rest of the story. I started by telling the reader what I learned but not how I learned it and how I applied it to my later life. I've also started alluding to other parts of the story like my mom's perspective on the coal mining industry and later my relationship with my brother.
In the next chapter I plan to introduce a very key part of the story, the launch of Sputnik and my career in amateur rocketry.
I wanted the audience to understand my role in the family and how I was somewhat unwanted. As I mentioned my father preferred Jim and my mother wanted a girl. This was an important part of my childhood because it pushed me to want to be successful, and prove them wrong. This is one reason why I wanted to build a rocket. Although I almost burnt my mothers fence to the ground, I wanted to make a successful rocket and make my father proud.
I have just finished writing about my brother and I. A lot of memories are coming back to me. I remember how we always used to fight with each other and then one time we really damaged each other badly. We tried so hard to make sure the our mom didn't notice. After that we never fought that badly again. I really hope the reader finds the parts about my brother interesting.
Writing this has caused a flood of memories to flow back to me from a time that I have long since grown up from, left behind, and forgotten. With this book I've been able to relive moments from my past. I wanted to include moments like Jim and I fighting to make my book more relatable and more real to readers, instead of just focusing on my path to science and building rockets. Including details about my family members enhances the entire mood and theme of the book. The contrast between the first and second chapters are stark- the first chapter set the basis and background for the entire book, introducing characters and describing Coalwood in detail. The second chapter is where I started to grow and learn following Sputnik. I hope readers noticed this difference and took it into consideration.
Now that I have gotten my childhood out of the way I can finally begin writing about the time I spent in High school. After looking back on my first year of high school all my memories came roaring in, from the time I sat next to Dorthy Plunk to when I launched my first rocket. I plan on reliving my experience in school with both the readers and with myself, each little story should be chosen carefully to fully embrace the reader into my life, and make it as if they are there with me. It is my goal to make this book both relate able and original as possible to make it impossible to put down.
I feel nostalgic when first writing this book. All the memories of my brother, Coalhicans, and flat pennies are coming back to me. Like how i used to put pennies beneath moving coal carts or how the Coalhicans fought against the cowboys. The upcoming part is going to be the time where i started to make rockets and how i became me today.
The Alpha III
I've gotten my introductory first chapter out of the way and now I've just started introducing my love for rocketry. I started by showing the Sputnik flyover and the profound effect it had on not only me but also my father and the other members of coalwood.
Next I'm going to start talking about my introduction to rocketry and my initial mishaps before I finally got a successful rocket.
I have discovered a great literary technique which serves to introduce setting and develop characters: I take the characters on a bus rode, and as they go I have them tell stories about their associations with the places they're passing. I'm new to writing, but I think this technique will be quite successful.
-Homer Hickam, Jr.
I have finally gotten accustomed to writing a book, and now it just seems as though I am writing my past..well...I am really. It is interesting to write about ones past, knowing how many will read it, though I am truly glad and willing to share it. I am also finding new information about myself as I am going along.
I have just finished my second chapter, and I am taking a lot about the roles that the family plays in the town, the roles within the family, and how this affects my family members and me. Talking about the Coal mining Industry, my small town, and the small minds within it. The fear of Russia triggered by Sputnik one.
I am looking forward to continuing this book.
Chapter three is a turning point because it's when I realized how much of a huge supporter my mother was in me. She was so extremely invested in my future, in trying to get me out of the little town that held no opportunities. There's some clear irony here, because I was so convinced I'd get a horrible punishment like usual, but for the first time she saw an opportunity to open up to me and express her feelings. This chapter puts my mother in a more vulnerable light, when she stresses how important it is for her children to have a future. I hope this makes readers wonder why this is so important to her. Perhaps it's because she regrets her life decisions to settle down in a tiny town that held no growth. Perhaps it is because she's watching her husband fall ill and run himself into the ground due to his job? These conflicts, the internal one inside of my mother, and then one between my mother and father, were very influential and important to me.
The Alpha III
I have just introduced the announcement of Sputnik's launch and eventual flyover to the reader and shown Sonny's confusion that football still takes precedence over such a concerning and revolutionary feat. I'm still perplexed to this day that football players can go out and play while in full padding and come back as national heroes. What about hitting each other in padding is heroic? Surely the scientists that build rockets and advance humanity can be regarded as heroes.
I have just finished writing about when my friends, neighbors, and I watched Sputnik fly across the sky. I remember it being the most marvelous thing in the world. That was the day when my passion for building rocket came. It truly was a magnificent sight and I hope that my readers will be able to understand just how great it was. I don't think that it had the same impact on all my friends as it did on me. After that day I couldn't stop thinking about rockets.
I am excited about the way this book is turning out. Though I have only written the first three chapters, I have a clear start that conveys the style of a memoir and establishes the town and the characters. I plan to outline, in detail, the building of the rocket. These reflections make me miss that time, stressful as it was, because it was a time of change. Technology was improving so quickly, I only wish I could go back. This is the closest I can get.
Homer Hickam, Jr.
The Alpha III
Now that I've completed the part in my novel about Sputnik's launch and its flyover, I will now show my introduction to amateur rocketry. I will outline my initial attempts and their failures and eventually i'll describe my first successful launch and the feelings I received from it.
I will also expand on my father's view of me as opposed to my brother as well as my mother's perspective on the two of us.
The book is really starting to come together. I am only in the very beginning of the book, but I think that it starting off very well. I just wrote about how my friends and I built our rocket and how it destroyed my mom's rose garden fence. I will never forget that moment. Watching it as it shot up and hearing the loud sound it made as it did so. Writing this book has really brought back some of my memories that I didn't think I still remembered.
I am quite excited about this book because it is about my past and rockets, two of the things that matter most to me. I am feeling nervous because I have never written anything quite like this before, however, it should be exciting to write out the script and see the movie come together. How weird it will be to see a child play the part of me as a child! Sometimes those days seem like the good old days, despite all their troubles, because you only get to be a kid once. This book has served as a time travel machine for me already.
I revealed how 10th grade felt. How early I have to wake up for the bus and be see people asleep. Hearing about the Dugout or Little Daytona from Roy Lee. He always tells me how much fun you can have at those places and that one of the janitors is the DJ for the Dugout. I was jealous of Roy had a car before I did.
I am very excited about my new book because it shows how I became a NASA engineer and how I fell in love with building rockets! I only have a few chapters written but I think this will be my best book yet!
The Alpha III
In the coming chapters I will show my first experiences in rocketry as well as my first experience with girls in high school. I'm nearing the end of the introduction part of my book and I will soon start elaborating more on each sub-plot and topic.
Currently my novel is shaping up to really be a success, I look forward to seeing what direction it takes me.
The Alpha III
In these chapters I wanted to introduce the central plotline of the book which is the launch of Sputnik and the space race, and I've also begun to introduce the other subplots like my newfound love for girls, my father's lack of interest in me, and the peculiarities of my mom wanting to leave coaltown.
In the coming chapters I will elaborate on these subplots and introduce my career in amateur rocketry.
Chapter four introduces a lot of new things to the reader. This includes the character Pooky Suggs, an example of how the mines can tear apart families and leave remaining members hurt and full of rage. My father's story is also elaborated on, how far he went to try to please Jim with the Football Fathers court case for getting disqualified for the championships, and how he supported Jim in the parade but didn't even look at me. My mother is a solid rock, a voice of reason to my father, even though he never takes the advice, and a voice of encouragement to my young self. I also bring about my father's health condition with his lungs, showing again the damage mines have on people, with their health and with their families. Lastly, I touch base on the U.S.'s failure to launch Vanguard into space and foreshadow a new character, Quentin.
I have just written about when my mom talked to me after we launched our rocket. I think that the talk we had that day really inspired me and made me who I am today. I remember her telling me about how I could prove my dad wrong and that I would become something better than just a clerk at the mine. That day completely changed my life and I am glad that I have the chance to write this book to tell everyone my story.
I've decided to use my actual name as well as the actual names of most of the important characters in the book but I'm also going to take a few liberties and make the book more enjoyable by streamlining a few characters into one person or by making slight changes to the sequence of the events. I will make sure to keep to the truth but also make the story flow really nicely.
I really want everyone to know that I had a lot of help from my former classmates at Big Creek High School. One, in particular, who was a huge help to me was Emily Sue Buckberry. Not only did she help me remember things, she also boosted my morale throughout this process. I am so grateful to these friends of the past and of my future.
One of the things that really struck me as I was writing Chapter 1 was how unusual it must seem to the reader that I'm talking about "colored" camps. That was something that young people today must find hard to believe. Discrimination was a part of my everyday life back then but it wasn't part of my heart.
Chapter five introduced a very important new character- Quentin. He was strange, an outcast, a weirdo. He knew more than probably the entire people in my grade at Big Creek. That's why he proved to me, when I was young, that he was a valuable parter. I was expecting to find a weirdo like the stereotype they had created for him, but he taught me the important lesson that everything, even failures, hold knowledge that can further your success. He becomes a very vital teammate in my rocket building journey.
Earlier this month the great race to send a rocket into space had begun! It was between America and Russia! Who would take the title as the first country to send a rocket into space? Although unfortunate for America, Russia took the title. It just so happened to be that the rocket would being flying over my town during its trip. When the day came and I watched the rocket sour through the sky, I knew I had to make one. Me and my friend began so make a small rocket prototype. And I'll tell you what, it definitely did bot work. In fact, during being launched, it caught the fence on fire! Even tough this time was not a success, Building a rocket made me feel like I finally had a purpose in life.
The Alpha III
I've now described two very important events in my story, the launch of my first rocket and my mom's reaction to it. I say these are important because most of the remaining story revolves around them. My future model rockets are the core of the story with mom being the most interesting side plot. She'll stay optimistic about me and my career in rocketry and she'll work to drive my father to support me after I find success in rocketry.
In the coming chapters I will focus on other sub plots such as my newfound love and my relationship with Jim.
Within chapters 4-6, serious progress has been made, both with the rocket making and with Sonny's relationships. Throughout the process of making rockets, Quentin has become somebody Sonny relies on, even if he doesn't know it, or maybe doesn't want to accept it. Dorothy has also become a key person in Sonny's life. Around her he tries to hide who he is, and goes along with whatever Dorothy says. I will use this dynamic to show readers how Sonny will learn to accept himself. Homer is also beginning to interfere with Sonny's life. He serves as the antagonist, and it's interesting to see an antagonist within Sonny's own family. Within the forthcoming chapters I will try to serve Sonny with the decision of facing his father and keep building rockets, or give in to the challenges presented to him.
I have just written about the time when Jim and his football team weren't allowed to play one of the games. This part in the book was made to really show the reader how important football was for Jim and my dad. They valued it more than anything else in the world. They even took the thing to court just so they could get justice. I remember back then when I didn't understand what the big deal was. To me it was just a sport, but to them it was a way of living.
The Alpha III
I've begun to expand on the story a little bit more with the start of my Auk series of rockets and the BCMA. With this also comes my father's reaction to our rockets. At this point in the story he doesn't think there's any value to my rockets and that I'm just wasting my time, but he'll slowly change over the course of the book.
I've also started developing the story of me and Dorothy, and my reaction to merely being her friend.
I have just written about the argument Mr Dubonnet and my dad had one night. This was a very significant day in my life. Not because of their argument, but because of what happened afterwards. I wrote about later that night when my parents were talking and dad said that he had a spot in his lungs. I really hope that the reader can understand how I felt when I heard that. I really was shocked because I never thought my dad could get sick. I always thought he was tougher than everyone else.
I wanted to add the part about how Jims football team wasn't able to play in the playoffs, because I wanted to make it clear that Jim was Homers priority. Homer was so mad that they couldn't play, that he sued. I thought my father would be proud when I wanted to build a rocket, but he was angry. I really wanted the readers to see that he only cared about Jim. If my rockets failed, I am sure that he would not care as much to the point where he would sue someone.
The Alpha III
In these chapters I've begun to elaborate on the relationship between Elsie and Homer Sr. Elsie wants to leave coaltown and in a way she is regretting coming here in the first place. Homer generally wants to stay here because it's the only place he'll earn enough money to send his two sons to college. After all, he only has a high school education.
These chapters also marked the start of my Auk series of rockets. The next chapters will show the progression of these rockets as we experiment with different materials and designs as well as Homer's reaction to these progressions.
Before I started to write this book I knew I wanted to give the readers an idea of what life in the 50s was like, in many aspects. I wanted them to know current events, general life, life of a teenagers, mining family life style, etc. Life in the 50s was so different then life now. People had just began to discover space science and all its possibilities, and I/Sonny wanted to be apart of that. The only thing getting in his way was tradition. It was a life long tradition to go into the mining industry. But how long would mining really last? Somebody had to make a change and it all started with the discovery of space science.
In the beginning of my book I felt like I didn't really have any support and that I was such an outcast. My father thought I was failing because I wasn't choosing the path/future he wants. Then after my first rocket was a fail, and the fence burned down, I realized that I wasn't truly alone. My mother actually had my back and supported what I was doing. She believed in me. It was really nice to see that someone actually believed in me. That was actually a great message to anybody. Anyone who thinks that they are alone and that no-one believes in them should know that they really aren't alone, there is some one out there who believes in you
I am currently writing about the rocket club we made when we were young. It was such a crazy thing for us to be doing and dangerous too. We got really close to having some really bad disasters. We were taking a big risk by launching those rockets, but we didn't think that much about it back then. We were so into the idea of building a rocket that we never really thought much about what could happen if we messed up.
The latest chapters I've been writing have really shown readers the extreme differences my parents had. Chapter 7, where my father forbids me from continuing the BCMA and creating and launching rockets, also features my mother doing everything in her power to convince my father to let me continue rocket building. I realize now, looking back, how many other people I relied on for my own dream to come true. Mr. Bykovski risked his job for me, then there was my mom, the Great Six, and many others. Even though Coalwood was exactly what I was trying to escape, without it I wouldn't have gotten out.
The Alpha III
In these chapters I've begun to explain that Mom wants both me and Jim to leave coaltown, using college as our gateway. She's relieved to find that I have something that I'm good at that can get me into college and prove to my father that I can do better than clerking in the mine.
I've also begun to elaborate on the successes, failures and resulting improvements from our rocket tests. I remember we were particularly interested in the rocket fuel mixture.
Today I write about probably one of the most influential experiences of my life, the day we were finally free to create and test our rockets without worrying about causing any trouble. I want to make the reader feel the happiness and joy I felt at that moment and have them relive it as just did writing it.
The Alpha III
In the upcoming chapters I will describe a change of heart that my father had with me as well as some of the changes that this brought on with the relationship between us.
Throughout the writing, I have found myself looking deeper into my past failures and accomplishments. I recall small things that at the time were so great. Such as the fight I had with my brother and our bikes. Even how I and my friends had destroyed my mother's beloved fence. Everything is now is such detail that I haven't thought of in years and I love the feeling.
Through chapter 11-13, I have shown the major dynamic and social changes that have happened to the characters within the book. First off, the social changes within the high school have made the Rocket Boys gain confidence and overall happiness. This totally switches what first occurred with the football boys being popular. Sonny and Homer have also grown a positive, but slow, relationship. When Homer started taking it easy on Sonny and tried to understand where he was coming from. I am planning on expanding this relationship, or possibly having Elsie interfere. I have played on the idea that Elsie almost doesn't approve of this sudden positivity, or just doesn't trust Homer. I also plan that within the forthcoming chapters for there to be extreme progress for the rockets, possibly even a solid prototype.
Through the chapters 11-13, I have shown some huge changes for the characters, concerning their relationships with one another. First off, the changes within the high school, due to the football suspension, made our Rocket Boys group gain confidence and a higher social standing, which we took advantage of, especially my younger self, to expand our social circles. It's almost a complete opposite of what the chapters before consisted of. My younger self and my dad, Homer, have also grown a positive relationship, but it is moving very slowly, and sometimes it felt as if for every two steps forward, one step was taken back. My dad had started to accept my rockets, but was then disappointed when I told him I didn't want to be a mining engineer, which put a dent in our already feeble relationship. There's also Elsie, who didn't want her husband to draw me into the mines, and make me give up on my dreams. This was a huge conflict that has only grown through the book.
As we get through to about the middle of the book, I want to display the idea of change and difference. I wanted to show everyone that it is hard to be different, because of everyones expectations to be a carbon copy of the environment in Coalwood- which is to be either very athletic, or a miner. Sonny doesn't have any interest towards any of those things. Sonny's main thoughts are to build a rocket, and make a difference in the town, or at least break through the rough walls of Coalwood. Although, earlier in the book, it was harder to be different because of everyone that prefers tradition over change.
At this point in the book, I wanted to write about Sonny and his rocket friends earning more popularity and happiness from his peers at school, because of the football suspension. I wanted to show that because of his uniqueness, he is more determined to make a difference at this town.
In the latest chapters of the book people are their opinions are changing. The rocket boys are expeiriencing a sudden up look in the high school. Ever since the sudden positivety in the high school, the rocket boys have become so much more confident and determined. In the beginning of the book, the football team was the star of the show, and now the tables have turned and the rocket boys have become a popular topic of conversation. Everyone around town is experiencing a change in the area of tradition and current events. People were always so used to getting excited when they saw the local foot ball team, and now they have a sudden curiosity in the daily life of the rocket boys.
The Alpha III
These chapters marked the transition of my father from having no interest and actively hating our rockets to finally tolerating them. I've also hinted at him providing materials to us, and i've yet to decide whether or not to elaborate on this.
I've also introduced more girls in the story with my newfound success in rocketry, no longer was I the boy that blew up the fence.
The Alpha III
I have made the relationship between me and my father more intense in these past few chapters so that a reader knows how my father felt on my interest and how we shared this. This chapter reminds me a lot on how I had a rough relationship with my dad and how we both wanted improvements in it for a general good cause.
The main idea was how we both understood each other to form a bond stronger than that of an ionic one
In these chapters represent the battle between Sonny, Homer and Elsie. While Sonnies trying to have a good relationship with both of his parents, it almost seems like Homer and Elsie are competing to have a better relationship with Sonny. For example when Homer took Sonny to the mines, Elsie got extremely upset. But why? Why was it such a big deal for Sonny and Homer to have some quality bonding time?
Chapter 14 connected what was happening in the real space race with us Rocket Boys' own space race in Coalwood. As Russia launched Luna 1 and Dr. von Braun was working feverishly to get America up to Russia's standards, us boys were working too, to make more discoveries, teach ourselves more, find a way to get our rockets launched further and higher just like the big guns were. It restated a huge theme throughout the book, the conflict with my parents because of the mine. After the earthquake and exploded pillar, my dad wanted to go down into the mines with the rescue team, even though he wasn't obligated to. This was after he had opened up to me and revealed how much he loved the mines, so I could sort of understand him. Still, it jeopardized his health, his life. It made my mom worry, even more than usual. Chapter 15 showed how well known us Rocket Boys had become, although this was not a good thing in this situation, more well known. The state troopers, from the West Virginia State Police, had thought we caused a huge fire on Davy mountain. I remember the fear I felt when they said my friends and I were under arrest. Luckily we proved we weren't guilty, but it symbolizes how everyone knew what us Rocket Boys were up to.
Through these past chapters, the big idea surrounding it was the relationship between Sonny and Homer, and how much it has changed. Homers actions, although positive, have still created conflict for other characters. Elsie is very confused and suspicious of Homers sudden change, and worried about what it will do to her and Sonny's relationship. Sonny and Elsie had always had a strong relationship due to the fact that they were both different, but the realization that Homer and Sonny could be similar is a scary thought for her. Sonny is also conflicted as to why Homer has changed, but has also appreciated it, because Sonny's main priority is always on the rockets. Seeing the mines created an unknown bond between the two that definitely wasn't their before. Homer being vulnerable to Sonny is totally foreign territory, and I am planning to expand the idea.
The Alpha III
In this chapter I introduced the second major development in the relationship between Homer and Sonny and also Elsie and Homer.
I still remember how interesting it was to learn about what my father wanted me to do, and the sudden change in his attitude towards me.
The relationship between Elsie and Homer will never heal again though, as Homer will be stubborn in wanting me to go to the mine and Elsie will refuse with all her might.
The Alpha III
In the coming chapters tensions between Homer and Elsie will still be strained, where even the slightest change can set them over the edge.
I'll also begin to reintroduce Jim into the story with some tensions in between him and myself that will escalate. Especially since Jim doesn't have any football to distract himself with.
I'll also begin to show some of Homer Sr.'s history as a way to explain why he is the way he is as an older man.
I'm taking my son, Sonny, to the mine today. Hopefully this will make him see how much I care about him. I'm only trying to force him to be a mining engineer because I want him to be successful in life, and this is the only thing that I know he could be successful at for certain. One of the only ways I know how to bond with my son is to introduce him to something I love, so maybe we can have something in common.
In these coming chapters there is going to be a lot of tension between Elsie and Homer. I'm really excited to see how the readers react to how bad Elsie and Homers relationship is going to get... You think it's bad now? Just wait for it. Imagine that Homer takes Sonny to the coal mine and what Elsie would think. Yikes!
When I look back on my childhood, I realize that it was slip into two sections. As I like to say the part before October 5 1957, and the part after. Before that date, I had no idea what to do with my life, and I was just a average teenager. But after the Sputnik was launched, I decided I wanted something more out life. I wanted to build rockets, and to work for Dr. Wernher Von Braun. Trying to get there tuaght me many things, some of them about my parents, some of them about my friends, and some of them about math and science. It helped me understand the laws of physics, and got me to teach myself calculus.
I'm quite impressed with the way this book is shaping up. It's really quite fun to think about all these things again, especially with the pleasure of knowing some things about the plot my reader doesn't. I have introduced some mysterious hints about Geneva but portrayed her as a good person. I wonder what ever happened to her, anyway?
It's interesting to look back on my past, and remember how much I didn't know, how much I still had to learn. Recalling my entire high school life has brought back memories that I haven't thought of in years. My first kiss, my near death experience in the snowy mountains, Geneva Eggers, and my calculus class that I worked so hard for, but didn't get in to. That was a bittersweet moment, knowing Dorothy got in instead of me. But, it proved to me that I wanted to learn bad enough that I focused on teaching myself with dad's book. I hope it's interesting for readers to watch my younger self grow up, and experience the typical high school part of my life, along with my rocketry.
I just told the most exciting part of my story, the part about the pillar explosion. This brought back memories of Mr. Bykovski, bringing tears to my eyes. I hope my reader feels some sympathy for Sonny, for he is no longer me but a character who I understand better than I ever understood myself.
I can't wait to see the story play out on screen!
In chapter 16, I elaborate on my father and I's relationship. We talk about calculus, more on why I didn't need calculus for my frivolous rockets. I remember so clearly how much I wanted him at Cape Coalwood, for him to see my accomplishments and progress. I just wanted his approval, as I always did throughout my childhood and later adolescence. I also talk about the conflicts with our rockets and between us boys, with Quentin wanting to take a more scientific approach than me, whereas I wanted to hurry along with the process. It shows how we were becoming more independent, even of one another.
I have added a lot of tension in this last section. I hope the reader sees Elsie's anger that no one listens to her. I also want to convey Sonny's anger at Homer's apathy, and everyone's anger at Coalwood.
I have used the pillar explosion as a metaphor: When too much tension builds up, the things (pillars) that hold the institution together collapse and cause huge reactions. Not bad for a new writer, eh?
I'm off to write the next few chapters.
I just told one of the most exciting, yet sad, parts of my memoir. This is the mine explosion, from the lightning storm. I remember that whole night so clearly, being so caught up in Dorothy and Valentine and myself, when men back in my town were hurting. Not like I could do anything, anyways, but it's still a painful memory. Thinking of MR. Bykovski brings tears to my eyes. He was such a good man, sometimes more of a father to me than my own real dad. I still blame myself, somewhat, for him being in the mines that night. Also, my reprimanding by Mom and Doc reminded me of how young I was, how immature and childish I could act.
The Alpha III
The upcoming part of my life was a particularly tense part between everyone.
I'm trying to find a relationship with Dorothy while managing my rockets and my relationship with my Dad. Elsie will juggle her relationship with me and her relationship with Homer Sr. Homer will find conflict in the mine when disaster strikes and this will provide Elsie with further reasoning to be against the mine and Jim will start to play a larger role.
I have finished chapter 14 in my book Rocket Boys and it had brought back the earthquake that I thought crushed Homer Sr. I remember that night like it just happened yesterday. But the moment that I most liked was the morning after the earthquake when I learned my father was still alive. Even though I remembered that Homer Sr. said the mines were designed to be earthquake proof I couldn't help but think they had failed somehow and crushed Homer Sr. to death.
I've been writing about what happened to my family and myself after the explosion. We all changed, individually and as a whole. We rarely spoke to one another, Jim and I hid in our rooms, Dad hid in the mines despite just healing from his injury, and Mom sat in an empty house. I remember the awkward sort of truce my parents created; this being that they almost never spoke to one another. The black phones were quietly reattached to the walls, things went back to normal, except no one really knew what was happening with one another. Dinners were eaten separately, Jim and I ate in our rooms, Mom ate alone in the kitchen, and Dad ate long after we had all gone to bed, when he came home from work. I remember the empty feeling I had those weeks, losing interest in rockets, losing my dedication to my grades. I remember adults tried to coax me out of this haze I was in, Mr. Ferro, Mr. Dubonnnet, Ms. Riley, but nothing really woke me up until Mrs. Bykovski said her last words to me, before leaving Coalwood forever. She told me Ike would have been happy, if I kept firing off my rockets.
The Alpha III
These chapters have been an eventful few. Mainly my family was crushed after the incident in the mine. Mom saw it as reasoning for why Homer shouldn't work in the mine anymore and especially why I shouldn't. Although the mine had already damaged him in his lungs, Homer could literally see the mines damage this time. At this point I had also just had my first true experience with a girl, something I'll remember for the rest my life.
I've currently been writing recently about the developments that I was having at that time in my life. Readers will start to see me becoming more arrogant. This is shown when I reprimand my fellow BCMA because I didn't want to explain why we were changing the fuel. Thinking I was better, smarter, than them, was one of my hugest mistakes. They were my best friends, and I acted like an authoritative figure to them. This parallels with what my mom had said to me just shortly before, that I was selfish. There was definitely a conflict going on, me being conceited, and me worrying about being selfish like my mom said.
The Alpha III
In these chapters I wanted the reader to understand that changes that occurred to me after Ike's death in the mine. I felt, contrary to my father, that it was my fault Ike died, that I sent him to the depths of the mine. When in actuality he was the one that chose to help me build my rockets.
After these feelings I changed to becoming more arrogant and aggressive because I felt that I needed to be strong in order to find success in coaltown.
As I'm writing this, I get to look back on the adventure I had with my friends camping and digging up all that cast iron. Reflecting on it now, it sure doesn't sound that fun, but I was having a good time. I can still remember the pain of that cut on my hand and I actually have a scar to this day. What strikes me most importantly as I think about that event is how I wanted to be just like Dad by not taking any pain killers from Doc. Even though, after Doc started stitching, I regretted it. I hope this shows readers that even though dad and I were so different, I still always admired him and his strength. And I wanted to be as strong as he was.
Within these last couple of chapters a lot happened to the characters, both positive and negative. I thought it was a good change in setting for the Rocket Boys to go to The Dugout and get away from everything they had been doing. The Dugout shows a lot about what the time period was like for teenagers and I think it will be interesting for readers to see. A minor conflict that occurred was when Sonny saw Jim and Dorothy together. There wasn't any physical conflict or really talking of any kind. It was all Sonny in his own head, battling this fight that he has been dealing with for so long. His perfect brother, still gets the girl of Sonnys dreams. How is that fair? Even after everything Sonny has accomplished. It will be a major turning point for Sonny mentally, especially with Valentine. The last major conflict was The Bump. This was a turning point for the entire town really. It was a wake up call on what could happen if something were to truly close down the mines, and how that would affect their individual lives.
The Alpha III
In these chapters I've begun to outline some of my personal traits. When I was younger I allowed the success of our rockets and all the attention to get to me, I became arrogant and selfish. I was brought face to face with this when there was the bump in the mine and I realized how selfish I had become. Unfortunately I thought the solution to this was to become stronger and more aggressive. Which resulted in me sounding like a complete jerk and getting pushed over.
The Alpha III
In the next chapters I will introduce a major turning point in the story. Mom will announce the true meaning of her endless painting of the sea. It is the location of a house that she's bought using money from the stock market.
This will finally solidify her position on the mine and leaving as soon as possible. This money will also be used to send me to college, meaning I can follow my dream of becoming a rocket engineer. These chapters will also mark a higher, happier note after the bump in the mine and Ike's death.
In the last couple of chapters a lot has changed. The Bump served as one of the climaxes of the story because after it, none of the characters were the same. Sonny was faced with a personal decision of whether or not to continue with his rockets. He obviously had faced a lot of challenges surrounding them and The Bump became a turning point for him. It seemed as if the decision to give up and go with Homers plan was the easy and/or right thing to do. But he chose his rockets, and Sonny knew this wasn't going to be the easy road, which is why he went in with a lot of motivation. My plans for future chapters is to have the Science Fair become the overall goal and for the rocket boys to work towards that. There obviously will be conflict surrounding Homer and Sonny being very lonely. I also think Sonnys love life will start to progress.
I have just relived one of my worst emotional struggles in order to write it down in my book. It was the time during which my whole world was turned upside down and I learned resilience. I believed that I had caused the death of a man who had been like a father to me, more of a father than Dad anyway. I had also lost Dorothy to my brother Jim. I had to move past my own struggles with myself in order to continue building rockets to help secure the Rocket Boys places at Cape Canaveral and to avoid pushing away my only friends.
The Alpha III
I have now begun the transition to a happier point in the book. Though I learned that Ms. Riley was diagnosed with cancer, it led me to compete in the science fair and eventually progress into nationals. Mom also announces that she saved up money to buy a house, college and retirement. Practically guaranteeing me a college education and a nice life for mom.
The next chapters will detail the county science fair and my preparation for the national science fair.
I've been gradually elaborating on my father and I's relationship in chapter 21. This is shown by my dad defending me, fighting for me to keep Cape Coalwood in his quiet, unexpected way. That's how he always was, saying one thing and then quietly doing another. The actions were always more important than the words. This, paired with his supply of materials and Cape Coalwood in the first place, show how much he cared in his own strange way. However, our communication was still challenged. I remember Dad once telling me I could run Coalwood completely once I come back from college, and I retorted that not even wild horses could bring me back to Coalwood after college. I realized right away how painful those words were to him, and I still regret saying things like those to this day. I was struggling with myself, one half of me seeking his approval after my childhood consisted of a very distant and closed-off father, while the other half of me wanted to be independent, to be down in Cape Canaveral with Wernher von Braun, the one thing my father wanted the least. This was very hard for me to handle at such a young age.
The Alpha III
These chapters were the start of my adventure into the fascinating world of science fairs. I just won the county science fair and I will progress onto state finals and eventually nationals. I'll have some setbacks along the way like some issues with the union protests and strikes but ultimately I'll come out on top.
My father is also now becoming more receptive of my accomplishments and in his own way, more encouraging
These chapters hold a few very important parts of my life in those months of my senior year. First, when my mom announced her secret plan to buy a house in Myrtle Beach and move there- with our without my father, as soon as I went to college, was a huge surprise to my father and I. I couldn't even fathom or believe it, that my mother had saved up money all these years just for this- to escape to the fantasy she had been forever painting. I'm sure my father felt the same way, while also feeling worried about what the town would think. Another important thing happening at this time in my life was the strikes happening in the mining company, and how they were still connected to me, through my father and through the boys who had fathers in the company as well. It brings back memories of being bullied when I was younger, just because of my dad's job. Though, the tides had turned this time for me. Boys who had once beaten me up were now asking me to put in a good word for them when I went down to Cape Canaveral eventually. That's right- they wanted me to help them get a job! Oh, how my rockets brought me popularity, respect, and recognition that I had never imagined. Last but not least, the science fairs I took part in were a huge part of my life. They were a symbol for what all us boys had accomplished, a sign that we had made it.
Writing these past few chapters has helped me to reflect on my father, and how he acted back then. I think he was in more of a tough spot than I ever recognized as a boy. Mining was all he knew; he couldn't have made a life change. But the Hickam in him made him rise; he felt he had to be on top. I don't think he knew what to do with all that power. He was a stubborn man, and couldn't give in to the unions without hurting his pride.
He was good, though. What would have happened to us if he had been shot that day, in the living room?
-Homer Hickam, Jr.
Recently I've written about my dad almost getting shot one day, in our own house. And of course, I can't help but reflect on this moment now that I've written about it. At the time, I remember being furious about that situation for multiple reasons. One, that Dad had almost gotten shot in the head! Had he just sitting been a foot or two higher, it would have hit him. Secondly, I was upset at how calm Mom and Dad were. They concluded it was probably Pooky, and that was it. They talked more about how to fix the window and the wall than anything else. Being young, I didn't realize at the time that Mom and Dad, but especially Dad, were under incredible scrutiny almost all of the time. That's the consequence of having a high position in the mines- every time something happened that didn't please the miners, Dad got the brunt of their anger. Today, it makes me admire both of them, but especially Dad, for staying calm in such a scary situation. Father sure was a good businessman, but a man of the people? Not always...
The Alpha III
In these chapters I've focused more on the experiences I've had in the science fairs, including the thrill of winning the county and state fairs and the necessary annoyance of buying a suit. I couldn't believe it when I won the county fair and I was amazed that I would be the first Coalwoodian to do anything academically successful. There were some instances sprinkled in between though that weren't as happy, like the death of my cat and the pop gun assassin that almost shot my Dad. I'll explore these topics later in the book but I will most certainly focus more on the national science fair.
The Alpha III
In this chapter I focused solely on my experience with the National Science Fair. I remember so many things about it, it was such a whirlwind of emotions too.
I remember arriving and seeing all the other exhibits that clearly had huge amounts of money put in, and a level of polish that I can't even fathom. The only other rocket exhibit however was made by tex. He clearly hadn't done the same level of research I had though his work can't be discounted. I also remember the sheer panic I felt when I learned my rocket nozzles and casings were stolen. Who would want to steal my parts‽ Thank god for my mother somehow finding replacement parts in less than a day. I don't know what I would've done without her.
The Alpha III
Now that I've returned a hero from the National Science Fair, I've come to understand how I got the replacement parts. I inadvertently ended the strike, allowing Mr. Caton to build them. Unfortunately this means my father will be staying in Coaltown as the mine superintendent for much longer, so he won't be able to join Elsie in myrtle beach. He'll find his way out soon enough and he can finally retire.
The Alpha III
I've reached the end of my memoir, I just graduated and returned to Cape Coalwood one last time for a final hurrah. It was a big deal for Coalwood to see someone represent themselves on the national stage for something other than coal. I proved that a West-Virginian mining town could do more than just football.
I remember that this final hurrah for the BCMA attracted the largest crowd I'd ever seen. Cars were parked for miles at the entrance to cape coalwood. I finally realized just how important what we'd done was to Coaltown and West Virginia.
I've ended my memior, and with that, I've finally closed a chapter of my early life that I had reopened when I started writing this book. My last chapters include my win at the National Science Fair, which turned me into a sort of symbol to Coalwood, a symbol that our little town was capable of more than anyone thought. My dad had to sign the rest of his life away, practically, by agreeing to continue working in the mines for the sake of me. The BCMA had their last rocket launch, I final hurrah, which hundreds of people came to Coalwood to witness. My dad showed up, and the olive branch between us was extended, as he lit the fuse on the BCMA's last rocket.
The Rocket Boys have since dispersed, to college or to the Air Force, then later settling down with jobs scattered around the country. My mom went to Myrtle Beach alone, her painting accurately representing this. Dad joined her much later, almost already a corpse. He died far away from his beloved mines, even though they were what killed him. I have always wondered why his death never really affected me, but it almost seems suitable for our relationship. Miss Riley, my beloved teacher, died at only 32 years old. Sherman, only 26, died from a heart attack. Dorothy married someone else, had kids with someone else, and we have only seen each other again at the big Creek High reunion. All of these people shaped me, into the NASA engineer I have become. Right before my retirement, the Columbia launched. In it, one of my science fair medals and a De Laval nozzle from one of our rockets that my dad had saved. In this way, thanks to Dad, the BCMA did go to space.
The Alpha III
I remember that after I returned from the Science Fair I graduated then all of the BCMA came together for one final launch.
This launch is particularly important to me because it was the first launch Homer attended. He had never seen any of my other launches before so it was a great honor to see him finally come out.
I even let him launch the last rocket. The smile he had on his face afterwards was priceless. The cold war between us had finally ended.
After dad's death, I inherited his books from the shelf in our old house that I once wasn't allowed to touch or read. I was surprised to find a few of these included poetry. I never imagined that he was the kind of guy that liked poetry, but then again, I didn't really know much about him outside of his rough exterior. Many of these poems were covered in the black dust of coal, so I suspect they were taken in with him to the mines. This tells me there's more to him than I, or anyone, knew. He circled only one, comparing the empty train carts to empty dreams. I'm sure he could have related to this; I have to think that when he was my age he had dreams bigger than working underground day after day, but who knows. Now, I'll never be able to ask him..
The Alpha III
Now that I finished the story part of Rocket Boys, I wrote a short epilogue describing what happened to the other main characters like the members of the BCMA, Dorothy and my father.
Most ended up doing what they wanted ot in life, with Dorothy finding a good husband, and most of the BMCA finding good work and a college education.
My father unfortunately eventually succumbed to his black lung. I feel bad about it, but there's something strangely comforting about his death. Almost like our relationship finally came full circle.
The Alpha III
This part of the epilogue focused on the end of Homer Sr.
As soon as he learned the mine was to be shut down, he lost the will to live.
Within a few days he died with only Elsie at his side. He stubbornly refused all medical help, allowing him to die when he was meant to.
This meant the end of a fruitless battle between father and son. The end of a war with no fighting.