HUNTINGTON — West Virginia native Homer Hickam, author of “Rocket Boys,” which was adapted into the movie “October Sky,” visited Marshall University on Thursday as part of the Margaret Kathryn Sovine Billups Lecture Series and shared the news that another of his books will soon be adapted for film.
Hickam, who grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia, and is a veteran and former NASA engineer, participated in a Q&A session and book signing that was by invitation only at 4:30 p.m., followed by a lecture at 6 p.m. that was open to the public.
The story of his youth, “Rocket Boys” describes Hickam, Roy Lee Cook, Sherman O’Dell and Quentin Wilson, who in the 1950s were inspired to create and begin launching homemade rockets. In the audience Thursday were two members of “The Drone Boyz,” the three-person team of Jack Shull, 13; Reed Roberts, 13; and Grayson McComas, 11; who were inspired by the Rocket Boys and want to be aerospace engineers.
Hickam told the first, smaller group about where he and the other Rocket Boys ended up going to college, including the late Quentin Wilson, who was a Marshall alumnus, and shared the story of how he blew up his mother’s rose garden fence with his first rocket.
Hickam also discussed his upcoming movie “December Sky,” the sequel to “October Sky,” which came out in 1999 and stars Jake Gyllenhaal.
“December Sky” will be an adaptation of Hickam’s book “The Coalwood Way” and will be based upon a screenplay he wrote in 2022.
Hickam said the film is in the development phase, with a budget and a list of actors he has in mind to approach. He and Kevin Sizemore, an actor and producer for the movie who is from Princeton, West Virginia, have been scouting locations for the film.
Sizemore, who is know for his work on the films “Mine 9” and “A Christmas Tree Miracle,” among other projects, said the team for “December Sky” includes himself, Hickam, and brothers Jeff and Bob Tennell, who are from Fairmont, West Virginia. Bob Tennell will be directing the film and Jeff and Bob Tennell, Sizemore and Hickam will be producers, he said.
“We’re trying to put together a very solid team, so we can bring a film back to West Virginia that belongs in West Virginia and not have to tell the story in another state to make it look like West Virginia,” Sizemore said. “With us having the 31% tax rebate that the (West Virginia Department of Economic Development) Film Department has put together, that’s gonna allow us and many other projects to be able to come to West Virginia and showcase this beautiful state.”
“Coalwood, West Virginia is where the movie takes place,” Sizemore said. “That’s Homer’s hometown of Coalwood, and with all of us being from West Virginia, I think it would just feel so awkward to shoot a movie that is all about our home state that we love and have it shot somewhere else. We want it to be as authentic as we can, and we want to give back to West Virginia. They deserve this movie to be here and to live here so they can put the flag in the ground and say this is a West Virginia movie about a person that’s an iconic figure, like Homer Hickam, in West Virginia.”
Hickam also told the group about his 2016 book “Carrying Albert Home,” which he said is probably the book he enjoyed writing the most.
“Homer Hickam certainly is one of West Virginia’s finest,” said Teresa Eagle, dean of Marshall’s College of Education and Professional Development, which sponsors the lecture series. “I consider him a hero, and I think a lot of people in the room consider him a hero. He has been a wonderful person to bring West Virginia to national notice in a very positive way ... I think people are feeling like they are meeting a little bit of West Virginia history, and I think this will be something that people go out and talk about how much they enjoyed it and how impressive he is.”
Hickam will be visiting Coalwood on Friday. Sizemore will be guest starring in an episode of NCIS on CBS on May 15 at 9 p.m.
Jesten Richardson is a reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on Twitter @JRichardsonHD.