Message From The Author
Nancy Herkness Is Inspired By A Real Life SHOWER OF STARS
By Nancy Herkness
"Meteorites for sale! Own a piece of outer space!" the ad read. Being a recovering Star Trek addict, I was tempted to reach for my wallet. Being a writer, I wondered what
sort of person sold space rocks.
I soon discovered the world's foremost supplier of meteorites, Robert Haag—and the occupation of my next hero.
In Rocks From Space, author
O. Richard Norton writes of his first encounter with Haag, "I had been browsing in a Tucson shopping mall when a wild-looking fellow in a silver jumpsuit caught my eye." He had "the look of a rock star and the smile of a television evangelist." When Haag held a meteorite in his hand, "the air was electric…here was a man possessed." Wow! Although I hadn't really been thinking about this as research for a book, the character of Jack Lanett, the hero of Shower of Stars, was coming to life in my mind: charismatic, a showman and utterly passionate about the pieces
of space history he deals in.
Through researching Haag, I extracted the model of a modern meteorite hunter. Instead of combing remote locations alone with a metal detector in hand, Haag enlists whole villages to hunt for him, using a combination of enthusiasm, charm and compensation.
In Namibia, Haag showed the principal of the local school some sample meteorites and offered
a reward to any student who found one of the Gibeon iron meteorites he believed were in the area. "The next thing I knew," Haag relates, "the principal was on an intercom calling all of his students out of their classes, all 400 of them! They formed a single line and each student walked past the rusty iron meteorites, looking at them carefully and handling them." The search soon became a tribal affair, and more than 30 Gibeons were recovered, including one weighing over a ton.
Meteorite hunting seemed tailor-made as a profession for a romantic hero, and Haag was certainly Jack Lanett's inspiration. In fact, one of the obstacles Jack encounters
in selling his meteorite evolved from Haag's experience
in Argentina. He'd spent hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing a multiton iron meteorite from a private land owner, digging it out of the ground and transporting it to a highway, only to be arrested and put in jail for illegally removing
a national treasure. He had been duped, spent a month in custody and lost all his investment. The irrepressible Haag shrugged it off, commenting that the media exposure had been terrific.
In my novel, Jack's meteorite from Mars is also claimed by a foreign country. (Fortunately, his space rock is considerably smaller than the Argentinian iron, and the clever man has already transported it to New York City.)
Although an entrepreneur down to his silver space boots, Haag donated a piece of his most exciting find, a moon rock, to scientists for study. His donation pointed up the potential for friction between private collectors and the scientific community.
This dynamic provides the natural pivotal conflict in Shower of Stars when Jack refuses to cut into his pristine Martian meteorite for study before it is put up for auction.
When it came to the love scenes, I opted not to investigate if Haag had a favorite place for seduction. I was a romance writer and back in my own territory. On a mountaintop while falling stars streak across the sky? I watched the Leonid meteor shower in the light-polluted suburb of New Jersey where I live, lying on my son's sleeping bag with only my dog for company. Even so, it was an extraordinary experience.
Maybe Jack's love locale fantasy was the Hall of Meteorites in the Museum of Natural History in New York City, a dark and fascinating place vibrating with the mysteries of outer space?
When I finished writing Shower of Stars, my husband gave me a stunningly beautiful slice of the Esquel pallasite, a stony-iron meteorite found in Argentina, purchased, of course, from Robert Haag's collection. So my writer's journey had come full circle, and I now owned the piece of outer space that had started the whole process.
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