Behind the Scenes with Heinlein for Heroes

Behind the Scenes at The Heinlein Society

Have you ever wondered how it all happens? Here’s a look at how our Heinlein for Heroes (H4H) program works.
By John Seltzer

I’m one of “Heinlein’s Children”. Unlike most Heinleiners, I didn’t discover him until I was 60 years old – a friend gave me a copy of Friday and I read it in two days. Then I read Starship Troopers, and I was hooked. I went to Wikipedia, got a full list of his works, and what I couldn’t find in e-book I bought in paperback. It didn’t take me long to find The Heinlein Society. I joined and became a Director on the Board shortly thereafter. When we discussed starting Heinlein for Heroes, Herb (Gilliland) and I volunteered to head up the program. Herb had the contacts to get ship-to addresses, so I volunteered to box, label, and mail the books. Within a few months, our first shipments were on their way.
Today, I’ve got thousands of books in my garage on rolling carts and shelves, and even more in the attic.
I believe in RAH’s “Pay it forward” philosophy, so I help by sending SF books to the Military. This lets me introduce new readers to Heinlein by providing books to deployed soldiers, soldiers in the VA medical centers, and soldiers’ families back home. The military provides eBooks via Wi-Fi for deployed soldiers, but Wi-Fi isn’t always available. Many bases also have libraries of paperbacks for when eBooks aren’t available and for visiting contractors or for the locals who are studying English. The Society was recently contacted on Facebook by an FAA inspector who saw our books while she was visiting an overseas base! And lastly, we help the people that donate books by providing an avenue for them to do something positive with their old books. We get book donations from many sources.
When the H4H program started, we started by sourcing books from charity stores and went to library sales, church sales, and neighborhood garage sales. As we grew, we needed more books than we could source that way, so we started going to local book stores – Michael’s Books in Bellingham, WA was a fantastic supporter and we bought several thousand books from him while he was in business.We’re fortunate that we also get books donated by publishers like Baen, authors, and society members (and non-members too!). It’s easy to go on ebay, buy books, and ship them to me here in Washington State. More and more folks are starting to do just that.

Donated books come in via USPS almost every week now, boxes with two books or 70 books or any number in between. They don’t sit long, I unpack them right away and put them in the plastic crates you see in the pictures. I try to sort them by author, genre, and size.

When I pack boxes to ship, I try to put one trade paperback or hardcover in the bottom, along with four Heinleins, one Star Trek, one Golden Era author, several fantasies, and several sci-fis – 12-15 books in total. I pack the boxes tightly to prevent damage in shipping. Shipping overseas via diplomatic pouch (as they say) is very hard on packages. I use hot glue between the flaps and expensive re-enforced tape on the flap seams. I build five boxes or so a day – anything more gets too hard on the hands and back. The plastic containers I use for storage weigh 40-50 pounds!

It’s always a joy to get thank-you letters, whether they come by snail mail or email, especially when folks send pictures of them enjoying our books. Sometimes we get special requests for certain titles, which I always try to accommodate – I know I’m sending someone a special surprise. Once, a Sergeant asked us to send Starship Troopers, signed by the Heinlein Society Board of Directors “to his Lieutenant”. I sent her a brand new trade size book. It was really special. I always forward the thank-yous we receive to the Newsletter so folks can see the impact of the program.

I just have to mention the odd things I find between the pages of the books. Once, I found an excellent copy of a Heinlein letter. I searched and searched to find its owner. It took a while, but I finally was able to find her and returned it. It turns out, the letter was a keepsake from her deceased father. She thought she’d lost it forever, but I was able to reunite her with it. I’ve also found about 10 photos from someone’s family vacation (I couldn’t figure out the owners for those, though). I’ve found airline tickets, cancelled checks, credit card slips…some from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s! I’ve also found thank-you cards and get-well cards.

So, that’s what happens behind the scenes! Thank you for your continued support of The Heinlein Society and Heinlein For Heroes. I take a lot of joy in knowing that we’re making a difference in someone’s life every time we send out a box, and I hope you do too.