Exclusive Interview with Heather Kaczynski, YA Sci-Fi Author of Dare Mighty Things!

Hi guys! Today is the last full week of school for me, which is awesome! It’s also mid-terms week for me in two subjects, AP US History and AP English Language, so I’ll be focusing a lot on studying for them. What’s great for me is that I’m doing with most of my concerts, so my entire schedule is slowly easing up to where I can take a good breather on a weekday. You know what that means? More time to read (which I haven’t gotten enough of these past two weeks) and more time to blog! Today I have for you a special interview


About the BookDare Mighty Things

THE RULES ARE SIMPLE: You must be gifted. You must be younger than twenty-five. You must be willing to accept the dangers that you will face if you win.

Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Gupta’s entire life has been leading up to this—the opportunity to travel to space. But to secure a spot on this classified mission, she must first compete against the best and brightest people on the planet. People who are as determined as she to win a place on a journey to the farthest reaches of the universe.

Cassie is ready for the toll that the competition will take; the rigorous mental and physical tests designed to push her to the brink of her endurance. But nothing could have prepared her for the bonds she would form with the very people she hopes to beat. Or that with each passing day it would be more and more difficult to ignore the feeling that the true objective of the mission is being kept from her.

As the days until the launch tick down and the stakes rise higher than ever before, only one thing is clear to Cassie: she’ll never back down . . . even if it costs her everything.

Goodreads


Heather Kaczynski Interview

1. Your debut YA sci-fi novel Dare Mighty Things (which I loved so much) released earlier in October from HarperTeen, and it follows Cassandra Gupta as she contends against the smartest and strongest young adults in the one of the most rigorous competitions to become the youngest astronaut on one of NASA’s classified missions. If you had the credentials and met the requirements to compete in this contest, would you join? What do you think would be your chances of winning, and who would become your allies and enemies?

I honestly don’t think I would! I like it here on Earth, where everything is safe and green and is mostly designed to keep us alive.

When I was younger? Maybe – I was a lot more competitive then. But I’ve been plagued by anxiety most of my life, and fear has kept me from doing a lot. That’s why it was so fun to explore Cassie’s story in fiction – living vicariously through someone who fearlessly goes after what they want was really cathartic for me.

But if I was drafted into a competition like this, I’d be most like Emilio – supporting my friends and just enjoying the ride. I’d stay far away from Hanna, though.

2. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did you ever surprise yourself as you drafted and revised your book?

I have more of a stepping-stone method – certain plot points I know I want to hit, maybe even the ending, but I don’t usually know how I’m getting there. For DMT, almost every character other than Cassie jumped out of my brain and onto the page fully formed. I didn’t plan any of Cassie’s friends before they came into being.

They were probably the most surprising part of my book – how Emilio and Mitsuko were both just THERE, alive and talking to me. I never knew what was going to come out of their mouths until they spoke. A lot of their dialogue remained unchanged from draft 1.

Dare Mighty Things3. How has living in Huntsville, Alabama—”The Rocket City” and home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (which is such a fun place to go, by the way)—influenced you as a reader and a writer? Has residing in Huntsville impacted Dare Mighty Things in any way?

I wouldn’t have written this book if I hadn’t grown up in Huntsville. It’s where my interest in space began. I’ve literally driven by a lifesize model of the rocket that took us to the moon twice a day for years. It made me think: here’s a testament to what humankind can do. And yet, this rocket – the whole space race and moon landing – is in our past. It ended years before I was born. It’s a relic of history.

It seemed so odd that we had gone so far and then stopped. That our greatest achievement had happened so long ago. Sci-fi is supposed to happen in the future, not the past. Everyone assumed back then that we’d be on Mars by now. What are we doing now? Are we regressing? Where might we be in the future?

I pondered this in the back of my mind for years. And then DMT was born.

4. Do any of the characters in your novel share similar personality traits with you or anyone you know?

All my characters probably share traits from people I know. I had a “mom friend” in high school who was the mature one and looked out for the rest of us and gave advice – a lot of her became Mitsuko. Another character has my claustrophobia.  Emilio has the part of me that wants to be friends with everyone but is secretly insecure. While writing Cassie, I discovered asexuality as a concept and a lot things made sense in my own personal life. So yeah, a lot of them share traits of my own or bits and pieces of others, just magnified and intensified.

5. With women highly underrepresented in science-related occupations, why do you believe it is important for more young girls to pursue STEM? What are some ways that people can promote the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields as possible career options for young women around the nation?

Oh, I could write a whole book about this. I think Bill Nye summed it up best, so I’ll paraphrase him: “Half our population is female, so half our scientists should be female.”

For a long, long time in our history, everything in science revolved around men. Even now, a lot of our medical training uses men as the default, the basis. We assume whatever is true for men is true for all humans, which is obviously wrong.

That’s why girls are diagnosed less with autism – they often have different symptoms than boys, and we judge them on the same standard. Nobody tells women that heart attack symptoms can be different for them – they only know what symptoms present in men. Men are not the default human specimen. We need different perspectives to prevent both conscious and unconscious bias in science.

When we exclude half the population, we deny so much possibility. Who knows how much faster we might have advanced if we had allowed women to have equal access to knowledge and training for the last two thousand years?

Don’t even get me started on the Mercury 13 – women who would have been candidates for the moon program – some of whom were even more qualified than the actual men who were chosen – but were specifically excluded from consideration.

Some things we can do to help: people who have children or work with children can try to remove biases against girls in science by checking their own biases. People with little girls in your life – buy her STEM toy for her birthday. Ask her what her favorite book is. Involve STEM topics in your everyday life: talk about the chemistry of food and cooking, the engineering of bridges, the physics of how kites fly. Let her play in the mud and get dirty and catch bugs; don’t just tell her how pretty she is. Include girls. Encourage girls. Listen to girls and their ideas. Ask them what ideas they have to solve problems; let them use tools and build things and experiment. Reach out to girls and encourage them to join tech clubs, robotics clubs, computer clubs. Don’t say “I’m so bad at math” or “math is hard” – let them realize it’s okay to be smart and to own it.

Teach boys that girls are smart and their ideas are worthwhile. Don’t discourage them from having “girly” interests. When we denigrate girls and “girlish” interests to boys, it encourages lifelong bias against women and their ideas. Boys who think girls are dumb are going to grow up into men who won’t hire women to work on their computers. It’s an insidious, widescale problem that we’re constantly fighting against.

But the tide is changing. Part of why I wrote DMT was to show a smart girl who knew she was smart and didn’t care what other people thought of her. We need to normalize ambition and intelligence in girls.

6. As 2017 is winding down, how would you describe your debut year? How did you feel when your first book was released into the wild in October?

Tumultuous! So many highs and lows, and so much work – I’m exhausted, and quite ready for a break. J While it’s been a great year, I wouldn’t want to live it again. Balancing the promotion of one book and the writing of its sequel is nuts.

Releasing a book into the wild is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking; you realize people everywhere – your neighbor, your boss, kids from your high school, book reviewers, your grandma – are going to read your words. YOUR WORDS. They might hate them. It doesn’t mean they hate you, but it’s hard to separate out those feelings at first.

And then there is, of course, the ever-present fear of not being “good enough.” Almost as soon as your book comes out, people start to move on and talk about the next big book release. It’s hard on your ego, to be in the spotlight one moment only to have it move on immediately.

But it’s okay. Publishing is a long game. I just try to focus on what I’ve already accomplished, and realize that five years ago, this was still an impossible dream. Feeling like you’re good enough isn’t just going to happen. You have to remind yourself, every day.

7. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?Heather Kaczynski

My parents weren’t readers themselves; I’d never see them read anything more than a magazine in my life, other than when my own book came out.

But they made a point to read to me and my sister from the moment we were born. And they never restricted our reading habits or choice of books (except to make sure we didn’t read at the dinner table – most of the time), so that recipe made for two voracious readers. Writing almost inevitably followed, for both of us. I think when you love reading, and you read enough books, you begin to want to create your own imaginary worlds.

The first story I ever wrote was in second grade. It was about a boy fox and his little sister ditching their elderly babysitter to have adventures. It was called “Mischievous Maxie.” I remember asking the teacher for a dictionary to look up how to spell “mischievous” and she was surprised I knew the word.

I still can’t spell mischievous, but at least now we have spell-check.

8. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I think the single greatest influence on my young self and my future writing style was the Animorphs series by K.A. (Katherine) Applegate. Any wonder why I write ensemble casts about teenagers saving the world with spaceships? One guess.

My favorite genres tend to be YA scifi and fantasy, but I also like adult crime mysteries and thrillers. I could never write one, though, since I am absolutely awful at guessing who the murderer is.

9. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

Writing is a whenever-I-have time job for me right now. I recently went to part time at my day job, but my hours can fluctuate between 25 to 35 hours a week, and I have a 3 year old daughter, which is a job in itself. It makes it kind of impossible to have a set schedule, so I write when I can.

10. Since “What’s your cure for writer’s block?” is asked very frequently, what is one “cure” that did not work for you when you tried it?

I’d say one of the cures I hear about that doesn’t help me much is to “just write through it.” It’s good enough in the sense that writer’s block is more accurately described as “I don’t want to write” or “I don’t know what to write” but for me, I’m usually blocked because I’m on the wrong path. So if I just keep writing through it, I typically end up deleting all of that later on when I realize I’m going in the wrong direction.

It’s still helpful – I still figure out where to go in the end – but I think the best thing, at least for me, is to fix whatever has led up to the block because in all likelihood, if I fix the snag that blocked me, I’ll figure out the right way to go from there.

11. One Giant Leap, the sequel and conclusion of the Dare Mighty Things duology, is set to release in Fall 2018. Without giving away any spoilers for book one, could you give us any secrets or hints as to what we could expect in book two?

I’m afraid anything I say will spoil book one! So, all I will say is that you will see your favorites again – and I’ll give you one hint, which is an epigraph from the beginning of ONE GIANT LEAP:

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” -John F. Kennedy

12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers?

Be kind to your fellow writers, be compassionate, read widely, be patient, follow the rules, and learn to be brave!

Thanks so much, Heather, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great to have you!


About the Author

Heather writes books for teenagers and other people who like books about teenagers. They’re usually about teenagers saving the world, because she really believes they can.
Heather never got to go to Space Camp, so she had to settle for writing about it. After graduating cum laude with a degree in biology from University of Alabama in Huntsville, she returned to her first love of books, and now works in a library near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. She lives with her husband, their daughter, and cats named after mythological figures. She’s not nearly brave enough to go into space, but she did twirl a fire baton in high school.

She’s represented by Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Dare Mighty Things? Do you like YA sci-fi?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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