WRITTEN BY GREGG L. PARKER
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSHUA BERRY
In her debut novel, “Dare Mighty Things,” Heather Kaczynski reveals the story of Cassie, an ambitious, high-achieving teenager – a thrilling tale set partially right here in Madison County.
Kaczynski started writing fiction in second grade but never finished a novel until after college graduation. She was working at a library on Redstone Arsenal; NASA, access to books and young readers inspired her.
“I wanted to write something that could encourage young people’s interest in science and space travel,” she said. “I finally had a predictable schedule and no homework or lab reports for the first time in my life. I had no more excuses.”
In “Dare Mighty Things,” main character Cassie secures a summer internship at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville before her senior year in high school. Set in the near future, Cassie’s story takes place in a time when NASA’s missions of exploration are no longer valued or funded. Her dream of becoming an astronaut is shattered – but then she is invited to compete for a top-secret, space mission.
“Cassie trained her whole life to become an astronaut. She is determined to win at all costs, but when she gets to the competition, she realizes she might not be as great as she thinks,” Kaczynski said. Many questions surround this mysterious mission, which Cassie and fellow competitors attempt to uncover.
“Dare Mighty Things” targets the young adult audience, 14 years and older. However, Kaczynski has received positive reviews from sixth-graders to 60-year-olds.
Kaczynski’s agent negotiated a deal with HarperCollins/HarperTeen for the book. “My book went to auction with two different publishing houses competing for publishing rights,” Kaczynski said. “An amazing editor at HarperCollins offered to buy two books from me – among the best outcomes a writer could hope for on the first book.”
In the fast-paced, full-of-twists story, Cassie is never sure what test is coming next or which fellow competitors she can trust. Readers won’t expect the huge twist ending, which sets up the sequel, “One Giant Leap.”
Running the emotional gamut, “Dare Mighty Things” engenders fear, excitement, sadness and even humor. “I wanted to capture the elation Cassie feels to go into space and her realistic fears of a catastrophe. She feels sadness at saying goodbye to people she loves, possibly forever,” Kaczynski said. “Writing scenes involving Cassie and her fellow competitors was especially fun for me. Cassie is a bit standoffish and arrogant at first but makes friends almost against her will.”
If “writer’s block” sets in, deadlines help. “You have to work whether you feel like it or not.” Kaczynski said her best motivation is when someone is waiting for her words – an agent, editor or a friend.
Another solution to writer’s block is to back up a few chapters, re-read it and proceed in a different direction. She quoted Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Kaczynski’s family relocated to Alabama when she was 10 years old. She attended Sparkman High School and graduated cum laude from the University of Alabama in Huntsville with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and exercise physiology.
Kaczynski, her husband and daughter moved to Madison proper in 2017. “The schools were definitely our main priority. We love the area, its amenities and family-friendly surroundings,” Kaczynski said.
Her hobbies include gardening, especially strawberries and blueberries; exercising; cooking healthy meals; playing video games; and quilting.
“Dare Mighty Things” is available in bookstores and through online retailers. “One Giant Leap” will hit stores Oct. 23, 2018.
For more information, visit HeatherKaczynski.com, along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr. Readers can follow Kaczynski on social media for future book signings and for the launch party for “One Giant Leap,” planned in October at Books-A-Million in Huntsville.