Welcome to Diversify 2017! Diversify 2017 is a series of interviews and guest posts centering around books that I’m especially looking forward to and that I think truly represent the diversity movement that’s been shaping up these past couple of years. For day two, we have a story about an Indian girl and her ambitions of venturing into space called
Release Date: October 10th, 2017
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.
Description taken from Goodreads.
What do you love most about Dare Mighty Things?
I love that the friendships Cassie makes in the program are the first genuine friendships of her life; they’re competition, but the camaraderie that forms between them creates an unbreakable bond. One of my favorite tropes ever is the “found family,” and writing supportive friendships between these ambitious kids was one of the most fun parts of the book. So often, when they’re a competition in a YA book, the characters are ruthless and cutthroat out of necessity. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I loved that the one of the biggest ways Cassie grows in the book is learning how to rely and trust and work with other people.
And within the confines of this competition, they’re very strict with rules that don’t allow you to harm another competitor. They’re looking for someone who can operate well in a confined space with other humans for a long time, so violence equates immediate expulsion, and working together becomes key. It allowed me to have some fun scenes with the characters as they became friends and Cassie begins to thaw her cold, cold heart.
Do you have a playlist for Dare Mighty Things?
I do! There’s a little bit of Beethoven and a lot of dubstep. You can check it out here:
It’s not in chronological order or anything, but it’s what I listen to when I need to get into the “mood” of the book.
I love your book’s title! How’d you come up with it?
Thanks! I stole it from a Teddy Roosevelt speech from the 1880s. Ha! I’m kidding – sort of.
Actually, I first saw “Dare Mighty Things” as the theme of of JPL’s Fifty Years of Planetary Exploration celebration – they had also gotten it from President Roosevelt’s speech, though I didn’t know that was the source at the time.
It just seemed to encapsulate everything I love about the space program. I think also illustrates some of Cassie’s character: she’s stubborn, driven, idealistic, and has grand dreams of leaving her mark and ultimately changing the world.
“Dare Mighty Things” is a call to action. Leaving Earth, braving the utter void of space, driving technological innovation to reach just a little further beyond what’s possible, all to discover that which was previously unknown. That’s the dream of the space program, and it’s Cassie’s mantra.
I’m told JPL sells “Dare Mighty Things” T-shirts. It’s now my mission in life to own one.
And then the circle will be complete.
What kind of research (if any) did you have to do to write Dare Mighty Things?
Oh, so much. My background is in biological science, not planetary science, so though I might’ve had a basis in science I was really starting from square one.
First book I read was Mary Roach’s PACKING FOR MARS: I used that thing like it was my Bible until I’d nearly memorized it. I read a few Neil DeGrasse Tyson books – as much as I could understand, because that man is flippin’ smart. I read astronaut biographies from the men who’d first landed on the moon, plus Anousheh Ansari’s book MY DREAM OF STARS. I followed astronauts on Twitter and read a lot of Wikipedia articles about exoplanets, and interviewed an astronaut friend of a friend to get his first-person perspective about how it felt to float above Earth.
I also participated in a #NASASocial event at Marshall Space Flight Center (which isn’t far from where I work) and went on a behind-the- scenes tour of their facilities. #NASASocial events are basically NASA’s invitation to regular social-media- using citizens to become like amateur journalists, inviting them to learn about NASA programs and promoting and education on their own platforms. It was a total honor for my application to be accepted, because at the time I think I had less than like 300 followers! (By the way, they’re constantly announcing new events. Check them out!)
Funny side story: I was one of the few locals on this tour, and having grown up in this town, I’d had a lot of friends with parents who worked at NASA. One of our guides happened to be an old family friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. When we came in, she said “oh, hi Heather! How’s the family doing?” and we chatted for a bit while everyone else was filing in. The ten or so people in the tour group watched this exchange with strange expressions on their faces.
Somebody leaned over and asked if we knew each other.
And this was the first way I could think to explain how we knew each other: “Oh, my husband took her daughter to the prom.”
I neglected to mention that we had all been in high school at the time.
Why do you love space so much and why should other people love it too?
Oh man. How much time do we have?
Exploring space, I feel, is not optional. It’s where we live. It’s our backyard. It’s bigger than us, it’s older than us. It holds infinite secrets. By learning about worlds and stars and galaxies we’ll never see up close, we’ll learn more about our origins, and perhaps inch closer to answering that primordial question: why are we here?
Even if you don’t care about space and stars and planets beyond Earth – even if you think they’re just hunks of rock and dirt and who cares – the amount of brainpower driving our space program has churned out tons of technological advances that we use in our everyday lives. (Where would we be without GPS on our phones? I, personally, would be lost. Literally.) The spinoff benefits to modern life are legion. NASA scientists aren’t just studying space, they’re studying Earth: weather, climate, geology (just to name a few), all in the name of furthering our knowledge and improving our lives.
We simply need to be watching the skies. It’s statistical probability that something out there, some asteroid or supernova or wandering black hole or, yes, alien species, something we don’t even know exists yet, could kill us at any moment. And we should probably have a plan in place, if, you know, we want our species to survive. Seeing as our planet won’t be able to sustain life forever, discovering alien worlds that might hold life could be our salvation. Plus it’d just be super cool.
We’ve arguably learned more about our nearest planetary neighbors in the past 50 years than we have in all of human history. Two years ago, humans finally saw what Pluto looked like – for the very first time we saw what that tiny, cold light in the sky looked like up close. We got to see something that no human eyes had ever looked upon in all of our history. Isn’t that wild? New discoveries are being made right now, all the time.
There’s an exoplanet mentioned in Dare Mighty Things – it actually exists – that wasn’t in the original draft, because it literally hadn’t been discovered until I was two years into revisions. From first draft to publication, I had to edit the science in the book multiple times, because the pool of our knowledge is constantly growing deeper.
And we should keep pushing that boundary. There are so many possibilities coming up on the horizon for the next generation; it’s so exciting what humans might be able to do in the next fifty years, the next one hundred. There’s so much out there waiting to be discovered. Teens who get involved and interested in STEM fields now are the ones who will be pushing that frontier. It’s unbearably exciting. And it kinda makes me wish I’d paid more attention to math in high school.
What Harry Potter houses do your characters belong to?
Cassie – Gryfindor
Emilio – Hufflepuff
Mitsuko – Ravenclaw
Hanna – Slytherin
Luka – I…don’t actually know. He’s kind of an enigma. When you read it, you can all message me and let me know what you think, haha.
What do you think is the most important thing to be doing in diverse lit right now?
I’m not sure I have the answer to this. There are a lot of really smart people who could give you much better answers than I could, and the little I know has been informed by those who have been speaking out on this subject far longer than I’ve been around. But I will take a stab at summarizing what I’ve heard and agree with. I think having more editors with diverse backgrounds in publishing houses would have the biggest positive impact in acquiring more and better representation in YA books.
Taking on more #ownvoices authors, and standing behind their diverse books with marketing budgets and other support, will help provide essential and accurate mirrors for the teens whose experiences have been underrepresented in fiction for too long.
For authors writing outside their culture, like myself, professional sensitivity readers should be consulted and heeded. Because no matter how much research you do, it will never be enough – you simply don’t know what you don’t know, and despite your best intentions, clichés and stereotypes will slip in. Your experience is never going to be enough to counteract that.
Fiction for kids and teens has the power to shape how they feel about the world and themselves, for good or for bad. It’s a privilege to write for them, and a responsibility I take very seriously.
The most important thing for readers to do is vote with their dollar. Show your support by buying, reviewing, and getting the word out about diverse books! Show publishers there is a market for books by and about people of color.
What diverse read(s) are you most looking forward to in 2017?
These are just the ones I haven’t yet read and am dying for!
THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon, FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie Dao, WARCROSS by Marie Lu, A CROWN OF WISHES by Roshani Chokshi, REBEL SEOUL by Axie Oh, MIRAGE by Somaiya Daud, SHADOW RUN by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller, THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi, NYXIA by my agent-sibling Scott Reintgen, and PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD which is possibly the greatest title of anything, ever.
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, she returned to her first love of books, and now works in a library near NASA. She lives with her husband, their daughter, and way too many books. She’s not nearly brave enough to go into space, but she did twirl a fire baton in high school.
Thanks so much to Heather for doing this post! Out of all the authors I’ve ever worked with, I’ve encountered few as sensitive to the diversity issue and doing whatever they can to promote solving it as Heather and one of her agent-mates, Scot Reintgen, who will also be featured next week. I can’t completely vouch for Dare Mighty Things yet, but I have very high hopes for it, and I’ll definitely be following whatever Heather does in the future! Be sure to follow her on social media and enter into the giveaway above! Tomorrow’s author will be Nic Stone.