Imagination Makes Published Novels and Plays a Reality
For high school student Heather Manning, turning 16 was sweeter than ever, but not for the reason you might think. For most teens, it’s the year they can legally drive a car; Heather was more concerned about driving the sales of her first published novel.
As the youngest attendee at a writers’ conference, Heather seized the opportunity to pitch her novel to the publishers and literary agents on site. She shared her story about a young lady who stowed away on a pirate ship to escape an abusive husband, only to fall in love with the ship’s captain. Set in Colonial times, the inspirational historical romance’s elements of adventure, intrigue and betrayal caught their attention. Two publishers and an agent requested the manuscript be sent to them. Astrea Press responded with an acceptance letter and a contract. Suddenly, Heather was 16 and published.
Heather’s debut novel, Swept to Sea, published in November of 2013, received rave reviews. The title enjoyed more than 100 days on the Amazon bestsellers list, a major feat for any author. For those who know Heather, this accomplishment came as no surprise. Age has never been a prerequisite for creativity or success for this talented young woman.
“I’ve always loved writing," shares Heather. “Even before I knew how to write, I was asking my family to write down on paper stories for me that I had invented in my head. Later in school, I was very fortunate to have an absolutely wonderful English teacher who really encouraged me to continue writing. She was involved with not just my writing, but she really gave confidence in my skills. She truly believed in me.”
Fueled by a vivid imagination and with the support of her mother, father, two siblings and an “amazing” English teacher, Heather began gathering ideas for Swept to Sea in middle school. “Between the fifth and 8th grade, I wrote some partial novels, but I truly began focusing on completing my published novel during my 8th grade year.”
Now, nearly two years later, the18-year-old literary phenom already has completed book two of her trilogy. Last November, Heather signed a book contract for Carried Home, which is scheduled for release on April 28th.
Can a third book be far behind? “It’s already in the works,” smiles Heather. “It even has a name. I’m calling my third novel Tossed Together. It’s of the same genre as the first two stories, and expands upon the characters I’ve already introduced. The first chapters are outlined and I work on the piece a little each day.”
As great as it may seem, being such a young published author isn’t always the easiest, Heather admits. “The biggest challenge has definitely been people not taking me seriously. I can’t even count the times people have assumed that my book was self-published or something of the like because I am so young.
"Still, it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. It’s exciting when people read my book and give it a positive review. Of course, there’s the inevitable: seeing a much-dreaded unhappy review. I know every book is bound to get at least one, but no matter how much you prepare yourself, I don’t think you can ever be ready to read that one review from a person who did not like your book. Your book is like your baby, so it is tough to hear some people’s opinion on it."
Not unlike other high school students, Heather has homework to balance along with her writing and extra-curricular interests. A straight-A student honored as Student of the Year, she somehow manages to do it all and do it all quite well.
In addition to writing novels, Heather is an accomplished actress and playwright. She is an active member of the local American Christian Fiction Writers and contributes to the Coterie Theater’s Young Playwrights’ Round Table. Heather’s play, “Letters to Romeo and Juliet,” was performed on the Coterie stage; she also performed in another young playwright’s production. When not acting at The Coterie, Heather takes part in Park University and Weston Community Theater productions.
Most recently, Heather found out a piece she wrote for the Coterie has been selected to be turned into an "opera moment" by UMKC composers and then performed by the Lyric Opera. The work will be featured in a newly created offering called "Words + Music."
“When I am not writing or going to school, you can usually find me at a local theatre, either seeing a play or performing in one. Theatre is my other passion, besides writing," Heather says. “I love to be around shows and enjoy participating in community theatre; both are great outlets for my ideas and imagination. Writing plays and novels allows me to bring my own stories to life; acting allows me to bring others’ stories to life.
"Between acting and writing plays, I spend much of my time surrounded by creative people. I’m certain this contributes to my ideas and success as a writer,” Heather reflects. "Even when I’m not acting or writing plays, I always try to engage in some type of creative activity, whether it’s reading books, watching movies, or looking at awesome photography on Pinterest. There’s always something that inspires me, that makes me want to get out my computer or a pencil and paper and write.”
As a mentor of young writers, Heather advises them to “read, read, read, and write, write, write. If they continue to do these things, they will gradually improve. Also, once you think you have perfected your piece as much as you think you can perfect it, you can attend a writer’s conference where you can meet other aspiring authors, industry professionals, and get a chance to pitch your work to agents and editors, just like I did.”
What’s next? Graduation from high school, of course, then, college, and much more writing and acting. Heather plans to attend Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., where she will major in theatre.
“Five years from now I hope to have at least three more novels published and to have successfully finished college. Hopefully, I will be acting professionally and maybe teaching acting to young actors.”
If the past is any indication of the future, Heather Manning will be doing all of this and much, much more.