Sometimes, people are born with an understanding about themselves that it takes others—like me—years to learn. Practical. Patient. They have an ability to learn from mistakes, which paves the path toward a future they know they can achieve.
And then they do.
Heather Macht strikes me as that kind of person.
Our Skype is scheduled for midday, and Heather is right on time. After working through a few sound issues, we chat… and her passion for art immediately shines through.
“I once told my art teacher, ‘When I’m an adult, I want to be a picture book author and illustrator.’” Heather laughs. “I’d have these ideas for crazy art projects. Teachers would tell me it wouldn’t work out, but it always did.”
“What gave you the confidence to move forward in the face of skepticism?” I ask. Heather shakes her head and shrugs.
“I don’t know. I could picture things in my head, and I just knew it could turn out well and I’d get good grades. I couldn’t give it up. I wanted to prove I could do it. Even in classes like science, I still did artsy projects.” I can’t help but admire her confidence.
“Did you have any teachers who encouraged you?” I think back to my own childhood, remembering too many times when I walked away, insecurities blocking my own desired path forward.
“Oh, definitely! Ironically, it wasn’t my art teacher, though. In high school, a lot of my English teachers told me that my writing was good. They said they’d like to keep copies of my work to use as an example for future students.”
“It’s great that they supported your writing, but you said you wanted to be an illustrator, too. Did your teachers also encourage your drawings?”
“Well…” Heather begins, her voice trailing off. She looks pensive. “I had two teachers who really made an impact on me.” Heather goes on to explain that when she told her art teacher she wanted to be an author-illustrator, her teacher responded by saying that it was a difficult field and she wouldn’t make much money. Instead, she suggested that Heather go into graphic design.
“So I went to FSCJ for Fine Arts and did graphic design work,” Heather says. But despite feeling successful, the writing bug continued nipping at her heels. In a creative writing elective, she wrote a short story. “My teacher said that I needed to look into get it published.” Heather’s smile beams with pride at the memory.
“So this pivotal memory is really about two teachers,” I say. “One who discouraged you and another who encouraged you, but both of whom changed the course of your life.”
Heather laughs. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”
“So tell me about another pivotal moment in your life. What else happened that makes Heather Heather?”
Her smile eases a bit, as if she’s reaching back into her memory banks. “Well, when I was about six years old, my Dad used to read Golden Books to me. Do you remember those?”
I nod. “I actually read those to my kids, too.”
“Well I remember when he’d read Mickey and the Beanstalk to me and my brothers. But he’d always put our names in there to make us part of the story. Then he’d change the story around slightly to have it favor us.”
I can’t help but think that Heather’s father was ahead of his time. Now, there are companies that make a killing inserting children’s names into picture book templates. “It sounds like you got your creativity from him,” I say. “Does he draw, too?”
“No, but he’d make up comic strips about me and my brothers, starting when I was about five. And eventually, I did that for him, too.”
“Do you still have any of these comics?” I ask.
Heather frowns. “No, nothing from when I was that little. But the idea from my dinosaur book, YOU MAY JUST BE A DINOSAUR, came from when I was in the third grade. We had this science project to color dinosaurs and create a science book, and I drew a skateboarding dinosaur with sunglasses. So the first thing I learned to draw well were dinosaurs. I remember getting scolded by my science teacher when I went creative with a science project. I can still see her angry face. She wanted science to be science, and she said my imagination was too big. But on the plus side, I won a lot of art contests!”
“Do you have a favorite dinosaur to draw?” I ask.
“Yes! The brontosaurus.”
“But you didn’t illustrate your own book,” I say. “Is that something you’d like to do in the future?”
“Maybe for a board book. I was so impressed when I first saw the illustrations in my book. They’re so much more detailed than anything I can do.” Heather reaches off-screen to retrieve something. Leaning back, she holds her book cover up to the camera so I can see it, right next to her own adorable dino drawing mock-up.
“See?” She says. “Mine is nowhere near as detailed.” I appreciate the respect she has for her own illustrator. In the same breath, as someone who cannot draw at all, I feel that same respect for her.
“Did your mom make up stories, too?” I wonder if her whole family shares the same creative abilities.
Heather shakes her head. “No, but she influenced me, too. She had a daycare in her home, so I was constantly surrounded by We Sing songs and Mother Goose rhymes. That’s how I got my knack for rhyming. Mom used to play tapes all the time. I was probably nine or ten, and I’d help out when I got home from school. Sing Silly Songs played in the background, and I’d read to the kids, too.”
“So both of your parents were supportive of you,” I half-observe, half-ask.
“Definitely. Just in different ways. My dad wanted to be an author, and my mom was a caregiver. Before writing, I had a career in IT. I was good at it, but Dad would always say, ‘That’s great…but don’t stop writing.’”
“You said your dad wanted to be an author. Did he ever write a book?”
Heather nods. “Actually, he did. He self-published a book about fishing. He owned a tackle store and had lots of clients who bought it.”
“You mention that you got your knack for rhyming from the tapes your mom played. Do all your books rhyme?” I ask.
“My first two stories rhymed, but my new one coming out is in prose.”
“I have THE ANT FARM ESCAPE—the kids and I love it! What’s the name of your new one in prose?” I ask.
“REX THE… WE-DON’T-KNOW.”
I consider the fact that Heather’s parents both supported her creative efforts from childhood and wonder about the impact they had. “Do you think that your determination in such a competitive field stems from the support you got from your parents?”
Heather tilts her head in thought. “Definitely, but that makes me think of one more moment. When I met my husband, Brian, he started looking at my manuscripts with his daughter, who was almost three at the time. He said, ‘You know what? I have a hard time buying any books for my kids, but I would actually buy this.’”
Being a writer myself, I understand that the greatest compliment is to buy someone’s book. “How was that a pivotal moment for you?”
“Well, when I had my son, I had a job in IT. This big contract was canceled, which gave me the time to fine-tune my manuscript enough to get my first yes.”
“So Brian’s comment was the boost you needed to give up IT and write for a living?”
“Yes,” Heather says. “I put all my eggs in the writing basket and walked away. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done, but it worked out because now, I get to watch my son and daughter grow up.”
But the reality is that she doesn’t just get to watch them. She gets to participate. She gets to write stories that they will forever connect to their childhoods. Then, one day, they will read her stories to their own children with the same nostalgia with which she recounts her father’s comics today.
As a mother, I cannot imagine a greater gift than that.