Writer Rachel Beth Ahrens

Write and Author is interviewing writer Rachel Beth Ahrens.

Rachel Beth Ahrens is the daughter of a former car mechanic/Star Trek and Marvel fan and a former call center representative who loves all things Shakespeare and Jane Austen. At the age of 22 in 2011, Rachel received a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Towson University, since they had to give her something to do after high school. She wrote poetry for her high school literary magazine The Vignette in 2005 and 2006 and wrote many articles for online publications and a small Baltimore-based rock and roll magazine Shockwave, until she realized the music industry wasn’t for her.

Currently working on her first novel, she lives with her family and a dachshund named Cinderella in Nottingham, Maryland, surrounded by Doctor Who DVDs and dozens of books.

What are you working on right now?

At this moment, I'm working on a whole number of things, including a work of science fiction for adults that blends Jane Austen's stories with steampunk, which does have series potential, and a new adult romantic comedy that centers around the Disney princesses (Ariel, Belle, Cinderella) living and working in the 21st century. But since those are long from being finished, I am more focused on my first novel, Super Frost: Confessions of a Teenage Superhero, which is a young adult novel that touches on the science fiction and romantic comedy variety.

Violet Harris, my protagonist, dreams of saving the world one day, just like her parents, Giga Man and Silent Wave. Her aunt also has superpowers like Violet's parents, but prefers to use her powers to save humankind and animals from the effects of global warming. There's just one problem: Violet has no powers. She keeps this as a secret from her parents, even her super-strong baby brother, who already teases her about having no powers.

When Violet tries to apply to Falcon High School, a school for super people, the staff kicks her out for having no superhuman abilities. She then resorts to thinking that she may be better off being a boring civilian who becomes a damsel in distress during the next major catastrophe. But when she begins going to a normal high school, her body goes through a drastic change while she's fighting off a fever, chills, and a headache, causing her to develop her powers to encase things and people in ice.

Meanwhile, at Falcon High School, someone has a sinister plan unfolding just for Violet and her new friends...

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

My characters are from pure imagination. (Insert Willy Wonka song here) I've seen just about every Marvel and DC Comic movie from Superman to Doctor Strange just to get this idea moving.

Back in 2007, while I was in college and writing for an online writing competition with a division of Harper Collins publishers (it was called HarperTeenFanLit), my dad was watching the Disney movie Sky High, where the main character Will Stronghold hasn't inherited his parents abilities to punch things or fly, so he gets stuck in "sidekick" class at his high school. But what I've always thought was flawed about that movie was that the writers cheated and let the same student stay at the super school with all the other students with superhuman capabilities. I thought that what they should have done was make him stop coming to the school and force him to go to a normal school for normal teenagers with no abilities.

At that moment, while I was writing a hokey chapter for the e-book competition, I thought wouldn't it be great if there was a female character who gets kicked out of high school until she discovers her powers later. I scrapped the first draft and sat on it for a long while, not thinking anything of it until very recently when I decided to revive it. I thought about it as, "What if Disney's Queen Elsa from Frozen had to go to a special high school for people like her, such as Xavier's School in X-Men?" That was when the writing took off and I charted out new, completely different characters and a gripping plot for Violet to follow.

In Super Frost, Violet is in the middle of a love triangle between the boy she has a crush on and the boy who treats her like a super villain. She also befriends some mere mortals, one of them finding out she has something she never had before. And when the villain of the story finally shows himself, Violet has to act beyond her years, learn how to harness her energy, and learn how to become not just a hero, but how to be herself.
What does literary success look like to you?

In all honesty, I want to see my name on the New York Times Bestseller list. Most authors who self-publish say they're accomplished and successful, but most of the time, I don't see their works on the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble or the local public library. I say being successful is having an actual book on that bestseller list and seeing that book at the bookstores, even the used bookstores, in print for sale in shop windows.

I could care less about awards, to be honest. I know the really famous authors like Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling have won some awards in their lifetime, but that really takes a long time to perfect. It shouldn't matter too much to people about how many awards they've won for their writing. If you have actually written something that is in bookstores everywhere, not just from Amazon.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

All the time. Whenever I'm at my library, I always look for the latest issue of Writer's Digest to pick up to find something new to learn about writing, and what I can do to make my writing and social media better. Writer's Digest made me realize that writing is really a full time commitment. You can still work full time to get some kind of income, but you can never give up writing if you're passionate about it.

That's another thing. I used to think that writers were a dime a dozen. I almost killed my dreams of being a writer because of the ever booming Internet with the high demand for social media. More people are reading books online or from their e-readers instead of going to a bookstore. In fact, I was starting to think that nobody wanted to read books at all anymore! Everyone was turning to the Internet to read the news, catch up with friends, or look things up instead of read for pleasure. I thought that soon enough, everyone would rather sit at home and watch television on their little tablets and not do anything to broaden their horizons.

But after talking with some writer friends of mine, as well as some friends of my dad's (Bob Greenberger, Peter David, Lance Woods, Steven H. Wilson, etc.), I found out that there will always be people who read for pleasure and books will never go out of style. Our society is not going to end up like Fahrenheit 451 as the late Ray Bradbury described it. No one will burn books because we don't need them anymore. Books are useful pieces of knowledge. They can take you places you never dreamed possible.

Which I believe leads to the next question...

Why do you write?

Such a heavy question... It gets me out of bed in the morning. It's my therapy, and it gives me hope that someday I'll go somewhere I never thought was possible with my writing.

If I really want to be honest here, and this goes into a more personal note, I was diagnosed with bipolar depression with rapid cycling in June, 2015 when I was 26. It took me a long time, almost two decades, to find out what was wrong with me. With rapid cycling, my moods and emotions hit me in a matter of minutes or seconds. Sometimes when I'm depressed, I don't feel like writing because I feel so insignificant as humanly possible. For the longest time, I used to think I was a monster, that I would constantly make mistakes and say "I'm sorry" and some people would never accept my apology, which hurts the most.

But the good news is, I'm learning to control that pain and anger before it hits me. With a really good therapist, a doctor, and some strong medication, I am back to being me. I don't get depressed as often anymore and I feel like I'm on a mission to finish something that I can publish so I can make my dream become a reality. I keep thinking that in a way, I'm like Violet Harris, who dreams of being like the Avengers and having a superhero boyfriend like Steve Rogers (Captain America), but she doesn't have any powers... yet. I want my readers of all ages 13 and up to find their inner hero and learn that they have their own superpowers within themselves to live their dreams.

If I had a superpower, it would be to make my dreams become reality, except for the nightmares, because believe me, I don't want my nightmares to happen in real life!

That said, writing is a new level of therapy for me. It keeps me on my toes, it allows me to dream, it keeps me breathing, and it also encourages me to build my self esteem. Since I read My Life (So Far) in Song, a memoir by one of my favorite songwriters, Tony and Grammy Award nominated singer Sara Bareilles (composer of Broadway musical Waitress), I found a new way to boost my confidence. In one of Bareilles's essays, she writes letters to herself, each one saying, "You are beautiful" despite her problems with her self image and her self esteem. I decided to do the same thing, by writing letters to myself, saying "you are beautiful" in every note I write in my journal. That's what keeps me breathing and it keeps me writing. I'm getting closer to loving myself as a person and it also gets me closer to my goal of being a published author.

Where do your ideas for your blog come from?

That's an interesting question... I write in my blog pretty much every week, and the ideas come from how I'm feeling in the moment, or the time of year that's giving me the inspiration. The last couple of blog posts, I wrote about the holiday season, as I do celebrate Christmas and New Year's and it's one of my favorite holiday celebrations of the year. I also write about some of the vacations I go on, though I don't go on many. I've written about the annual Pirate Festival, which happens right around April in Fells Point, Baltimore City, and there's a lot of fun on the piers where there's lots of people in pirate and steampunk outfits, as well as street vendors, live music, a theatre troupe performing a pirate sketch, and of course, a station for the War of 1812 museum presenting artifacts and factoids about the Battle of Fort McHenry and so forth.

I also get my ideas while I'm writing for National Novel Writing Month, which has little mini competitions called Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July. Every April, I've won at the end of the competition, but I've never won a July Camp because of Independence Day and my birthday, which falls three weeks after the national holiday. (Last year on my birthday, my parents took me to Wildwood, New Jersey for the weekend, which I wrote about in my blog, including some pictures I took.) Also, I go to science fiction conventions in Maryland every year, so I tend to write about those a lot, as they happen in February (Farpoint), May (Balticon), and somewhere around July or August (Shore Leave). I always get some good advice from the writers there, especially since I've met David Gerrold, the writer of the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" and the award winning book "The Martian Child" which became a movie starring John Cusack. Usually for my posts about movies I've seen or the conventions I go to, I put them under my series handle The Nerd Queen.

Other times, my ideas come from the dreams that I have while sleeping. I came up with an awesome idea for a short story after I saw Disney's Alice Through the Looking Glass in the theatre and had a dream about it a couple days later. That short story became the basis for one of my stories in my collection, Supernova Entropy, which I plan to publish after I've written my first novel. That short story is called "Alice and the Gentleman", which basically picks up from where Through the Looking Glass left off and ends with Alice's wedding day. I wrote a brief blog post about that dream and finished the short story on my own time.
What have you put most of your effort into regarding writing?

I think I put my effort in mostly my blogs because I still haven't finished my novel yet. I figured if I write in my blog every week, I should get some more web traffic, but since I have no income to pay for advertising, I guess it's not enough. Right now, I'm really focused on finishing my first novel. I want to give Violet Harris some real care and thought in writing her, as I will for the rest of my novel and short story ideas. And believe me, I have tons of ideas!
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

Lately, I've been putting off reading for a while because I want to finish Super Frost by the end of this month. However, if you see my GoodReads account, I've been reading anything I can get my hands on. Two of my favorite dead authors are Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for Sherlock Holmes. (I am one of Benedict Cumberbatch's number one American fans, no lie. I'm also a big fan of Steven Moffat's work, for he's written some stellar episodes for both Doctor Who and Sherlock.) In fact, I have my own paperback copies of Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice, as well as a big hardcover copy of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes, which my best friend gave me one Christmas as a present. Study in Scarlet is one of my favorites.

Some living authors I admire are Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling, of course, for I fell in love with the Harry Potter novels when I was twelve- I read The Half Blood Prince in close to a single week, wrote an awesome project for my English teacher my senior year of high school and got an A on it. I also really loved the haunting coolness of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, as I got to see a darker, edgier side to London's underground, even though I've never been outside the Eastern Seaboard in my life. (I've always wanted to see England and Wales, to be honest.) Another quirky author I admire is believe it or not, Alice Clayton, who is the writer of the Unidentified Readhead novels. I don't really go for romance novels, and I really hated 50 Shades of Grey, but Alice Clayton does have a sense of comedy in her books and the way she writes the more magical, romantic scenes (without the sex) between her characters is lovely. She is a very witty author.

Right now, I'm reading the sequel to Red Queen, Glass Sword, which was written by Victoria Aveyard, and I must say she is one of the best new authors we've had in a while. I'm also still finishing Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series; I'm on book four, Heartless, where Lady Alexia Maccon is waddling in her pregnant condition and is about to give birth to a "soul stealer". Meanwhile, the head of the vampires, Lord Akeldama, is making arrangements for the birth of the son or daughter of a werewolf and a preternatural while coming up with a plan to keep Alexia safe from the vampires and others who want to kill her.
How often do you write and what is your process?

I try to write every day or as often as I can. When I get up in the morning, I almost always keep my window blinds open so I can look outside and get some creativity flowing from the sunlight. Sometimes just looking outside my window gives me the peace and quiet to give me ideas for my writing. Other times, my mind itself can be really distracting, for I'll start thinking of a song I love or a movie I've seen that I'll pull it out of my 'library' and watch or listen to it. But I always turn back to writing, no matter what distracts me. Usually, I pace around my room and think of things to get something going, which I do a lot, but then when I have something, I'll sit down and write it out.

I'm sort of stuck on chapter eight of my novel, which I charted out to have a total of fifteen chapters, but as soon as I'm finished re-watching the Captain America movies and The Avengers, which I own on DVD, I should get myself in-stuck. My biggest problem is I am a non-linear writer. I don't write chapter after chapter from page one. Sometimes, I write other scenes that I want to have in my novel and just paste them in. I'm somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. I've already written my outline for my novel and I've written the first seven chapters; I've written the ending of my novel as well! But sometimes, when I write my scenes, I leave big gaping holes between what happened to my characters in between the beginning and the end. I'm struggling with writing the precarious middle of my story. But I'm sure that I will find some way to get in-stuck at the moment.

Chapter eight of Super Frost, the place I'm at now, is at the beginning of the scene where Violet is challenged by her enemy, Jeremy Russel a.k.a. Solar Fury to duke it out in battle class, fighting each other to save the civilian from destruction. But they eventually form a truce at the end and Violet realizes there's a softer spot to Jeremy than she thought.
What writing advice can you give?

For other young writers out there like me, if you want to write, always try to find time for your writing. At this moment, I'm working with a job coach to find a part time job somewhere in the Baltimore area and on top of that, I'm soon going to start a new program at Towson University that will help me get back into the routine of working full time. As a result, I'm going to be quite busy in January and February of this year when it comes time for me to get back into working so I can have some income. But that doesn't mean I won't have time to write. I plan on writing until my hands don't work anymore. So when I do have a job and the program is over, I'm going to have time after work to write more of my novel.

Remember, you can write anywhere at any time. Even if you're a parent or single parent working two jobs and making sure your kids get to school. Even if you're just a college student who thinks there is no time to write and you feel like the world is over. Don't give up. A lot of people who get published have children of their own and manage to have their own lives. Most writers that go unpublished have no confidence or patience in themselves that they give up completely or they don't get published until they've reached the age of 55 or older. That should not be you. You should always find the time. It's never too late and it's never too early to write something that you think is good enough to be on the shelf.

Bottom line: Don't give up until someone has heard your story.
Can you create a short writing prompt?

There's a quiet, tranquil park that only people living around it can get in. Your character just sneaked in to the park late at night just for the hell of it. At that moment, your character sits down on a park bench and looks up at the stars until he or she sees something they're not supposed to see. Write that scene.

head shot 1Rachel Beth Ahrens