Interview With Chris Ahrens
A Writer’s Thoughts
Written by Henry Ortlip
Chris Ahrens has been a freelance writer for more than 40 years. His work ranging from magazine articles to penning pro skater Christian Hosoi’s biography, now includes a fiction novel, Twilight in the City of Angels. Ahrens sat down with Risen to discuss challenges, faith, technology and the writing process.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Cardiff by the Sea, California
Risen Magazine: What was the inspiration for Twilight in the City of Angels?
Chris Ahrens: It came from a story I have heard and told all of my life. I have always been a storyteller. Every time I would tell the story of my grandfather being run over by a train, it impacted people. People would remember the story and ask me to tell it again. About 20 years ago I was doing a book reading at Barnes & Noble [for another writing project] and an agent came up to me and said, “Do you have any other ideas for stories?” I told her about my grandfather. She was excited and wanted me to write it. I wrote it quickly, and then realized that what I had wasn’t enough for a whole novel. So I studied and did more work to enhance the storyline based on elements from the story of my grandfather. All in all, from the time I had thought I had the book completed, until when I actually finished the novel – took me about 15 years.
Risen Magazine: You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, including pro skater Christian Hosoi’s biography. How does the writing process differ?
Chris Ahrens: I had never written a novel before. I can have the facts right, but not the heart right – not the real story. I try to write what I call an emotional history; more what it feels like, rather than what actually happened. I really try to explore what people would feel, and the experience they would go through. With my novel, a lot of people don’t know the story, but they know the feeling and emotion of the time and the culture. Some have told me the book has brought forth many memories. For me, that is what links the truth. When I did the Hosoi book, I tried to make it as real and as true to Christian Hosoi’s life as possible. Writing a novel was ten times harder. There was nobody to make sure the voice and character was the same throughout the story. It’s easier when talking to a live person because in the Hosoi case, Christian and I could talk about his life and circumstances.
Risen Magazine: You’ve been a freelance writer most of your career, what are the biggest challenges to having your work read?
Chris Ahrens: I guess the short answer is that you need to speak the same language and understand your audience. I think it’s easy for anyone who considers himself an artist to become prideful in what he does. Once you become prideful you separate yourself from the audience. If I’m egotistical, then I believe I’m not like the people I’m talking to. The public doesn’t want to read something that is not relatable to them.
Risen Magazine: How does your faith interact with the way you write?
Chris Ahrens: I try to be honest and just write what I feel, not to contrive my own beliefs into my work because I’m a Christian. I hope my faith runs through the things I do, the things I say, and the things I write in a truthful manner. When I’m faithful and doing well in my [Christian] walk, my faith shines though my work in an organic fashion. At times when I’m self-absorbed and not in the Word [Bible], my faith doesn’t get reflected in my work. I’ll look at some of my past writings where I’m a bit more egocentric and the story becomes all about me – just as at that time in my life everything was self-centered.
Risen Magazine: How do you think technology is changing the way people write and the way consumers read?
Chris Ahrens: When I first started writing I would only write my drafts with pencil and paper. Years ago people would always talk about the fear of the empty page. I don’t hear that anymore. The act of a writer just sitting in front of the typewriter was something I never did. Even though most people wrote this way, I could never type out a draft; it wasn’t quick enough or mobile enough for me. Now, with the computer being so much more like the human mind, I can interact very quickly and get my thoughts written very quickly. It’s wonderful work this way, but I do think boundaries are still needed.
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Fall 2014
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