I met Rebekah McAuliffe at the Kentuckiana Authors Fair earlier this year. She is the author of Gears of Golgotha, a steampunk, dystopian thriller.
How did you decide to become an author?
I’ll be honest: I love getting this question, because I love telling this story. When I was in first grade, my teacher had the class participate in the Young Authors contest going on at the school. I collaborated with my “eighth grade buddy”—a tutoring program the school had—and wrote My Alabama Vacation, about my family going on vacation to a zoo in Alabama and all that happens along the way, comparing animal behavior to human behavior (keep in mind I’ve never been to Alabama). I ended up placing second place in the school for my piece, which isn’t too shabby for a six-year-old. The first-place winner was Nicholas, another student in my class, and his story, The Last Dinosaur, won him a medal and a picture in the local paper—two things I wanted more than anything at the time. As the school year drew to a close, I said to myself, “I’m going to hone my skills as a writer and kick your butt, Nicholas! Just you wait!” *cue Hamilton music* Nicholas, however, ended up transferring shortly after the beginning of my second grade year. But that didn’t stop me from continuing to practice, even though no more Young Authors events would occur until my middle school years.
Fast forward to seventh grade. I was bullied to the point where depression began to manifest. Symptoms of my bipolar disorder had begun to surface, even though I wouldn’t be diagnosed until almost eight years later. I wrote Chapparelle’s World, a short story for my language arts class, about a high school student with depression named Chapparelle who fights the demons in her head as she fights for her life after a suicide attempt. Her mind is a high fantasy wonderland, filled with dragons, a lost princess, and a stepsister with a heart of gold. Looking back, I’m surprised nobody reported me to the school counselor; this was clearly a cry for help. Anyway, I ended up submitting it to the Young Authors competition at my school, and not only placed first in my school, but made it to the county-wide semi-finals. As I stood and received my awards, I realized that this whole time, writing was about much more than awards and recognition; it was something I genuinely enjoyed. The page didn’t judge me; I could tell it my fears, my worries, my hopes, my dreams. I could construct fantastical worlds, convey feelings I hardly dared to even think.
Over time, I kept writing and writing—this time for the pure enjoyment of it rather than conquering imagined enemies—until I connected with my cousin Amy McCorkle (also a writer). I had the barebones idea for a story and my feelings, but she helped me mold it into a full-fledged novel about a young girl accepting the duality within herself. This would eventually become Gears of Golgotha.
How does your professional background help with your writing?
I don’t really consider myself to have a “professional background.” I’ve been a tutor, a substitute teacher, a server (and God knows how many other things) at a restaurant, and a bank teller. But I have found that the real world has as much an impact on one’s writing as technical knowledge and imagination. If anything, you need all three to create a solid story. I find just as much inspiration, if not more, from interactions with customers and co-workers than something I create from scratch in my own head.
Can you tell us more about why you wrote your book?
I wrote Gears of Golgotha while I was in the first couple years of my college career. Bear in mind, I was a very sheltered child. I didn’t know what the word “sober” meant until I was in the eighth grade. (I literally shouted the question, “What does sober mean?” at a drug awareness assembly—and was completely serious.) After I graduated high school, I attended Morehead State University in Morehead, KY, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. I had never even been to Lexington, Kentucky, let alone this far east. I didn’t know anyone. I was alone in a completely different world. I was finding myself for the first time—and I was terrified. I originally envisioned Gears as a treatise on the science vs. religion debate (the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate happened during the writing process). On a surface level, scientists and those of faith (like the Chemists and Mages in Gears) shouldn’t be divided on a superficial level; both were necessary to create a better world. Overtime, I found that the concept of the acceptance of duality stretched beyond science and religion. I needed to accept every part of myself, even the parts I was afraid of. Gears of Golgotha helped me process that.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
There are going to be times where you will doubt yourself. I won’t pretend that doubt doesn’t exist. Voices on the outside and in your mind may tell you that you’re not good enough, that you’re not a real writer. You don’t write fast enough, or you’re not original. Do not listen to them. Do you write? Then you’re a real writer. Ignore those voices and keep pushing forward at your pace. There is no other voice like yours. Embrace that.
What are some upcoming publishing projects you are working on?
Right now, I’m on the final chapter of Alpha, book one of The Alpha Trilogy, a political conspiracy thriller about an Army Ranger who is blackmailed into joining the notorious Project MK Ultra. I’ve been working on this novel for about four years now, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
Visit Rebekah McKaullife’s author website.