Friday, September 10, 2010

Interview With Rachael Phillips

I am thrilled to have my friend, Rachael Phillips, with me today on Write About Now!  Rachael is the author of Ride With Me Into Christmas, one of the four novellas neatly tied together in the book A Door County Christmas.  Rachael, thanks for stopping by to visit with me and my reader friends today.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself for those who aren't lucky enough to know you?

I was a church music director when my unplanned writing career began.  The church secretary demanded monthly newsletter articles at gunpoint.  The pastors hated this task, but I loved writing humor articles based on Christian music and the Bible.  From that, I began to write a column for my local newspaper and take writing classes in the adult program at Bethel College, Mishawaka, IN.  There I made connections that resulted in my first biography in Barbour’s Heroes of the Faith series, Frederick Douglass.  Since then, I’ve written three other biographies for Barbour (Billy Sunday, Saint Augustine, and Well with My Soul (four hymn writers), as well as more than 400 articles, newspaper columns, devotions, and stories.  I’ve received the Erma Bombeck Global Award and the Genesis award for Young Adult Fiction, as well as others.   A Door County Christmas is my first published fiction.

I have been married 35 years to Steve Phillips, a country doctor, now also Taylor adjunct professor who teaches bioethics. We enjoy riding our tandem bike and have ridden almost 600 miles this summer. We have three grown married children: Beth (Frank), Christy (Bryan), and David (Janelle). We have four-going-on-five perfect grandchildren: Anabelle (6), Joey (4), Linus (2), and Jay (2). New grandbaby in January 2010.

The weekly column that you have recently begun writing for the local daily newspaper is certainly a welcome addition to that publication and your wonderful sense of humor is very evident in those articles.  What is your least favorite part of the writing process?

Plowing through the second draft. The first draft is spontaneous and fun. In the third and later drafts, I can shape fascinating details on the already-established frame. The second draft involves lots of focus and choices as to what goes and what stays, and I often tremble as I chop, chop, chop what I hope is irrelevant or detrimental to the story.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what is your favorite part of the writing process?

Playing with the story possibilities in the very early stages or polishing the shine on the final drafts.

Tell us a bit about your typical (if there is such a thing as typical) day.

Alarm goes off at 5:30.  Pray with hubby for 15-30 minutes, up to study Bible and eat.  Usually at my desk by 7:30 because my best writing time is in the morning.  Work on the most urgent/difficult writing projects till noonish, lunch, a 30-45 minute nap, then work till hubby comes home.  I tend to do easier writing, marketing, e-mail responses, most social networking in the afternoon.  When I’m on deadline, I often work into the evening and beyond.  I meet friends at noon to socialize and talk writing sometimes. Hubby and I take a tandem bike ride after supper or do yard/house work.  Sometimes watch TV (often sports) or read together.  Not a glamorous life, but I enjoy it.

Hmmm... I see nothing in your day that allows for those trips to Ivanhoe's for a sundae or a strawberry shortcake.  When do you fit that into your schedule, I wonder?  OK, let's play a game here and pretend that you just finished your book two days before deadline. How will you celebrate or reward yourself?

A Moose Tracks sundae at Ivanhoe’s!  What else?

Aha!  I knew we would get to Ivanhoe's at some point in this interview!  For those of you who are clueless as to what we are talking about, I will let you in on a secret.  Rachael lives in a small Indiana town that you would miss as you drive through if it were not for the fact that Taylor University is located there.  Even more famous than Taylor to many people is the small restaurant/ice cream shop that is widely known for one hundred varieties of sundaes and shakes.  People drive from miles around to visit Ivanhoe's and finding a parking spot in their lot is usually a major ordeal.  (Rachael, do you suppose Ivanhoe's will pay me for this free advertisement?)  I digress -  let's get back to the interview.  What’s up next for your readers?

I also just finished a women’s fiction, Kneady Women, about a lonely Boomer writer who finds fun, food and fellowship with a bread-baking group called the Loafers.  I just sent it to my agent and, of course, hope it’s published!  I also co-wrote a reference guide, Women in the Bible, which Barbour is publishing in February 2011.

You have certainly been busy!  Don't forget that I want to be an influencer for Kneady Women; I am really looking forward to that.  What were your favorite subjects in school?

English, reading courses, Spanish.

Do you tend to turn to comfort food when approaching a deadline? Are you a nervous eater or do you become so engrossed in writing that you forget to eat?  What would be your first choice of comfort food?

Oh, definitely, I’m a comfort food/nervous eater!  Forget to eat? If I do, you’d better worry!  My first choice is ice cream sundaes—not good, since I live 3 blocks from Ivanhoe’s.  Pizza’s a close second.

What is your favorite meal?

Ooh, that’s like asking me about my favorite book!  WAY too many to count.  I do love seafood and pasta, so it would probably be a shrimp/scallops/clams pasta dish.

Would you share with us a favorite Bible verse?

My life verse: Psalm 103:1.  Above all, God has made me a worshipper.

Can you briefly describe your approach to beginning a new book?

Sitting and staring comprises a large part of it.  I like to use notebook and pen to brainstorm rather than the computer.  I also like to bounce ideas off other writers and my husband.  I often will create characters before setting or plot.  Those are often determined by how the characters act.

Do you like music when you are writing or do you prefer solitude?

Sometimes I need complete silence, but I enjoy playing classical instrumental music while I work.  I rarely play vocal because I’ll sing along and lose my concentration.

How do you overcome writer’s block?  Or is that a foreign concept to you?

I've struggled more with it this year—we moved from our hometown of 28 years—than I ever have. Usually it means I need to get up and do something physical, such as walking, riding our bike, working in the garden.  Even doing laundry seems to help me escape the “freeze,” which is akin to a computer’s stall. If it continues, I pray, read Scripture, play the piano and sing worship songs, and/or talk with my husband and writer buds.  Often I will write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s awful.  I heard Anne LaMott say she often spent days filling pages with bad, bad writing, but that bad writing could be corrected.  She couldn’t do anything with no writing.  I try to follow her example.

All of those methods must work well for you to have been as prolific as you have been in such a short period of time.  What (or who) inspires you?

Jesus, of course!  And my parents, who have never stopped laughing, never stopped creating, despite hard lives and enormous obstacles.

You must have inherited your wonderful sense of humor from both of them.  If not writing, what would you rather be doing?

Singing and composing.  Reading.  And definitely, eating.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share for those who are just starting out on the path?

Look to the Creator for creativity.   And if you’re looking for an easy path, choose another.

One couldn't ask for any better advice than that!  If you could choose in which you were born, what era would you prefer to live in and why?

Every era presents amazing challenges and opportunities.  But if I could have followed Jesus during His ministry, I can’t imagine anything more moving.

I agree -- that would have been an amazing time to be alive!  How did it transpire that you and the other three authors teamed up to write this book?

Cynthia and Becky were friends who lived in Wisconsin who loved the Door County area.  I had worked with Cynthia as ACFW choir director and humor columnists for the ACFW e-zine Afictionado, and we’d known each other from earlier classes and contacts (we share the same agent).  Cynthia and Becky wanted to write comic romances, and Cynthia suggested me because of my humor writing.  They knew Eileen, who had already published a book, and our foursome was complete!

And what a foursome you are!  I hope that you will all consider blessing us with another joint venture.  Where would be your favorite place to live?

Indiana, except during March/April, when I’d rather be south.  Second choice: Barcelona, Spain.

Following up on the last question, what place(s) have you not been that you would like to visit?

New England in the fall.  I’d also love to visit more countries in Europe (I’ve gone to Spain, France and England).

Name three things that most people would be surprised to learn about you.

I’m far more shy than some people think.  I love to watch sports live and on TV.  I’ve ridden in the trunk of a 1969 Mustang going 65 mph.

You certainly surprised me just now; I never would have guessed that there is a shy bone in your body! I will definitely have to hear more later on about this wild ride in the Mustang!  What was your most memorable moment from a conference.

Last year when I won my first fiction contract with Barbour!

I can readily understand why that would be a memorable event!  When did you know that you were destined to become a writer?

I’m just now beginning to believe it.

How much of ‘you’ can be found in your characters?

Certainly a little in each one.  But if one resembles me closely, I throw in some major curves to disassociate her with me.

Are you a plotter or do your characters tell you what direction to go?

My writing is definitely character-driven.

Rachael, it has been a real privilege to have you on my blog today.  I hope that those of you who are reading this can sense what a wonderful lady Rachael is.  I am lucky to be able to count her among my personal friends.  I met her a few months ago when she joined a mutual friend for lunch at Ivanhoes' (of course!) and immediately I felt a special bond with her.  The day we met was the beginning of one of the worst trials that I have ever had to endure and I was not my usual self.  Normally I am a relatively quiet person and tend to let others take the conversational lead.   But that day I monopolized the conversation telling my lunch-mates about my woes.  Rachael was so kind and supportive and didn't hesitate to pray with me right there over her empty ice cream dish.  Words cannot express how appreciative I am of her friendship and I am glad to have her as a guest on my blog and to be able to provide my support for her newly released book.  To learn more about Rachael and her writing, visit her web site or look her up on Facebook.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the review of A Door County Christmas and a chance to win this wonderful collection!


  1. Not sure on what to commment, except that I have known Rachel now for about 8 years, met her through her daughter Christy who is married to my son Bryan Dam. We now share our grandson Linus and a new grandbaby sometime next Jan. 2011. I love reading her short stories, and even better when you hear her telling it in special lady to me and my family.

  2. Thanks for stopping by. Rachael wrote a hilarious column in Thursday's newspaper about Linus. If you haven't seen it, you MUST ask her about it!

    I agree with you - Rachael is a very special lady and I am happy to have met her.

    Jan Marie

  3. I am late coming to this, but I really enjoyed your interview style, Jan! I've interviewed Rachael and I learned a few more things about her.

    I treasure both you and Rachael. God brings us to places to share with friends.

    An Ivanhoe's gathering soon!

  4. Thanks for your kind remarks, Crystal! The feeling is mutual and I concur that an Ivanhoe's rendezvous is in order! We have much to catch up on!