Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A First Contract Story - Rachael Phillips

Today's ACFW First Contract story is from one of the funniest most humble ladies in the organization. I remember her reaction when her name was called from the podium--it was a joy to see. So, without further ado--here's Rachael Phillips!

First Contract
When surprised, I am not a screamer or crier. I am a knocked-between-the-eyes, jaw-to-my-bellybutton “Duh!” person.
Those sitting near me at the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference found this out when Rebecca Germany of Barbour Publishing announced my novella—Ride with Me Into Christmas (in A Door County Christmas)—as a first-contract winner.
Brain cells shifted to neutral. I didn’t move. All around me, faithful ACFW friends, some of whom had cheered me on for years, clapped, cried, and pounded me on the back. Onstage, Becky waited with a smile¸ holding my dream in her hands.
Finally, I said, “Should I go up there?”
“GO!” My tablemates shooed me out of my seat. Still bewildered, I wandered up to the stage steps like an impaired driver who finally found her way to the right exit. Becky, who by now has grown accustomed to idiot writers, received me with a hug and said, “Welcome to the family.”
Thankfully, I was not required to speak. At least, I didn’t trip, faint or drool. Later I congratulated myself on having worn a decent outfit (it was the first night of conference, and I’d traveled a thousand miles), as well as refreshed my deodorant.
I was to refresh it frequently throughout the conference, as joyous colleagues—including many I didn’t know personally—wanted to give me congratulatory hugs. What a group! The selflessness and courtesy of ACFWers cannot be overstated. 
Still, some major forgiveness was in order. My three already-published co-authors—Becky Melby, Cynthia Ruchti and Eileen Key—had kept this news a secret for two months. We had brainstormed together, beginning in 2008, and collaborated on-line, critiquing each other and writing a proposal, which we submitted to Barbour. Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. As summer 2009 began, I was convinced the project had died. But maybe at the September conference, our group could pitch it one last time to Becky G.
“How about Saturday noon?” I suggested. “Let’s gather at her table. Cynthia, you’re a pro at this—would you spearhead the effort?”
Gracious as always, Cynthia agreed—all the while lying through her teeth. So did Becky M. and Eileen.
So did my agent, Wendy Lawton, who in our pre-conference discussions, never breathed a suggestion that Ride with Me Into Christmas might succeed.
When I finally recovered from the shock, I said to all of them, “You know where liars ultimately go, don’t you?”
They apologized. “Fibbing on-line was tough enough. But face-to-face? We asked Becky G. to award you the contract the first night because we knew we’d never last the rest of the conference!”
They’ve made it up to me a thousand times since then, praying, critiquing and encouraging me. I knew Cynthia from earlier conferences, but did not know Eileen or Becky personally until we worked on the book in earnest. Eileen, a Texas girl through and through, and I, a born-and-raised Hoosier [from Indiana], traveled to Door County, Wisconsin, spending a few days with Becky M. and Cynthia, who are native Wisconsinites. We stayed in a gorgeous bed and breakfast that inspired Cynthia’s Heart’s Harbor Victorian Inn in her novella. What a party! Research hardly seemed like work as we toured the peninsula, taking scenic pictures of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, climbing a fire tower, poking our noses and appetites into shops and restaurants. (If you visit, don’t miss a Fish Creek restaurant called Not Licked Yet. The Door County Sundae, oozing with hot fudge and hot cherries, and Yankee Snickerdoodle Doo Sundae are to die for.) One evening, a widespread power outage sabotaged a major work session. We survived by singing “This Little Light of Mine” and praying together—a blessing in disguise that would give us the spiritual oomph to finish the book. A Door County Christmas, including my debut novella, was released just in time for the 2010 conference book signing.
Receiving that first contract has made all the difference in my writing career, and I will forever be grateful to Barbour, Becky Germany, and my scheming co-authors and agent. Last year I signed another Barbour novella contract, joining this time with Ramona Cecil, Lauralee Bliss and Claire Sanders to write a nineteenth-century historical collection, A Quaker Christmas, which will release this September. My story, Pirate of My Heart, portrays what happens when Quaker girl meets river pirate boy!
The Door County bunch just couldn’t stay away from each other, and I am delighted to work with them again. This time, we gathered in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, another picturesque town, to research Cedar Creek Seasons. In this fun romance collection, which will release in spring 2012, each novella spans a separate season. In my story, In Tune with You, a highbrow choir director reluctantly joins forces with a tone-deaf football coach/drama teacher and his pagan friends to produce the most memorable Easter cantata in her church’s history.
Despite my present opportunities, I will always cherish my first novella—especially as only a week ago, I received a phone call from the ACFW coordinator of the Carol Award competition. “Congratulations,” she said. “Ride with Me Into Christmas has been chosen as a finalist in the novella category.”
Silence. Brain cells shifted into neutral.
“You can scream if you want to,” she offered.
“I’m … not …a …screamer,” I said. Once again, I was a knocked-between-the-eyes, jaw-to-my-bellybutton “Duh!” person.
I could really get used to this.

Rachael Phillips, a former choir director, owes her unplanned writing career to a church secretary who solicited staff contributions to the church newsletter at gunpoint. Rachael writes a weekly humor column called “Coffee Corner” for the Marion Chronicle-Tribune, the Plymouth, Indiana, Pilot News, and the Marion, Illinois, Review. Rachael has written for magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman, Marriage Partnership and Kyrie. The 2004 Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award winner, she published stories in the Zondervan collection Help, I Can’t Stop Laughing (2006), which features authors such as Barbara Johnson and Martha Bolton. She also has published devotions and stories with Guideposts, Moody Publishers, and others. 
            Recently the American Christian Fiction Writers organization notified Rachael that her first fiction, a novella called Ride with Me Into Christmas, in the collection A Door County Christmas, was nominated for the ACFW Carol Award.  Barbour Publishing soon will release two of Rachael’s new novellas: Pirate of My Heart in the historical collection A Quaker Christmas (September 2011) and In Tune with You, a comic contemporary romance in Cedar Creek Seasons (spring 2012).  She also co-authored a reference guide called Women of the Bible (February 2011) and wrote biographies featuring Frederick Douglass, Billy Sunday and St. Augustine, as well as a collection of four mini-biographies of hymn writers called Well with My Soul. More information can be found on her Web site,
            Rachael has been married 36 years to Steve, a family physician and adjunct professor at Taylor University. They attend Upland Community Church. Steve and Rachael have three married children: Beth (Frank); Christy (Bryan), and David (Janelle). Five perfect grandchildren provide lots of writing inspiration: Annabelle Kate, 7; Joey, 5; Linus, 3; Jay, 3, and Simon, six months.

Thank you so much, Rachael, for visiting On The Write Path. 

For you readers, what's the best ice cream sundae you've ever had? 


  1. Some random Wendy comments for you today:

    I've heard great things about Becky. If I'm not mistaken, she's working w/ Keli G. too.

    And I love the picture with the pen in the mouth. Every writer knows that well.

    ~ Wendy

  2. Great story...and funny too!

    Favorite sundae? Anything dripping in hot fudge. :)

  3. Yes, Wendy, Becky is awesome. The pen-in-the-mouth pic was strictly spontaneous. The photographer was trying to get me to pose (poor soul, she didn't know most of my wedding pics have my eyes shut). Another writing friend threw me a pen, and I did my best Groucho Marx imitation, which, as you can see, isn't the best. But it works as my profile pic :-)

    Lacie, I'm with you. My all-time favorite: a moose-tracks sundae, dripping with hot fudge and peanut butter.