Rachel Phelps is a young FaithWriters member, who is definitely making huge strides as a writer. Not only has she placed many times in the FaithWriters Challenge, she recently won first place in the Wow-Women on Writing flash fiction contest. Join me as I talk to Rachel about her writing, her family, and her goals for the bright future ahead of her.
LYNDA: Tell us a little about yourself and your Christian background.
• I am a Texas girl through and through. Born in Dallas and lived in North Texas until I came to Kansas City to go to college
• I was homeschooled all 12 years of school and graduated a year early
• I am 5’9” and love to wear high heels
• I have dyed my hair every shade from black to blonde
• I was a magna cum laude graduate from MidAmerica Nazarene University in May ’09 with a Bachelor’s degree in English literature. I currently work at Applied Learning Processes, a learning center for dyslexic kids and adults
• I LOVE dark chocolate and very spicy food.
• I’m one of those people who goes into a project asking, “Where do you need me to pitch in?” and a week later finds herself running the whole show. I never saw myself as a leader, but people keep making me one.
As for my background in Christianity, I grew up as a PYPMMEK (Pastor, Youth Pastor, Music Minister, Evangelist’s Kid), so I was pretty well inundated with Christianity from early on. My family traveled 35-45 weeks a year in an RV from the time I was 7 to 14, holding revivals around the Midwest. This averages out to four days out of seven in church. Unfortunately, such a close association with church made it all too easy to focus on unimportant, legalistic details instead of a relationship.
Through my growing up years, I was the model pastor’s daughter – polite, neatly dressed, able to whip out chapter and verse for whatever Scripture could be made applicable to the conversation, and as fluent in theological terms as a seminary student. I was also so engrossed in the role of “church kid” that I never found time to truly experience Christ until I went to college.
In the last several years, I have learned what it is to love Jesus with my entire being, not just my mind. I’ve also learned how to utilize the academically-inclined mind He gave me as a way to worship Him, not just memorize facts about Him. I’m also currently a member of a small group at my church called the Bible Action Group. Our mission is to never talk about God or the Bible more than we serve, so we meet once a month and plan service projects ranging from Habitat for Humanity to helping widows move to making Valentine’s care packages for those who have lost a loved one. What an incredible example of the body of Christ this group has been for me!
LYNDA: Did you always love to write? Do you remember when you got passionate about it?
RACHEL: I can’t remember I time when I wasn’t scribbling. I would read a book and think, “Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if this happened?” So I would either write a new story with those characters, or simply write a similar story with my own ideas substituted where I deemed it necessary. Plagiarism had not yet entered my vocabulary.
Writing became a way for me to express myself when I was a teenager and stuck in that tiny RV. Since I had no space/privacy, I created a private world for myself in my notebook.
I gave up my fiction writing in college, but after graduation, the old fire returned. Now I want to use my love of story to create ways for people to think about issues we don’t want to have preached to us. I’ve discovered that I can wrestle with an issue in a book and come away changed, but if you put me in front of a preacher and have him tell me how to change, I will walk away more stubborn than ever. I want to create opportunities for change through entertaining media.
LYNDA: You’re a frequent FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge top 10 finalist. When did you start entering the Challenge and how has it helped you grow as a writer?
RACHEL: My first entry in the Challenge was May of ’09. Faithwriters was the first Christian writer’s website I found after graduation. I was starting to think there was no place for a Christian short story, then I found the Challenge.
I was struggling to reconnect to my narrative voice after years of academic and journalistic writing. I tended to swing to the extreme of rambling and providing every detail I could imagine. The Challenge quickly taught me that I must slim down or lose my audience (though I don’t seem to be heeding that lesson in this interview). I’ve also benefitted greatly from being in a community of writers. The weekly discipline of simply reading other people’s work and evaluating it has helped me hone my own skills. Plus, being with all the great people on FW has kept the joy of writing alive in me.
LYNDA: Are you pursuing a career in writing? If so, what are you doing to further it along?
RACHEL: I would love to have a career in writing, but I have to admit I pursue it with about as much focus as I pursue a clean apartment. I was a journalist in college – worked my way from reporter to editor in chief of my student newspaper and interned at a regional paper three summers in a row. Since graduating, I’ve rediscovered my love of fiction. I’m still battling the “I’m too young to put myself out there” mentality, so I stick to stories for my own pleasure and the Challenge. I have discovered I am the world’s best self-de-motivator and can talk myself out of just about any opportunity that comes my way by telling myself I’m not good enough, not experienced enough, or that there’s someone else out there much better qualified.
One of my goals this year is become more active in my pursuit of a writing career. To that end, I accepted a freelance position with the PR department of MidAmerica Nazarene University, my alma mater. It has given me a chance to get my feet wet and I hope will lead to more writing income.
LYNDA: What genres do you enjoy – as a reader and as a writer?
RACHEL: I am a huge fan of historical fiction. I love to write it and I love to read it when it is done well. I’ve also never outgrown my love of young adult books – I still pull out my old favorites on a regular basis. I can’t say there is any genre I dislike, but a major selling point for me is dimensional characters. Give me characters I care about, and you can plunk them into any story you want because I’ll read it.
LYNDA: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment so far, both personally and as a writer?
RACHEL: As a writer, it would have to be winning the WOW Summer 2010 contest. It was my second time entering that contest, and I didn’t have high hopes for placing. As I explained to a friend, it was the first time I didn’t have a single, “Well, yeah, but” to tag on (Well, yeah, but entries were low that week on the Challenge…”; “Well, yeah, but there are only six English majors, it was a probability I would get an award…”; “Well, yeah, but the choir director knows me, so it wasn’t really about my audition…”) Trust me, I have millions of these.
Personally was much harder to come up with. I don’t tend to think of experiences as “accomplishments.” Things may have been accomplished, but the end product is rarely something I can take credit for (My friends all strongly disagree with this statement, so for a glowing list of my daily triumphs, I can supply email addresses and names). I guess I would have to say my senior year of college. That year I was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, editor-in-chief of the student creative arts publication, and in the spring musical. The newspaper readship soared, and it was our most successful year financially in at least a decade. The creative arts publication was only in its third year, but we were able to raise enough to print in color for the first time. Despite all the busyness, I still managed to graduate with the highest score on the senior comprehensive and won the American Heritage Award, which is the highest non-academic honor MNU offers – an award given for contributions to the campus community and spiritual vitality. Oh yeah, and I got a degree, too. Cool, huh?
LYNDA: Very cool! Tell us about your family.
RACHEL: I was adopted at six weeks old and have never had any contact with my biological family. I do, however, know that I have Scottish, Irish, and Japanese blood in me. Yeah, quite the mix, there.
As far as the family I’ve grown up with, my parents live in Texas with our two poodles, Teddi and Misti. My dad and my sister are incredibly musically talented – they can play anything and sing like angels and both have written enough songs for several CDs. (Yes, I am slightly jealous, but it’s okay. I can outspell them both) My mom is an amazing homemaker – she homeschooled my sister and me and is a wonderful cook. My sister now lives in Kansas City with my nephew, who is the cutest, loudest 2-year-old in the world.
LYNDA: What do you like to do for fun?
RACHEL: You mean, besides writing? I am a crossword addict. The New York Times is my preference, but I’ll do any puzzle you put in front of me. I’ve discovered a passion for cooking in the last year and a half – particularly creating my own recipes. I seem to have a genetic mutation that forbids me from making a recipe exactly as it says to. I’m also getting into crocheting again. I love choral music, and am involved in my church choir and a choir at MNU that is open to students and alumni.
LYNDA: Where can we connect with you online?
RACHEL: I have a mostly-abandoned blog: http://www.facebook.com/l/792adgg86yKp6ffPYmU-YEpLoDQ;www.liveparexcellence.blogspot.com
And a website my sister is designing for me:
And you can always connect via FaithWriters! (Rachel’s Profile)
LYNDA: What an inspiration you are, Rachel (and no, “well, yeah, but’s…”). I have no doubt you’ll go on to achieve every goal you set for yourself. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Looking forward to seeing what God will do in your life!