I had the great pleasure of meeting this lovely woman at the ACFW Conference in Dallas last year. I often joke that it’s her fault my Women’s Fiction entry didn’t make it past the semi-finals—cause her entry was better than mine (along with a few others that placed higher ;o)). You see, Rachel won the Genesis in Women’s Fiction that year … and I was thrilled.
Well, maybe because she deserved it. You’ll get a glimpse of why from this interview, but if you also check out her post on the Living the Body of Christ blog last week, you will see how God has uniquely gifted her to do what she does.
I just love that!
Please welcome Rachel Phifer to InfiniteCharacters.com.
Rachel, can you first tell us how long you’ve been writing?
Um, how far back do you want me to go? I’ve been writing stories since I could write sentences. I didn’t get serious about it for the longest time, in part because I was frustrated by the discrepancy between the story in my head and what I was able to put on paper. Then I read some author interviews on the Barnes & Noble website, and noticed author after author saying they learned to write by copying other authors. My craft improved by leaps and bounds after I started dissecting my favorite novels and imitating them. About seven years ago I got serious enough to finish my first novel. I finished editing my second novel last year, and it was published in July of this year.
Woohoo! So exciting!
Tell us three things about yourself that would surprise your readers.
1) I love apocalypse stories – the kind where the world as we know it comes to an immediate end because of a nuclear attack or an unleashed virus. It’s not the genre I write in at all. But there’s something fascinating about watching people reconstructing the world with ingenuity and courage.
That is shocking. I wouldn’t have guessed that about you.
2) I can’t cook even though I love writing about people who can. I can’t speak a second language fluently. I can’t garden or take a decent photo or many of the wonderful things I love to write about. You know the saying, “Those who can’t, teach?” Well for me, it’s, “Those who can’t, write.”
:o) Ha! I so relate!!!
3) I write because I find communicating so hard. Writing allows me the time to get it right.
Yes. Don’t you just love word processing?
Are you a plotter, a pantster, or somewhere in between?
I’m more of a pantster. I have a general idea of the story arc and a few crucial scenes before I start. I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. I wish – oh, how I wish – I could outline. I’m sure it would make for a much smoother writing journey. But the story won’t flow for me until I immerse myself into one scene after another and the characters come to life. Once I’m about 2/3 of the way through the story, I can usually pin down the rest.
Does your faith affect your writing? How?
It’s the other way around. Writing strengthens my faith. I spend a lot of time building made up worlds when I write and will zero in on a woman’s gypsy-dark eyes or the way a soft rain muffles the sound of traffic. So I get to focus on the beauty God has generously given us more than I do when I’m rushing through my busy days. Also, as I write my characters into conflict and disappointment, and then bring them to a richer conclusion than the one they would have planned for themselves, it helps me to trust God. It’s too easy to believe that my trials mean He’s forgotten me. Writing reminds me that He’s ultimately working out a plan I can’t see yet.
Do you put yourself into your characters, or do you find yourself borrowing from family or friends as your characters develop?
A bit of both. In order to really get into character, they all have to have at least a little bit of me in them. Some more than others. But it’s fun getting to be things I could never be in real life too – more brilliant or funny or brave. For the characters who are most different from me – ones who are way more confrontational or perky than my quiet, melancholic self – I usually think of someone I know to help me get started. But once I get into the writing, they usually take off on their own. They tell me who they are and they’re not me or anyone I know. They’re “them.”
My theory is when they do that, they become most real for the reader, too.
Is there any scene in your book that came from a real-life happening?
Yes. I try to write true-to-life. In particular, Nick’s experience in teaching is something inspired by my own experience. I taught for a few years in inner city schools. Teen girls were having abortions or becoming moms. Boys were harassed by gangs or joined them. It was so hard to get the kids motivated. But the most heart-breaking part was getting the kids to a place where they were excited about learning, and then having an administrator come in and interfere with something that was working. I wish I’d been half the teacher Nick was. I was young and naïve, but I was privileged to watch some truly dynamic teachers who knew how to make a difference.
What would you be doing if you weren’t writing?
Not writing? I can’t imagine it. If I weren’t writing for publication, I’d still be blogging or writing for family and friends, or at least journaling or writing poetry. I do think of doing some kind of ministry one day though, once my kids are on their own. One day I would love to work with people who need the most. Whether that’s teaching an adult literacy class or tutoring in inner city schools here in the states, or doing something overseas, I haven’t decided.
Ooo. If you tutor, you won’t have to deal with the administrator :o).
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Sure. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to finish the first draft. I spent so long trying to edit the beginning of my first novel. I wanted to get it right before I moved on. Now I can see it was impossible to work out what I needed to do until after I’d finished writing out the whole story.
That is just the truth!
What is the coolest, wackiest, most risk-taking thing you’ve ever done?
You know, I’m a quiet person who generally prefers to watch and write about the risk-takers. I don’t know that it’s wacky, but when I was in college, I went back-packing through several European countries: England, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Hungary. This was just before the Berlin Wall came down. It was a tough trip in many ways. I got lost. I got sick. I was robbed twice and harassed by strange men. But I’m still glad that I got to see so many beautiful places and meet some interesting people. Plus, the experience made me stronger and wiser.
Wow, that’s awesome!
Have you won any awards with your writing?
Ah, yes. Beating out lil ole me on that last one ;o). For good reason!
Thanks for joining us today, Rachel. Always a pleasure to reconnect.
The Language of Sparrows …
Brilliant and fluent in too many languages to count, 15-year-old Sierra Wright can’t seem to communicate what is important to her in any language. Though April Wright stubbornly keeps an upbeat attitude about her daughter’s future, she has let her own dreams slip away. Just across the bridge lives old Luca, scarred from his time in a Romanian gulag years before. Though he has seemingly given up on people, Sierra is drawn to him despite his prickly edges.
No one else is comfortable with the unpredictable old man spending time alone with Sierra, not even Luca’s son. Yet it is this unconventional relationship that will bring two families together to form friendships and unearth their family stories, stories that just might give them all the courage to soar on wings toward a new future.
As the daughter of missionaries, Rachel Phifer grew up in Malawi, South Africa and Kenya, and managed to attend eleven schools by the time she graduated from high school. Books, empty notebooks and cool pens were her most reliable friends as she moved from one place to another. She holds a B.A. in English and psychology from Houston Baptist University, and lives in Houston with her family.
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