Over the past year, literally thousands of entries were submitted to the FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge. Out of those thousands, forty of them took first place. Out of the 40 first-place winners, one came out on top. And the one entry that stood out among the rest was The Composition, written by FaithWriters 500 member, RACHEL BURKUM. Join FaithWriters interviewer, Lynda Schab, as she takes a few moments to talk with Rachel about her writing, and how it feels to be crowned this year's, Best of the Best.
LYNDA SCHAB: First of all, Rachel, congratulations on your Best of the Best win! What was your first reaction when you saw your name on top?
RACHEL BURKUM: I was almost scared to look and see who the winners were. I wound up checking my email first, and when I saw that my article had been reviewed several times, I suspected that I had received third place, maybe second. I bravely visited the Challenge web page and my eyes just about popped out of my head. What an honor! I felt like crying and jumping up and down at the same time. While I know the valuable lesson that winning isn't everything, making it to "the top" in the FaithWriters Challenge circle has been an awesome experience. It is indeed a blessing and I have to admit that it's a good boost for my confidence, which I often lack.
LYNDA: Well, your win was very much deserved. Your winning entry, The Composition, is so beautifully written. How did you come up with the idea of the instrument analogy for the topic of Beginning and End?
RACHEL: Honestly, I don't remember how the idea came up. I love writing analogies though, so oftentimes I automatically begin thinking of parallels and comparisons. I'm musically inclined, which made it a lot of fun to write - I probably had more "fun" writing this piece than a lot of others I've written. Coming up with different instruments to match the moods within the piece was challenging, and I ran it past another musically-inclined person for suggestions to make sure it flowed well. In the end, I was happy with the outcome and I'm glad that others could "hear" the music like I could!
LYNDA: You're no stranger to the FaithWriters Writing Challenge, or to the Top Ten. Of all of your Challenge entries, even those that didn't place, do you have a favorite?
RACHEL: I have a handful of favorites. Some were written several years ago, so it's hard to recall which ones I loved at the time of writing them. If I had to pick one out at this point, I would say it was a more recent one, It's Time (http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=30077). I worked hard with this particular piece, trying to pull the reader into the story setting, so I think it's one of my better-written entries. Ironically, it barely made it into the top 40 list that week! Other favorites would be No More to Weep, Worth a Thousand Words, and this year's winning entry, The Composition.
LYNDA: Are you like some self-professed Writing Challenge addicts who absolutely have to enter The Challenge every week? Or do you approach it more casually, and just enter on weeks when the topic "speaks" to you?
RACHEL: My name is Rachel… and I am addicted to the FaithWriters Challenges.
In all seriousness, the Challenges have helped and inspired me so much that it's hard not to enter. On weeks that I just can't think of anything to write, it's a huge frustration.
There have been times that I have dropped out of the Challenges for one reason or another, but when I do that, it's always hard to get back into the swing of it again so I prefer to stay on board. When I do that though, I know I will "have" to enter every week, even if it means staying up until midnight Wednesday night!
When I'm involved, it's a personal goal to have an entry every week within that quarter. I don't always accomplish that goal, but the Challenge has been a wonderful experience and opportunity that I hate to miss. I used to simply enter during weeks that the topic jumped out at me and I had an immediate idea. Lately though, it really has become an addiction!
LYNDA: Tell us a little about yourself. Have you always known you wanted to be a writer or was it a desire that developed over time?
RACHEL: Being a writer is really something that God developed within me over time. I started writing in high school, and though I jumped right into the idea of writing books, it took me a long time to think of myself as a "writer." Even after I had a couple published books under my belt, I had yet to write shorter stories and articles, which would later open up an even bigger world for me. FaithWriters has a lot to do with getting me out of "my box" and helping me realize that there's more to writing than just books. God's been working on me and my writing for years now and it's exciting to think where He will lead me next.
LYNDA: You mentioned that you have some published books, which some members may be surprised to discover. Tell us a little about those.
RACHEL: I love writing novels. That is how I got started writing and God blessed me with a mind that constantly has more than one plot running through it. At this point in time, I have three published novels: A Test of Courage, At the Heart of Truth and Silent Ride. Soon I will have a fourth, Discovering the Dawn. Each book emphasizes the Christian walk in a way that readers can relate to, whether they know nothing of faith, or whether they do and want to be encouraged and inspired by the message. I love incorporating horses into the plots and a bit of romance is a must! More in-depth details about all of my books, along with my testimony, can be found on my website (www.rachelburkum.com).
LYNDA: You mentioned incorporating horses into your books. Where did your love for horses come from?
RACHEL: Honestly? It came from God. That's the only explanation I can come up with. When I was a little girl, I had no interest in horses. Then, almost overnight, I was "horse crazy," begging my parents for riding lessons. Once I started riding, I was hooked. The man I call "Dad" today was one of my riding instructors when I was younger. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am today. It's too long of a story to tell here, but in the end, horses have played a huge role in my life...something only God could have orchestrated.
I still ride today, though not nearly as much. Horse shows and competitions have been overtaken by a full-time job and, of course, writing. When time and weather allow, my dad and I find ourselves on our two Arabians, enjoying this pastime together.
LYNDA: Very cool! Someday, I'd love to hear those stories of the roles horses have played in your life.
Would you say you're more drawn to fiction or non-fiction?
RACHEL: Fiction may be my favorite genre to write. Probably because it gives me the most freedom. I can add or delete characters however I want, and assign them whatever backgrounds and personalities I want. I love building character profiles and thought-processes.
Apart from fiction though, I also enjoy writing devotionals, short thought-provoking pieces, and I've dabbled some in poetry as well.
LYNDA: Who are some of your favorite authors, both fiction and non-fiction?
RACHEL: I have to admit that I don't read much non-fiction. I enjoy a good novel so much that when faced with a choice, I go for the fiction. It's hard to say who my favorite author is - there are so many talented writers out there. The names that come to mind, though, are Michael Phillips and Judith Pella. A series of novels that they co-authored really inspired me as far as writing styles go. I love their characters, and their plot development is fascinating.
In a completely different genre of fiction, I've started reading works by Charles Dickens, which has been a little difficult but very fun to read. His descriptiveness and characterization is captivating.
LYNDA: Take a moment to brag on your family. Are they supportive of you and your writing?
RACHEL: Oh, yes, my whole family is extremely supportive. My mom (writer and editor of a devotion book published by Deaf Missions) was the first to encourage me to publish my books and she loves to be involved in my plot-forming process. My dad has been a wealth of information, assisting me with horse facts and realistic scenarios. My brother loves to promote my books - I think he's a better salesman than me! And my grandparents…I just adore their love and support.
I also have to mention a couple of my friends. Lisa might as well be my sister. She's been my biggest fan and a huge encouragement through it all. Alicia has been affectionately dubbed my "creative consultant," and has helped me more than she'll ever know…or admit.
Overall, I am so grateful for God blessing me with such a family, whether they're blood relation or not. They've believed in me from the beginning and that has more value than winning any Challenge.
LYNDA: One of my favorite parts of conducting an interview is learning fun and fascinating things about the people I interview. What are three fun or fascinating fact about yourself that others may be interested to learn?
RACHEL: One fun fact is that my favorite tool is a sledgehammer. When a little, sissy hammer won't do the trick, I'm right there with "Betsy." It gets the job done, not to mention using it is great exercise and a great stress-reliever too! Of course, since our old barn has been torn down, there hasn't been that much call for the sledgehammer…but I'm waiting for the next opportunity.
I also like to play chess. I think learning the game assisted in forming my analytical mind, which, in the end, has helped me with my writing. As a child, I was even involved in some chess tournaments along with my brother.
Some people don't know that I'm proficient in sign language. I was raised going to a church for deaf people, so sign language became a natural second language to me. I've used the skill for one-on-one communication, and have done some interpreting as well.
LYNDA: Love the sledge hammer fact. Never would have guessed that one!
So give us a glimpse into what you're working on now.
RACHEL: I've always got a lot I'm working on, but I'll focus on my top two. I have another novel that should be released by the end of this summer - Discovering the Dawn. It's been a fun project because I wrote the plot several years ago, but recently picked it back up to rewrite and add to it. I'm hoping readers like it as much as I do, and I'm looking forward to promoting it.
My other big project is a devotion book for horse lovers. God at the Reins has fifty-two devotions that are based on my experience with horses. Each thought draws a parallel between horses and our Christian walk. My mom has helped me with this book, assisting in finding the best Bible verses to coincide with the devotions themselves.
LYNDA: Love the name of that devotional! Very clever and so appealing to the horse lover.
So do you plan to continue entering The Weekly Writing Challenge? Can you admit to having competitiveness that makes you determined to retain your title of BoB next year?
RACHEL: Oh my…I have a terrible competitive streak! Yes, I have to admit that "Defending the title" has crossed my mind. I plan on continuing to enter the Challenges, and I really want to buckle down and try to find the areas in which I need most improvement. My competitiveness drives me towards a "win," while my desire to progress drives me towards learning. I think it's a combination of wills that I can live with.
Winning the Best of the Best is like accomplishing a dream that I had tucked away for fear of appearing too competitive. But earthly rewards pass away eventually, even if my name is up in lights for a year. Of course I want to win again! I'm human, after all. But I know God will continue to teach me, whether I win again or not. When I finally see Him face-to-face, I want to have been a faithful servant, using the talents He gave me to the fullest.
This placement is an honor. Now turn your spotlight Heavenward. God deserves the credit.
LYNDA: What a humble spirit you have, Rachel (a humble, competitive spirit. LOL) But that's a great way to wrap up this interview. God DOES deserve the credit and the honor. But you get to reap the reward. For now, that reward is a nice cash prize and the opportunity to wear the BOB crown for an entire year. Be sure to wear it proudly!
To learn more about Rachel and read more of her work, visit her online.
FaithWriters profile: http://www.faithwriters.com/member-profile.php?id=12300
FaithWriters webpage: http://www.faithwriters.com/websites/my_website.php?id=12300
Rachel's personal website: http://rachelburkum.com/
TRUST JESUS TODAY
Free Audio Bible
500 Plus Languages
Faith Comes By Hearing.com