Rebecca Gault: The inspiration behind The Rebecca contest

Posted by: Kathy Flake (writing as Kathryn Barrett) on Jun 18 2012, 8:07 am in ,

When I moved to Albuquerque, I’d just finished my first book. I joined LERA right away and posted a message on the email loop asking for a critique of my manuscript. I didn’t realize what a big ask this was at the time, but I was glad when someone responded. 

Her name was Rebecca Gault, and she became my critique partner, my mentor, and my best friend. 

We met up at a book store and discovered we both had red hair and daughters named Leah. And while I’d always considered myself a “grammar queen,” Rebecca had a few things to teach me—lessons I’ve never forgotten. (And never once have I misspelled “sentence” since they day she informed me it had no “a”.)
 
Rebecca was blazingly clever. She had a PhD from Georgetown in German Literature and Linguistics. She worked for the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy, helping New Mexicans in her adopted state learn the most valuable life skill. Her dream was to adopt a child from foster care—she had so much to share, she told me as she showed me a photo of the little girl she hoped to adopt.
 
I soon learned Rebecca had a wicked sense of humor—very, very wicked. When we decided to attend RWA nationals in New Orleans, she asked me to share a room with her—so she could swear with abandon. 
 
Two redheads shared a room, and the walls turned blue. She even taught me a few good German curses.
 
Rebecca’s critiques were spot on. She dug deep, finding meaning in passages I’d not considered, suggested connections and images that had escaped me. Best of all, she loved my writing, despite the first-novel awkwardness. I remember beaming with pride over my salad as she told me all the things she loved about the book of my heart, Redemption
 
She slayed my self-doubt, that monster on my shoulder. If this smart, witty, accomplished woman could like my work, maybe someone else would, eventually.
 
She’d just finished a novel, too, but before I could read the last chapter, she got The Call. Her book, Into the Blue, would be published by Five Star. We celebrated the news together, and continued to meet regularly for critiques and laughs and encouragement. When I got The Call from an agent, she was the first person I called, even before I told my husband. 
 
It was because of her that I finished a second novel, knowing she was eagerly waiting to read another chapter. And when I began my third, I was counting on Rebecca to help with some of the tricky German bits. 
 
I still remember the morning she called to tell me she wouldn’t be able to make lunch that day. It was really silly, she said, but her doctor had admitted her to the hospital after she’d complained of side pains. They figured it might be her gall bladder. 
 
But by the time I visited her in the hospital that afternoon, they were already using the C word. We laughed at the absurdity. I offered to donate my hair when she lost hers, knowing there was no way Rebecca could have cancer. She told me no thanks—I’d look terrible, she said, in a pixie cut.
 
We laughed together, and a few days later we cried together, as the diagnosis came back: stage four colon cancer. 
 
I was the only one who was sure she’d make it, despite the prognosis. Her five sisters gathered, her children, her friends. From the phone calls I fielded, from friends back East as well as those nearby, I realized Rebecca had made an impact on many people’s lives. Her own life would be cut short, but the number of people she’d affected was enormous. 
 
I’ll never forget the day I returned her daughter to the house Rebecca had just bought. (Rebecca had completed the adoption process a few months before she was diagnosed with cancer.) By then Rebecca was in a coma—the end would come at any time, the hospice nurse had told us. 
 
I sat next to her, watching her breathe. Finally I accepted, deep down, that she wouldn’t recover. I touched her hand—it was cold. I moved my hand to her forehead, and found it warm. My thoughts were incoherent, unusual for a writer, but somehow I tried to convey the sense to her that I was at peace, at last, with her passing. 
 
I left, and five minutes later received a phone call. She was gone—she’d drawn her last breathe by the time I reached the door. 
 
Rebecca had left us with a promise: whenever we saw a feather lying on the ground, that would be her, she said, a message from beyond, where ever she was. 
 
And we told Rebecca, before she died, that the LERA unpublished writers’ contest would be named for her. It was appropriate—she’d touched so many friends, influenced so many writers, encouraged so many dreams, during her time on earth. 
 
The prize for that first Rebecca contest was a tiny silver feather.
 
I’ve had more than my share of struggles with writing. I’ve given up many times. Yet there was always a voice urging me on, castigating me for quitting—in typical salty language. And just when I most needed encouragement, I’d see a perfect feather, lying on the ground. 
 
I hope anyone who enters The Rebecca contest hears that voice, and sees a feather. 
 
And damn it, whatever you do, don’t quit. 
 
Kathy Flake, writing as Kathryn Barrett, will be published next spring by Entangled Publishing. Her novel, Temptation, contains only a few German curse words. She currently lives in England, where she’s still looking for feathers.

23 Comments

23 responses to “Rebecca Gault: The inspiration behind The Rebecca contest”

  1. Mona Karel says:

    Kathy, thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. Tammy Baumann says:

    Kathy,

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story with us. It gave me an even deeper appreciation for the woman who inspires and watches over our contest!
    Tammy

  3. Louise Bergin says:

    Kathy-
    A beautiful tribute to Rebecca. I remember her and the deep sorrow I felt when she passed. Thank you for letting others know who Rebecca was.

  4. Jeffe Kennedy says:

    what a lovely story – thank you!

  5. It must have been difficult to write this because it was difficult to read. Thank you, Kathy.

  6. Paula says:

    Kathy, what a beautiful tribute to our absent friend. I remember how I had the feather with me all day at work on my computer. One day it was gone and I was miserable about losing it. Then, months later, I was in my yard wrestling with a writing problem and noticed something twirling on the ground as if by magic. Turns out it was (no my lost feather) but a feather caught in a web an spinning like a quil pen. I thought of Rebecca then and often. Thanks for letting those who didn’t know her or why the contest has its name to share in her memory

  7. Kathy, what an amazing legacy Rebecca left. I never realized the meaning behind the silver feather until I read this. Although I never had the pleasure of knowing her, I feel like I know a lot more about her as a person now…thanks to your post.

  8. Kari Bovee says:

    What a touching story, it brought tears to my eyes. Though I never met Rebecca, I can tell her spirit lives on in this wonderful, supportive group of writers. Thanks for sharing her story.

  9. Robin Perini says:

    Kathy–what a beautiful tribute. Thank you, my friend, for sharing a bit of her with everyone.

    Rebecca still lives in my heart, and I still think of her often. Every year we hold the contest, she is there. Once, I remember driving down to Las Cruces just to attend one of her booksignings. Because it was important. She was so very special. As are you.

  10. I am so touched by the wonderful memories you’ve shared with those of us who never had the opportunity to meet this wonderful woman. Thanks you so much for letting us get to know her.

  11. Mary Neville says:

    I went to college with Rebecca from 1967-69. All classes with her were a treat! We worked at Marshall Field’s together one summer. Such an attractive person – yes, pretty – very pretty, but more than that, someone you wanted to be around. Really loved her novel; I learned a ton about the German poetess she brings to life in the story. When I found out she died about a year after the fact, I cried my eyes out. I can see her 20-something self perfectly in my mind’s eye. I don’t think she was 30 the last time I saw her in Chicago. I will always think highly of Rebecca and cherish my memories of her. So glad I came upon this moving article. Thank you, Kathy!

    • Wow, Mary, that’s amazing! You described her perfectly–she was definitely someone you wanted to be around. I remember fielding phone calls when she was so ill (too ill to talk to friends, sadly) and so many people told me how she’d inspired them to follow their dreams. I passed along their comments to her, and she remembered everyone, despite the morphine.

  12. Barrett says:

    A beautiful and touching tribute to an early torchbearer of this talented group. Thank you for sharing with those of us who never had the privilege of knowing her. The contest should continue to remind us of her talent and generosity.

  13. Sarah Baker says:

    Thank you, Kathy. Beautifully told!

  14. Jean Willett says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a woman who understood the insecurities of a writer. A touching memory. Thanks for sharing.

  15. John Orman says:

    Kathy:

    Thanks for that moving tribute to Rebecca. I will have to research more of her life and work now!

  16. Brenda says:

    Sorry I didn’t get to this soon, but life intrudes.
    This is a lovely tribute to Rebecca and she is truly missed. Thanks, Kathy.
    Brenda

  17. Thank you, Kathy. Though I never met Rebecca in person, I met you and got to hear about Rebecca right after her death. I then got a copy of her book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt like karma, being that I wrote about Austria and had a strong German connection as well. So it kinda seems like her hand and fate brought us together as kindred writing spirits. And I’m certain she is cheering about you having jumped into the writing game. I know I’m thrilled. You have always been a superb writer, and you always will be. Thanks for reminding us all of Rebecca’s story in this wonderful way.

  18. lisa gault marquez says:

    my oldest sister becky..we were bookends..she she oldest of six girls, i,,, then youngest..the baby… HER baby…eleven years her junior she took me under her wing and took care of me in ways our dysfunctional mother could not……loved ….loved..loved..love my big sister and all that she was….we shared that WICKED sense of humor…love of babies…love of words…beautiful things…. RED HAIR>>>>she grew up and decided that she wanted to be called rebecca…WHATEVER..your name is becky to me and your sisters…i am very glad there is a contest with her name..didn’t know it……sincerely grateful….love “little liza jane”

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