HOUSTON, May 21, 2007 – As fans of American Idol prepare to choose their favorite budding star this week, a Houston woman is hoping she makes it into the final room of another kind of national contest: a writing contest.

Rachel Schipul, a stay-at-home mother of three and a PTA president who always wanted to write a book, is among 10 finalists out of 2,600 who entered the Gather.com First Chapters Writing Competition. Like American Idol, Gather.com enthusiasts vote for their favorite writers and finalists are crossing their fingers hoping for their big break.

Schipul entered the first chapter from her unpublished first book, Forty-Two Blue, a crime novel set in Houston.

“It’s about a lonely widow who works as a systems analyst living in the Texas Hill Country and is asked by her brother to investigate strange activity on his corporate network,” Schipul explained. “What follows is murder, adventure and romance as the main character puts her life on the line to catch a thief.”

A graduate of Texas A&M with a degree in Animal Science, Schipul worked for years in the technology field before stopping to focus on writing. She began taking writing courses at Rice University about 10 years ago at the encouragement of her husband.  Over the years, she tinkered with Forty Two Blue on and off as she raised her family. When she finally finished the novel, Schipul floated the book by a few literary agents, but didn’t get much response. A friend told her about the First Chapters Writing Competition and encouraged Schipul to enter her work.

The Gather.Com First Chapters Writing Competition is one way for a budding author to get published. Schipul’s first chapter made the initial cut of 20. Then her second chapter made the second cut to make it into the top 10. Now, the third chapter of Schipul’s manuscript has been reviewed and rated by the Gather.com community and Editorial team and five finalists will be selected (four by Gather.com members and one Editor’s Choice).

The winning novelist will receive a publishing contract with Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, a $5,000 cash prize and promotion of the book by Borders book stores. The grand prize winner will be announced at the end of May.

Gather.com, a social media site which describes itself as ‘a place to connect with people who share your passions’, reports that its membership has nearly doubled since the contest began, with a 30 percent surge during the month of March alone.

““Writing is a great brain exercise for me; I can write down all of my thoughts, live out fantasies and daydreams, and set the record straight about the past,” said Schipul.  “Getting recognition for my writing is great, but it’s especially wonderful because it represents instant feedback about the book from people who are enthusiasts and really care.  I love the interaction.”

Besides writing, Schipul is also an avid reader. Some of her favorite authors are John Grisham and John Sandford, whose spin on the crime/legal thriller genre provided some inspiration for the Forty Two Blue novel.

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