Seventeen years and 711 pages after R.B. Phillips first started writing a story set in a small northern Michigan town not unlike Alpena, this former area resident, educator and government official has turned his literary efforts into a newly published book.
Released through Joshua Tree Publishing, "A Private Hope" is the first of three books in a trilogy Phillips expects to be published. The second installment is due out this summer and the final book, next year.
"I started writing in 1994 and it evolved into a long story," said Phillips, adding that he kept at the project off and on over the years.
The seeds for his book reach back to 1991 when Phillips spent three days working as an extra on the Die Hard II movie that was filmed partially in Alpena. After that experience, he decided to write his book with a movie in mind.
"I wrote this to be a movie," Phillips said. "There's just so much of the town of Alpena that could be filmed."
Toward that end, he wove a number of historically-based local issues and events into his writing, including a 1951Greyhound bus accident near Squaw Bay that killed eight people. Other recognizable mentions are the infamous Black Friday when in October 1981 Alpena Public Schools closed their doors due to a financial crisis, the tuberculosis infection of local cattle herds and the hazardous waste burning issue at the cement plant.
The central character in Phillips' tale is an 18-year-old high school senior named Kat Emmons. According to the book's back cover, residents of Baylor, Mich., begin to question how Kat is able to find and print news before it's published in the local newspaper.
Kat's previous articles lead to a state attorney general's investigation into the police department, and now the Baylor board of education and its controversial new superintendent is in Kat's journalistic crosshairs. A private person who two years earlier transferred schools from Oregon to be with her grandmother, Anna Fletcher, Kat lives with a past personal tragedy and the discovery of a buried family secret that consumes her daily thoughts and life.
Unbeknownst to Kat, her articles begin a process that will unravel the town's mysteries and expose a nefarious international plot of corruption and murder that threatens the town's existence.
Phillips decided a number of years ago to try and get his book published through traditional publishing channels. When his efforts produced no results, he set the project aside. Then in 2009, he opted to have only 50 copies printed for his own personal satisfaction and be done with it.
It was while contacting who he initially thought was a printer that Phillips ultimately found a publisher, John Paul Owles at Joshua Tree Publishing in Chicago, willing to print his book.
"This was strictly by accident," Phillips said. "I called thinking Joshua Tree was a printer. I got John Paul Owles on the phone and thought he was a salesperson."
As it turned out, Owles invited Phillips to submit the first chapter of his manuscript. The publisher liked what he read and then asked for an additional three chapters. A week later, Owles offered Phillips a five-year contract and the suggestion to turn the 771-page manuscript into a trilogy instead of just a single book.
"He said was looking for something like this and he was very receptive," Phillips said.
"A Private Hope" is currently available for sale in Alpena at Riverside Framing & Gallery for $16.95 per softcover copy. It also can be ordered online at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.
Phillips currently resides in Las Vegas, Nev. He taught for 36 years as a secondary, community college and university instructor. He also is a former county commissioner, township supervisor and Michigan state-certified firefighter.
Working as a part-time free-lance writer, Phillips has had articles published in the Detroit Free Press, the Las Vegas Weekly and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In 2005-06, he taught English classes in China at university and high school levels.
Phillips plans to travel back to Alpena next month for a talk on his new book. That program is scheduled for May 26 from 7-9 p.m. at Alpena County Library.