Phillips takes on ‘heavy’ subject matter in new book
Faith Phillips’ third book, “Now I Lay Me Down,” is a true crime novel that focuses on two young girls who went for a walk down a dirt road and never made it home.
PROCTOR – Following up on her 2016 book “It’s Not Hard To,” Cherokee author Faith Phillips is back with her third book titled “Now I Lay Me Down.”
The true crime novel focuses on two girls who went for a walk down a dirt road and never made it home. Their murders in 2008 shocked the Oklahoma town of Weleetka and sparked the largest pursuit in Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation history.
She said she was working on what she thought would be her third book when she saw a friend from law school at a music festival. The friend, Maxey Reilly, told Phillips the true story of a triple-murder case she prosecuted in Okfuskee County.
“When she told the story my doubts melted away, and I knew immediately that I would have to write this book. The things she told me made my hair stand on end. I had goosebumps all over. I just couldn’t believe the story could be true,” Phillips said. “That has been the case with the entire process of writing this book. The more details I uncovered, the more I learned, the more I felt overwhelmed by the extraordinary circumstances of the case.”
Phillips said to write the book, she reviewed volumes of case material. “When you’re writing a true crime novel, it isn’t the same kind of work as journalism, but you still have to craft the novel around hard facts. The press coverage was intense at the time of the murders. Then the investigation phase and the trial went on for some eight years afterward. So you can just imagine the articles generated by an event like that. I reviewed every available article I could find, from 2008 to 2018.”
She accessed court records, witness testimony transcripts, evidentiary exhibits and thousands of pages of documentation. She compiled them and then put the pieces together “in a way that painted a picture for the reader.”
“There were several times when I believed the task was impossible, and I just wanted to quit. Most of the time I forced myself to work through those moments, and usually I would have a breakthrough. But sometimes I would walk away from the work to let my brain have a rest for a day or two,” she said.
The most difficult challenge, Phillips said, was the subject’s delicate nature because she was writing about real people and families who had “already been through hell,” and “hounded by the press.”
“It’s now 10 years after the greatest loss of their lives, a tragedy that most people cannot even begin to imagine living through. Maybe things are just now starting to become tolerable again for them. I had no desire to dredge that pain back up for them. I never want to bring pain to anyone,” she said. “So I tried my best to honor the girls and respect their families in the book as I told the story, while remaining true to the work. I hope that is what I did.”
The subject took a toll on Phillips. She said she met her parents for breakfast after she had sent off the book’s finished version, and they told her it appeared “some great burden” had been lifted.
“This subject is very heavy. We are talking about the brutal shooting of two little girls and the subsequent vicious murder of a young woman. One of the subjects I had to deal with is horrific violence. I am not a violent person, not at all. I’m not drawn to violent themes. In fact, I like to consider myself a peacemaker. But in the course of writing this book, taking in all these documents that describe in detail what happened…it begins to accumulate in your mind. It piles up and you start feeling the weight of it all,” she said. “Sometimes I had terrible nightmares and other days I would just wake up with a very heavy feeling in my heart. These things go against my nature, so yes, it did have a personal affect. It’s a very dark story, but the idea is to see a transformation, how people deal with such a tragedy and what it takes to come out on the other side of all that darkness.”
She said her book would have never been written if she had not met Reilly in law school.
“I feel like a book about these murders would have been done one day, but no one could have told it like this book does, simply due to the fact that I had a firsthand account of what went on from day one when Maxey got the call that two little girls had been murdered. She had just started out as the assistant district attorney in Okfuskee County.”
Phillips’ previous books came out as ebooks first and then the hard copy was released. This time, she reversed that strategy. The hard copies are available for pre-order on her website ReadBooksBy.Faith. The book was to go on sale at Amazon.com in late August, but signed copies are only available through purchase on her website or at in-person book signings.
She also had planned to be at the Cherokee National Holiday during Labor Day weekend with her books at the Cherokee Heritage Center, which has become a tradition for her in the past few years. She said she hopes she can have a new book ready for the holiday every year.
Her first official book club appearance is on Sept. 27 in Stilwell at the public library, and then she is doing official book releases at “Bound For Glory” books in Tulsa and later in Okemah. Those dates will be announced later, but she said people can keep up with dates and book signings on her website or Facebook page.