Gregory Phillips - A Story of Passion, Ambition and Escape
From a prolific literary family, Gregory Erich Phillips tells aspirational stories through strong, relatable characters that transcend time and place. His debut novel, Love of Finished Years, won the grand prize in the prestigious Chanticleer Reviews International Writing Competition. His second novel, The Exile, won first prize in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. Gregory is also an accomplished dancer and musician who has performed on stages in New York City, San Francisco and in Seattle, Washington, where he lives. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, A Season in Lights.
Please give us a short introduction to what A Season in Lights is about.
A Season in Lights is a story of passion, ambition and escape, set in the colorful artistic underworld off-Broadway. It follows the lives of artists struggling to craft an artistic career. Through their triumphs and failures, they learn of the fleetness of glory, the sweetness of new love, and how a dream come true isn't cherished until it's past.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything that made you want to tackle this?
I am a dancer and a musician myself and lived briefly in New York City, where I danced in a few off-Broadway shows. I was inspired to write a story that gave a glimpse behind the curtain, as it were, into the lives of the artists who may never reach the big stage, yet live and breathe their art with total passion.
Why did you decide to write this in three acts?
The three Acts came about organically as the story unfolded. First it was simply Parts I & II, between which there is a clear break and change of the tempo of the story. The final section came last, after I knew I had to show the effect of COVID-19. After that final part was written, I decided on Acts instead of Parts, as a nod to how life on stage often parallels real life.
The sagas include two pandemics, AIDS and COVID-19. Why did you find these important to write about?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a terrible impact on performing artists of all types. It has ended livelihoods and in many cases ended careers. When the pandemic broke out, I knew it was important to show this impact through story, and this novel, mostly done already, gave me that opportunity. Interestingly, I wrote the section that includes the AIDS crisis long before COVID-19 even existed. So the parallels between the two were completely unplanned, but became a tragic echo between the two storylines.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Well, they aren't so secret anymore. As mentioned above, I am a dancer and a musician. The main dance form I do is Argentine Tango, which I have performed frequently in the past. I have also recently been playing a lot of piano, perhaps inspired by having written the character of Tom in this novel.
You also touch on heavy topics such as prejudice, addiction, depression, sibling rivalry, and more. Why did you take this approach?
All these topics came about organically as the story unfolded. They weren't really planned, with the lone exception of the sibling rivalry, which appears between both Cammie and her sister, and Tom and his brother. Beyond that, the characters themselves guided the narrative into these heavy issues, and once that happened, I wanted to explore them in detail. Cammie's battle with depression was a perfect example of how depth can unfold as you create a character. Just as she kept her depression secret from her friends and family, I felt she kept it secret from me, the author, until I knew her better, and then it came out with all its crushing force.
Why did you pick New York's artistic community as the backdrop for your story?
New York is a city of ambition, and that is a major theme of both Cammie's and Tom's sagas. Most of it could have happened in any major American city, but I felt New York City uniquely captured this spirit of ambition, especially for Cammie.
In which way is this an uplifting tale?
Both of the main characters, Cammie and Tom, are ultimately reconciled to living with their personal demons and the ghosts of their pasts. I think we all crave stories where the characters beat their personal struggles, but that isn't often how real life works. I find Cammie's attitude toward the end with regards to her dance career and family obligations to be something many readers will relate to, even if it doesn't result in the "ending" to the story Cammie would have chosen.
What do you hope readers will take away from A Season in Lights? Does the book contain a hidden message?
It's not really hidden, because the characters discuss this openly, but one of the key messages of the book is how the moments that give life meaning aren't usually appreciated until they've passed. The stage performers in the book rush through their big moments, which end up becoming the memories of a lifetime. I believe we all do that in smaller ways, so I hope readers take the opportunity to reflect on this truth.
Please tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
I had very little involvement with the cover, personally, and I love how it came together. The photo of the dancer is by Kevin Garrett, and the cover design is by Troy King. Visual art is not my thing, so I stayed out of the process and let these fantastic artists create what they do best. Perhaps my favorite thing about the cover is that, in the way the dancer's foot is turned, you can see the ugly part of her shoe. That simple detail says so much about ballet itself as an artform, as well as the story of this book.
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
Probably Tom. He is quiet and soft-spoken and doesn't reveal a lot about himself. At the end, Cammie realizes how little she knows about him, despite the fact that they have been lovers. Yet he has incredible depth and many layers to his personality and history. As an author, that created a challenging balance, however, I really like the way Tom did end up coming to life on the pages.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Early mornings are my writing time. Balancing a high-pressure day job, morning is the time when my mind is most clear for creativity. I try to write for a couple of hours each morning before work. As far as interesting habits, while I write well at home, there are certain places that inspire me. I have started two novels each in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Whidbey Island, Washington. Subsequently, those are two places I sometimes return to when I feel stuck in a project, to get the creativity flowing again.
What are you working on right now?
I have a draft of a novel finished but I feel like something is missing. Right now I'm working on getting that work up to my own personal standards. Until I figure out that last bit of missing magic, the plot remains a secret, but I know my readers are going to love it!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Please visit my website, www.gregoryerichphillips.com, where there are links to all three of my novels, and please interact with me on my social media, facebook.com/gregoryerichphillips, and instagram/gregoryerichphillips.