Q&A with Author Gregory Phillips

Q: Choose three words to describe your writing style.
Immersive, Accessible, Aspirational

Q: How did your career as a dancer influence your writing? 
Besides the obvious—since this novel is all about dancers—the creativity and work involved in
creating dance numbers is not unlike writing a novel. It starts with an idea, but then takes hours,
weeks, months to bring a choreography together, practice it until it is sharp, and finally perform
it on stage. Having both writing and dancing as creative pursuits, I feel that both the inspiration
and diligence of one only helps when I turn to the other.

Q: When did you begin writing your book, A Season in Lights
This novel took quite some time to come together. I began the story in 2015, as a way to
fictionalize some of the experiences I’ve had on stage. I put it aside for a couple years while I
wrote The Exile. Then finished the early version of it in 2019, only to end up blowing the story
up after the start of the pandemic to incorporate what was happening into this story. Having so
many friends who work in the performing arts, I really wanted to show the effect of the
pandemic on performing artists, both financially and emotionally.

Q: Who are the characters that readers will meet in this new book?
Cammie is a dancer in her mid-thirties who has come to New York City to try to “make it” on
stage. Her lover, Tom, is an older piano player whose initiation to the city as a young black man
in the 1980s provides a parallel storyline. Each of their younger siblings play key rolls. The
colorful cast of Cammie’s early show bring an array of unique personality. Finally, you will meet
Charles, the gay ballet master, who becomes an unexpected friend and mentor to young Tom.

Q: Tell us, readers, about your protagonist, Cammie.
Cammie was an interesting character to craft. Her experiences as a dancer had some similarities
to my own, so it was fun to write her story. Just as the story changed a lot as I wrote it, so did
Cammie. I feel she grew as a person, not just from start to finish, but as I continued to refine the
novel. She can behave like a petulant child at times, she is very loving, but can also be selfish
and sometimes misses the most obvious cues from others. She does this partly as a coping
mechanism against her own depression. However, she gains maturity as the book goes on, and
makes right some of the poor choices from her past.

Q: What other books are you working on, if any?
I have a few projects I’ve started, but I’m not really sure what will come next. The uncertainty of
the world right now makes it difficult with contemporary fiction to construct a story, not
knowing how the world may look next year or even next month. That is also a unique
opportunity that I have been playing around with. So we’ll see. The next story hasn’t compelled
me to tell it yet.

Q: What themes will readers find in your story?
This is a novel about ambitious performance artists. One theme is in how these artists learn to
measure their success—or perhaps better put—their meaning. It isn’t found on the biggest stage
or through the loudest applause. Another theme is how two generation defining diseases, AIDS
in the 1980s and COVID-19 today, have shaped the performing arts world.

Q: How did you get into the literary fiction genre?
really don’t think about genre when I write. I just tell the story that is there to be told. I’ve
heard many different classifications for my books, including one influencer who said she thinks I
created my own genre. I really liked that! Ultimately if connect with my characters, and find my
stories stick with them after they finish reading, then I consider it a success.

Q: What other genres are you thinking of writing?
My first novel was historical fiction and I could see myself returning to that genre one day. I love
history and feel the cross-over between historical and literary fiction is natural for me. I even feel
that my contemporary novels contain some historical elements in that I like to tie the key events
and societal concerns of the time and place into my stories.

Q: What was the journey like for you in creating A Season in Lights?
It was completely unpredictable. More than any of my novels, the way this book changed from
first draft to finished product, took so many unexpected twists and turns. I had considered the
book “done” before the COVID pandemic and shut-down of Broadway compelled me to write a
whole new section for the story.

It was easily the most personal novel I’ve written, both because of the dance and performing arts
themes, and because writing about the early days of the pandemic, as it was happening, felt raw
and even vulnerable to do.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers in your genre?

Above all else, be a storyteller. You want to write fiction because you have a story inside you, a
story that needs to be told. If you tell it authentically, the rest of the details will fall into place.

Q: Where can readers find you and your books online?

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