A Season in Lights by Gregory Phillips

Book Description:

In the colorful artistic underworld off-Broadway, Cammie, a dancer in her mid-thirties, has just landed her first part in a show since coming to New York City. Yet the tug of familial obligation and the guilt of what she sacrificed to be there weigh down her dancing feet. Her lover, Tom, an older piano player, came to the city as a young man in the 1980s with a story eerily in tune with Cammie’s own. Through their triumphs and failures, both learn the fleeting nature of glory, the sweetness of new love, and how a dream come true isn’t cherished until it passes. The bright lights of the stage intoxicate, while degradation and despair lurk close behind the curtain. Their sagas are marred by two pandemics, AIDS in the 1980s and COVID-19 today, which ravaged the performing arts community, leaving a permanent scar on those who lived through them. The poignant intersection of their stories reveals a love affair unbound by time, reaching across decades through the notes of a piano’s remembered song.

A Season in Lights: A Novel in Three Acts by [Gregory Erich Phillips]

My Book Review:

In Gregory Phillips dynamic novel, A Season in Lights, the city of New York is in a constant state of becoming as seen from the perspective of two artists: a stary-eyed dancer named Cammie, come to the city from Lancaster, Pennsylvania in search of Broadway, and Tom, a black piano player from the mean streets of the Bronx, seeking a career as a classical pianist against all odds.  

In language as fluid and graceful as the performers portrayed in alternating chapters, A Season in Lights beckons the reader to New York City’s inner sanctum. The atmosphere is electric, it glows and pulses with vibrancy, and Cammie, a ballet dancer and divorcee in her mid-thirties, sees the opportunity to dance on Broadway as her life’s second chance. Through a Times Square cab window, Cammie remarks, “I eagerly looked out at the neon glow and bustle of activity. The lights! Their glow had lured me here. The stage lights made me feel alive again.”  

Tom, grounded and practical, knows a bit about life’s underbelly having witnessed the mistakes his hoodlum brother made. He takes a job as a ballet studio’s accompanist and plays it safe while keeping his eye out for classical opportunities. The ballet master takes Tom aside and insightfully says of New York City, “You get to choose your class here. It’s not determined by your upbringing. It doesn’t matter that you’re black or that I’m gay. It doesn’t even matter how much money you have. All you’ve got to do is convince people that you belong. You’ve got to tell them who you are before they tell you.” 

A Season in Lights is a layered story. As the main characters struggle to actualize their dreams, each has a backstory to surmount. Small town girl Cammie feels guilty about moving to New York and abandoning her younger sister. She is prone to depression and torn over family obligations, on the fence about where to plant her roots. Of New York’s many merits, Cammie, on a visit back home, says to her sister, “What’s so wonderful about people in New York is that they’re all doing something. Nobody’s in New York by accident, not even people who were born there. Being there takes effort and purpose.” In considering her options of whether to stay in the city or move back home, Cammie realizes, “Ultimately, a good life for a dancer in New York would amount to scraping by and enjoying it.”

Tom, dutiful to his mother, is entrusted with his unpredictable brother’s safe keeping, even as his sibling plays too close to the edge. When push comes to shove, Tom prioritizes, and eventually finds the courage to save himself by walking away from his brother’s drug-related troubles.

What’s so compelling about this well-written New York set story is how well the author knows the city. The reader is taken to restaurants via hidden alleys, guided down side streets for late-night jazz, and taken into celebrated theatres both on Broadway and off. Author Gregory Phillips knows ballet positions and accurately speaks the language. When it comes to music, the writing is such that you can hear the compositions.

A Season in Lights is a modern day, tightly crafted story concerning artists living in the heartbeat of the fabled Big Apple. It’s a human story about passion and ambition; a fantastic foray that explores the myth and magic of New York City.   

The author, Gregory Phillips

Biography

From a prolific literary family, Gregory Erich Phillips tells aspirational stories through strong, relatable characters that transcend time and place. Living in Seattle, Washington, he is also an accomplished tango dancer and musician.

Gregory Erich Phillips

Available online where books are sold!

Gregory Erich Phillips (Author of Love of Finished Years) | Goodreads

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

Writing Prompt from Scare Your Soul

I submitted an essay to the outfit, Scare Your Soul, who issued a callout to writers to submit an essay on what they’d lost and what they’d found during the world-wide pandemic. My essay is one of ten, chosen to be narrated by a New York City based actor. For ten weeks, the selected essays were feature, one at a time, on Scare Your Soul’s Podcast.

My essay appears this week. Here is the essay, and below it is the Podcast link where you can hear actor, Keith White – Georgia and California raised, now living in NYC, with a host of Broadway credentials, narrate. I loved hearing his interpretation of my essay!

Watching Doors

I lost my eldest brother right before the pandemic. Grief is no fit master when the world is on pause, and oh, how the mind rankles when enclosed in four walls—one has little recourse but to climb them. There by the grace of God go I, and what could I have done to prevent this collided. I had no distractions because the rules of the pandemic are such that there’s nowhere to run.  

 I’m the last in my family standing. Because my brother died unexpectedly, it was as if he threw the ball of his life in the air, and it was incumbent upon me to catch it. When I got out of shock, I had his worldly goods sent from Chicago to a storage unit near me in Southern California. I was so overwhelmed that when the deed was done, I adopted an out of sight, out of mind approach and tucked away the key. But one can only procrastinate for so long. As the shut-down dragged on, I was shorn of excuses for not addressing the unit’s 74 boxes. In the interest of closure, I prioritized the task and stepped up.

A large envelope was at the bottom of a box marked papers. When I opened it, out slid a nine-page document titled, “Notes on Father Fullerton as told by him to his daughter, Ora.” I’d never heard of Ora Fullerton. What’s more, I’d never heard the name Ora, but it turns out it’s not unusual in Ireland’s Isle Magee, County Antrim.

The document was a Xerox copy, a rag to riches chronicle of my great grandfather and his siblings that began in 1876, and led them, one after another, from famine-ravaged Ireland in search of the American dream. The eldest sibling arrived in America first, with twenty-five dollars. He took a look around and discovered, instead of brick and stone, everything in America was built with lumber. After apprenticing as a carpenter, he worked for a man who owned a sawmill. When he became co-owner of that sawmill, he sent for his ten Irish brothers and expanded the business. By the time the full story was told, the immigrants owned a total of eighty American lumber yards. At the helm of it all was one Samuel Holmes Fullerton, whose photograph I found on the last page of the document as he appeared in a 1906 edition of American Lumberman’s Magazine, and whom the town of Fullerton, south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana was named, which is now on the National Historic Register. 

Because I knew none of this, I’m researching my Irish lineage. I sense there’s a triumphant story in my forebears finding the American dream. It’s affirming to realize the pandemic hasn’t changed my optimistic belief in the possibilities of human existence. I began the pandemic grieving the loss of my brother, but I’ve found my paternal lineage. This seems to me beautiful testimony to one door opening as another closes.  

Scare Your Soul is a volunteer-led, science-based movement that inspires people to ignite their best selves through living a courageous life.

Here is Keith White’s Narration:

Keith White is an NYC based actor/singer/writer. He’s been seen performing on Broadway, in National Tours, on Cruise Ships, eating at Vegan brunches, dancing at hiphop concerts, celebrating his friends and family, and most recently lounging in sweatpants at home in his apartment spending time with his love Erin Kommor and their dog Bear as the world slows down in the middle of a pandemic. If you want to know more, visit Keith’s instagram @ItsyaboyKeithWhite.

Here are the other writer’s essays that were recorded for the podcast:

Podcast (scareyoursoul.com)

And here is The Website where you can discover the mission of Scare Your Soul!

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton