As part of the Litfuse Blog Tour for Christmas at Grey Sage, please join me in welcoming Phyllis Clark Nichols to the blog!
Phyllis Clark Nichols believes everyone could use a little more hope and light. Her character-driven Southern fiction explores profound human questions from within the simple lives of small town communities you just know you’ve visited before. With a love for nature, art, faith and ordinary people, she tells redemptive tales of loss and recovery, estrangement and connection, longing and fulfillment, often through surprisingly serendipitous events. Phyllis grew up in the deep shade of magnolia trees in South Georgia. Now she lives in the Texas Hill Country with her portrait-artist husband, where red birds and axis deer are her ever-ravenous neighbors. She is an English major and classically-trained musician, seminary graduate, concert artist and co-founder of a national cable network for the health and disability-related programming. After retiring as a cable network executive, Phyllis began leading mission teams to orphanages in Guatemala and now serves on three non-profit boards where she works with others who are equally passionate about bringing hope and light to those who need it most.
Her new book, Christmas at Grey Sage, released October 2017 from Gilead.
This Christmas, there’s plenty of room at the inn.
Nestled in the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe, the Grey Sage Inn looks like the perfect place for weary travelers to escape the craziness of the Christmas season. There’s plenty to see in historic Santa Fe during the day, and the inn’s owners, Maude and Silas Thornhill, are happy to spend their evenings hosting this year’s guests from across the country.
But an unusual snowstorm throws a wrench in the festive mood. The sprawling inn becomes close quarters as stranded guests discover this Christmas won’t be the relaxed vacation they expected. Tension and fear mount as the storm worsens, and Silas, a retired doctor, is called away in the middle of the night to care for a neighbor. The snow and stress unlocks tongues–and in the unexpected conversation that follows, secrets and pasts are revealed, and hearts are healed.
In the midst of snowdrifts and fireside conversations, of tales of days gone by, the warmth of Christmas brings a renewed hope as these trapped strangers become friends–proof again that the joy, hope, peace, and love of Christmas can be experienced no matter where you are.
Hi Phyllis! Welcome to the blog!
Phyllis: Apples, because with them I can make my blue-ribbon-winning apple pie.
Carrie: Yum! I really feel that you should share a piece with me. Just sayin’
Phyllis: Winter. I like cozy. But you must understand winter in South Texas is not like winter in Minnesota. Also, I like to anticipate; and in winter, I can anticipate things coming back to life in the spring.
Carrie: I anticipate snow … but we rarely get any here in central Kentucky. Not enough to please this Northerner anyway 🙂
Phyllis: Neither. I don’t need another mouth to feed. I prefer my birds and my axis deer. It takes all I can do to keep them fed.
Carrie: I bet!
Phyllis: Tea without question. I’m from the Deep South where tea is a tradition – from oh-so-sweet iced tea to my afternoon cuppa Darjeeling in my favorite china teacup – always with a saucer.
Carrie: Oh absolutely 🙂
Q: Around here I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?
Phyllis: My superpower is my IMAGINATION. As a child, I imagined and made up stories. According to my mother’s way of thinking, the stories I made up and told her were more akin to lies. Perhaps it was because I told my imagined stories as the truth, and fibbing (as Mama called it) promptly sent me to sit in the corner. She never knew that I sat with my eyes closed and just imagined oh such wonderful things. Now I get to imagine places and people and problems, but all with a purpose of writing Truth-filled stories—fulfilling God’s purpose in my life.
Carrie: I love that! Yes!
Q: Tell me some good books you’ve read recently.
Phyllis: Several of Charles Martin’s books: THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, THE DEAD DON’T DANCE, WATER FROM MY HEART
Maeve Binchy – ECHOES – I love her characters and how she develops them.
Wendell Berry – THIS DAY: COLLECTED AND NEW SABBATH POEMS – I read this a bit at the time. Berry is THE best.
Rachel Joyce – THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMMAGE OF HAROLD FRY – this story truly moved me.
Debbie Macomber – MERRY AND BRIGHT – because I need a Christmas read.
Michael Phillips – GEORGE MACDONALD: A BIOGRAPHY OF SCOTLAND’S BELOVED STORYTELLER – George MacDonald is one of the all-time best spinner of yarns and developer of characters, and he can pack more theology in a story than anyone else I know, except the Master Storyteller, of course.
Carrie: I really enjoyed Merry and Bright! Such a cute, sweet Christmas read!
Q: Writing spaces are as diverse as authors and books. Where is your favorite space to write?
Phyllis: I have a famous author friend who writes in something I would call a closet. When he showed it to me, I almost couldn’t breathe. My imagination would suffocate there, and yet he flourishes at his tiny desk. But then again, I need space, and I need comfort. I don’t want to be pulled out of my story because my leg is tingling from lack of circulation. So, I have this big, fat, cuddle chair that hugs me and an ottoman the size of Rhode Island in front of me. That chair knows my pressure points. I prop up pillows for support, and I can look up from my computer to see never-ending sky and hills and valleys. That space nourishes my soul. Almost before I’ve fluffed the last pillow and opened my laptop, I’m into my right brain.
Carrie: ohhhh that sounds delightful!
Q: Describe your main characters and tell me who you would cast in their roles if Hollywood wanted to produce Christmas at Grey Sage as a movie!
Phyllis: Maude is a 70ish woman of depth, an artist who opens her sprawling Grey Sage home as a writers/artist retreat. Julie Christie is a fabulous character actress with pain behind her eyes, and yet a peaceful countenance.
Lily is a flamboyant artist friend of Maude’s who has just a bit of a different take on life and relationships. Bernadette Peters has the uncontrollable red mane and the irreverence needed to play Lily.
CHRISTMAS AT GREY SAGE has a host of interesting characters who have decided to escape Christmas at home. What a quirky ensemble cast that could be.
Carrie: that would be such fun!!
Q: What surprised you about Christmas at Grey Sage or your characters as you wrote their story?
Phyllis: My biggest surprise was the morning Bea showed up and perched herself on the back of my cuddle chair. Since the book is about a group of travelers, it already had several characters, but Bea shoved her way in and took a seat on the van. You should know that Beatrice is a retired prima ballerina who does not always have a tight grip on reality. When she connects the dots, she doesn’t always get the same picture as others would, yet she is delightful. Having her lines of discretion a bit blurred, Bea allows me to use her voice to say some things that just need to be said. She was relentless until I let her into the story, and I do miss her now that the book is finished.
Carrie: hahaha! She sounds delightful!
Q: What do you most want readers to take away from Christmas at Grey Sage?
Phyllis: I want readers to know that while traditions, especially Christmas traditions are important, what is more important is the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas celebration is more than where we are, or the decorations, or the food or the tradition. Christmas and every day are about whose feet are under your table and how you relate to those people and how you deal with life’s surprises. Maude tells Silas when their Christmas plans took an unexpected turn, “I suppose if God could come to earth at Christmas and make us His children, we can at least try to make these strangers our friends.”
And I quote another character who sums Christmas up for me.
The real gift that Christmas is—our great God himself cradled in a crib, the World-Maker as a vulnerable baby, with stars in his eyes and hay underneath him. That earthiness all around him and at the same time that indescribable thing that transcends.
Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me! 🙂 Before we say goodbye for today, tell us what‘s coming up next for you.
Phyllis: Joyful work – that’s what I’m blessed to do every day.
Two releases by Gilead Publishing in 2018. These days as I’m promoting CHRISTMAS AT GREY SAGE, I am writing a Christmas book to be released in October 2018. It’s another book about relationships – SILENT DAYS, HOLY NIGHT. And I’m so grateful to say that the first book in my ROCKWATER SUITE will be released in September. It’s entitled RETURN OF THE SONG.
What about you? Have you ever had a Christmas that didn’t go as planned?