Alice Miller Phillips, WC ’04, released her historical thriller set in Paris in 1888, The Eighth Day Brotherhood, in August with Black Rose Writing.

Alice Miller Phillips, Author

Alice Miller Phillips, WC ’04, published her first novel, The Eighth Day Brotherhood, in August with Black Rose Writing, an independent publishing house based in Castroville, Texas. Critics have praised the novel as “intense and heart-rending,” as well as “beautiful writing with an encapsulating story combining history, art, religion and the imagination.”

Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Phillips and her family moved to Atlanta when she was 11. Her mother was an English major who encouraged her daughter to read books and learn about art history. Both of Phillips’ parents were strong supporters of the arts. They often took her to museums and libraries as a child, which inspired her fascination with art and literature. Having earned a B.A. in arts management with a French minor from Brenau and a Masters in Art History from the University of Iowa. In the novel, she fused her loves for art and French culture to create a unique narrative. The Eighth Day Brotherhood seems to be an ode to all of her passions.

Alice M. Phillips, WC '04, is the author of the book 'The Eighth Day Brotherhood' (Photo courtesy Alice M. Phillips)
(Photo courtesy Alice M. Phillips)

The historical thriller, invites readers to follow the strange tale of an occult scholar, an aspiring artist and an Irish immigrant who investigate a series of mythology-themed murders in 1888 Paris. These three characters become entwined in an apocalyptic plot concocted by an enigmatic cult, the Eighth Day Brotherhood, combining magic, mythology and murder.

The novel has been warmly received by readers on Amazon and Goodreads, consistently receiving 4 to 5 starred reviews. Alasdair Stuart, host of the Parsec award-winning podcast Pseudopod, lauded the book as “fast paced but never without weight. This is a major debut from a major talent. Somewhere, Poe is nodding approvingly. And wondering why he didn’t think of this.”

In an informal conversation with Brenau Window, Phillips talked both about her time at Brenau and about writing her novel.

Q: What originally brought you to Brenau?

A: I was impressed by the arts management program, the faculty and the campus. I knew I wanted to be a museum curator after taking an art history class in high school. I visited numerous universities while trying to choose a local college, but Brenau stood out as my best option to gain both gallery and studio experience. I was excited to be accepted as a Brenau Scholar.

Q: What are your favorite Brenau memories?

A: I loved working at Brenau University Galleries with my adviser Jean Westmacott. I learned about all aspects of museum management, from conducting research and collaborating with artists to the hands-on work of installing and de-installing exhibitions. I also had wonderful opportunities to study abroad in Paris for a summer taking courses at the Sorbonne, and to travel to Italy with Mary Beth Looney’s Women Artists of the Renaissance class. I worked as the Gallery Manager at Brenau for a year after graduation to gain experience before graduate school.

Q: Why did you wish to study art history at the University of Iowa?

A: While pursuing my M.A. in Art History at the University of Georgia, my thesis focused on Romanticism through Surrealism, so my advisor recommended the Ph.D. program at the University of Iowa, which is known for its strong emphasis on 19th century and modern art. I was also ready to travel and experience a new part of the country.

Q: Did you knowledge of art history contribute to what you wrote in your book?

A: Definitely. The Eighth Day Brotherhood was inspired by my dissertation research on French symbolist painters and poets, Victor Hugo’s séance drawings, and early psychological theories of mesmerism, hypnosis and the unconscious that influenced artists at the time. The idea for the novel came to me while I was living in Paris for a semester, exploring the city as thoroughly as I could, visiting its museums and monuments and attempting to discover its secrets.

Q: Tell us a little about what it was like to write The Eighth Day Brotherhood. What kind of research went into it? How long did it take to write your novel? Why did you choose to write a story around that time in French history? How much is based in fact? What was the most difficult part about writing this book?

A: The Eighth Day Brotherhood represents years of art historical research, including the history of Paris and its architecture, which I studied firsthand and in French museums and archives. The novel took about five years from first coming up with the idea to being published by Black Rose Writing in 2016. I first outlined the plot and kept the story in mind, and once I finished graduate school I finally had time to sit down and write the draft, which went through several editors and more research before I had the final manuscript in hand. I’m fascinated by the fin-de-siècle, or the late 19th century, in French history because the mythological and dreamlike art of the time appeals to me. It was a time of creativity, decadence, and new explorations into psychology and intensely personal symbolism in art and literature. In my novel, the descriptions of Paris, its monuments, and its art movements are based entirely in fact, although I invented a few fictional locations such as a sanitarium and an occult bookshop, and embellished the description of the underground levels of the Opéra Garnier. The artists portrayed as characters in the novel are all products of my imagination, but their work is inspired by the symbolist movement, particularly French artists Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon. The most difficult part about this project was making all the puzzle pieces of the plot fit together, especially since the novel has a specific timeline and a swift pace.

Q: What other things have you written?

A: My dissertation, The Invisible Labor: Nineteenth-Century Art, the Unconscious, and the Origins of Surrealism, is published online for anyone interested in the 19th-century French art, psychology, and occult beliefs of the era that inspired my novel.

Q: Any plans to write future novels? Are you working on anything at the moment?

A: Yes, I’m drafting ideas for two books: a sequel to The Eighth Day Brotherhood and a book of surreal short stories related to my work as an art historian and slide librarian.

Q: Your bio mentioned you are a museum curator as well. What museum(s) have you curated at? What do you enjoy about museum curating?

A: I curate traveling exhibitions for the University of Iowa Museum of Art. The museum building was ruined when Iowa City flooded in 2008, but we saved the art in time and are sharing exhibitions with other museums across the state of Iowa until our collection has a new home. My recent exhibitions include Exploring the Demimonde: Sin and Temptation at the fin-de-siècle at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and Nocturnes: Night Skies in 19th Century Art and the Darker Side of Modern Art at the University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art. Curating is a competitive and difficult field to break into, but I have a passion for bringing works of art together in creative ways, writing interpretive text, which can also be a form of storytelling, and introducing art to new audiences.

Q: Any advice you would give to students who may wish to become novelists?

A: Keep writing and finish your projects, but don’t burn yourself out. Writing a novel is a complex process that takes quite a bit of patience and perseverance. When I get writer’s block I brainstorm with maps, drawings, and outlines – or I start writing and see what happens!

You may learn more about Phillips’ novel at her website http://www.mephistophelia.com/books.htm, and she can also be found on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/arthistorianalice and on her Goodreads page http://www.goodreads.com/mephistophelia.

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