Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Vision of Angels by Timothy Jay Smith: Interview


Welcome! Thanks for visiting.  It's great to get this chance to find out more about you and your work.  :) Tell us about your current release.


A Vision of Angels is the story that motivated me to become a writer in the first place. I had been living in Jerusalem for over two years, and felt that I had never read a book that really captured the situation. Even in novels, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is always treated in such adversarial or stereotypical terms, and not through real lives.


So, like my main character, a war correspondent who tries to put a human face to war, I wanted to put a human face to that conflict. In Angels, a planned terrorist attack sets off a chain of events that weaves together the lives of four people who are entwined by the conflict in ways—and with consequences—they often don’t even know.


How do you describe your writing style?

I tend to write in scenes, and that keeps the narrative fast-paced. At the same time, my work is character-driven, so that tips it towards literary fiction. I have done a lot of screenwriting, so that has influenced how well I write dialogue, and people tell me that’s one of my strengths. My books have been called literary suspense or literary thrillers.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I used to. I used to do a lot of things differently before and after becoming a writer. I used to listen to music but now prefer to work in silence. I used to be a morning person, but now prefer to work into the wee hours and skip the morning (I try to avoid any commitments before 11). It wasn’t like there had been a night owl inside me waiting to be born, things just shifted.

My hours really have changed. My low point each day used to be 4 p.m. Sometimes I’d even crash on my office floor for five minutes with my feet against the door! Now, as hard as I try, I can barely eek out creative new work all day, until four o’clock rolls around, and suddenly it all starts happening for me.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Pretty much what I grew up to be. In sixth grade, at a spaghetti fundraiser for my school, I sat across the table from an “old guy” who was probably 35 years old. He told me he had been to 40 countries and spoke five languages.  On the spot, I decided that was the kind of life I wanted, and I pursued it.

I also wanted life to be meaningful, in the sense of somehow making a contribution to the general good. That eventually translated into a career in economic development, generally assisting the poorest of the poor, first in the U.S. and later internationally. It was great and got me around the world many times.

My stories are set in relatively exotic places – Africa, Middle East, Greece, Poland – and a lot of readers comment how “real” the places feel to them. It’s because I’ve been there or lived there for a while.

What are you passionate about these days?

I’ve always been passionate about social/political issues, and I still am. In my own work, I tend to dramatize some of the pressing concerns of our times. At the core of Cooper’s Promise, for instance, is a story about human trafficking; and A Vision of Angels scrutinizes the conflict that has spawned so many other conflicts. These aren’t heavy message-driven stories, but rather human stories that reflect the consequences of the backgrounds against which they are set.

There are certain issues that I am very passionate about. I call myself a Daoist because if there is one thing I worship it is the beauty of the Earth, and it deeply saddens me how much continues to be destroyed. The capitalist paradigm is its ruin, which touches on a second issue I feel passionately about: the takeover of civil society by corporate society.

Are you a New York or LA kind of guy?

Definitely New York. I like street life, not car life. I grew up in California, and ultimately fled the car culture. Now I live in Europe where I don’t need a car.

Have any of your characters been modeled after yourself?

In fact, I’m writing a blog post on this very topic. To say a character has been modeled on me would be taking it too far, but are there pieces of me in my characters? Yes, in many of them, and sometimes I don’t know it until later. It’s something Hermann Hesse called “the instant of recognition” in Steppenwolf when the main character enters the Magic Theatre and sees himself in a shattered mirror. I see bits of myself in my characters that I don’t even know I’ve put there, until I have my own instant of recognition.

Is there a passage that you feel gets to the heart of your book?

There are two hearts or themes to Angels, so there are two passages.

The first deals with the notion of reconciliation, and not necessarily between warring parties, but within. To reconcile oneself to a situation. Of course that can be interpreted many ways, including defeatist, but more precisely I mean that there can’t always be an eye for an eye. In fact, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there will never be a winner because everyone has already lost so much. The solution to the conflict is not to right past wrongs but to right the future.

In a passage I call Efrahim’s Story, an old, crippled painter returns to his boyhood home in Algiers, which the family had fled as refugees. He tells the story over Seder dinner. It’s too long to reprint here, but it can be found under excerpts on my web page. Scroll all the way through Chapter 1 and you will come to it.

The other theme is this notion that we are all connected, but often we don’t see it; and because of that, we can’t always know the consequences of our actions. That’s certainly the case for several characters in Angels, and no one more so than Major Jakov Levy, who mulls over the end of a tragic day. It’s a somber piece but I am particularly attracted to it, perhaps because I feel like I really understand Jakov at this moment:

The day’s withering light seeped into the kitchen. Jakov sat at the breakfast table staring at its hard white surface as he would search a palimpsest waiting for answers to be revealed. What could he have done differently? What could he have done for this day never to have come? His questions conjured a host of remembrances and what-ifs, but nothing that directed him along a new path or to a different destination. Had he been too lenient with Rachel, ever-ready to please his baby girl? Or absent too long during Mishe’s growing up years, allowing seeds of rebellion to be sown? Memories, snippets of conversations, vignettes of their childhoods and teenage years intermingled and coalesced, his chronological clock suspended as Jakov wondered if things would have been different if he had said that then, or been there when, or listened better or loved more, or or or…. All these fragments, these distilled moments that take on profound meaning in hindsight were nothing more than simple stitches in life’s whole cloth, and Jakov knew that each stitch he examined would be sewn and knotted again should time’s wheel reverse itself, for the unraveling in the present could not have been seen in the past. He was shaken to his soul by the certainty that their wretched fate was the sum of naïve actions.


But let’s not to conclude this interview on such a somber note. Jakov’s counterpart in Palestinian security, Captain Sa’eb Rayes, reflects on a period of his life spent in Lebanon, and I have always liked his description of Beirut in the era leading up to civil war:


Beirut’s Mediterranean sauciness was a relief after the gritty, windswept hills of Amman. Sa’eb would stroll past the seafront hotels listening to snatches of French as long-legged and scantily-dressed women stretched in chaise longues. Polished cars sped along the corniche; behind their tinted windows, Saudi princes and less noble men rode to assignations where they could indulge in pleasures off-limits in their native lands. The burnt-earth smell of hashish mixed with tobacco smoke in the nightclubs where belly dancers inspired noisy crowds and oil money gambled in the back. Drugs and politics pulsated through the city. Easy dealing Beirut. Paris of the Middle East. A freewheeling frenzy gripped the city. As diners in fashionable restaurants compared snowfall at European ski resorts, in the surrounding neighborhoods, the fedayeen were organizing their private armies and jockeying for loyalty in the world’s most fractious country. Sporadic gunfights spiraled out of control. Guerillas stormed the glitzy hotels, and from their penthouse terraces arced mortars over chichi boutiques into warring neighborhoods. Stunned families stared into open air as their apartment facades crumbled into the streets.


A terrorist attack planned for Easter Sunday in Jerusalem sets off a chain of events that weave together the lives of an American journalist, Israeli war hero, Palestinian farmer, and Arab-Christian grocer.

Alerted to a suicide bomb plot, Major Jakov Levy orders the border with Gaza Strip closed. Unable to get his produce to market, Amin Mousa dumps truckloads of tomatoes in a refugee camp. David Kessler, an American journalist, sees it reported on television and goes to Gaza for Amin's story.

Hamas militants plot to smuggle a bomb out in David’s car and retrieve it when he returns home, but he’s unexpectedly detoured on the way. Meanwhile, a cell member confesses to the plot, and the race is on to find David and retrieve the bomb before the terrorists can.

Ultimately A Vision of Angels is a story of reconciliation and hope, but not before events as tragic as a modern passion play change the lives of four families forever.

A Vision of Angels on Amazon
A Vision of Angels on Barnes and Noble


Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. En route, he’s found the characters that people his work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he’s hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that’s seen him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through war zones and Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-days crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.
If life were a sport, Tim’s life would qualify as an extreme one, yet he’s managed most of it by working with people in personal, even intimate, settings. His professional life took him from the White House corridors to America’s harshest neighborhoods, from palace dinners to slum pickings, and these experiences explain the unique breadth and sensibility of his work.
Tim brings the same energy to his writing that he brought to a distinguished career, and as a result, he’s won top honors for his screenplays, stageplays and novels in numerous prestigious competitions; among them, contests sponsored by the American Screenwriters Association, WriteMovies, Houston WorldFest, Rhode Island International Film Festival, and the Hollywood Screenwriting Institute. He won the 2008 Paris Prize for Fiction and his first stageplay, which went on to a successful NYC production, won the very prestigious Stanley Drama Award.
Twitter:  @timothyjaysmith

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