Author: Timothy Jay Smith
Publisher: Owl Canyon Press
Release date: July 2, 2013
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 is a thriller of the first order, full of high-stakes drama and suspense, but it’s also something much rarer: an intimately told tale of life and death and day-to-day existence in the Holy Land that doesn’t take sides. Or, rather, that considers them all. This is a remarkable book.” – Toby Lester, author ofDa Vinci’s Ghost and The Fourth Part of the World
“The suspenseful plot moves very quickly. Like his journalist character, Smith tries to give the different sides of this conflict a human face. The stories of all these characters and their families are slowly interwoven together before a climactic ending that is ultimately one of hope.” – Canadian Jewish News
“Haunting and heartbreaking. Timothy Jay Smith puts a very human face on the many-sided Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this gripping and exquisitely detailed narrative set skillfully against the Passover-Easter holidays.” - Jennifer Willis, writer for The Oregonian
Ten Questions with the Author
1. Why did you write A Vision of Angels?
I had a story to tell, and I had a unique perspective from which to tell it.
The story is set against the background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and like my protagonist, I wanted to put a human face to it. Or I should say ‘faces’ because there are many sides to the conflict. In A Vision of Angels, I tried to give an equal voice to all sides, hoping it might contribute to a better understanding of the situation, and perhaps even contribute to the conflict’s resolution.
I often say that I was raised a Zionist, and it’s not entirely an exaggeration. As a kid, I spent as many waking hours as I could with a Jewish family next door. Over the next thirty years, I traveled in the Middle East, and ended up running a multi-million program to assist Palestinian businesses immediately following the 1993 Oslo Accord. So I had the advantage of these and many other experiences that let me see different perspectives sympathetically.
There were no epiphanies along the road, only a better understanding of the situation, and that’s why I hope Angels is as honest and objective as I have tried to make it.
2. How would you describe your writing?
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 work, 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.
3. You published your first novel last October. How could you write A Vision of Angels so quickly?
I didn’t, it was already written. Both novels were, and when I signed with Owl Canyon Press, it was for a two-book deal. In fact, A Vision of Angels was the first novel I ever wrote, and at the time it suffered for it. It was a sprawling 156,000-word epic chock full of backstories, yet remarkably it landed me a prominent New York agent (but not a publisher). It’s now a much sleeker and more gripping 82,000 words.
4. Tell us a little about your first novel, Cooper’s Promise.
Cooper’s Promise is the story of a deserter from the war in Iraq who vows to save a girl trafficked into prostitution to redeem himself for an earlier promise he couldn’t keep. Unlike A Vision of Angels, which is told from multiple perspectives, Cooper’s Promise is told entirely from the point of view of a young soldier who is just beginning to make sense of the world he is in—and himself, so it’s also a coming of age story. Kirkus Reviews called it “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012.
5. What are you working on now?
A new novel, Fire on the Island, set in Greece. I’ve had a love affair with the country for forty years, but this is the first time I have ever written about it. In ten words or less, the story is about an FBI Agent assisting a Greek island village catch an arsonist. I am also starting the final edits of a novel set in Warsaw.
6. All your books are set in exotic places. Africa, Poland, the Holy Land, Greece. How did you pick them, and did you go there for research?
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 life I wanted to live, and I pursued it. That eventually led to a career in international development which took me around the world many times.
My first job out of college was in Greece. I was working for a sociology institute on rural-urban migration issues, and ended up living on Santorini for nearly two years before tourism there had really taken off. Each winter, for a couple of weeks, I was the only foreigner on the island—which is impossible to imagine now. I also lived for two years in Warsaw and later Jerusalem, and did a lot of work in Africa. So in a sense, the places chose me because I already knew them well.
7. How much of your novels are true?
A lot and not much. The basic plots are plausible but not based on real events. But within those stories, many characters, places and events are pretty much what I experienced.
For instance, what I call the “Catch 22” scene when Cooper is arrested is almost verbatim what was said when I was arrested in Senegal, down to my clinging to the doorframe crying for help as I was being dragged away. I’d arrived as a stowaway on a boat from Cape Verde, where I had been stranded for two weeks. I’d hung out in a bar nicknamed Vietnam, and that’s my model for the bar Cooper hangs out in—complete with a beaded curtain leading to the back rooms.
The same is true for A Vision of Angels. My job allowed me to cross borders, as can my journalist protagonist, and those incidents are pretty much how they happened. I arrived in Tel Aviv the day of the first suicide bus bomb in a two-and-half-year bombing campaign, and missed being the victim of one by a telephone call that delayed my going to the post office by a life-saving five minutes. I was there for Peace Now’s rallies and Rabin’s assassination. All these things provide both context and incidents that have worked their way into Angels.
8. Your plots are complex involving a number of characters. Do you outline your stories before you start writing?
I always have an idea of my opening scene and closing scenes, and then I begin to fill an outline with essential scenes, or scenes that simply come to me. For about three days I pace with a notebook in hand, just brainstorming my own story. Then I sit down, and put in order the scenes I’ve come up with. Then I start writing. As I write, I keep a notebook to one side, and as ideas come to me, I jot them down, in the process expanding my outline.
My outline is essentially my beat sheet, a term I leaned in screenwriting and have adopted for my novels. I list every action and note when certain important things are said. Chronology is important in my stories. They take place over a few days only, and events and actions need to be carefully choreographed.
9. Describe your writing habits. Do you have a schedule?
My schedule is that I wake up and start working, and stop when I go to bed – and in between, I do whatever else I have to do. In other words, my time is devoted to writing, unless I am doing something else. Of course that’s not time dedicated entirely to new writing. I am also editing, marketing, writing blogspots, and doing everything else that is required of writers today. It’s all a labor of love, but a lot of labor nevertheless.
10. Do you set a minimum number of words you write a day?
After that, I wish I could say 500. That was the goal for Hemingway and Graham Greene, but I definitely don’t achieve that. Some days I end up with fewer words than when I started because I’ve edited out some text. I plod through a story, editing as I go along, wishing I could quickly write through the story and get it all out there—but that doesn’t work for me. I’m the tortoise. Slow and steady, I get there.
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.
Author website: www.timothyjaysmith.com
Chapter 1 of A Vision of Angels: www.timothyjaysmith.com/novels/a-vision-of-angels/a-vision-of-angels-excerpts/