WELCOME TIMOTHY JAY SMITH
TIMOTHY JAY SMITH
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.
Connect with Timothy at these sites:
Q&A WITH TIMOTHY JAY SMITH
On Writing and Reading:
Both. 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 in my first novel, Cooper’s Promise, 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 does 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 A Vision of Angels.
I’m a socially-conscious writer. I like my writing to illuminate important issues or conditions, and because they are important, they are often in the news. Bolood diamonds, human trafficking, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nuclear smuggling — these are things that provide the context, and the conflicts, for my characters. But they aren’t message-driven stories but definitely character-driven. Some years ago, I founded the Smith Prize for political theatre to encourage playwrights to dramatize the salient issues of our times. I do the same in my own work.
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.
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 am required to do. In other words, my time is devoted to writing, unless I have to do 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.What is idiosyncratic about my writing is how my whole schedule changed when I became a full-time writer. I used to be a morning person, and my energy crashed about 4 every afternoon. Now, no matter how hard I try to write new work in the morning, it’s not until about 4 that it finally comes, and I will easily work until midnight or later. Sometimes I actually have to force myself to bed before 2 a.m.Another idiosyncrasy? I have to be able to shut myself in a room. Even if I am alone in an apartment or house, I have to shut the door.
Writing is my full-time occupation. It’s actually more full-time than a job. It’s all-the-time. Writers are asked to do everything these days. The internet has opened up so many thousands of venues and opportunities for promotion, it’s pretty close to overwhelming to do what the business side of writing demands while still having time to write.I always enjoyed the writing aspects of school, and later my career. In fact, at Berkeley I chose classes that had term papers not exams at the end. In my career, I traveled all over the world, working in over 40 countries as an economic development adviser on aid projects in developing countries. There was a lot of report writing.While in all these places in the days before e-mail, I used to write home about my experiences and adventures. I lived through some excting times. I was an adviser to Poland’s Solidarity Minister of Finance during the changeover from communism to capitalism. I was active in the 1970s community economic development movement and the last hurrahs of the War on Poverty. I lived in the Occipied Territories during the initial roll-out of the Oslo peace process. I used to write letters, and people wanted more.So when I quit working for health reasons and had to figure out what I was going to do next, writing seemed like a natural, and I had a story I wanted to tell. It’s when I started A Vision of Angels. It’s been through many iterations, while I have written three other novels, six screenplays and five stage plays. It started out as a overwritten 156,000-word manuscript that landed me a prominent New York agent nevertheless, and is now a trim 82,000-word crafted work. It’s Angels that made me become a writer in the first place.
I have recently discovered Ron Rash, and think Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is one of the most brilliant books ever written. Other books I consider brilliant with images that still haunt me are: A Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood), Waiting for the Barbarians (Coetzee) andThe Road (McCarthy). I have read most works by Doris Lessing, my favorite being theThe Diaries of Jane Somers; as well as virtually everything by Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham. Other favorites include the early works of John LeCarre, especiallyThe Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Christ Stopped at Eboli (Levi); A Lesson Before Dying (Gaines). Of course, The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell is astonishing. I have read it twice already, and I have Justine with me to reread again.
I am re-reading Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. I read it for the first time about 35 years ago (!) and there is one image in it that has always stayed with me. I want to refer to it in an essay/blog piece I am thinking about writing. So, I wanted to read it again. It’s definitely a counter-culture piece from the 60s and 70s, and literary.
My first job out of college was in Greece, and I have had a love affair with the country ever since. I still go twice a year, and have many close friends. I’ve met a lot of characters, that is for sure. For the first time, I am setting a story in Greece. In Fire on the Island, an FBI Agent is sent to a Greek island village to help catch an arsonist — and that’s all I am going to say about it. Except that it has some pretty funny moments, as Greece always has.Fun questions:
-Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Bradley Cooper.-Would you rather read or watch TV/movie?
I don’t own a TV. Between the other two, it really depends on mood, place, restiveness, and if my eyeballs are stuck to my computer screen. Sometimes I can;t do anything except close them.
I can’t be limited to one favorite food. I need two. They are blackberries and vanilla ice cream. (Is that one food? Because that’s how I eat them!)
Afternoon: fizzy water with lime
Evening into night: red wine
ABOUT THE BOOK
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.
Title: A Vision of Angels
Author: Timothy Jay Smith
Publisher: Owl Canyon Press
Publication date: July 2, 2013
Genre: Literary suspense
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