Nick Damigos, the FBI agent, arrives on the island just in time to witness the latest fire and save a beloved truffle-sniffing dog. Hailed as a hero and embraced by the community, Nick finds himself drawn to Takis, a young bartender who becomes his primary suspect, which is a problem because they’re having an affair. Theirs is not the only complicated romance in the community and Takis isn’t the only suspicious character on the island. The priest is an art forger, a young Albanian waiter harbors a secret, the captain of the coast guard station seems to have his own agenda, and the village itself hides a violent history. Nick has to unravel the truth in time to prevent catastrophe, as he comes to terms with his own past trauma. In saving the village, he will go a long way toward saving himself.
1. Do you always take a book/e-reader wherever you go?
In a single word: no. Certainly not always, and I confess, I have never read a book on any type of e-device except my own drafts on my laptop. I am staring at the computer screen all day every day. Reading a hardcopy book is a luxury.
Even with drafts, as I reach the final draft, I eventually print out and edit hard copy. I’m aware that I use more paper than I should, but to compensate for that, I plant lots of trees. I always have, through never as many as I would like until recently. Three years ago, I started a tree-planting project with a group of Tanzanian farmers (it’s a long story). Since then, we’ve planted 8,750 silky oaks, and eventually I hope to plant 30,000 trees over ten years. I pay for the seedlings (with some donations), which the farmers grow for 16 years, and then can harvest and sell them. It’s a retirement fund for them and a tree planting project for me. If I die knowing I’ve planted tens of thousands of trees, I’ll be happy.
I don’t usually carry a book with me, either. I hate to read in public transportation. If I know I’ll be at a café, then I’ll stick a book in my daypack. Otherwise, not.
2. Say someone asks if they can use your name in a book. Would you rather be the ‘good one’ or the ‘bad one’?
Well, my name is Smith, so I’d probably be the boring one!
I’d rather be interesting. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter to me. Well, of course in real life it does, but in fiction? Cast me in any role you want. I’ve written interesting (indeed, sympathetic) bad characters—that was especially true in my last novel, The Fourth Courier, set in post-Cold War Poland, because it was full of bad guys and gals!
My new release, Fire on the Island, has an altogether different atmosphere. It takes place in Greece, which is a much more playful place. Think of Zorba for a minute. Yes, there are some dark, troubling moments, when Bubulina dies and the village widows immediately ransack her belongings, or when Irini Pappas’s character has her throat slit because she won’t have sex with the village men. But what do you remember about Zorba? I bet it’s the end when Anthony Quinn teaches Alan Bates to dance the syrtaki on the beach. The music itself is the most upbeat and iconic song Greece has ever known.
But between being the good or bad character, I don’t care, as long as I am interesting!
3. Where can I find you when you are reading?
Home office, café, bed, airplane.
4. Where can I find you when you are not writing/reading?
Today’s modern life, with all the technology and social media, means that writers now play a much bigger role in every aspect of getting a book published. We edit. We promote. We write blog posts and answer interview questions. So, when I’m not writing/reading, I’m still usually in my office doing other tasks.
But out of my office? You will usually find me swimming in a pool in the winter and in the sea in the summer; and when I can, traveling to exotic places.
5. Can you walk past a bookstore without going inside?
I can, but usually I don’t if I’m in an English-speaking country. (I live in France.) I certainly always stop and see what books are displayed in the window.
6. What are you most proud of?
Before I left home for college, I had already developed a sense of social and economic justice. I decided to dedicate my life to those broad notions, and managed to do it. I can honestly say that I helped millions of people (usually very poor) have better lives.
In my writing, I continue to illuminate issues of social importance. My first novel, A Vision of Angels, portrays the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through an incident that weaves together the lives of an American journalist, Israeli war hero, Palestinian farmer, and Arab-Christian grocer. At its core, Cooper’s Promise is a story about human trafficking. My current release, Fire on the Island, explores through the eyes of three generations of women in one family how a Greek village is coping with the challenges of a national economic crisis, a flood of refugees, and the threat that an arsonist intends to burn the village down.
7. What goes through your mind when you hold your new book in your hands for the first time?
I hope I have a tissue because I know I’m going to cry.
8. What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Several pieces of advice: It’s a long slog. It’s far more hours of work than any other job you can imagine. Work at it every day. Please leave the room if you tell me “I’ve always wanted to write a book” but you haven’t started—because always is a long time not to try. Most importantly: writing is a craft. Learn it before you try to break the rules.
9. Who would you like/have liked to interview?
Several people come to mind. Among the living is Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men, a fictionalized account of the long love affair between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo. I have so many questions about what is true and how he researched his brilliant book.
Margaret Atwood is another. Ever since I read The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, I’ve described it as one of the most brilliant pieces of literature of the 20th century. It was/is so prescient. I’d love to have lunch with her.
I’d like to ask Graham Greene (to whom I have sometimes been compared) and Nikos Kazantzakis (whose entire body of work is brilliant) about their lives, travels and sources of inspiration. I think a scotch with Greene and an ouzo with Kazantzakis would make for altogether perfect afternoons.
10. When and where do you prefer to write?
I always write at home with my office door closed even if I’m alone in the apartment. (Needing to have my door closed stems from childhood.) I tend to use the mornings to take care of business: editing, publicity, research, and running errands. By 4 pm, I like to be at my desk, ready for a glass of wine at 5, and I usually work on new writing until almost midnight.
Thank you, Timothy Jay Smith and Love Books Group
About the author
Tim has traveled the world collecting stories and characters for his novels and screenplays which have received high praise. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction for his first book, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Tim was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, “Stolen Memories.” His recent novel, The Fourth Courier received tremendous reviews. His screenplays have won numerous international competitions. Tim is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater. He lives in France.