1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I wrote my first stage play when I was ten years old. It was set during the Civil War, and one-by-one, a group of slaves, sitting around a bonfire, snuck off into the night while they sang Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.  Two years later, I started my first novel and showed what I’d written to my mother. She told me it was dirty. (A young couple was having a picnic on a blanket in a park when WWII bomber jets flew overhead? Dirty?) I didn’t know what my mother exactly meant, but I knew dirty wasn’t good, and that rather crimped my writing habit for some thirty years.

During that time, I grew up and had an exciting career. I definitely wasn’t a frustrated writer working hated day jobs. Instead, I was traveling all over the world working on projects to help lower income people (through such organizations as USAID, the World Bank, and the UN). My last job before deciding to become a full-time writer was to manage the US Government’s first significant project to help Palestinians following the Oslo Accords and the start of the peace process.

At the end of that contract, I felt that I had done what I set out to accomplish in my career. I was only forty-six years old and had time to do something entirely different. I had observed and experienced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from multiple perspectives, and I wanted to tell that story. That’s when I wrote my first novel, A Vision of Angels, in which a suicide bomb plot sets into motion events that weave together the lives of an Israeli war hero, Palestinian farmer, American journalist and Arab-Christian grocer.

After writing that first book, I’ve just kept going.

2) What inspired you to write The Fourth Courier?

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Solidarity won the first free election in Poland in over sixty years. In the same year, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced new cooperative laws in the Soviet Union, which was an area of my expertise. I was invited to the Soviet Union as a consultant, which led to my consulting throughout the former Soviet bloc, eventually living for over two years in Poland.

At the time, there was a lot of smuggling across the border between Russia and Poland, giving rise to fears that nuclear material, too, might be slipping across. While on assignment in Latvia, I met a very unhappy decommissioned Russian general, who completely misunderstood my purpose for being there. When an official meeting concluded, he suggested we go for a walk where we could talk without being overheard.

I followed him deep into a forest. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted. Finally we stopped, and he said, “I can get you anything you want.” I must have looked puzzled because he added, “Atomic.”

Then I understood. In an earlier conversation, there had been some passing remarks about the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal in Latvia, for which he had had some responsibility, and apparently still some access. While my real purpose for being there was to design a volunteer program for business specialists, he assumed that was a front and I was really a spy.

I didn’t take him up on his offer for something atomic, but I did walk away with the seed for a story that germinated years later when I decided to write a novel set during that period in Poland.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I wrote The Fourth Courier wanting to portray what life was like in Poland at the end of the Cold War, which officially ended Christmas Day 1991 when the Soviet Union was legally disbanded. (The Poles had actually managed to cast off communist rule two years earlier, but for plotting purposes I set the story in 1992.) The Poles had lived for forty-five years under Soviet domination, the last few years under a harsh military regime. The country was broken and communism’s inefficiency left them destitute. In the two years that I lived there, I developed a tremendous respect for the Polish people and their struggle for liberty. I hope my readers close the book with a better understanding of what that meant.

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4) What drew you into this particular genre?

I write what I like to read, and that’s relatively fast-paced stories but not all action, which have depth and verge on literary. Suspenseful plotting with good writing and good character development: that defines a literary thriller. I also like my novels to bring some awareness to an issue of social importance. So I take an event or threat and examine what it means through the eyes of the people it involves.

In The Fourth Courier, through a nuclear smuggling operation, I give the reader an insight into how ordinary families in Poland coped with the country’s collective hangover from communism. In A Vision of Angels, I look at how the lives of four families become interwoven by a suicide bomb plot in Jerusalem. Cooper’s Promise is the story of a soldier’s redemption through a tale about human trafficking.

I don’t think another genre would let me entertain and enlighten in the same way.

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

It would definitely be Basia Husarska, Director of Poland’s Bureau of Organized Crime. She’s an enigmatic character with hints of a colorful past. I’d like to know the details of her past.

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6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?


7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

You’re not a writer unless you write.

Learn the craft.

Write some more.

Share your work, listen to criticism, and don’t be defensive.

Write some more.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I have two new novels underway. I’m working on the penultimate edits to Fire on the Island in which an arsonist threatens to burn down a Greek island village, which will put out of commission a Coast Guard station vital in the rescue of refugees crossing a narrow channel from Turkey. To try to prevent that, the FBI sends a Special Agent to investigate, who finds himself in a village wracked by conflicts, some dating back a hundred years, and any one of which might make someone want to destroy the village. I expect to deliver the final draft to my agent in mid-May.

I’m well into a new novel, The Syrian Pietà, set in Istanbul. In it, the CIA recruits a Syrian refugee to go deep undercover to— I’m going to stop myself there because the idea is too good to share until it’s written. I already love this book and character.

I actually have two styles of writing: a story told from many perspectives, or a story told entirely from one character’s perspective in which the reader knows nothing more than the character. People have different names for the two approaches. I know them as an open mystery (the reader knows there’s a bogeyman in the next room but the protagonist does not) and a closed mystery (the bogeyman is revealed only when the protagonist encounters him).

The Syrian Pietà is a closed mystery, as was my novel Cooper’s Promise. It’s an enormous challenge to write a closed mystery because you have only one character to reveal information. Of course, the temptation is to tell instead of show, which is no challenge at all. In the movie world, one of the best examples of a closed mystery is Chinatown. Jack Nicholson is in every scene. In a novel, it’s a great way to get into a character’s head.

About the Author

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. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through 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.

These experiences explain the unique breadth and sensibility of Tim’s work, for which he’s won top honors. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel, A Vision of AngelsKirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His screenplays have won numerous competitions. His first stage play, How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater. 

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About Arcade Publishing Arcade has been an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing since 2010. We continue doing incredible work discovering, publishing, and promoting new and brilliant voices in literature from around the world. Arcade has published literary giants such as Samuel Beckett, E. M. Cioran, and Leo Tolstoy, alongside new voices such as Ismail Kadar and Andrei Makine. In 2012, Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, an exciting achievement for Arcade which had published five of his novels. 

THE FOURTH COURIER by Timothy Jay Smith Arcade * April 3, 2019 * 320 pages * $24.99 ISBN: 978-1948924108 * Hardcover Please visit 


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