Q: You’ve written about many kinds of immortal or supernatural beings. What inspired you to turn to angels in this new book?
A: I have always been fascinated by the idea of angels—these perfect beings who are God’s messengers, sinless, bold, and unfathomable to the human mind. I was deliciously challenged to be biblically correct about them, and theologically correct: to present Malchiah as truly perfect, yet sent to interact with my hero Toby, and commissioned therefore to take a human body and reflect human emotions and respond to Toby’s human emotions.
Q: How did imagining a character like Malchiah the angel differ from creating one like the vampire Lestat?
A: Well, again, Malchiah is perfect and sinless. And to make such a character appealing is a challenge; he has to reflect God’s love for human beings, God’s compassion. He’s not sent to judge Toby; he’s sent to guide him to salvation, and to enlist Toby in working for the angels on earth. He must feel things; he must have a personality, but with marvelous theological constraints. Doing Lestat was entirely different: Lestat is sinful and ferociously human, a rebel who wants to be good at being bad; a rebel who is seeking redemption but turning away from it all the time. There is a certain joy in writing about Malchiah because he is sent from God. There was never a perfect joy in writing about Lestat: Lestat suffers too much and does too many bad things with relish.
Q: The hero of Angel Time is Toby O’Dare, a boy who had a tough life growing up in New Orleans and who goes on to become a skilled assassin before meeting Malchiah. How does Toby compare to your past protagonists? What is unique about him?
A: Well, Toby is deeply flawed, much like the vampires. He’s an assassin, and he has done terrible things, and questionable things. But he turns around in the very first book of the series and sets out to do the bidding of the angels in helping others. I think of all those characters I’ve created, Toby is most like Michael Curry in The Witching Hour. But Toby has done things Michael would never do. Toby is a deeply flawed human who is offered a chance to be saved; and he takes it. Maybe he’s a first among my characters in that he is given an opportunity to redeem himself through the mercy of God, and then to do good to make up for all the evil he had done before. Toby is also a crafty character. He’s pragmatic. Having been a clever assassin, he knows how to plot to do good. That was interesting to me, to have him struggling to save people from harm, and having to figure out a somewhat complex way to do it.
Q: People who have read your memoir Called Out of Darkness will recognize some elements of your own life in Toby’s story. Did you identify with him as a character?
A: Yes, I did identify with Toby, though my life has been nothing like his. I know what it is like to struggle with an alcoholic parent; I know what it is like to care for younger siblings in an alcoholic household. But of course Toby suffers a family tragedy that I didn’t suffer, and he turns to evil in a defiant way, whereas I only turned to writing about evil.
Q: How did you imagine the concept of Angel Time (as opposed to Normal Time)? And what sources did you reference while reading about angels?
A: I came up with the concept of Angel Time through meditating on it; really, figuring that from God’s standpoint there is no linear time. I felt certain that the angels would be able to move back and forth in our linear time, and to grasp how some one can be lifted from one century and put down in another to work a solution that then becomes part of the very future from which the original person came. I think meditation led to this definition of Angel Time, more than any actual reading. It seemed logical to me that the angels could do this. I did read theology about angels, of course, including St. Thomas Aquinas and books by Catholic writers who have studied angels and all the biblical references to them. It all starts with the Bible, of course and how angels appear in those pages. But the scholars Pascal Parente and Peter Kreeft help me to cover the sources. I stayed away from other writers’ more fanciful conjectures about angels. I wanted the biblical facts, and the way that the theologians interpreted them.
Q: People are clearly fascinated with angels. Why do you think even those people who do not consider themselves religious are so drawn to the idea of angels?
A: People are drawn to angels because there is a deep seated instinctive belief that they do exist, that creatures from Heaven are here on Earth looking out for us and playing a special role in our care. Of course we read of this in the Bible. And it is a very seductive idea. It’s sometimes easier to pray to one’s guardian angel than to pray to the saints or even to the Lord. It’s easy to imagine that our guardian angel is right here with us. In my novel, Toby really does believe this, though after he suffered tragedy, he blamed the angels in charge for not stopping it. And he lived as a cursed human being for ten years.
Q: Angel Time has very rich and distinct settings (Southern California, New Orleans, New York, 13th-century England). Which was the most fun to write about?
A: It was fun to write of all the settings in Angel Time, but I have to confess that two stand out: The Mission Inn in California was wonderful fun to describe, and I visited there more than once while I was writing the first part of the book. The second place that was great fun was thirteenth-century England. I just loved taking my readers into thirteenth-century Norwich during a snow storm. As always in my novels, my focus is what we have in common with the people of former ages, not what makes us different.
Q: As you’ve mentioned, the second half of Angel Time takes place in England during the 13th century and highlights a time that was particularly difficult and dangerous for the Jewish population, and one that many of your readers probably know little about. What made you choose this time period as the setting for Toby’s assignment?
A: What drew me to thirteenth century England was the story of Little Saint William of Norwich, a little boy supposedly martyred by the Jews in the twelfth century who became a cult figure because of his death. I knew instinctively that the Jews did not murder Little Saint William. I understood how this saint was part of the anti-Semitism of the times. And I wanted to write about the community in which Little Saint William had become part of the folklore. I moved ahead in time and wrote about another supposed martyr, and had Toby sent back by the angels to save the Jews from false accusation and persecution. I loved writing this. I was fascinated by the lives of the Jews of England in this period; they were learned and rich, and good people. And they were mightily exploited and abused. How we as Christians could persecute them is a terrible mystery. I wanted to write about it. I took great pains to make my story as accurate as possible. Of course my main characters are fictional but much that I wrote about the times is factually based. I have a very large library of books on the Jews in history, and I am deeply drawn to this subject. I will be writing more about it in future books. To write books that appeal to both Christian and Jews, and general readers, is my goal.
Q: What else inspired you in writing Angel Time?
A: In writing Angel Time, in believing in a fiction that could embrace Christian and Jewish characters, in believing in a story that would appeal to both, I was much inspired by the great novel Ben Hur. I wonder how many people seeing the movie or reading the book today realize how unique Ben Hur is in being “a story of Christ” that is also about a great Jewish family and a great Jewish hero. Lew Wallace accomplished a magnificent thing when he wrote Ben Hur. And few have imitated his efforts. Some biblical epics written since have been deeply marred by anti-Semitism. But I felt if Lew Wallace could do this, write a great book for Christian and Jewish readers, then I wanted to do it. I wanted to craft a Christian fiction that unites Jews and Christians. The Songs of the Seraphim series is my effort in this regard.
Q: Your last two works of fiction were part of your Christ the Lord series in which you depict the life of Jesus Christ. Was it enjoyable to return to a subject where you had the freedom to create the entire story from your imagination again?
A: Writing both novels of Christ the Lord was a joy. But there is no question but that writing the life of Christ is very difficult, and it is a very special kind of effort. I am seeking to be utterly faithful to my belief in Christ, as God and Man, and faithful to the biblical stories of His life on earth. Angel Time was wholly different, and yes, it was fun to let my imagination go: to craft a human hero and an imaginative story where I had full control. Yet there are constraints in both of these series. My faith in God, my belief in the possibility of salvation, these are reflected in both series. But again, yes, it was wonderful fun to be romping through “Angel Time” with Toby, and to invent scenes out of whole cloth in which Malchiah, a powerful (and fictional) Seraph comes into the Mission Inn to help save Toby. I had a ball writing Angel Time. But returning to Christ the Lord is one of my most important goals. I hope that the exercise of my imagination in Angel Time will give me added strength when I return to Christ the Lord. I have what anybody would call a wild imagination and I love letting it have free reign.
Q: Angel Time ends on a cliff-hanger. Can you tell us something about the next book in the series, World Enough and Time?
A: In the next book, Toby continues to discover things about his past that have a powerful influence on him. Throughout the series, his life in present time will be very important. But once again, in the second book he is sent back in time to use his crafty skills to save Jews who are facing persecution, and to come up with a solution to their problems that enables them to go on with their lives. Once again, in the second book, I will be visiting with vivid descriptions an earlier time. Much as I love the history of England, I also love Italy and that is where Toby will be going to do the bidding of the angels. Again, this is so much fun!