She’s a familiar face on television, but now it’s her name that’s grabbing headlines, as former television journalist Raina Smith promotes her first novel, “The 13th Apostle.”
A resident of Cranston whose mother is from Warwick, Smith has always been a storyteller, and in 2003, her experiences on camera sparked an idea that would take more than a two-minute sound byte to share. As a general assignment reporter, she had covered everything from weather to entertainment for Channel 12, Channel 6 and WPRI television. It was the crime and human interest stories, though, that Smith found particularly gripping. She saw both sides of humanity, the best and the worst, and wondered which would win in today’s society.
“I was sort of assessing what I saw as a news reporter. It was my observation of where mankind is right now,” she said. “Everyone has good in them and bad in them, but I think we can do a lot better.”
In “The 13th Apostle,” Smith explores that possibility. Father Joseph discovers that the prophecies made over 2,000 years ago by a man believed to have been a 13th apostle of Jesus Christ could be coming true. He embarks on a journey to save mankind. Unbeknownst to him, an angel named Glenn is sent from heaven to decide if mankind is void of purity of heart. At the same time, the devil sends one of his henchmen, Falene, to find the angel and challenge him to a bet. Glenn has 30 days to find the individual with the purest heart in the world, and then Falene has the chance to tempt that person to the dark side.
“I want people to think about themselves; where do they fall?” Smith asks.
The good and bad found in “The 13th Apostle” is part fiction and, in part, based on Smith’s experiences.
“When I think of every good thing I’ve ever known of people, I see that in Father Joseph,” Smith said. “When I think of the most wretched people I’ve ever met, I think of Falene. She’s really fun to write for that reason.”
Smith enjoyed the suspenseful aspect of the novel as well.
“I get very bored very quickly so when I write a story, I need to be riveted; I need to be jumping out of my chair. I think the key for me is to keep myself in suspense,” she said.
One of the challenges came with researching the novel’s backdrop. Set in Nebraska, Rhode Island, Rome and Tibet, Smith found herself looking up even the most minute details to ensure accuracy, such as the types of birds native to Nebraska. When Smith had her characters navigating their way through the Vatican, she had blueprints of the historic building spread out next to her computer. Raised Episcopalian and now a spiritual person without a formal affiliation to a church, the religious aspect of the novel required research as well.
“I want my story to be authentic in every conceivable way,” she said.
Smith pushed herself to conduct thorough research but never forced herself to write.
“With the creative process, for me, there can’t be any rules. I only write when I’m so inspired about writing a scene that I’m compelled to sit down and write,” she said. “It dictates itself to me. I don’t tell it, it tells me.”
When she set out to write “The 13th Apostle,” Smith was not sure how the book would end, and surprised herself when she wrapped the story up with a cliffhanger.
“It sort of reveals itself to me; I have learned to trust the story,” she said.
Even if it meant being controversial.
“There’s love and hate and everything in between. Not everyone’s going to embrace that,” Smith admitted.
She started with a tough critic, giving her book to her 92-year-old grandmother to read. With chapters that tackle violence and sexuality, and shots taken against the human race, Smith couldn’t help but be nervous about her grandmother’s reaction and the reception of the public. Grandma gave it the thumbs up, though, and so have readers.
“I put so much effort into my work, so for a stranger to say I can’t put it down, there’s no greater gift,” she said.
Smith got a record turnout at a signing at the Providence Public Library, and has appeared on media outlets statewide. She has another signing coming up on Wednesday, March 21 from 4 to 7 p.m., at the James P. Adams Library at Rhode Island College.
It took her six years to write her debut novel, with months and even a full year passing when she would not pick up the script. The writing process had to be organic, and she was still working as a broadcaster. Some days she would write for just 10 minutes, and once she wrote consistently for 11 hours.
“You’re under such severe time constraints for TV, now you have all the time in the world, all the space in the world. It’s very liberating because I can do whatever I want,” she said.
In the future, Smith would like to dedicate herself entirely to writing, and is already working on a sequel to “The 13th Apostle,” which she envisions as a three-book series.
“It would be my dream to work as an author,” Smith said. “This makes me feel most alive; I’ve never been happier personally and professionally.”