Native author uses inner conflict to pen novel

When former Warriors Mark resident and author James Kimmel Jr. started his novel, “The Trial of Fallen Angels,” he was working through issues with justice and forgiveness in his career as a lawyer.

The turmoil eventually led to a genre-blending novel that has received national attention.

Kimmel, 48, is a Quaker living in Pennsylvania with his wife, Christine, and their two children, Alexandra, 17, and Adam, 14.

Kimmel, who graduated from Tyrone Area High School in 1982, received his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990.

“As a lawyer for more than 20 years, I began to experience a conflict between my duty to seek justice on behalf of my clients and my spiritual belief in the necessity, and even the very practical value, of forgiveness,” he said.

He added that to resolve the conflict, he studied religions to learn their views. Then he turned to writing.

“In this novel, I wanted to explore the conflict between justice and forgiveness in the most extreme set of circumstances I could imagine – at the trial of the Final Judgment where all of eternity is a stake. What would it be like to be a lawyer in this celestial courtroom? What would it be like to be a soul facing the ultimate judge?”

He took a decade to write “The Trial of Fallen Angels,” and it took as many years to get published. It went on sale in November.

The book is about a young female lawyer in central Pennsylvania, Brek Cutler, who dies unexpectedly, and is asked to defend and prosecute souls at the final judgement. Through the cases, she solves a mystery surrounding her death.

While Kimmel decided to use a female character in order to establish a “psychological distance,” he considers her an “avatar” for himself, he said.

Kimmel’s book was featured in Reuters, and USA Today’s New Voices column. The Boston Globe listed it as a Pick of the Week.

The foreign rights for the book were sold in eight countries, including Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. A Hollywood film producer is interested in creating a motion picture adaption, according to a press release from the book’s publisher, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam.

The book’s positive reviews in the release included the Library Journal and Booklist.

Stephen Everhart, who teaches English in Tyrone, was Kimmel’s college roommate, and he was the first person to edit Kimmel’s book.

Kimmel’s “capacity to handle multiple plot lines and to weave together the stories of seemingly disparate characters” is the “real genius in the novel,” Everhart said. “He does so while maintaining the illusion of reality in a book that is anything but traditionally realistic. Historical events are carefully researched so that no matter if Jim is detailing a scene from WWII or from the protagonist’s afterlife, there is an air of authenticity and the voice of an artist who cares about his characters and their interactions with time and place.”

Kimmel does not attempt to be derivative, he said.

“He writes like he thinks – deeply, passionately, inquisitively to the final page,” he added. “The questions he asks in his fiction have no ready answers, questions that really go beyond theology and science to the heart of characters who, for a little while at least, the reader is wiser and richer to have known.”

Kimmel was a semifinalist in the 2003 William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition for his short story, “The Tokamak.”

“That story has become the basis for a three-book trilogy that I am working on now, which begins in book one with the scientific discovery of the human soul,” he said.

Kimmel also wrote 2005’s “Suing for Peace: A Guide For Resolving Life’s Conflicts,” a non-fiction book about his conflict between his spiritual beliefs and his career as a lawyer.

A pivotal moment in Kimmel’s life came as a teen growing up on a family farm in Warriors Mark.

Unlike the farming families in the area, Kimmel’s father sold insurance. His mother was a housewife. The farming community rejected Kimmel and his family, and he was bullied, he said. Someone even shot their family dog.

Kimmel decided he wasn’t going to take anymore, and after another incident about a week later, he decided to get revenge. Grabbing a revolver from his house and jumping in a vehicle, he chased some culprits down who had blown up his family’s mailbox and cornered them. Before he even stepped out of the vehicle, though, he saw what he and they stood to lose, he said.

“The news is filled with people who pull the trigger at that moment. … If I had killed those kids, I would probably still be in prison today. Instead, I became a lawyer and an author. What makes us choose one path over the other? What can we do as a society to influence that decision?” he asked. “I’m deeply interested in the conflict between what we refer to as seeking justice when we are wronged and the opposite possibility of forgiveness. Humanity has struggled with this conflict throughout virtually all of recorded history.”

Kimmel still practices law today.

“I just do it in a different way, by not seeking justice in the form of revenge,” he said.

Kimmel has gone on to accomplish much more beyond his law and writing careers.

In 2009, he co-founded Peerstar LLC, an Altoona-based peer-support service for people recovering from mental illness and/or co-occurring substance abuse disorders, along with clinical psychologist Dr. Larry Nulton. Kimmel is general counsel for the organization that is “one of the largest providers of mental health peer support services to individuals with serious mental illness in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Kimmel worked with Yale University School of Medicine to develop a specialized forensic peer support program in seven county jails, including Blair, Cambria, Somerset and Clearfield.

“This program includes many of the justice and forgiveness concepts that appear in my writings,” he said.

Kimmel is also the founder of the Nonjustice Foundation, which has offices in the United States and India, and aims to resolve conflicts peacefully. He created Legal Ceasefire Day, is a member of the Peace Day Philly organizing committee, and is a CURE Addiction Center of Excellence at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Addiction Studies adviser.

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Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.