Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome Victoria Dougherty, who has just published her first novel, The Bone Church. Set in Prague over the past fifty years, this historical thriller encompasses political, cultural, and historical boundaries.
Welcome, Victoria. It’s my pleasure to have you drop by for an interview today. I’m always fascinated about the author’s journey, so tell us, when were you first able to call yourself a “writer” or “author?”
I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I didn’t consider myself a writer. But I didn’t see myself an author – honestly – until one of my essays got published in the New York Times. Not because I needed the NYT’s blessing to call myself an author, but because the sheer volume of mail I got from readers was staggering. I don’t think I had an imagination for how that would change my perception of what it means to be an author. It was a bit of a bucket of cold water, too, because as good as it made me feel, I also felt tremendously vulnerable. The only other times I’d felt that vulnerable was when I fell in love with my husband, and when my first child was born.
Wow – I’m very impressed. An article in The New York Times? That was my penultimate goal when I was a journalist. So now that I now I’m rubbing elbows with the elite, tell me your writing rituals?
Not interesting. I just sit down and type.
That’s it, isn’t it? It’s as simple, and as complicated, as all that. I’m a great fan of Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring. She once said in an interview that she never chose a subject because as a writer, the subject chose her. Has this ever happened to you?
I can’t think of a time when the subject didn’t choose me. Even when I’ve written speeches for others, somehow it always seemed like the subject was chosen for me. Go figure. In terms of my fiction, I grew up in what my husband describes as “the ultimate Cold War family” – with a little bit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and World War II thrown in for good measure. So, writing noirish Cold War spy thrillers with a ghostly twist sort of came naturally to me. That, and the fact that I live in a very old, haunted house may have helped. Maybe I just channel spirits or something and they tell me what to write.
I find that aspect of The Bone Church very compelling. What messages or themes do you try to convey to your readers?
My stories are about spies, killers, and dangerous pursuits, but they’re also about love. Of getting caught in history’s massive tailwind and blown to the other side of the world, yet despite everything, discovering the meaning of faith and love.
That’s the best message of all. Who has most influenced your writing and why?
The three authors who have made the greatest impression on me are Raymond Chandler, John Steinbeck, and Harper Lee. But Dracula by Bram Stoker is probably my favorite novel of all time – even though I’m neither into Gothic stories or vampires as a rule. It’s just so highly original and has given us a character that we’ll take through the ages.
Those are very noble choices. I would say John Steinbeck is one of the greatest influences on my writing as well. What are your current projects?
Right now I’m writing my second Cold War historical thriller. It’s called The Hungarian and it’s an adventure, a spy-thriller, and a love story all rolled into one. The Hungarian examines the intersection of three lives – a drifting ex-pat, a fugitive Russian diplomat, and a Hungarian assassin with a weakness for rich food and sadistic murder.
That’s sounds as intriguing as The Bone Church. What knowledge have you acquired recently that might assist other writers?
You are not an island and you cannot succeed without learning to market your work.
It sounds as if all your books have a common theme or thread. Would you say this is true?
I’m interested in how people behave under intense pressure and how historical forces make sweeping changes in people’s lives. I also have a deep personal interest in faith and love – the two driving forces in my life, and I think, in most people’s lives in one way or another. I define faith very broadly, by the way, and include atheists and environmentalists in my definition. I, personally, have met few atheists who didn’t passionately believe in their atheism and didn’t – at the very least in a roundabout way – try to convert you to their way of thinking, and I mean that with great respect. I simply think it’s part of human nature.
How does setting play a role in your books?
My books are terribly atmospheric. I love writing about places I’ve lived in or visited and fantasizing about places I’ve always wanted to see. When you have wanderlust the way I do, how can it not make its way into your work?
We’ve all gotten them at some point, so I’m wondering what advice can you give to other writers about receiving a bad review?
Bad reviews sting no matter how tough your skin. However, I think they offer gems of insight. If enough bad reviews say the same thing more or less, you have an opportunity to improve your work and that’s what we all love about being writers, isn’t it? That constant trickle of improvement. Someone recently told me that writing was like golf in that way. I wouldn’t know.
Let’s talk a bit more about The Bone Church. What’s your one sentence pitch for the book?
In the surreal and paranoid underworld of wartime Prague, lives The Bone Church.
It’s an intriguing title. How did you choose it? Has it been the title from the very beginning?
Yes, I always knew I wanted to write about the Bone Church – which really exists – I just needed to build a story around it.
How long do you estimate it took you to take the book from an idea to a finished, published?
What is the best thing someone could say about this book?
That it meant something to them.
What type of research did you do in the writing of The Bone Church?
I come from a family of spies, priests, and adventurers, so it was in my blood. I also lived in Prague for several years, so I got to know the part of the world I’m writing about very, very well.
Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in this book.
My favorite scene is actually very short and simple. It involves Magdalena, the love interest in my story, and describes a memory she has when the scent of her late mother wafts in through a courtyard window. It’s a sad scene, but a hopeful one.
It’s a beautiful scene. Where do you write?
In my home office or on my living room couch (where I am right now). I can never seem to write in a coffee house. Too many clinking glasses. And I look lousy in a beret.
I love my couch, too. But I do go to coffee houses–never considered wearing a beret! How does your immediate family feel about your writing life?
My kids are fascinated that I write books. Both my husband and I work from home in fact. It’s kind of funny, because we find ourselves having to explain to our children that most people actually don’t work the way we do – they have to go to an office outside the home, or a hospital, or a big building with security guards. That’s a head-scratcher for them.
What do you do during your down time?
Spend time with my family. I try to savor every minute my kids still like me and want to hang around me. The clock is ticking on that one.
If a movie was made about your success as a writer, who would play you?
Anyone but a Kardashian. Are they even actors?
I’m not sure what they do, but I’m pretty sure not a one of them could portray you in a movie. You’re talented and interesting, and I’m delighted you stopped by for a few minutes today. Please come back when your new novel is released, Victoria.
About Victoria: Victoria Dougherty writes fiction, drama, and essays that often revolve around spies, killers, curses and destinies. Her work has been published or profiled in The New York Times, USA Today, International Herald Tribune and elsewhere. Earlier in her career, while living in Prague, she co-founded Black Box Theater, translating, producing and acting in several Czech plays. She lives with her husband and children in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Links to books and social media sites
Victoria Dougherty’s blog, Cold
Facebook Pate: Victoria Dougherty, Author