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. Victoria loves noir, Winston Churchill, shabby chic, old family photos, fog, Byzantium, and taxidermy – although not necessarily in that order.She lives with her husband and children in Charlottesville, Virginia, and loves them most of all.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Bone Church. When did you start writing and what got you into thrillers?
I’ve been writing forever. I guess I’ve been doing it with real determination since graduating from college, but I certainly wrote well before that, too. I started out writing comedy sketches, then moved on to plays. I was a partner in a theater when I lived in Prague, CZ, and I translated plays for some of our performances. I’ve also written essays, speeches for corporate executives, and many, many grocery lists.
Thrillers, hmmm…I guess it’s unusual for a girl to be writing Cold War spy thrillers. I‘m actually the only one I know of, although I’m sure there have to be some others out there. Thrillers, however, are in my blood. I come from a family that was blown about and apart by some pretty fierce historical winds from that time period. In that light, it seems rather natural that I write thrillers, don’t you think?
What was your inspiration for The Bone Church?
My family. Their story was a two-hanky drama: heroes and villains, cowards, redeemers and the redeemed, those who were beyond hope, and those who pulled victory from a hat just as it looked like it was all over for them. There were ghosts, there were priests, and there were spies. Beautiful women and dashing men. Achingly beautiful love stories and wretched marriages. Drinking and smoking and storytelling – lots of storytelling. So many stories were told around my dinner table –and they were all true and had happened, by and large, to the people who were relating them. People very, very close to me. So the things I wrote about in The Bone Church seemed real to me and weren’t a big stretch of imagination.
Who is your target audience?
One reviewer called my writing style a cross between La Carre and Sue Monk Kidd, if you can imagine such a thing. There’s definitely a hard-core thriller element to the way I spin a story, but there’s a spiritual element, too, and a historical fiction element. I don’t write anything without the anchor of a love story. It just so happens that my characters can kick butt and get their butts kicked as well. I was always one of those girls who was very much a girl, but could play with the boys, you know what I mean? I liked shopping and dancing, but I also loved action movies and playing war. I suppose I’m a product of growing up with brothers. How could that not be reflected in my approach to storytelling?
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
A thoroughly satisfying read, I hope. As a reader, I always feel cheated if the novel I’m giving my time to is heavy in plot and light on character – or the other way around. I’m not always successful in being as well-rounded as I’d like, but I aim squarely for that. I also hope my readers can derive a certain sense of poetry from my stories, too, which I realize is an odd thing to say about a thriller. But so many thrillers can be artless in the way they endeavor to capture an atmosphere or the nuance of human emotion – and that’s not the experience I want for my reader. I think writers like La Carre and Alan Furst have demonstrated that stories of espionage can be told in a more literary manner without losing anything – least of all a reader’s attention.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes and No. My family mythology is steeped in World War II and the Cold War. Since The Bone Church takes place in those periods, I had a lot of passive knowledge to draw from. I’d also lived in Prague for several years, so I knew that city well as a resident and not just a tourist. There were definitely several blanks I had to fill in and that did require research. Sometimes I had to decide whether to be faithful to history or to my fiction. I almost always chose the latter – unless it was about a huge historical event. You can’t pretend that Hitler didn’t exist, for instance, or that Stalin was married to Marilyn Monroe – unless you’re writing a farce.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
I figure that when I get bored, my readers will surely get bored. That’s a pretty simple equation, but it seems to work. I’m also liberal in my editing and nearly always err on the side of tightening a narrative rather than expanding it.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Honestly, I experience nothing but excitement when I sit down to write fiction. Maybe because I feel like time is so precious and I don’t have enough of it. But I can relate to a writer’s anxiety because I do feel a certain uneasiness when I begin an essay. Essays are nakedly personal and I’m by nature very private. That may be part of the problem – there’s no cast of characters to hide behind.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I have to admit, I’m very disciplined. I’ve learned to be over time and with lots of practice. At this point, I could sit down to write at 8:00 AM and not get up again – except to hit the bathroom or kitchen – until 6 or 7 in the evening. I don’t do that most days, however. I have three young children and a husband that I love more than writing. And I do exercise – whether it’s a brisk walk or a quick trip to the gym – otherwise I’d have no energy. I’m a much better writer when I’ve gotten my blood flowing.
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