Monday, June 16, 2014

Interview With Victoria Dougherty, Author Of THE BONE CHURCH

THE BONE CHURCH (Pier's Court Press, April 2014) by debut author Victoria Dougherty is possibly one of the darkest and most sophisticated historical novels you'll be able to put your hands on this summer. Just take a look at the synopsis:

"In the surreal and paranoid underworld of wartime Prague, fugitive lovers Felix Andel and Magdalena Ruza make some dubious alliances – with a mysterious Roman Catholic cardinal, a reckless sculptor intent on making a big political statement, and a gypsy with a risky sex life. As one by one their chances for fleeing the country collapse, the two join a plot to assassinate Hitler’s nefarious Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Josef Goebbels. But the assassination attempt goes wildly wrong, propelling the lovers in separate directions.
Felix’s destiny is sealed at the Bone Church, a mystical pilgrimage site on the outskirts of Prague, while Magdalena is thrust even deeper into the bowels of a city that betrayed her and a homeland soon to be swallowed by the Soviets. As they emerge from the shadowy fog of World War II, and stagger into the foul haze of the Cold War, Felix and Magdalena must confront the past, and a dangerous, uncertain future."

If that didn't intrigue you, I don't know what does! I've had the immense pleasure to interview Victoria Dougherty - grab your coffee, get comfortable, and read on.

I am delighted to have you on the blog, Victoria! If we could conduct this interview face to face, in a place other than the virtuality of the blogosphere, where would we meet?
In a medieval beer hall. We could chat over a fabulous Czech beer and eat stinky cheese with mustard, chopped onions and fresh rye bread. We should refrain from breathing on anyone after that, though.
I have never met you before; how do I recognize you? The three adjectives that better describe your look and your personality...
Tall, quirky and jokey (despite my writing style, I love a good laugh)
 Your debut novel, THE BONE CHURCH, was recently published by Pier's Court Press (April 2014). We would love to learn more about your background and what led you to become a fiction writer.
 I’ve kind of always been a writer. I started our writing comedy sketches and short plays, then began translating plays (when I was partner in Black Box Theater in Prague, CZ), then migrated towards essays and novels (I’m in the process of edits for my second and third novels). Content-wise, I come from what my husband calls “The Ultimate Cold War Family.” There was no shortage of storytelling around my dinner table growing up – and those stories were all true! Tales of spies, gulags, murders, political prisons, love, adventure, danger…it was all there. And it was amazing to hear it coming from my own family. Made it very real. I grew up understanding what big stakes were.
Let's bring our readers up to speed with setting, conflicts, and characters you brought to life in your historical novel, THE BONE CHURCH. Can you briefly introduce the plot?
The Bone Church follows a Czech couple – Felix and Magdalena – through the harrowing events surrounding the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II and the subsequent Soviet invasion, which happened under the auspices of “liberation.” It takes the reader through the shadowy fog that descended during the war years and into the polluted haze of the Cold War without missing a beat. While The Bone Church most certainly has some strong thriller elements – how could it not? The characters are running from Nazis and Soviet spies and are making alliances with all sorts of dangerous characters – for me, it ultimately tackles the meaning of faith and love and how tremendous historical forces can affect us at our core. So, despite the running and risks and the specter of death, it is a love story for me and I wrote it as such.
 All writing has an intended readership: did you write THE BONE CHURCH with a specific audience in mind?
That’s an oddly difficult question for me to answer. I know I wrote a book that I would want to read, and I’m one of those readers who enjoy both “male” and “female” books.  I’ve had two literary agents in my career (both male) and even with them, one thought I wrote for women (Historical Fiction) and the other felt my work skewed towards male readers (Thrillers). I must fall somewhere in between, but I don’t write for one or the other.
Why did you decide to portray Prague during two of its thorniest times in history?
My family is from Prague and I lived there for several years. It is one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever come across both culturally and historically. Prague is a place of contradictions and has brought the world bawdy intellectuals, literary janitors, scientist priests and philosopher politicians. I wanted to bring that to life.
I could probably spend a career writing about Prague, but I won’t. The Bone Church will undoubtedly be it.
Intricate plot, great attention to historical details, a rich and complex cast of characters: which layer of the book was the most exciting to build?
As a writer, I thrive on building the connective tissue between friends and lovers and enemies and colleagues. Or a priest and his congregation and a hero and those who worship her.
It’s all about the relationships between the characters. For me, that is the spine for every story. There are some great plot-driven books out there that rely mostly on action and I can enjoy them immensely – but they rarely stay with me. I strive to create characters that stay with a reader like a scent. I want people to think about the book long after they’ve finished it. It’s a huge challenge and I’m not always successful – certainly not with every reader – but I love that process, and it’s always what I start and end with. All the action stuff is there to get the characters from A to B and flesh out how they really feel – about each other, about life.
Is any of the characters inspired by real historical figures? Some of them are 'uniquely' drawn - how did they come into being?
Some are based on real people – Lida Baarova was Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels’ Czech mistress. She was a famous actress at the time and my grandparents actually knew her. They weren’t particularly fond of her for obvious reasons, but they had met her. My grandfather was an Olympic athlete, so before the war, he would run into her at parties. And yes, some of my characters are loosely based on people in my family – their experiences, not their actual personalities. The personalities are entirely invented.
 What is the most fascinating thing you have learned about Eastern Europe and that particular time in history while researching/writing your novel?
What is most fascinating to me is how fierce historical winds change lives so irrevocably and completely. And being on the losing side is so compelling and something with which we Americans have little experience. As a writer, I love having to answer the question, “What would you do if the worst possible thing happened to you.” A lot of people have had to answer that question in Eastern Europe, and the answer is not always as depressing as one would think. There’s actually tremendous hope and meaning in pain and struggle.
 Investigative journalist and writer Michael Schmicker defined your book as "erudite" and "neoclassic", comparing it to some of the most prominent Cold War thrillers of all times (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre, The Third Man by Graham Greene, James Bond by Ian Fleming). Did you mold and refine your writing style on any of these master storytellers?
Wow. I was so honored and grateful for that review. It meant a lot to me. Did I model my story or writing after Graham Greene, Fleming, Le Carre – and let’s add Alan Furst and Daniel Silva to that list – not specifically, but having read them all extensively, how could they not influence my style? Honestly, to be mentioned – by anyone – in the same breath as those authors (especially by an experienced reader and writer like Michael Schmicker) kind of makes me hyperventilate.
Like the masterpieces your book has been compared to, THE BONE CHURCH would be a great fit for the big screen...any ambitions to see your novel translated into a motion picture? If so, do you have a director and dream cast in mind?
I’ve watched my plays being performed and it’s just an amazing feeling – even when only five people show up in the audience. It’s one of those things that feel like an out of body experience. Is it an ambition – oh, yeah, but more accurately, it’s a fantasy. As for my dream cast, they’re all pretty much dead. Or too old to play the parts. I love actors like Ian Richardson (from the original British House of Cards), Steve McQueen, Lena Olin. James McAvoy would make a great Felix and he’s the right age cohort.
James McAvoy (X--Men, Atonement, The Last Station, Penelope, Wanted, Becoming Jane)
 James McAvoy? In that case, I would be the first in line at the movie theater! You have one of the most intriguing Facebook pages: great focus on visual, lots of black and white photos, strong images. Do you find inspiration for your writing in visual arts? Any other form of art you would like to explore, other than writing?
I love surrealism and black and white photos – sometimes combined, but not necessarily. My Facebook page and other social media pages and outlets are all similarly themed. I’m just crazy about the stuff. My blog, Cold (, mostly features short essays and fiction, but every story uses black and white photography as an anchor. On occasion a color shot or two makes its way in. I wish I could use more photography in my novels as well, but that’s pretty expensive at this point.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Victoria! It was a great pleasure to have you.
You’re welcome – and thank you for having me. I love your blog.

About the Author

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.
For more information, please visit Victoria Dougherty’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
About the book
Pier's Court Press; April, 15, 2014
Paperback, ebook, 308 pages
Historical Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Espionage, WWII
Buy it


  1. What an interesting interview. Thanks so much for sharing this Mina and thanks to Ms. Dougherty too. THE BONE CHURCH is a must read.

    1. Absolutely, Maryellen! It sounds like a novel with great character, doesn't it?

  2. I am in the middle of this book so really enjoyed this post.

    1. Fantastic, Mystica! Glad you enjoyed the interview :)