Monday, November 29, 2010

Mondays With Mike: “Catholic thriller" author Brett Dougherty

NOW THAT THANKSGIVING is over and we are moving into the Christmas season, I thought I’d use the season to pepper the blog with some authors who write from a faith viewpoint. Brett Dougherty, who writes under the pen name Ian Brett, was introduced to me by some friends from church as someone who had just published a “Catholic-themed” thriller. Okay, I’ll bite – let’s meet Brett.

Mike: Welcome, Brett. Before we get into your thriller, can you give us a little background on you?

Brett: I was born and raised in Marshalltown, Iowa, and have resided in Melbourne, Iowa, for the last 18 years. I am a lifelong Catholic, though I truly embraced the faith as my own at the age of 25. I am married to Pamela and there are a total of seven children, most still at home, but one married and one in the U. S. Marines. I have worked in real estate investment and contract construction for 24 years.

M: Okay, tell me how you came to write a “Catholic” thriller.

B: I have read quite a lot of Dean Koontz, as well as Michael D. O'Brien and, several years ago, Bud McFarlane. I realized that there aren't a lot of Catholic-themed thrillers out there, but I have always enjoyed them when I chanced upon them. Koontz isn't usually blatantly Catholic, though he himself is. There are some subtle Catholic themes that make appearances here and there.

Seven years ago, on a whim, I decided to write a novel. The basic story had been bumbling around in my head for awhile. Originally, I got as far as three chapters. That was it. It was three years ago that I found the file and resumed the work. I wanted to write a story like the one story that I would be thrilled to discover and read! Into a Soul Enters the Cold contains a heavy dose of Catholicism, supernatural occurrences, a mystery, eccentric characters, a lurking darkness, and then, in the end, an epic contest between that which is holy and that which is not.

M: What is the story about?

B: At the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Anna Grayson. She is unique in that she survived a late term abortion. Yes: she was the fetus. She is an avid motorcycle rider and is friends with Red, an aging Harley rider. He has some sort of connection with Anna's mysterious and ominous childhood. To throw in a nice wrinkle, there is a young priest, Father Robert Worthington, Anna's pastor. Anna struggles between wishing Father Rob would lead his flock in a much more orthodox fashion, and having inappropriate feelings for him. When strange, mystical occurrences begin afflicting Anna, a journey of discovery for her and these unlikely comrades begins.

M: Since this is a Christian novel, is there is lesson or a moral to the story?

B: It might seem a little old-fashioned to say that the story has a moral, but I suppose that it does. I hesitate to say what I think that it is because that would, in a fashion, be a bit of a plot spoiler. Suffice it to say that readers who are seeking a cynical view of the Church or who are stridently pro-choice will become angry enough to put the book down and refuse to go on.

M: As with many authors there is a sequel to their first book. Is there a sequel with yours?

B: Yes, in a manner. Two Peoples, One Prophet is a story that takes place about ten years after Into a Soul. Some of the characters reappear. It isn't exactly a sequel; both stories stand completely on their own, but it does occur in the same fictional Iowa town, Greenveil. I've outlined this story and written the first chapter. It is a worst-case scenario look at America in the near future and how the conservative/progressive divide plays out. In the book the pope has died and a similar, though theological, struggle ensues in the Church. Referencing ancient prophecies, while placing the small-town characters into their own turmoil, a battle for the soul of America and of the Church is waged.

M: Can you tell us a little about your writing habits? I note you have a job and a large family, so I take it that you cannot write full-time. When do you write, and how much to you try to do in one sitting?

B: It comes and goes. I might not be inspired for several weeks in a row, and then suddenly... a late night inspiration rears its... uh... beautiful... head and I can't fall asleep unless I get up and act upon it. I think I'll be up for 30, or perhaps 60 minutes. Just long enough to write the part that had come to me. Often, in these cases, in the end, I might be up then until 4 a.m. Once the inspiration starts I don't shut it off. I'll regret it when the 6:30 alarm goes off, of course! Sometimes I write in a more sane manner and simply work for an hour or so after prayers and everybody has gone to bed.

M: How do you go about developing your plots? Since these novels are related to your religion, do you take your ideas from Scripture, the morning paper … or do you smoke something funny?

B: Certainly, some of the ideas derive from Scripture. I do find myself keeping the Bible and stories about the saints near at hand. I often discover or look for parallels. In these places lie some of the best stories ever told! It helps that they are reality – they say a lot about God and the human condition. The newspaper? There are current social, economic, and political events and trends that play into this novel to a certain extent. Those issues really play into the sequel. Am I smoking anything funny? I suppose that I've been accused of that. I'll have to plead innocent of the charge, though. The closest I come would be the scented candles and Ukrainian Orthodox music that I might have going while I write. That's pretty groovy, is it not?

M: Other than the novels, do you have any other writing credits?

B: Not anything significant, but I did have a "long" writing career that went from grade school on through high school in which I wrote a total of eight teen mystery stories. They were very similar to the Hardy Boys. The difference was that I and my friends were the "stars" of the stories. The grade school ones were pretty bad. The last couple that I wrote in high school actually made some sense. They are all good for a laugh if nothing else. Then, back in the late 80's, I was part of a group which had some small success publishing a few books that involved live medieval role-playing, a type of game.

M: Besides writing, what other interests do you have? Any hobbies, etc.?

B: I have been blessed to have had many different experiences and hobbies. As a youngster, I tended to be the neighborhood "leader", the pickup sports "leagues" commissioner, the nstigator of our downhill "go-kart" racing league (that was REAL safe, you know!). We built rafts with which to take river forays. I've always been a sucker for a good adventure, wilderness expedition, or a road trip! I raced stock cars for five years. Avid weekend motorcycle rider- and that interest certainly plays into my novel, Into a Soul Enters the Cold. I love music, to listen to and to play. I am particularly moved by Gregorian and Orthodox chant – it is the music of the soul. I have spent time at a Trappist monastery as a Monastic Associate. This was an incredible, moving, and edifying experience, albeit a physically challenging one. The 3 a.m. rising for the office of Vigils certainly comes to mind in that respect. My wife and I have traveled to varied locations: Ireland and Italy stand out. I loved climbing up into the monastery ruins in Ireland and exploring the incredible basilicas of Rome. On a simpler note, most nights end with a good book in hand, reading until falling asleep.

M: An auto racer! Great. As some of our readers know, I spent nine seasons racing SCCA formula vees. My worst experience was an accident in which I broke four bones. Naturally, I still love racing, but don’t do it any longer. So tell me about the stock cars you raced, and did you ever end up in the hospital like I did?

Brett (U2) in action
 B: I raced in the IMCA Hobby Stock series at the high bank dirt tracks of Marshalltown and Boone, Iowa. For five years I continued with this financial folly! It was fun, but expensive to maintain the race car. There were wrecks with the attendant broken and bent parts, and then the dreaded blown engines. Talk about a sinking feeling. There goes another $1000! But it was a thrill and I enjoyed my time in it. I ran two different cars, both very unusual to the division where nearly everyone else was running a Chevy Monte Carlo. My first was a 1975 Dodge Dart Coupe with the 360 Mopar engine. Not a lot of success with this car: the front suspension on a Dart is too weak for circle track racing. They don't like to turn! That's a bit of a problem. The second car was a 1981 Chrysler Imperial, same engine. We did a lot better with that car. My number was always "U2", clearly reflecting a certain taste in music. My career ended when the accelerator stuck, throttle wide open, going into turn 3. That's a problem! I flew over the embankment, nosedived into the ground, and spent the next three hours in a cervical collar, on a backboard, getting CAT scanned. Between my neck and a mangled car chassis, that was the end of that. The fourth child had just been born, and so, in the hospital, I made a deal with God: "If You will spare me vertebrae damage, I am promising to finish my career here. This is it." I was extremely sore for nearly 6 weeks, but was spared any serious injury.

M: We’re glad you weren’t hurt too bad, too. Brett, thanks for being with us today. I’m posting a link to your web page (here)  and where your book can be purchased.

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