Sunday, November 4, 2012

C.L.R. Dougherty: The IAN Interview

Charles Dougherty and his wife have been cruising full-time aboard their sailboat since 2000.  They have been exploring the Eastern Caribbean since 2004, and most of his books are set in that part of the world.  The beauty of the open sea and the islands provide a captivating backdrop for his thrillers, and the quirky characters that populate his books are mostly inspired by the islanders and yachting folks among whom he lives.

He wrote quite a bit of fiction before publishing Deception in Savannah, his first novel.  Most of his earlier fiction works took the form of business plans, written to secure funding for projects and startup ventures during his corporate and consulting work.  He has also published Dungda de Islan', a nonfiction book about the experiences he and his wife have had while cruising the Caribbean aboard their yacht, Play Actor.  Bluewater Killer and Bluewater Vengeance are the first two books in the Bluewater Thriller series; Bluewater Voodoo is the third.

IAN. Please tell us about your latest book

CD. Bluewater Voodoo is part of the story of Dani Berger, a strong-willed, capable young woman who owns and sails Vengeance, a small luxury charter yacht in the Caribbean.  In Bluewater Voodoo, Dani and her business partner, who is the first mate and chef aboard Vengeance, are struggling with their roles in the business and in life.  Trouble begins when their charter guests, a couple of academics studying Voodoo and its influence on the culture of the islands, run afoul of a shady character on the lovely French island of Martinique.

Their guests uncover rumors of a real-life zombie and trace the unfortunate creature to a group of illegal refugees from Haiti who are living and working in Martinique.  The spiritual leader of the refugees has reluctantly used his skills to turn a problem visitor into a mindless slave.  The academics chartering Vengeance want to exploit the zombie craze to fund their legitimate research, but the agents of an unfriendly government have a more nefarious plan for the Voodoo priest and his creature.

Their paths converge, and Vengeance and her crew are caught in the middle.  Neither the government agents nor the academics reckon on the reaction of Dani and her partner, Liz.   Dani discovers the value of trading on her femininity and Liz learns to take care of herself in dangerous circumstances.

Bluewater Voodoo is the third book in the Bluewater Thriller series. 

IAN. How long did it take to write the Bluewater Voodoo?
CD. It took about three months to write and edit the book, although years of my life went into absorbing the background information that gives the reader such a strong sense of what life is like in the Caribbean yachting world.

IAN. What inspired you to write Bluewater Voodoo?
CD.   People who go to sea for extended periods in small boats are a bit different from the rest of the crowd.  To thrive in that environment requires self reliance; all of the safety nets that are provided by modern society are absent – medical, social services, police and fire departments, tow trucks, and even grocery stores are scarce compared to what most folks are used to.  How well you live depends directly on how willing you are to step up to new challenges.  On the other hand, most of the people we meet understand the importance of helping each other and the satisfaction of meeting their own needs.  It occurred to me that a series of thrillers set in such an environment offered interesting possibilities in terms of describing character traits and interactions.

Voodoo is a belief system that exists in the Caribbean islands, and the origin of zombies is rooted in that belief structure.  I became curious about the how and why of real-life zombies – they exist, or have, recently – not as the monsters of pop culture, but as victims of some seemingly evil practitioners of Voodoo.  I dealt with this in a recent blog post, and there are a couple of easily found references there.

For more information, see  I decided that it would be fun to explore the topic of zombies in the context of a thriller that didn’t focus on zombies or a zombie apocalypse.

IAN. Talk about the writing process.
CD.  I usually write about 3,000 words in the middle of the day, and then take a break.  In the early evening, I read the last 12,000 words that I have written – 3 to 4 days of work – and mark it up.  I begin each day’s writing session by incorporating the markups into my manuscript, and the current day’s work flows from that.  I call it my rolling rewrite process.  By the time I finish the first draft, it has been rewritten 3 or 4 times.

IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?
CD.  I start by writing the opening – about 500 to 2,000 words.  Then I write 3 or 4 sentences describing what happens in the next couple of chapters. Each day when I finish writing, I write a synopsis of the next 2 or 3 chapters. I have a rough idea of the story line in my head when I start, but it inevitably evolves as I write.  Outlining doesn’t work for me.

IAN. How is Bluewater Voodoo different from others in your genre?
CD.  I think the thing that sets my books apart is the sense of place and the corroborative detail that I put into them.  That comes from writing about places and things that I know intimately, and readers and reviewers consistently comment that you can smell the salt air, feel the breeze and spray, or taste the food as you meet the local people.

IAN. Is Bluewater Voodoo published in print, e-book or both?
CD. Both.

IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
CD. I want them to enjoy the story, and I want to instill a longing to visit the wonderful part of the world where my books are set.

IAN. Where can we go to buy Bluewater Voodoo?
CD.  All of my titles are available as e-Books from Amazon.  They are available in paperback from Amazon and all of the other online bookstores, as well as by special order from local bookstores.

IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
CD.  I’m working on two books.  One is another nonfiction book about our experiences when we moved aboard our boat and left our comfortable lives ashore to explore the east coast of the U.S. from the water.  The other is a thriller, but it’s not a sequel to any of my previous books.  I wanted a break from the Bluewater Thriller series, so that I could return to it with a fresh perspective for the next book.  I’m missing those characters, now.  I look forward to finishing the two books I’m writing so that I can start the next Bluewater Thriller early next year.

IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?
CD. See my web page at  I also have a sailing blog at, where I share a few details of our life afloat.

From Bluewater Killer, the first book in the series:

He drifted into consciousness, fighting it the whole way.  The harsh light of the sun burned through his eyelids.  He clamped them closed, in hopes that he would drift off again.  "Where am I?"  No one answered, but his instincts told him that it was nowhere good.  As he raised a hand to his throbbing head, he became aware of the corrosive vapors of jackiron rum wafting from his shirt.  Had he been drinking?  He couldn't believe that; he wasn't a drinker, but he felt hung over.  Moving his hand to the floor, he felt the surface beneath him -- hard, lumpy, and damp.  "Cobblestones?"  He forced his eyes open, a little bit at a time.  This caused his surroundings to roll past in surreal swirls.  His instincts were right.  He was nowhere good, and nowhere familiar, either.  Sunlight beamed from a hole, high up in one of the walls.  He turned his head, trying to look the other way, but instantly regretted the effects of the motion.  Overcome by nausea and retching painfully, he rolled onto his side to avoid choking.  As the waves of nausea receded, he took in the uneven stone floor stretching from his cheek to the iron bars comprising the wall opposite the one with the hole in it.  "Bars?"  He must be in a cell.  "Where am I?" he asked again.  Still, no one answered his questions.

Ignoring his body's protests, he forced himself to a sitting position.  He sat there for a moment, waiting for his surroundings to stop their circular motion.  He looked around and saw that he was alone; his immediate surroundings were deathly quiet.  In the distance, he could hear voices, raised in gospel song.  There was a subtle but still noticeable calypso undertone to the familiar music.  As he registered the rhythm, the notion that he was in the islands formed in his mind.  "I'm hung over and in jail, somewhere in the Caribbean," he said aloud.  "It's Sunday.  I need water and food."  Behind that raging thirst, he could feel his stomach growling.

He crawled over to the bars and pulled himself to a semi-erect position, holding on to stay upright as his vision swirled again.  "Got to be careful about moving my head so fast," he said, under his breath.  He looked out into a dim, rough-walled corridor, broken pieces of oyster shell visible in the construction.  "Definitely in the islands," he said.

"Hello," he called.  "Anybody there?"  He listened as the sound of his voice died in soft echoes.  Still grasping the vertical bars of his cell door, he shook it to make a noise and get someone's attention.  To his surprise, the door swung out into the corridor with a loud screech of rusty iron hinges.  He stumbled, shuffling to stay on his feet, as he followed the arc of the swinging door.  He paused, hanging on the door to regain his equilibrium.  After a few seconds of silence, he released his grip on the door and moved a little way into the corridor, taking in the empty cells to either side of his.

"Hey!" he yelled, rewarded by an increase in the throbbing pressure behind his forehead.  No one answered.  Leaning on the wall, he worked his way down the corridor toward what appeared to be an exit.  Reaching the end of the corridor, he peered through a narrow archway into a sort of waiting room.  It was dirty but neat, in that way unique to official spaces in small Caribbean countries.  There was a bench along one wall; along the opposite wall, there was a counter, with a window of scarred, yellowed Plexiglas, like the ticket booth at a defunct theater.  There was nobody behind the window.  He stumbled out into the empty waiting room.  Examining the room for a moment, he shook his sore head in confusion.  Still unsure of his footing, he stepped outside into the morning sunlight, expecting to encounter a policeman at any moment.  He was a little worried about how he would explain his accidental freedom if anybody challenged him.  As he staggered out of the door, he looked up and back over his shoulder, noticing the signboard hanging above the portal.  "Police," he read.

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