Sometimes all you need to change the course of your life is someone giving you a nudge in a different direction.
For best-selling author Victoria Lee, that moment came when she was in graduate school, earning a doctorate in psychology to complement her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the same subject.
Victoria, tall, dark and movie-star pretty, had been writing her entire life, usually penning a novel a year.
But not once did she try to get anything published.
“I didn’t think they were good enough,” she says. “But I met another psychologist at a meeting, and he said, ‘Why don’t you edit them – why do they have to be perfect?’”
That suggestion from a stranger, which, incidentally, sounds like plot line in a novel, prompted Victoria to turn her fiction into fact: She entered a contest, which promised editing help and publishing leads, and created her sound-bite pen name.
To her great surprise, she won.
One thing led to another, and Victoria got an agent and a book deal.
Her first novel, in the young-adult genre, came out in 2019.
The Fever King was followed in quick succession by a sequel, The Electric Heir, and by A Lesson in Vengeance.
Her latest book, A Shot in the Dark, is coming out next month.
It, her first adult novel, gives a starring role to Astoria, where she, her partner, her jump-up-on-you friendly 8-year-old border collie, Aska, and her 6-year-old Halloween-black rescue cat, Squid, moved in 2021 after living for a year in Manhattan.
(Her tow-headed baby boy joined the cast of characters nine months ago.)
But we’re getting far ahead of her story.
Let’s backtrack to Durham, North Carolina, where Victoria, the older of two girls, grew up, and where she wrote her first novel.
At age 8.
“At that time, I also wrote short stories and kept a daily diary,” she says. “I also won some writing contests in elementary school. I wanted to be a doctor.”
By the time she was in college, Victoria had written thousands and thousands of words, sticking to her strict schedule of one novel a year.
But they were for her big blue-grey eyes only.
Or at least that was the plan until that psychologist set her straight.
After she finished her doctorate, Victoria came to New York City for her post-doc work.
She quit her full-time job while she was pregnant to pursue writing.
“I had two book contracts, and it became too much,” she says, while holding her crying son as Aska and Squid romp in the living room. “I had to choose – I always knew it would be writing.”
These days, she writes three times a week when her son is in day care, sometimes working at Queen’s Room on Ditmars Boulevard or Kinship Coffee on Steinway Street.
A former competitive pianist, Victoria gets her ideas from music.
“I listen to the same song over and over then let it simmer for as long as one to two years before it coalesces into something more concrete,” she says.
She maps out a plot outline that advances in 20,000-word increments.
“I become so obsessed that I can’t stop thinking about it,” she says. “I write chronologically because I don’t know what will happen next.”
Although her work clearly is fiction – her latest protagonist, Elisheva Cohen, comes to New York to pursue a career in photography and has a one-night stand with, it turns out to their mutual horror, the reclusive famous artist who is teaching her class.
“There’s a little bit of me in every book,” Victoria says. “Of all of my characters, though, Elisheva is the most like me. She’s anxious, she’s ambitious but insecure.”
Like Victoria, she lives in Astoria, a neighborhood Victoria chose because “I love it, and it’s something I’m familiar with.”
It’s more than likely, she adds, that Astoria will be referenced in future works.
In the coming years, Victoria is committed to writing more books, in blocks of 20,000 words at a time.
Right now, she’s working on the young-adult novel The Girl That Time Forgot.
But unlike the characters she creates, Victoria’s not sure which direction her own story will go or how it will end.
“Writing is my plan for now,” she says as she quiets her son and plays with Aska and Squid. “But the door never quite closes. I still love psychology, and I still keep up with it.”
Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling