I’m privileged to host Tosca Lee today. She is the award-winning and acclaimed author of Demon: A Memoir, Havah: The Story of Eve, and the forthcoming Iscariot, about the life of Judas. She is also co-author, with Ted Dekker, of the Books of Mortals series; Forbidden released last fall, Mortal came out on the fifth of this month, and Sovereign is due out next year. She was formerly employed by Gallup as a consultant, but gave that up to pursue her writing full time.
Tosca graciously took time out of her busy schedule of working on Sovereign to answer my questions. Without further ado:
When did you first know that you wanted to write? When did you write your first story?
I wrote my first published article in third grade about my English bulldog, Oliver, dying. It was published in a pet-lover’s newsletter. Of course, it was very dramatic! Maybe I was always meant to write fiction. I started writing short stories in middle school and won this 9th grade story competition in my school. I remember at the time I was writing it, thinking, “Wow. This is hard. I have to describe all this stuff?” It was about a medieval girl who jousts a would-be suitor. Hmm. I’m seeing shades of Brave in there. Anyway, the fact that I doubled the 10-page limit might have been an early indication that I’m not good at short-form. It was in the next couple years that a couple high school teachers encouraged me to keep writing. I think of those two teachers often and now that they’re retired wish I could find them if only to let them know that I’m doing this for a living, and have stayed out of jail.
Other than Marion Zimmer Bradley, who are some of the seminal influences on your work? Whose work do you read and recommend today?
Gosh. I draw influence from so many. Anne Rice. I loved Memoirs of a Geisha. But I enjoy thrillers, too. And humor like David Sedaris. The ironic thing is that it gets harder and harder to read for pleasure because of time constraints. I do consume story in multiple forms–TV shows, movies. Music is a big influence. Movie soundtracks. I think the last series I read was the Hunger Games and I really had a hard time putting it down. I’ve got Rice’s The Wolf Gift on my desk right now.
Please give us glimpse into a typical “Tosca Lee” day: are you a morning person, rising early to write, or does your best work happen at night? How much bacon is consumed during a typical writing project?
We fear mornings. I’ve tried to switch my pattern, but so far, I seem to be programmed as a night person; it’s not unheard of for me to stay up until dawn lightens the windows. During the week I’m typically at my desk no later than 9 or 10am because Ted Dekker and I work through the day until about 6. When I write on my own, I might work until 1 or 2am. Midnight snacking ensues: Cheetos. Enchiladas. And mmm. Bacon. I mostly only eat bacon when I’m out because I actually hate the mess of cooking it. I’m very good at eating it, though.
I see that you are very active on social media, tweeting out updates, and posting “writer cam” photos to Facebook. Is this an important part of the writing process to you, to thus engage your fans? Is it a conscious effort on your part to lift the veil, so to speak, on the “writing life?” Do you find that your fans perhaps tend to glamorize that “writing life?”
I find that people are fascinated with the writing process and that lifting of the veil as you say. Fans see the nicely-done author photos, makeup on, hair done, that are on my stuff or know that I used to model. But 99.5% of real life isn’t like that and I think people appreciate knowing “realness.” Writing is hard work. I think some people believe that you sit down to write, write the book, and then go back and edit it. If that’s how it works, then I’m really doing something wrong, because for me it’s very laborious. I want my readers to know–especially in this 5-year lull between the release of my last and next solo project–that I’m working hard for them.
I’ve heard other writers say that composing and editing seem to occupy different parts of their brains; as such, they are able to work on one project in the morning, and edit/revise another at night. Does it work this way for you? Are you simultaneously working on both Sovereign and Iscariot?
I was two weeks ago right up until 1am the morning I left for tour. I worked on Sovereign during the day and then line edits for Iscariot at night. They do take two different sides of the brain. Creating from scratch is one thing… editing is another. It’s the reason I don’t stop or self-edit as I write. I know other authors who do, but it doesn’t work for me.
Can you share with us what the pre-publication schedule is for a novel like Iscariot? Or Sovereign? Are there many rewrites and/or revisions?
There are four main rounds of edits after a book is acquired by a publisher. The substantive edit, which tackles larger structural issues in the novel (characterization, plot, etc.), a line edit that addresses flow, paragraph and sentence structure, the copy-edit for fixing grammar and the final page proofs.
How did the collaboration with Ted Dekker come about? Who first broached the idea? Did you first consider it with anticipation, trepidation, or both?
I asked Ted to endorse the re-release of Demon, which was coming out in 2010. He had heard of me before and in the dialogue about our current projects, we realized how much we enjoy writing same kinds of stories, are interested in the same thematic explorations. Our styles are vastly different, as are our strengths, which are quite complementary. Writing together just made sense.
Is your creative process conducive to collaboration? And what are some of both the joys, and difficulties, of working on the Books of Mortals series with Mr. Dekker?
It takes time to learn how to work together. It requires a lot of laying down of ego, hearing one another out. Making decisions that serve the story and reader. I think we’ve both learned a lot through the process. The real luxury of a writing partner is that you really can rely on their strengths, assuming both parties are aware of what they’re bringing to the table. You don’t have to figure everything out yourself or even get it written perfectly the first time–because you know you have someone (at least the way we write–both writing fresh content and editing/re-writing the other’s) coming in behind you.
A hallmark of your work seems to be bringing to light a sympathetic portrait of usually much-maligned characters. How did you come by this approach? Is it difficult, or does it come naturally to you?
For some reason I just think that way. But I always was that kid who asked the questions you’re not supposed to.
Stephen King has said that “fiction is the truth inside the lie.” Does this ring true with you? How does truth (in this sense) inform your work?
I think it’s true that fiction is the lie that tells the truth. The truth being a spiritual truth, or the unchanging nature of the human heart.
Some years ago, you went through a divorce. Having lived through my parents’ divorce, and having seen friends go through them, I know something of how painful it can be. Would you care to share some of its impact on you personally, and how that time in your life may have impacted and/or informed your writing as well?
I actually got my first contract at the beginning of my divorce. So during that time, I rewrote and released Demon, worked full-time as a consultant traveling every week all over the world, sold my house, built another, moved, and wrote Havah. I’m not sure how I did it all, to be honest. Much of what I was processing about my divorce is in Demon. I explored marriage and relationship and womanhood in Havah–I couldn’t write either book the same today. But that’s what novels are: snapshots in time in the artist’s life.
Tosca, thanks very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to come by today! Thanks for “lifting the veil” on your creative process. As one of your readers, I appreciate how hard you work to deliver excellence via the written word. You are an inspiration to us all.
Because Tosca is hard at work completing Sovereign, she is unlikely to be available for comments today; however, please feel free to leave any questions, or comments, for her below, and I can forward them on to her to answer at her leisure (not that she knows what “leisure” is right now). That way maybe I can run a subsequent post where she answers your questions. Thanks as always for reading!
Update: All previous, and subsequent, commenters are eligible to win a free electronic (Kindle) copy of Tosca’s novel Demon: A Memoir. Just leave a comment below, and I will enter your name in a drawing using Random.org.