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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?”

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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?

20120619-192157.jpgI 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.

You can connect with Tosca via her website, ToscaLee.com, on her Facebook page, Tosca Lee, and/or follow her on Twitter @ToscaLee. Here is a link to Amazon’s Selection of Books by Tosca Lee.

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.

So, I got this phone call. The fellow tried to disguise his voice–but I could tell; it was Ben Linus.

He told me my plane would be randomly crashing this morning on an island. Not just any island, mind you, but Kevin Haggerty’s place–The Isle of Man.

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That’s right, I’m being interviewed I’ve at the Isle. Do yourself a favor, and click the link, ok? (Here it is again: click here).

And spend some time over there, because Jacob–er, Kevin–would really like it if you do. Kick the tires, or coconuts, leave some comments.

See you back here tomorrow–same random time, same random place.

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  1. Bryan Allain

    I noticed that you’ve visited my blog, thus I’m curious to get your subjective impression of it–what do you think of it? Do you like the blog, and what I’m trying to do with it? Any tips for me?

    Blog Coaching…coming to an internet tube near you soon. 🙂 [I know what you’re saying–I really need this, don’t I? It’s alright, be honest. It won’t hurt my feelings.] Update: Bryan’s blog coaching program has launched at BlogRocket. He’s calling it “creative fuel for your blog.” I like to think of it as helping bloggers reach the stars.
  2. Are you a cat person, or a dog person? Why?
    I’m not a pet person, which I know is not a popular thing to say. They make my eyes water and I’m convinced that all animals could turn on us at any point and claw us to death. I’m not kidding. [You mean like that awful M. Night Shyamalamadingdong movie, The Happening? Animals are gonna rise up like the plants and get us back? Wow! Had no idea.]
  3. I’ve noticed, from listening to your podcast, that you seem be transitioning away from giving your location as Intercourse, PA, and are more and more saying that you’re in Lancaster County, PA. What’s the reason for this shift? Are you ashamed of Intercourse?
    I tried to write a response to this that wouldn’t get me in trouble. It was too hard. [<–very droll, that–“too hard”]

  4. How much do you really love fantasy football? Why the ongoing rivalry with Tyler Stanton?
    It’s fun, but I don’t love it. I’m much more into picking games against the spread, which is what the league I’m in with Tyler is all about. Tyler and I are good friends, so I look for any way I can to show him how much better I am as a person. [Yes, but are you “Bowlin‘” like Tyler?]
  5. I noticed you tweet about coffee quite a bit? Do you make your own, or are you a Starbuck’s/coffee house kind of guy? Maybe you can clarify something for me: is coffee more of a bean juice, or a brown nectar?
    I tweet about coffee because my brain isn’t awake yet and I can’t think of anything else to tweet about. I’m not a coffee snob, and usually brew my own. But if I’m going out it’s Dunkin over Starbucks.
  6. Mac or PC? Why?
    I’m on a PC all day at work, but otherwise I’m 100% a Mac guy. I shouldn’t have to explain myself. [I totally get you on this one, man. Love my Mac. Pry it from my cold, dead hands and all.]
  7. Do you have a particular spot where you do your writing, or do you hole up in the bathroom with a laptop? How important is a well-laid out space to your creative process?
    I write in my kitchen every morning, but as long as it’s not too loud or distracting I can write anywhere.
  8. I’ve heard that you’re a rabid Caedmon’s Call fan—is this true? And if so, why? And how cool was it to interview Derek Webb for your podcast? Did you go a little “fanboy” on him?
    This is well documented, but I’ve been a rabid CC fan since 1997. Since then I’ve seen them in concert close to 30 times, have been to Ecuador and Texas with them, and consider almost all of them friends. Despite being friends though, there will always be a little fanboy in my heart for Derek, Cliff, and the rest of the crew.
  9. I’ve read where you refer to yourself as the “Schnoz.” Have you seen the pictures of me on my blog? Which one of us has a bigger nose?
    My schnoz is unique and allergic to comparisons. [Sorry, Bryan, in the interests of fair and balanced blogging, I had–for the readers’ sake–to throw up a comparison.]

  10. Is your relationship with Jesus Christ absolutely central to your life? Could you “talk” a little about how you came to the Lord/how He called you? And what role your faith plays in your writing?
    Jesus is very much central to my identity as a person and how I live my life. Not to the extent that I wish he was sometimes, but ever since I committed to living for Him as a freshman in college I’ve tried to keep him central. It can be tough, though, when every morning I want to make life all about me.
    As for my writing, I don’t often write about spiritual things. You can find some thoughts on faith on my blog, but mostly I like to make people laugh. I try not to embarrass God or my family with what I do, which means I try not to be too demeaning of others, too hateful, or too vulgar. I also try not to be unfunny, because lame jokes make God weep.
  11. After the somewhat “douchey” way I acted online, do I have a friend in Pennsylvania?
    We’ve all been there and we’re all gonna do dumb stuff in the future, so there’s no point to refusing grace to people. That said, at some point if someone continues to act like a douche then you gotta start ignoring them so they get the point and so you avoid the headaches of dealing with a douche. You’re not at that point yet 🙂 (and again, I’ve been the douche plenty of times, so I get it.) [Almost didn’t include this one, but thought it wise to just be honest about something that is painfully obvious to my poor wife everyday: I can be an a**. I really appreciate Bryan just plain giving me a second chance at a first impression. Thanks for giving me grace, man!]

    Bryan, thanks so much for “dropping by” to play Textual Harassment with me! Appreciate your time. See you around the blogosphere. Bryan’s blog can be found at BryanAllain.com. Checkout his awesome podcast, The Freshpod, here. You’ll be glad you did. That’s all the time we have for today. See you back here sometime soon for another “episode” of Textual Harassment with Mr. Stuff Christians Like himself, Jon Acuff.

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Bryan Allain

“Textual Harassment” With Bryan Allain pt. 1 Part 2 is here

  1. You indicated that you consented to this interview (very kind of you) merely because I asked. Do you accept all requests, or was this one easier to fit into your schedule because it’s being conducted via email, and you can answer at your leisure? (Just curious about your criteria for accepting, or not, the requests that come your way).
    I’ve only ever received a handful of interview requests in my life, so I don’t think I’ve turned one down yet.
  2. I heard somewhere that you came to writing almost accidentally—can you elaborate on that?
    Accidentally might not be the best word, but I think there was a gap between when I became a writer and when I realized I was a writer. In 2007 I started submitting articles to the Burnside Writers Collective, and only then did I think I might want to call myself a writer. But the truth was I had been writing on blogs, in forums, and in email for the past 5 years and loving it. Also, it was never my intention to be a writer or to be good at writing. If those things are true, I guess it was sort of accidental.
  3. How do you feel about adverbs? Do you use them egregiously, or do you do your level-headed best to obliterate them completely as often as you can in your work?
    I hear a lot about not using adverbs, but honestly I never think about it. It’s kind like if you’d ask me where my left elbow is when i shoot a free throw. I have no idea, but once i grab a ball and toe the line, I feel like I know what I need to do to put the ball in the net.
  4. What is the single most important tip you can give to a beginning blogger?
    Be as true to yourself as you can be. The more you try to be someone else, the more it’s going to suck in the end. If you fail, it wasn’t even you that failed, it was some fake version of you. And if you succeed, same thing, it wasn’t really you. Better to be yourself, and know that no matter how much or how little success you have, it’s you.
    Of course, it takes time to find your voice. It’s a process that demands time and work, so it’s not easy. For most of us, our first inclination is to copy what we know works. We’ve got to fight through that to dare and be ourselves.
  5. How much of your work ends up on the “cutting room floor,” and never sees light of day on your blog?
    Very little. I’ve got a blog schedule so I only write what I know I’m gonna use. And at this point I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I do a lot of editing on each post, but in terms of entire ideas that get cut, it doesn’t happen often.
  6. Any news you would like to share on how the process of shopping your book-length works is going? After getting to know Billy Coffey a little bit, and interviewing him on the Freshpod, have you considered recasting your unpublished memoir as a novel?
    Nothing really to report on this one. I’ve toyed with the idea of a novel, but not really in respect to my own memoir. I’m always open to a good book idea slapping me upside the head, but until my platform is 10 times bigger I’m going to focus on the blog.
  7. Can you tell folks what the Freshpod is, and how you came to be doing a weekly podcast? Speaking of the Freshpod, which of interviews has been your favorite thus far? And can you give us a sneak peak on your upcoming guests?
    You’re turning this 20 question interview into a 50 question interview aren’t you? [Why, yes, Bryan, yes, I am. When you can get 20 for the price of 50, who wouldn’t?]
    The FreshPod is an excuse for me to talk to creative people I admire about their creative process. I got the idea to do it because I love listening to podcasts and thought, “hm. I think I could do this.” My two favorite podcasts were the Derek Webb podcast, because I look up to him so much, and the Jon Acuff podcast, because it was the most fun. No guests are set in stone for the future, so nothing to share there. I like to keep folks guessing.
  8. How supportive has your wife been of your writing? And does she do any writing herself? Should we expect, I don’t know, like a “The Dirt on Bryan” blog to show up anytime soon?
    Erica supports my writing 100%. Most of it she likes, some of it she loves, but she is completely behind me in my endeavors, which is awesome. She doesn’t write much herself, though I have been trying to make her do a fashion blog because she would crush it.
  9. Is there anything about the blogging life that you hate? Anything you would do differently?
    Hate is too strong a word. It’s an honor to be able to write things and so easily share them with amazing people. Do I wish it was easier to monetize my blog? I guess. But mostly it is a blessing.
  10. Admit it: the best part about living near the Amish—in addition to the wicked cool pictures you post—is the cheese, right? I mean who doesn’t love goat’s milk cheese, right? (And the fudge—I could live on that stuff!)
    The best part about living near the Amish is the produce stands that sell fresh produce at ridiculously cheap prices. Corn? When did I eat corn? [Uh, Bryan, who said anything about corn? I said cheese, man, cheese–like what you bring to your blog ;-)]

    Please come back tomorrow for part two of our Textual Harassment interview with Bryan. His blog is at BryanAllain.com, and his podcast is the Freshpod. You should check them out! You’ll be glad you did. Thanks for reading!

>no pooping!photo © 2004 Johanna | more info (via: Wylio)

Random Thursday—Poop, Sin, and Anniversary Edition
      Hello, and welcome again to another edition of Random Thursday, where things get, well, random! On my mind today is poop… (“His posts are like random droppings from his brain”). Hey, I heard that! Not cool! But seriously, what I was wondering is why have I never heard a sermon preached from the pulpit on how sin is like poop. If you think about it, it really is. It’s completely natural, normal, we all do it almost everyday, and well, it stinks! Let that sink in: what naturally comes out of us stinks. Like sin. Paul asked “who shall deliver me from this body of death?” In other words, who’s gonna take this stinky, rotting corpse off my back? That was his metaphor for the natural man—our stinking sin nature that we, even those of us connected to Christ, carry around with us until we step off of this planet and into eternity. Anyway, I’ve never heard that sermon preached yet? Have you? Have you ever thought about how poop is like sin?
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      I’ve posted before about my awesome wife; she’s so awesome that, in fact, she’s hitched her wagon to mine for the last twenty years! I can hardly believe it! I mean how did I get so blessed to have her in my life? And where has the time gone? Through ups and downs, through thick and thin, she’s been there. Without her love and support I wouldn’t be who, or where, I am today. She is more beautiful, and I love her more, now than ever. I’m going to break one of the cardinal laws of dudedom and confess that, yes, she completes me. Corny, but true.
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Here’s the list part of Random Thursday
  1. Things might get quiet around here tomorrow—I’m attending the Catalyst One Day seminar at CCV in Peoria, AZ. If you’re going, we can hang if you like. I’m kinda quiet around new people (sort of an introvert), but I wouldn’t be blogging if I wasn’t willing to put myself out there. God is stretching me in a ways I never could’ve even imagined a month ago.
  2. Coming on Monday is a new, well, if not random, but irregular interview series featuring bloggers of renown called Textual Harassment. The first victim, er, subject is Bryan Allain. Bryan is a humor blogger living in Intercourse, PA. (Yes, it’s a real city in Lancaster County. I’ve heard that if one flies into Philly, one has to pass through Blue Ball to get to Intercourse. Kinda sounds like marriage, right?) The text-based interview will take place over the course of two, or three, days. Following Bryan, probably sometime next month, will be Mr. Stuff Christians Like himself, Jon Acuff. (No, I’m not fly like a G6, and it’s not true that all I do is win. Trust me—I was kinda douchey towards Bryan, and yet he gave me a second chance anyway. And truly, all I did was ask both Bryan and Jon if they would be willing to be interviewed, and they both assented).
  3. Freedom Friday happens every week around these parts. It’s all about where we need freedom, where Jesus has given us freedom, and how we can help each other on the way to freedom. Even though I get silly, and sometimes sarcastic, around here I mean Freedom Friday to be inviolable: it’s a safe place to be real. And I mean it. It’s my intention to not moderate the comments, and I will stick by that as long as folks don’t insult, or judge, each other. Get rude, and I delete. It’s my sandbox.
That’s all for today. Peace out.