Please Welcome…Tosca Lee
What a joy to have Christian novelist Tosca Lee as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
This is the second in a series of three interviews with up-and-coming authors in Christian speculative fiction. There are many excellent candidates for this category, but I have selected these three because of their outstanding contributions to the fiction we love and because of their interesting stories.
I first encountered Tosca’s writing when I was over the fiction line at Realms. Her manuscript, Demon: A Memoir, was astounding, a tour de force. It’s a brilliant look at mankind, history, and God from the perspective of a fallen angel.
When I left Realms and went to head up the fiction line at NavPress I was so pleased that Tosca’s agent allowed me to look again at Demon. I was able to sign Tosca to a three-book deal at NavPress. The first of the three, Demon, will release in June 2007.
Tosca’s fiction is simply beautiful and insightful. You can read a brief sample of it in this month’s Special Features link.
As you’ll see below, fiction is not the only strength Tosca has going for her. She’s an admiral and a beauty qu—but I’ll let her say it herself.
And now the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Tosca Lee: Moving! And going bald. I’m pretty sure my hair is falling out as I prepare to move into my new townhome. Or maybe it’s just going patchy from me pulling it out. My new house is just across town, but the details make me feel nibbled to death by rabid ducks. Or pecked to death by angry chickens. You know what I m—
Oh. You mean writing-wise. Urm, I’m writing a lot of to-do lists these days…
Actually, I have another book coming out early ’08, so that’s the big project for me right now. That’s Havah: The Story of Eve. I’ll be taking 10 weeks off from my job at Gallup (where I work and travel internationally as a consultant) this summer to work on it.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Tosca Lee: Oh. (This is my hushed, reverent tone.) The Mists of Avalon. <insert heavenly chorus here.>
I’ve never read a book (four times) that so accurately captured the power and vulnerabilities of women, that illustrated how very human we are—even in realms touched by magic—and how very much the same we are, whether in the mystical Dark Ages or in the modern world.
WhereTheMapEnds: Though Demon: A Memoir, is your first published work of Christian speculative fiction, you’re no stranger to the wonderfully weird world of all things speculative, are you? Didn’t I hear somewhere that you have some online roleplaying in your dark past?
Tosca Lee: You found me out! In fact, I was once the Overlord of an online gaming community. And you know, I loved it. They still hold tournaments in my character’s honor. I’m not there anymore but I will never forget the feeling that first day I wandered into that virtual community—I felt like I had stumbled through a portal and gone home. That someone had the same otherworldly longings that I did. That for once, I was not the weirdest person in the group.
WhereTheMapEnds: [Don’t tell Tosca, dear reader, that I gave you this link. It goes to a page that talks about the tournament held in honor of Tosca’s roleplaying character.] So, um, Tosca, what made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Tosca Lee: I didn’t. I really didn’t. I was writing a fantasy novel about a warrior woman (a.k.a. “The novel that will kill me”) and was determined to finish that one or die trying. But one day while I was driving along the stretch of Nebraska road that leads to my house on the edge of town my mind was wandering.
I was a member, at the time, of a collaborative, online story-writing and role-playing group and was toying with the idea of a new character. An angel, maybe. No—a demon. But it couldn’t be some trite demon—the kind that tempts people to smoke cigarettes and steal petty change from the register. I like realism in my fantasy, after all.
WhereTheMapEnds: And so the idea for Demon: A Memoir was born. Very cool. So how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Tosca Lee: I’m pretty accustomed to the blank stare and measured nod.
WhereTheMapEnds: Aren’t we all! Maybe you’re not the only weird one in the group anymore, but you’ve stumbled into a weird group! All right, risking comments like “It isn’t fair for one girl to have it all,” would you please comment on how, besides the intelligence and creativity evident in your fiction, you also have some runway-and-tiara experience?
Tosca Lee: We all stumble onto strange things in life. I stumbled into a pair of 5” heels.
I remember the first moment a family friend suggested I try a beauty pageant—I scoffed. I didn’t grow up doing pageants. I hadn’t been pretty or popular. And I went to Smith College. Smith women don’t do pageants!
But I did enter and I actually won the Mrs. Nebraska title in ’96 (I was married at the time) and competed for Mrs. America in Las Vegas. In ’98 I decided to try the heels on again and won first runner-up to Mrs. United States.
And you know, the pageant is really a strange means to a really good end. I was able to raise $8,000 for breast cancer, to act as spokesperson for several local charities, to talk to girl scout groups and local ministries, and to launch a motivational speaking career that culminated in the work I do now as a consultant/speaker.
At the end of my reign in ’97, I was awarded an honorary admiralship of the Great Navy of Nebraska by the governor, which is funny since we’re landlocked.
A few years later, a girlfriend told me that a local modeling agency was turning away commercial work because they didn’t have enough adult women. “Well, if they’re desperate,” I thought, “what have I got to lose?” I ended up modeling for them and even now I continue to model between traveling for work and meeting my writing deadlines. It’s really fun.
WhereTheMapEnds: [Dear reader, be sure not to tell Tosca I gave you this link. Shh.] Ahem, ah, Tosca, what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Tosca Lee: I like fantasy that seems like it could really happen. Mists of Avalon seems real to me because I’m on the edge of the main characters’ understanding, as my friend and coach Dan Mueller says.
What that means is that I know what they know, I understand the immediacy of what they’re feeling, and I get it. I get their existence as women. I get their existence as wives and sisters and lovers. My disbelief isn’t so suspended, even with the magical stuff, because of the specificity that resonates with me as a human and a woman.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Tosca Lee: I think it’s getting more interesting, but you’re much better qualified to comment on this than me!
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative writing and/or publishing?
Tosca Lee: More women writing this stuff (check out Sharon Hinck’s The Restorer from NavPress). More interest from publishers—Strang just opened up Realms, a whole new line of speculative fiction (thanks in large part to you, Jeff). More open-mindedness. And more awareness of fantasy as a credible, marketable genre, thanks to movies on classics like Lord of the Rings, and other stories broadcast via big screen that the public might not have been aware of otherwise—Minority Report, for instance.
WhereTheMapEnds: Ooh, love Minority Report. What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Tosca Lee: It’s frustrating trying to describe what you write to others. And in the end, I hear myself saying, “I write novels” because most people don’t know what Christian speculative fiction is (sometimes I’m not sure, either).
And if you’re a woman, a lot of people assume without asking that you write romance or children’s stories—even if you’re into scary monsters, swords, or—you know—the occasional mutant cell.
WhereTheMapEnds: Wow, I hadn’t thought of what people would assume you write. Hmm. Well, what would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Tosca Lee: I’d like us to broaden our definition of what “Christian” writing is in general. After all, anything that reflects the creativity of Elohim continues the legacy of the most creative being in the universe. Having been created in that image, we have a lot to live up to.
And I don’t believe it has to have an altar call at the end for it to have a message or blatant Christian underpinnings or to be of value. Just like the natural world, which people can look at and know that yes, there must be a god, I think people can look at creativity and think, “There is a progenitor here.”
WhereTheMapEnds: I think you’re the first person to use the word progenitor on my Web page, and I would appreciate it if you’d watch your language! Okay, so, what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Tosca Lee: I think it’ll get better and better. Considering what science will do in five years, I’m curious what will happen in speculative pages in that time.
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Tosca Lee: Uh. If you like to eat, don’t do it. Or only do it if it’s a nervous tick—something you can’t help but do—or a dirty little secret you indulge in when you’re all alone or locked away in a boring meeting with only your imagination to entertain you. And if you’re independently wealthy or have a good, flexible job. And a pot of magic beans.
Or if you are lucky enough to meet an editor who believes in you—thank you, Jeff
WhereTheMapEnds: [blushes] What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Tosca Lee: You know, I read Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel and because I know it’s mass-taught, I was skeptical, but there really is some good stuff in there. The book, at least, seems to be aimed at midlist, established writers, but there’s something in there for any writer. And there’s no substitute to learning in person at conferences or taking seminars from people who have been doing and teaching it for years.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Tosca Lee: Meeting cool people. Meeting cool people who know your God and can attribute your hard work to you, yes, because you’re the one eating the Ramen noodles, but who can also recognize the divine plan of I AM. That’s very cool. Knowing people who not only wish you well, but who will go talk to God on your behalf.
WhereTheMapEnds: That is pretty amazing, isn’t it? What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Tosca Lee: My second novel, Havah: The Story of Eve. I’m excited about this story because I get to return to the female voice (Demon is written from a male POV), and because there’s so much relative freedom with this story. It’s poignant, sensual, tragic, and hopeful at once.
WhereTheMapEnds: And I can’t wait to read it. [Note, dear reader, that you can read the first moments of Havah in the Special Features column right now!] What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Tosca Lee: Getting my e-mail inbox cleaned out. I ask myself “What if?” about that all the time. But I guess suspension of disbelief only goes so far.
WhereTheMapEnds: You’re too funny. What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Tosca Lee: You know, there are a bunch of great books coming out from NavPress that I’m excited about. Between Austin Boyd and Sharon Hinck, there’s some exciting summer reading happening here. Also on my list: Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord Out of Egypt. I’m not sure if this would qualify as real speculative fiction, but she’s definitely a master of the genre.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Tosca Lee: The same thing I tell myself (or my friends tell me—sometimes it takes a shove from them) every day: sit your butt in the chair. Make yourself do it—the work, the writing—for at least 20 minutes. Grit your teeth and do it even if it’s stupid or terrible.
It’s not going to come out looking nice—I can tell you that right now (and if it does, I really don’t like you), so just do it and accept that it’s gonna be ugly. But do it.
And know that the inbox isn’t going to be empty, the yard won’t be mowed, the to-do list won’t be done, and there will be no pixies dancing in the hallway to signify that this is the appointed time. So do it anyway, in the midst of chaos and of feeling like a sleepy, tired idiot. At least you’ll be a sleepy, tired idiot who did what other sleepy, tired idiots only made excuses about.
That didn’t sound very Christian of me, did it?
But do it anyway.
That’s All for This Time
What a wonderful interview! Thanks again to Tosca Lee. Interesting stuff, huh? Be sure to visit Tosca online.
And don’t miss Tosca’s generous gift to us: the first words of her next novel: Havah. Read it here.