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Tosca Lee Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I was a serious pianist from a young age, and used to practice an hour and a half every day. But when I was in the midst of a great book, I'd sneak it into the piano room and read a page between playing each piece (or as much as I could until my mom said, 'I'm not hearing any music!')" -- Tosca Lee


Tosca Lee received her BA in English and International Relations from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has also studied at Oxford University. As a Leadership Consultant, Tosca regularly works with managers and leaders of organizations throughout the Pan-Pacific region, Europe, and the U.S.

Tosca is a former Mrs. Nebraska-America 1996, Mrs. Nebraska-United States 1998 and first runner-up to Mrs. United States and has been lauded nationally for her efforts to fight breast cancer. In her spare time, Tosca enjoys cooking, studying history and theology, and traveling. She currently resides in Nebraska with her Shar Pei, Attila. Tosca also enjoys modeling part time.

C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Tosca: I always loved reading, but in junior high when I first read the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley I became engrossed in the idea of total immersion into another world. Wow! It was like movies or Saturday morning cartoons come to life. I wanted to be able to write stories that, like rides at Disneyland, might take people somewhere else, the way that other books had transported me.

Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?

I loved reading. I was a serious pianist from a young age, and used to practice an hour and a half every day. But when I was in the midst of a great book, I’d sneak it into the piano room and read a page between playing each piece (or as much as I could until my mom said, “I’m not hearing any music!”) I loved fantasy and historical fiction in particular. In addition to Mists, I was struck by Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg and Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear.

Let’s talk about Demon. It’s been compared to The Screwtape Letters and Interview With A Vampire. Did you use these two novels as models at all or did you avoid reading similar books until you were finished?

I read Interview With the Vampire for the first time around 1994. It was my first Rice novel and I was so moved by her mastery. She has been a great influence on me. I’m a lover of Lewis’ Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve never actually read the Screwtape Letters—though I did listen to Cleese’s version on tape.

With a book that features a demon as the main character, how important was it for you to keep this novel Biblically sound and what sort of research did you conduct to do so?

To me, if you’re going to write a story about angels and demons, it makes sense to go to the source. So I spent time in the Bible, and also referred to the apologetics work of Lavern Schafer, which a friend and former Mrs. Nebraska gave to me years ago. I include my notes in the back of Demon.

What surprised you most in your research on demons and spiritual warfare?

Things that don’t agree with our conventional wisdom—namely, that Satan is the evil opposite of God. That he is a fallen angel. That he lives in hell. That he’s in a contest for souls with God. These are all conclusions of our pop culture that do not agree with Biblical principles.

Demon by Tosca LeeMy biggest aha on spiritual warfare came from author Brandilyn Collins. I came under a lot of spiritual attack in working on this book and on my second one, even. It was Brandilyn, who, in encouraging me, called spiritual attack “unacceptable.” Wow. What a paradigm-shattering thought for me, that I don’t have to just put my head down and try to endure it.

What would you say was the hardest part about writing Demon?

The spiritual attack. The time it took to sell it. Also, my entire life circumstances changed during the time between the initial writing, the sale of Demon five years later. I was married and not working at the time I wrote the first manuscript. I was working internationally full time and in the middle of a divorce by the time I was rewriting it. My schedule is always a huge challenge—I knew intellectually what the challenges of working, promoting a book and writing another would be. By the practicality is another matter.

In a recent interview you said (in talking about Christian fiction): “I don’t believe it has to have an altar call at the end for it to have a message, or blatant Christian underpinnings to be of value.” Could you expound on this thought a little bit?

Sure. The Bible says that we can look at nature and know that there is a God. I believe we can worship God by the practice of acts that reflect God’s character—in this case, creativity.

Would you call yourself a Christian fiction writer or a fiction writer who happens to be a Christian?

I’d call myself a Christian who happens to write fiction. And a fiction writer who happens to be a Christian.

Before you began Demon you were working on a fantasy novel about a warrior woman. Any chance this book will ever get finished?Tosca Lee

Man. I hope so. I have invested so much time into that book (AKA “The Book That Will Kill Me”)! I hate to see it all go down the drain. No, I must finish it.

Is fantasy fiction your first love?

I think fiction is my first love. Fantasy is so great because it includes so many fictional elements—including entire worlds. I just like stories. But it’s true that real life is stranger than fiction.

Share with us about your next book Havah: The Story of Eve. Where did the inspiration come for this book?

I was sort of wondering about her one day, and thinking about the fact that when Adam opened his eyes, there was God. But when Eve opened her eyes, there was Adam already. I wondered what that was like. And honestly, I think there are some things we have erroneously interpreted from that situation that I’d like to explore otherwise.

What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?

Fantasy. Vampire fiction! (Keep an eye out for Eric Wilson’s upcoming trilogy.) Anything I haven’t tried yet—which is a lot. And maybe even current chick lit about women like me.

Do you ever struggle to balance your day job and writing? How do you manage?

Oh. This is such a killer question. I struggle so much. All the time. How I manage is that I don’t. My friends hold tough love moments with me. I have a great counselor. The fact is that I have a day job as a consultant that I’m very good at and that pays the bills, but then I have a love and, I believe, a calling as a writer. It is so hard to balance both—and then have some semblance of a social life. So the big answer to this question is YES and that I haven’t figured it out yet.

Tosca LeeWhat authors or books have had the most influence on you as a writer?

Anne Rice, Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, Anne Lamott—anything by Anne Lamott. Cleopatra by Margaret George. The Mists of Avalon, mentioned above. Anthony Bourdain. Man. I’ve started reading several Philippa Gregory novels of late, too.

So many creative types battle fear daily. From your blog it sounds like you’re no exception. What steps have you taken in your life to help you overcome this and what advice would you give to other writers regarding kicking out the fear in their lives?

You have really done your research!

I battle fear daily. I don’t want to live a fear-based life. But I often do, and it’s taking a lot of work to change that.

I got a great tip from Mark Mynheir and Brandilyn Collins, who have both basically said that if you’ve got a story to tell, then you’ve got important work to do and God is going to help you do it. I sort of forget that and think I’m swimming around without my floaties most of the time. I think the key is having smart friends to remind you that you’re doing something you’re supposed to—no, made—to do. And that criticism is inevitable (I just had reviewer on Amazon post today that he hated Demon. I mean, he hated it!). But you do your thing, you ask God to bless your detractors, and you remember the words of Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love, where she says that it is our light and our great power and subsequent ability to influence and liberate others through our example that is the most frightening thing. It’s much less frightening to think that we’re simply inadequate.

As someone who’s experienced the modeling industry first-hand, could you share with us a few facts about that world that most people don’t know?Tosca Lee

Well, as a commercial model (modeling things to sell in print or on TV, as opposed to runway, which I’m not tall enough for), the thing that always strikes me is that you can do the job without needing to talk (unless you have lines in a commercial or something). This is so different from what I do at Gallup, where I talk for a living. Lest that make modeling sound too easy, I should add that it really is hard work. It might be really cold. Or really hot. You might be holding an unnatural pose. Getting a great shot, on the right mark, in clothing that may not naturally lend itself to great pictures can be tough. Keeping your clothes from doing funky things while avoiding double-chin situations with your head, and not making strange eyes and smiling a natural smile is not simple. Great models can go in and get the right shot within a few frames.

Countless girls these days compare themselves to the doctored and airbrushed images on magazines. If you could say one thing to young women about this subject what would you say?

What you see has been created to sell you an image. It’s necessarily manufactured. And even if the models get minimal touch-up, every image still took the work of at least a handful of people to produce: a photographer, a stylist, hair, makeup, a designer. Even food gets primped and steamed to look great. Do you know there are food stylists? That’s why the can of soup you open at home never looks as pretty as the one on the spoon of the model on TV.

I hear in another life you were known as Siera Redwin. Care to share more? :)

Oh yes. I was the Overlord in an online gaming community in another life. With a big sword. It was great. I finally wrote her death in a war defending her homeland. It was very valiant. Very poignant. Very sad. I miss getting to play her. She was brawny, hated to comb her hair and belched when she felt like it.

Sorta like me. :)

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Havah by Tosca LeeAnything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

I don’t belch that much.

Who is Tosca Moon Lee?

I’m still trying to figure that one out.

What is your favorite word?

Moxy! I just like saying it. “Moxxxy!”

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I really like to putter around my house in dirty sweatpants and a t-shirt. I hate to wash my hair.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I like to cook. Don’t tell anyone. And given a day to myself, I will clean out my closet and bathroom drawers. I really like doing it. I hear they have medication for that now.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

Half a pan of brownies.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Low sodium V-8. Eggs. My dog’s chewie pills.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Tall, double-shot, iced soy latte. Always.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

Go on safari. Have a child. Learn to belly dance. Slay my own dragon.

Recently checked off: have purple hair, visit Transylvania and learn to fly fish.

When was the last time you cried?

Today.

Three words that best describe you:

Quirky. Tenacious. Voracious.

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

Imogen Heap. Finger Eleven. Metallica. Big & Rich. The Gypsy Kings. Nina Simone. Stryper.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.