Interview with Tosca Lee – Author of The Line Between
Peter: Tosca, it was a pleasure to get the opportunity of reading your book, The Line Between, and I’m now determined to read your other books. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview, to ask more questions about your novels, your writing experience and plans for the future. Many thanks for making the time available.
Tosca: Thank you so much, Peter. I truly appreciate it. Thank you also for the wonderful review. I am so pleased by the great traction it and the social media around it has gotten!
Peter: There were 2 main threads in the plot of The Line Between – the cult environment and the consequences of a pandemic emanating from ancient pions or new strains of viruses being released. Where did the inspiration come from in writing and combing these 2 themes?
Tosca: Sometime around the release of my prior novel, Firstborn, in 2017, I read a headline about a reindeer carcass that melted in the Siberian permafrost. Turns out that reindeer had been infected with anthrax and it got an entire village sick and a little boy died. I subsequently found several other news stories about scientists wary about what lurks in the permafrost that has been melting significantly throughout the world and thought it’d make a fascinating pandemic story.
I took the idea with me to New York when I met with my publisher to talk about what was next. I had a short list of favorite story concepts that also included the idea of a cult escapee starting over in an outside world she’d been taught to regard as evil. My publisher said, “I like both of those. I think you should put them together!”
Turns out, a lot of readers are also fascinated with cults and love a good apocalypse story and so it worked out strangely well! While I wish I could take credit for the combination, it was my publisher’s idea.
Peter: Who is your favourite character and who was the most challenging to develop, and why?
Tosca: I really enjoyed writing the main character, Wynter Roth, for a couple of reasons. First of all, she’s very smart and despite being very sheltered in self-contained doomsday cult she grows up in, she’s quick, resourceful, and has a slight sardonic wit that I really enjoy. She also struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as I do—as I have learned so many do. I’m very glad to include aspects of living with mental health challenges and I want any reader who contends daily with OCD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression—or any silent struggle—to know they’re not alone.
The most challenging characters for me to develop are those who are basically really normal. LOL In the case of The Line Between, Wynter’s family friend, who takes her in, Julie. Wynter’s sister, Jackie. In the end, I was quite fond of both of them for different reasons.
Peter: You have drawn a wonderful character in Wynter Roth, what research did you do to appreciate how she would be affected by the doctrine of a cult, like New Earth, and a charismatic leader, like Magnus?
Tosca: I spent quite a lot of time researching cults and what it’s like for those who leave them—but also what causes people to join them. How they can cope with very stringent rules and offer near-worship to a charismatic cult leader at the cost of their independent thought, sometimes physical safety, and even under abusive conditions. The accounts are both fascinating and harrowing. In the U.S., there’s a lot of national interest in this kind of thing, especially with programmes like The Handmaid’s Tale, The Path, and documentaries by and about those who leave extreme religions and religious compounds.
Peter: The release of prions from a melting permafrost was a major theme in this book. What was the most disturbing information you uncovered in researching this area?
Tosca: This is such scary stuff. Prion diseases—Mad Cow is the most well know, and Creutzfeldt Jacobs is the human variation—are incurable and always fatal. In humans, they lead to dementia before a slow degeneration. There’s no test for it—currently, the only way to properly diagnose it is to study brain tissue of the deceased. Surgical instruments cannot be sanitized of prions by normal sterilization procedures. It can be spread by blood transfusion. It can contaminate plants where an infected animal has died. It’s just really frightening.
Peter: How important do you feel it is to research story elements in depth, such as character traits, location, science and cult dynamics?
Tosca: Very. I’m known for my research and quite crazy about it. I try very hard to get details right and am so grateful to the professionals, subject matter experts, and academics who let me pick their brains, and those intrepid friends and family members who journey with my research —whether it be stalking the halls of the Colorado State University Microbiology building, or travelling to visit the castle Elizabeth Bathory was walled up in, before she died, or Israel to stand on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Peter: A very difficult question to ask but what is your favourite novel from those you’ve written, or what was the most exciting to write?
Tosca: Ah, this is so hard. It’s like asking which child of yours is your favorite. I’m really, really fond of the upcoming sequel to The Line Between, because I took the action in book 1, which readers called “non-stop,” and cranked it up by about 200%. I added a character who has become one of my favorites of all time. So there’s that. But by and large, my favorite book is usually the one I’m dreaming about writing next.
Peter: Do you use story boarding or mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions, or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct and gut feeling? Would you therefore describe yourself as a plotter, pantser or plantser? – New terms for me 🙂
Tosca: Ah! Good question. I am a plotter, but not a very detailed one. I leave some room for mystery. But I have to have a basic map of where I’m going.
Peter: Do you use particular software applications or utilities to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Tosca: I use Scrivener to keep my research all in one place and I try to use it to outline, though my outline invariably turns out to be a long, haphazard list of events, thoughts, and random bits of research in a Word file.
Peter: What are the greatest benefits and restrictions to being a published Author? Do you get involved in finalising other aspects of the book, for example the cover design, narration and the promotion of the book?
Tosca: This is a very good question. The benefits of being traditionally published are that you have a sales team backing you, and distributorship and cover artists, and editing, and you may get paid an advance—perhaps even a nice one. But the cost of that partnership is that there is now an input from an entire team of people involved. Generally, I find this to be a good and helpful thing for my process. If you are self-published, then you obviously have to cover all those expenses and do all the sales and distribution and marketing all on your own—which all authors do a lot of these days—but it really requires you to learn a lot more. In either scenario, you can not, these days, simply write a book, hand it off, and then blissfully write something else. I mean, you can, but without getting involved with your readership and the marketing, you may not hold the interest of a publisher and you may not sell more than a few copies.
As for the benefits and restrictions of being a published author at all… before you are published and if you do not have a publisher or readers or deadlines, you have absolutely no pressure and full freedom. There’s no stress about pleasing anyone. You can write whatever you want. One of the hardest parts about being published is trying to balance the idea of knowing you will be critiqued, and wanting to please your readers, and wanting your books to sell and be popular… with the idea of writing the story with full integrity, artistic license, authenticity, and boldness.
I will say, though, that at the end of the day, having the honor and privilege of being a part of another person’s life, and writing something that might have had meaning to them or helped them escape, if even for an hour, from a difficult time in their lives (or just simple boredom J) is wonderful. I love that.
Peter: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Tosca: Honestly, between travelling and speaking and visiting book clubs and libraries and conferences, and social media, and blogging, and everything… it’s almost as much time promoting a book as writing it. At first blush, that might sound like a shame and a bit upside down, but the upside about it is getting to shake the hands of those bookstore owners and managers and employees selling your work, and getting to see and hug and hear the stories of your readers. This is the very best part of writing, to me.
Peter: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on you?
Tosca: Anne Rice. Jean Auel. Julia Cameron. Anne Lamott.
Peter: What is your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months?
Tosca: Agh. This is so hard because I have so many author friends who write such brilliant books. So I’ll say Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter because he is not an author I know personally. 😀 (Though I did write to tell him how much I enjoyed it and hope I get to chat with him in person one day.)
Peter: What advice would you give to aspiring or debut authors?
Tosca: Write like no one else is ever going to read this. Why do I say this? Because it allows you to write freely and boldly. Worry about the editors and critics and all that stuff later. But when you’re writing the first draft, all you have to worry about it crafting your story and getting to the end. Also, don’t worry about how to get it published or anything until you’ve finished and rewritten and edited it.
Peter: If you had a dinner party and could invite 3 personalities from any period in history who would they be and why?
Tosca: Jesus Christ, the Dalai Lama, and the grandmother I never met.
Peter: Can you give us any insights into any future books or projects that you’re working on?
Tosca: A Single Light, the sequel to The Line Between, comes out in September and I just this week send out the final pass pages for it. It’ll be here in just six months! After that, I have a couple of new ideas I’m very excited about and a historical novel I wrote with a co-author that we’d like to find a home for.
Peter: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Tosca: Thank you for asking! The easiest way is to visit my website. It has information on the books including how to order signed copies, links to my social media and newsletter (including one for writers), and my appearance calendar.
Peter: Tosca, I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. If there are other snippets of information you wish to provide, please feel free. I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful books and I wish you massive success for the future.
Tosca: Thank you so much, Peter. I truly appreciate it. I’m sending this along with the most current press release, which has the book’s back cover teaser, my bio., blurbs about the book, and about the TV development. THANK YOU for the work you do sharing the word about books and authors!!!