Tosca Lee is a New York Times best-selling novelist whose works include the critically acclaimed Demon: A Memoir, Havah: The Story of Eve, and The Books of Mortals series (Forbidden, Mortal, Sovereign) with best-selling author Ted Dekker. Iscariot, Tosca’s highly-anticipated novel about the infamous betrayer of Christ released in February 2013. She is best known for her exploration of maligned characters, lyrical prose and meticulous research. Tosca received her B.A. in English and International Relations from Smith College and has also studied at Oxford University. A former first runner-up to Mrs. United States and lifelong world adventure-traveler, Tosca makes her home in the Midwest.
Josh: So far in your solo novel career, your novels have surrounded biblical characters—a demon, Eve, Judas, and a biblical individual you’ve hinted at that I think I know the identity of but shall remain unnamed. Why have you chosen to focus on these types of characters?
Tosca: You know, I kind of fell into it! I was actually writing fantasy before—for years—when the idea for Demon came along. After years of writing this fantasy novel (without finishing) this idea popped up and boom. It was done six weeks later. Of course, then it took six years to sell. When it finally did, my acquiring editor said, “What else do you have?” Sometime during the years of learning the art of rejection, I had written a single page in the voice of an aged Eve. I’m not sure why I did this. As soon as Jeff, my editor, asked me what else I had, I pulled that page out of a drawer and said, “I have this!” Course, then I had to go write the rest of that novel (Havah). Iscariot followed. And I think it’s just that that’s the trajectory I started down, and honestly, it’s those maligned kind of characters that I think present some of the most interesting views on our redemptive story.
Josh: Do you think you’ll ever branch out to other types of novels?
Tosca: Yes. It was really refreshing for me to write my post-apocalyptic series (The Books of Mortals) with Ted Dekker. It goes back to my fantasy/futuristic roots. And I also miss writing stories set in the present time as well. Demon was set in Boston, and I just loved that. And, you know, it’s nice to be able to write a scene without spending a day researching what people ate, or ancient public toilets. I did that once, for a single line of mention in Iscariot.
Josh: Writing fictional accounts of biblical characters and events is quite a tricky thing because not only is there the need to be true to the historical aspects, you also have to deal with the theological implications. What goes into making sure you’re as accurate as possible?
Tosca: People can debate theology, so I really just try to stay as true to scripture and the historical context as I can. The theological part comes, in large part, from the readers, who come to stories with their own circumstances, needs, and theological leanings. And so I try not to dictate or teach, but to explore the story on a solid scriptural and historical stage.
Josh: And of course, there will always be those who don’t agree with you, especially regarding theology. Have you received any criticism for the theology in your novels, especially Iscariot?
Tosca: Not yet… but I’m open to people not agreeing with the choices I made in the telling of this story. And I’ve found that even if my readers don’t agree with certain choices in the story, that they respect due diligence with the research.
Josh: What kind of research went into Iscariot?
Tosca: Oh my gosh. Lots. Years. A trip to Israel. A library of more than 100 commentaries, historical studies, books, lecture transcripts, histories, academic books, DVDs, archaeology articles… and a small cadre of theologians, Bible and Hebrew and archaeology experts graciously willing to answer questions.
Josh: What was the one thing that you discovered in your research of Judas that surprised you?
Tosca: So much. The main thing for me was simply understanding the context of living under Roman oppression. So there was this national groan for a Messiah and for salvation—”salvation” in this sense meaning deliverance from Rome. So no wonder teachings like “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile” (a Jew could be conscripted by Roman soldiers to carry his pack for him for one mile) and even giving up one’s mantle (at a time when items might also be conscripted) were controversial. Here was a man reaching out to the oppressed, but not condemning the oppressor.
Josh: How does it feel to, after so many years of planning, researching, and writing to finally have Iscariot in the hands of readers?
Tosca: Really surreal.
Josh: Sovereign, the last book in The Books of Mortals, releases in June. What can you tell us about that upcoming book?
Tosca: This book really brings everything in for a landing–and not in ways you might expect. It is honestly our favorite of the series.
Tosca: You know, I always hope that readers will take away whatever is most meaningful to them wherever they are at right now. It might be the message of love. Or what it means to really live. Or the role that emotion does—or does not play—in our lives. But I think ultimately, the thing I took away was the idea of surrender to God.
Josh: Do think you’ll do any more work with Ted in the future?
Tosca: Right now we’re pretty busy with our own projects, but we’re keeping it open!
Josh: What do you want to tell us about your upcoming novel?
Tosca: Ooh, well, I haven’t announced it on my sites yet, but this is the story of the Queen of Sheba. It’s time for me to be a female again, don’t you think?
Josh: Recently, you went on a book tour that crossed the country. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend, but I did hear of some of the fun and hi-jinks. What was your favorite part of being on tour?
Tosca: I love meeting my readers face-to-face, hugging them and hearing their stories. I always come home energized and ready to go to work. Meeting readers makes all the long and lonely hours worthwhile, every time.
Josh: What’s up with the bacon obsession? I mean, I know it’s bacon…
Tosca: Dude. It’s bacon.
Josh: What’s one thing you would tell wannabe writers?
Tosca: Write the story you can’t help but write. Write the thing you’re obsessed about. And always, always be grateful.
Josh: Where can fans hang out with you?
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