Many of you probably know the work of the wonderful Tosca Lee. Her stories captivate us and her daring characters draw us into her world. Aside from being able to take her readers on a serious trip, she may also be one of the most authentic writers I know. Today we talk about her writing journey and how she keeps her authenticity.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your road as a writer so far?
A: I’ve been writing most of my life and was published at a young age but always planned to be a professional ballerina—until I got too tall and injured. So off to college I went. Some time during my freshman year I told my dad that I thought I’d like to write a novel. I loved the literary ride my favorite books had taken me on, and wanted to see if I could construct a ride like that for others to enjoy. He made me a deal: he’d pay me what I would have made working at the bank that summer (I had a job lined up as a teller, which I was terrible at) if I would spend the summer writing a novel. So that summer I wrote my first novel, which is still in a crate in my basement. I wrote most of another, two computer books, and on the staff of a computer magazine in the nearly 10 years that passed before I wrote my third novel, got an agent for it and waited an additional six years for it to sell. That book was Demon: A Memoir, which was published in 2006.
Q: You’ve had some incredible success as a writer. What are the biggest struggles that come with that?
A: One of the hardest things is to write with the same precociousness as before getting published. My #1 rule is to write as though no one will ever read it because it’s the only way I know to be raw. The moment I bring a mental audience to my desk, the authenticity of my writing suffers. So I have to trick myself into thinking that this is just me doodling in the safety of secrecy… even though I’m doing it on a deadline and posting project hints and release dates on social media.
I’d say the other thing is the temptation to build an identity around being a Writer or Author. There’s that initial restructuring of the identity that happens when you start a publishing career and people start to recognize your work. But we’re not just what we do even as a passion. Writing is a great way to try to remember who we are, but it does not make us who we are. But it’s easy to forget that in the midst of a growing career. I step away from my desk and intentionally forget the work for periods of time. I’m still observing life, and know that I’ll return—maybe even later that day—but for that time I let it go.
Q: You have always been really open and honest about your struggle with depression. Can you speak to how that has affected your writing journey?
A: As anyone who struggles with depression or anxiety can attest, it can be extremely crippling. It becomes very hard to work. Sometimes the only thing I know to do is to bring it into the story. I hope that it makes my characters more real and their struggles, even in a historical setting, relevant. And I even find at times that a certain amount of anxiety isn’t a bad thing to bring to writing. It’s a natural form of tension. Unfortunately for our characters, our job is to make life difficult for them.
Q: How have the struggles you’ve faced affected your identity?
A: I’m not sure that it’s affected my identity too much, other than sometimes feeling like the odd person out, like I’m standing apart from those around me in an uncomfortable way. But who I am is in my heart and my identification with something much larger than me.
Q: It’s easy to get lost in the darkness, when you feel yourself forgetting about the light what do you do to remember?
A: I talk to trusted loved ones. I get up and move and change my physiology. I write about it. I spend time with my step-children, who put so much into perspective.
Q: What encouragement would you share with other people that are struggling with depression?
A: It’s okay to go through it. It feels horrible, but this is not bad and does not make you bad. Don’t be embarrassed to seek help. Get mad at it if you need to. And give yourself plenty of grace.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Yes—a big shout out to my readers. I love you guys. And thank you, Rachelle, for having me on your blog. Many congratulations on your upcoming debut!
Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of ISCARIOT; THE LEGEND OF SHEBA; DEMON: A MEMOIR; HAVAH: THE STORY OF EVE; and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker (FORBIDDEN, MORTAL and SOVEREIGN).
Tosca received her B.A. in English and International Relations from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts with studies at Oxford University. She is a lifelong world adventure traveler and makes her home in the Midwest. To learn more about Tosca, visit www.toscalee.com.