Not too long ago, I did an interview with Tosca Lee. Tosca’s latest novel HAVAH got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. PW doesn’t give out many starred reviews, so that’s quite a feather in Tosca’s cap. HAVAH is Tosca’s second book, and it’s a novel about Eve, the primordial mother of all mankind in the Genesis story. (HAVAH is Hebrew for Eve.)
I doubt very much that the reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly believes in a literal Eve. But everyone can understand guilt. HAVAH is a novel about a woman who lives a very long life, carrying the guilt of introducing evil into the world.
HAVAH is beautifully written (although it does not have any exploding helicopters — I have discussed this failing with Tosca and she’s sorry.)
About Tosca Lee: Tosca Lee earned her BA in English and International Relations from Smith College. She also studied International Economics at Oxford University. She has held the titles of Mrs. Nebraska-America and Mrs. Nebraska-United States and was first runner up to Mrs. United States in 1998. Tosca works as a Senior Consultant for the Gallup organization, training managers and leaders worldwide. Her first novel, DEMON: A MEMOIR, gained her critical acclaim. Her most recent novel, HAVAH: THE STORY OF EVE, earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Visit Tosca’s web site at www.ToscaLee.com, and read more about her books at www.havahstoryofeve.com and www.demonamemoir.com.
Here’s a photo of Tosca. There is a stereotype that says that beauty queens are not very bright. Like most stereotypes, that is balderdash. I’ve known Tosca for a bit more than a year now, and I consider her brilliant. (Sadly, she is not very good at math — but many intelligent people lack that pesky “math gene.”) In high school, she was (like most of us writers) considered a geek. Want to know what her friends called her? Read on . . .
Interview With Tosca Lee
Randy: What was your high school nickname and how did you earn it?
Tosca: My friends used to call me Weird Tosca. I think it was a nice way of saying, “We love you, but you’re a goofy nerd girl.” I never quite fit in — bi-racial kids into ballet and poetry weren’t as in vogue in Midwestern football country in the 70s and 80s, you know? I read Arthurian fantasy fiction and idolized Red Sonja, watched Thundarr the Barbarian on Saturday mornings, and honestly believed Luke Skywalker was going to whisk me off in a borrowed X-wing one day.
Of course, I’m not that way today.
I was yesterday, but not today.
Randy: At first sight, a novel about a demon doesn’t have a lot in common with a novel about the primordial mother of all mankind. What’s the common thread that drives your writing?
Tosca: I’ve wondered this myself at times. But there is indeed a common thread: both books examine stories so ingrained in our culture as to be cliché (angels and demons, Adam and Eve) from unlikely perspectives. DEMON tells the story of the time before creation to the present day — as well as the love story of God with humans — from a demon’s point of view. HAVAH examines the story of Eve from a fresh perspective as well: hers. We already have the Biblical narrator’s take, the church fathers’ take, the medieval societal take on this woman’s life. But we do not have hers.
If you assume that demons and Eve are possibly real, then it seems to me that their perspectives, whether you like them or not, merit examination.
Randy: Tell us a bit about your first novel, DEMON: A MEMOIR. When you first pitched this novel, what was the reaction from publishers and how did you deal with that reaction?
Tosca: You mean after they pelted me with holy water?
Well, let’s just say that as a former technical writer and beauty queen from Nebraska without a theology degree I would have fared better proposing a football book on the merits of the I-formation.
Ultimately, I don’t think it was the subject matter that scared them. And I never really considered whether it would when I was writing it (though it scared plenty of my friends). The main issue they had with it was that it was written as a monologue. They wanted a more traditional structure complete with other characters and dialogue. I had no idea how to accomplish that.
Randy: I’d like to follow up on that. When you finally sold DEMON, your editor Jeff Gerke made a small but critical suggestion. Tell us the story on that, and why it made the book better.
Tosca: After Jeff took DEMON to committee only to receive the same feedback — that it needed dialogue, other characters — he suggested I try rewriting the first 40 pages in such a way that the demon is telling his story to someone else. And so Clay, the Bostonian everyman and DEMON’S protagonist, was born. Now the reader had someone to identify with other than the demon. It also made the entire story richer for its parallels in human existence. After submitting the new first 40 pages, the committee took the book — as well as an orphaned one-page prologue on the story of Eve — in a multi-book deal.
Randy: Your new novel HAVAH tells the story of Eve, the mother of mankind. One might think there isn’t a lot to say about Eve. Tell us why you wrote this book and what sort of research you did.
Tosca: The bones of the story are lean in scripture, it’s true. But her image, as painted by history, church and convention, has caused unending commentary and affected women for millennia. And even though Adam is called the “original sinner,” Eve retains the evil seductress stigma to this day.
That intrigued me.
I have to think that any one of us in a similar position might have done the same thing she did — probably would have at some point, I daresay. A reader just today wrote to me and said, “I am Eve.” And indeed, we all are.
In a strictly narrative sense, if you believe in a literal Eve, then the woman was as human and fallible as any of us, even if she had the benefit of a first-hand relationship with God, of perfect genes, of an unfallen world. And anyone human and fallible, who can claim to know God first-hand, who has undergone the transition from immortality to mortality… has a story-worthy perspective.
So I wrote it for those reasons, and because I hate two-dimensional, cliché characters. Just as I hate red-horned evil “muhahahaha!”-laughing demons, I hate the concept of a simple-minded “oh, that’s pretty, I think I’ll eat it anyway” Eve. If the woman was real, there was probably some interesting rationalization that happened there. Some very horrific guilt — not to mention the physical consequences of life outside paradise. How have we missed this? I can’t imagine living with myself after such a terrible mistake and disruption of, oh, the world as we know it. I can’t imagine living with new separation from a God I loved intimately. Or the horror of the first human death — of anyone, let alone my own son — at the hands of another son, no less. Of living nearly a millennium with it all.
Or being married more than 900 years.
The research was appallingly daunting. Theology and scripture, apocryphal and pseudepigraphic texts, the Midrash, Mesopotamian geography and history, ancient agriculture, horticulture, flora and fauna of the Levant. Basket weaving — I wish I were kidding on that — textiles, pottery, ancient arts like fire and tool-making. Childbirth. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. But I have to tell you, one hasn’t lived until one has read the Pentatuch As Narrative.
Randy: HAVAH isn’t exactly G-rated. In fact, the book comes with a warning on the content. What’s the warning, and how do you think the Christian reading public will respond to the somewhat “spicy” flavor of the book?
Tosca: It’s been cited PG-13 by some reviewers and carries a “contains mature imagery” note on some sites. But so does the Song of Solomon.
The fact is, I’m pretty sure Adam and Eve did it. By “it,” I mean I’m pretty sure they had sex/did the chicken/the wild thing/hooked up — on more than one occasion.
Granted, I don’t write their intimate life in explicit detail. The book is put out by NavPress, a Christian publisher with a reputation for sound theology and the standards readers expect in Christian fiction. But you cannot separate scripture from human experience — an experience that includes pleasure and beauty (as well as depravity, too). Scriptures were written about and for humans.
At the end of the day, I don’t understand this suspicion of the sensual. The world is sumptuous, earthy and seminal — or was designed to be — and the marriage relationship is meant to be gorgeous.
If only all life were like that.
Randy: Demons and sensuality. I’m told that some readers were hesitant to read your books — particularly DEMON — because of the subject matter. What do you say about that?
Tosca: If you do not believe in God, demons or Eve, it’s pretty much a non-issue. But if you are a Christian, demons and original sinners inhabit your world. We can cover our eyes — in which case they’d still exist — or we can examine what we believe to be there.
Ultimately, if demons and sex are offensive — as well as child sacrifice, orgies, or gory executions . . . then we dare not crack open the cover of the Bible.
Lucky for us if we do, love and grace and redemption lurk within those same pages.
Randy: What’s next for Tosca Lee? What are you working on right now and why?
Tosca: I’m thinking about that now. You know, Jeff Gerke just put a bug in my ear that just won’t die and is scaring me to death. I really wanted to write an “easy” book this next time around but this idea wouldn’t be easy. I won’t say what it is yet; I haven’t even mentioned it to my agent in the event that I chicken out. Oh! And a movie. Drrr — I almost forgot. DEMON is getting optioned for film. If all goes as planned, it should start shooting next year.
Randy: Good luck!
Postscript: After the interview, I asked Tosca about that idea for her next book and she told me more about it, off the record. I love it! I hope she writes it.