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Rising Stars: Meet Tosca Lee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tosca Lee.

Hi Tosca, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I actually started out wanting to be a ballerina and devoted much of my early life to that end, going off to dance in the summers, and dancing with local ballet companies. After an injury set me back, I had to re-evaluate! My first year of college (I went to Smith College in Massachusetts) I came home for Spring Break and was chatting with my dad about some of my favorite books, how a great book is a lot like a roller coaster with its twists and turns… and I just blurted out, “I think I want to write a novel.” That day, my dad made me a deal that changed my life. He said, “Tosca, I will pay you what you would’ve made working at the bank this summer…” (I was supposed to work a second summer as a bank teller–a job I was terrible at) “…if you write your first novel, do it full time, and treat it like a job. So that’s what I did. I wrote my first novel–an epic, sweeping historical about the Neolithic people of Stonehenge. And it was super bad. It remains in the basement with the skeletons. But writing it and trying to get it published sparked something in me that has never gone away. I started another novel a few years later. That one didn’t get published either. My third one finally did–17 years later.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Oh no. It’s been a long road, lots of rejection, but lots of learning. Today, in addition to writing novels, I also teach fiction writing for conferences across the nation and events worldwide. And I share those valuable lessons I learned, which included getting that first book (finally) published, the struggle to write the second during the success of the first, and about persevering through industry changes along the way.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Today I am a New York Times bestselling novelist with books translated into 17 languages and optioned for TV and film. But there are many New York Times bestselling novelists with many translations and many books optioned for TV and film. What I feel gives my career the most satisfaction and sets it apart is the relationship I’ve been able to grow with my readers. The pandemic especially contributed to this as we spent evenings gathered online live and as I read to them. I got to know them personally in a way I never would have before. And they virtually entered my living room to interact with my family (and dogs) and that’s how we weathered that strange and surreal time together. I have so much appreciation for my readers and their own stories, and for the way they come on each of these journeys with me.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
In addition to the special time, I had with my readers during lockdown (we made a cookbook even, and have t-shirts!), I learned that it’s all right to fall into a time of creative malaise. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t write much. I was living a story as strange as one I had just published in 2019 (a pandemic duology). Our house was torn up for renovation with all the kid’s home from school. The writing just wasn’t happening in 2020. I beat myself up about that for months, thinking I ought to be getting so much done. But there comes a time, I suppose, when you just have to let life have its way and give yourself a little grace. It is up again in 2021. I think we all–creatives included–did the best we could and found ways to cling to what really matters.

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