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Interview: May 3, 2017

Tosca Lee is the New York Times bestselling author of several books that range across the genre spectrum, including historical fiction such as ISCARIOT. Yes, as in Judas Iscariot. Lee based her Descendants of the House of Báthory paranormal thriller series on the progeny of real-life Blood Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who died in 1614. FIRSTBORN is the sequel to THE PROGENY and the conclusion of that series. Lee chats with’s Dean Murphy about her novels based on historical figures, co-authoring books with bestselling writer Ted Dekker, and her life as an accomplished author. THE PROGENY introduced Audra Ellison, Báthory’s fictional direct descendant. Why are members of Progeny the “good guys” and scions of Báthory’s victims perceived as bad?

Tosca Lee: (Laughs) Those who read my books know I always think there’s more to the story. Elizabeth Báthory is pretty much universally considered a black-blooded serial killer (helped in great part by Hollywood), though when you dig into her life there’s an interesting dichotomy happening there: she was known as a doting and caring mother, extremely educated, and a patron of the Protestant church. Granted, these actions could be a great cover for a dark secret life, but when you consider that she was literate, powerful, a Protestant under the rule of a Catholic king and wealthier than the crown --- and (this is the kicker), during the latter part of her life, a widow to whom the king owed a massive, practically unpayable debt --- her story takes on distinct shades of conspiracy.

BRC: Why base a series upon descendants of one compared to Vlad the Impaler, the basis of Count Dracula?

TL: I’ve always found Báthory fascinating, but in this case, it was a fan who asked me to write a story about her. THE PROGENY isn’t as much about her as her descendants. Because of the legend, her life makes for a colorful mythological underpinning.

BRC: FIRSTBORN has a surprisingly upbeat finalé. What have you accomplished with that?

TL: I have a hard time writing stories with desperate endings. We get enough of those in life. Even in ISCARIOT, when we all know how Judas’ life ends, I look for the hope in the story. We read fiction to be transported. We read to escape. I’ve had too many fans tell me how they read my books during dark personal times, through illnesses and difficult recoveries. Yes, there’s calamity in stories. But I want my readers to leave these journeys with a sense of satisfaction and hope.

BRC: Since FIRSTBORN concludes the series, which historical figure is featured next? That title?

TL: I’m taking a hiatus from historical figures for a bit and launching into a new thriller. I haven’t announced it yet, but it’ll be a non-stop survival adventure for those who love being glued to the pages. Or at least, that’s what I always aim for!

BRC: In ISCARIOT, you transformed the despised disciple of Jesus into a sympathetic and likable character. What inspired that character and changing perception of his actions?

TL: I actually didn’t change the biblical record so much as investigate what might have been true for him as a figure and product of his times. It was very important to me to adhere to the scriptural story itself. As for what inspired the novel, it was suggested to me by my first editor, Jeff Gerke. I completely rejected the idea at first as far too difficult, research-wise, but then it grew on me and I couldn’t shake it.

BRC: You’re a prolific writer and attend events that benefit authors. Last October, you were the Florida Writers Conference Celebrity Author, in Orlando. What upcoming events for writers are scheduled? (Lee’s events schedule is here.)

TL: I’ll teach at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers in May and SoCal Christian Writers in June. Beyond that, I’m trying to keep things at a minimum --- because I have that new thriller to write. Aieee!

BRC: You co-authored with Ted Dekker Forbidden: The Books of Mortals series. Both of you are New York Times bestselling authors. Please share your thoughts about dual authorship --- the positives and negatives.

TL: As far as I can tell, no co-author team works exactly the same as another. It’s really important for each partnership to figure out what system works best for them. For us, it was vitally important to accomplish two things: 1) identify and leverage the strengths each of us brought to the table as authors and as individuals, and 2) blend our writing voices. Obviously, when you co-author, you give up absolute control over the final project. But you also have the opportunity to harness strengths to complement your own and to combine readerships.

BRC: You’re involved with other causes, particularly breast cancer awareness. Please tell us about that.

TL: This is something that grew out of my service as Mrs. Nebraska some 20 years ago --- a time I was honored to champion many worthy causes that have been close to my heart ever since. Breast cancer is considered a women’s cause, but it’s not unique to just women. It afflicts men, too, either directly, or by impacting the lives of those they love.

BRC: Between writers events, book tours and social causes, what is your travel schedule like? Any interesting or humorous incidents at those events?

TL: Travel always has its funny little things. As someone who used to travel for a living, I can honestly state that it’s not always glamorous --- either because it’s frantic, tiring or just the nature of the trip. I remember traveling down the Amazon with my mother, my bed routinely had some kind of bug or another in it. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

BRC: What’s a typical day like in the Lee household?

TL: It’s filled with the same chaos as any household --- particularly since I married a single father of four. Since I tend to work late, my husband gets up early to get the kids out the door to school. I wander around ’til the coffee kicks in and head upstairs to my office later in the day. It’s really the same as anyone’s except that as a farmer, he literally works just outside the house, and I work inside it.

BRC: Thank you for sharing. It’s Open Mic at Final thoughts?

TL: Yes! I want to shout-out to my readers. They are a constant source of encouragement and inspiration to me, and it is such a privilege to write these stories for them, and any new readers who join our crazy brigade! Thank you, guys, for your steadfast companionship. Ready to take another journey?