A Conversation with Tosca Lee
1. What inspired you to write Iscariot?
An editor friend suggested it to me as I was finishing Havah: The Story of Eve. I rejected the idea right away, completely daunted by the story, the research, the scope of the project. But over the course of the next six months, I'd find myself imagining and then randomly scribbling scenes from Judas's life. Finally, I conceded that the story had me.
2. In previous novels, you've written about a fallen angel (Demon) and Eve (Havah), and now Judas. Do you find yourself particularly drawn to write about biblical characters who are historically maligned? If so, why?
I do, because we so often think of historical or biblical characters in particular in two-dimensional, cliche terms. We vilify without investigating why someone might have done what they did. Lucifer fell because he was proud. Eve wanted to be like God. Judas betrayed his friend and master because he was a traitor. But what's the rest of the story? Would we have done the same? How much of ourselves is in those characters? I find the answer to that question is always more than we'd like to admit.
3. How long did it take you to research and write Iscariot?
4. What is your research process? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?
I start with easy sources – National Geographic, History Channel, documentaries… I read books about the topic. I collect transcripts of lectures about the characters, the historical context, commentaries, sources contemporary to the time period where available, and comb the scriptures about them. I talk to theologians, academics, historians, academics. I start writing when I realize my outline is fully informed and any further research is procrastination on my part.
5. Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Did you uncover any startling facts or experience sudden flashes of insight?
The violence of the historical setting. The Jewish mindset of collective salvation (from Persia, from Rome), which is so different from the Christian context two millennia later. The culture of informing in the first century. The symbolism of many events in Jesus' life (forty days in the wilderness, much like forty years in the wilderness, crossing the Jordan, etc.) The absolute unconventional, non-conservative, controversial, and sometimes dangerous person of Jesus of Nazareth.
6. How have readers responded to Iscariot?
I am amazed at the response to this book.
7. What advice would you offer to a fledgling writer of fiction?
Don't worry about getting published, agents, or anything like that until you have at least one finished book under your belt. Read a lot.
8. Have your years of studying and writing about biblical characters had an impact on your personal faith? If so, describe.
I have left every project with more questions than I had going in. And I had a lot of questions going in!
10. What other books or projects are you working on now?
A book about the Queen of Sheba.