Survival Key for Returning Heroes
By Dawn Ius
Tosca Lee admits that her life isn’t nearly as adventurous as those of her characters—though she has been tear gassed twice, a story for another day perhaps—but that hasn’t stopped her from writing authentic thrillers that move through the action at bullet speed.
In her latest novel, A SINGLE LIGHT—the sequel to her bestselling apocalyptic thriller, The Line Between—survival is key for Wynter Roth and Chase Miller, who at the end of the first book disappear into an underground silo to avoid capture. When they emerge six months later, the area is abandoned…and much more desolate than even they could have imagined.
Not only are they alone in their quest to find answers about what happened, Wynter and Chase are also in a race against time to find the IV antibiotics that will save the life of Wynter’s gravely ill friend, Julie.
“My sister, a teaching physician, helped me choose a prion disease (the prion disease you may be most familiar with is Mad Cow, but there are also human variants) because of how downright frightening prion diseases are,” Lee says. “At present, you can’t test for them—you confirm the disease by studying a sample of the deceased brain tissue. Standard sterilization techniques (i.e., on surgical instruments) don’t work on prions. There’s no cure, and it is always fatal.”
The disease generally takes decades to cause holes in the brain—which causes dementia—but Lee didn’t have the luxury of time in A SINGLE LIGHT. It is, after all, a thriller.
“In the case of this book, the prion agent which was released from the melting permafrost in The Line Between acts much faster, accelerating the symptoms and shortening the lifespan from decades to weeks,” she says. “I find this really frightening because it makes it difficult to know if someone is acting erratically out of stress or some other reason, and whom to trust, as those with the disease are a menace to themselves and to others.”
And then it becomes flu borne.
With the tension ramped up, Lee throws things into full throttle by adding in a ticking clock—Julie doesn’t have a lot of time to live—and a race against the elements.
Lee’s mantra for pacing in a story basically comes down to “skip the boring stuff”—and it’s evident with this pair of novels that she’s not just paying it lip service.
“While I’m all for an intriguing backstory (obviously, if you read The Line Between), character history, or interesting details about What Came Before, it comes down to being really clever with how you deliver those items and couching them in the action in order to keep the reader in the moment,” she says. “I also like to layer different kinds of tension—i.e. high stakes (save the world), personal, and romantic. Beyond that, I love those moments when I’m outlining or writing and all of a sudden an “oh my gosh, what if…?” moment comes along. I love a good plot twist and make it my mission to keep readers up past bedtime.”
Mission accomplished. Twice if you dive into both books—which Lee admits isn’t necessary, but certainly will help to enrich the experience and provide some interesting perspective into why feisty Wynter was ousted from the cult she grew up in.
While both characters certainly evolve from the first book—some by force as survival skills kick into high gear—Lee has mastered the fine art of conflict storytelling, taking her protagonists through one challenge after the next.
Sticking them in a silo for a few months, being the first.
“I think the most challenging—and interesting—aspect of creating that environment was a) learning about the basic technology as far as the power, water, and food supply and b), understanding the psychological stress of living underground in a time of great uncertainty—what it would take to establish some kind of normalcy, and how to keep 60+ people functioning as a cohesive survival team in such a claustrophobic situation as tensions run high,” Lee says.
Somehow she makes it work—a happy consequence, perhaps, from binge watching dystopian shows such as The Strain, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Purge, Colony, and of course, The Walking Dead.
“Pretty much any show with a doomsday bunker, disease, secret underground society, cabal, mysterious ancient relic, or time travel and I’m hooked,” she says, making sure to note that there are other, less apocalyptic, shows on her watchlist. Honest.
It’s no surprise then that television plays an important role in her research—and if things pan out, writers could be tuning into one of Tosca Lee’s creations for similar inspiration.
“I’m happy to report that these books are currently in development for television by Radar Pictures (Jumanji) and Ed Burns’ Marlboro Road Gang Productions,” she says. “I have to admit, it would be cool to see one of these TV developments on the screen.”
We couldn’t agree more.