I will be honest when I say that the dystopian genre is not a favorite of mine to read. The stories that have been written seem to follow the same plot lines with minor changes between the novels and/or series and, personally and surprisingly, the stories themselves become very predictable. Especially when it comes to the relationship that ALWAYS sprouts between the main character and the love interest they find along the road to doomsday. However, I cannot say this about a particularly new dystopian duology that was just released this year by award-winning author Tosca Lee.
Synopsis of The Line Between: Sisters Wynter and Jaclyn Roth are moved by their mother to a new community at a young age to escape a dangerous past. Their new home, New Earth, is a place where members rid themselves of materialistic possessions, cleanse themselves of the sins thrust upon them from the outside, and are saved by God from the doom that is ready to unleash its terror upon the non-believers, ridding the world of the tainted and condemned. The Roth sisters grew up in New Earth until an incident sees Wynter cast away from the community to face the world she was taught was doomed to die.
As she struggles to begin a new life for herself, Wynter discovers a few ominous truths: the place she considered home for most of her life is actually a doomsday cult that brainwashes anyone who resides within it, the end times seem to be happening soon for a mysterious outbreak of dementia is quickly spreading around the world, and a chance encounter reveals that the ones who had preached about doing good in the world are not as kind-hearted as they first appeared. With evidence of understanding how to potentially restrain the disease, Wynter must now find a way to travel from Illinois to Colorado to get the evidence to a lab amidst a world that is quickly descending into madness.
Synopsis of A Single Light: Six months have passed since Wynter Roth was free from the brainwashing doomsday cult known as New Earth. Six months after traveling from Chicago to Colorado to deliver a possible vaccine to a lab to cure the disease that is killing thousands of people, Wynter awaits the day she and her remaining family and friends are free from the underground safety bunker along with a group of sixty other people. While the disease cannot reach anyone within the bunker, it does not stop a share of problems from arising. People begin to go crazy from staying trapped in one place for too long, food and water are dwindling, Wynter’s very good friend Julie becomes gravely ill, and they have lost all communication with their host, Noah, who has not sent any new video feedback from topside for months.
When the day finally arrives for the locked bunker door to open, Wynter ventures up to find medicine for Julie before it is too late. Expecting to find a world on the verge of healing due to the new vaccine she helped deliver months earlier, Wynter and the others are stunned to find a world they no longer recognize: a world empty of life and the few remaining teetering on the cusp of losing their sanity even without the disease. With the help and protection of Chase, Wynter must cling to the last remaining hope she has left and discovers that Julie is not the only one she needs to save, but also whoever is left alive to save from the deadly virus. But how can she save a world that seems beyond saving? Even if she could help the survivors, could the damage already done be reversed? There is a single light of hope on the horizon and it is fading fast… can Wynter hang onto it before darkness consumes it?
The Line Between was released earlier this year and caught me completely by surprise. Then A Single Light was released just this month (today, actually) and the conclusion of the two book series surprised me even more. Lee has quite the talent (that can also be found in her other works) to take a real life concept and create a fictional, yet realistic possibility with it. The virus she uses as her dystopian feature in her duology is one that actually exists and she plants a seed into the minds of her readers a rather terrifying possibility as to what COULD happen if it were to spread. To add to this concept, Lee focuses on many aspects of the end of the world many writers seem to miss or only briefly mention within their own stories and dives deeper than any author has before.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Tosca about what it took for her to create her dystopian duology. So, without further ado, may I introduce Tosca Lee, author of The Line Between and A Single Light.
Alicia: Please tell me about yourself.
Tosca: I’m a novelist with 11 books out who lives in the country with my handsome farmer husband and two of four kids (twin boys—15) still at home. I have a 140-pound German Shepherd, love to cook, eat, and travel, watch too much TV, and love my readers.
Alicia: Where did the idea for your duology of The Line Between and A Single Light come from?
Tosca: In 2017, soon after Firstborn released, I met with my publisher in New York to talk about what was next. I had a short list of favorite story concepts—the idea of a cult escapee starting over and a pandemic rising from the permafrost (an idea straight from the headlines) among six or seven others. My publisher said, “I like both of those. I think you should put them together!”
It worked out very well! I wish I could take credit for the combination, but it was my publisher’s idea.
Alicia: You have such an incredible attention to detail in A Single Light and in this sequel, as well as your first book, you focus on a lot of elements normally not touched upon in the dystopian genre, especially your use of life lessons (which I have found a number of in both books). Did writing about these elements come naturally or did you do some research to ensure you included them into your duology?
Tosca: They come naturally from the story arc. And probably also because I’m the kind of person who likes to reflect on events in my own life.
Alicia: How long did it take to write both books? Did you always plan on making these series a duology? After finishing The Line Between, it almost seemed like a stand-alone novel.
Tosca: The Line Between took a little longer than planned, as I ended up rewriting it twice before starting the editing process. A Single Light went a lot faster and took maybe four months. The two together took about a year. I did always plan for them to be a duology and while I enjoy a good cliffhanger, it was important to let The Line Between have a satisfying enough ending that no one would hate me for seven and a half months until A Single Light’s release.
Alicia: I loved how you separated your chapters and told Wynter’s story in The Line Between. It was a very clever way of telling a story. Was it challenging to bring both ends of Wynter’s story to meet and make sense or did this flow pretty easily?
Tosca: Thank you! That part – the back and forth between the past and the present – happened on its own, and turned out to be the best way for me to effectively tell Wynter’s backstory. I wanted to show what led up to her expulsion from the cult while telling the present part of her story in real time. So the past storyline is psychological suspense and the current is a pandemic thriller.
Alicia: I believe The Line Between is one of the first books I’ve read that has a doomsday cult in it. You did such an amazing job describing the cult that it was scary to read about at times. Is New Earth based on an actual cult? What was it like writing about it? Did you have to do a lot of research?
Tosca: Thank you—and no. It’s a conglomeration of the aspects that characterize most cults—namely, “love-bombing” at the beginning, a slow cutting off from family and friends outside the cult, a central leader who requires adoration and exercises great power over the members, and dire consequences for leaving.
Alicia: Who was your favorite character(s) to write? What was your favorite scene(s)? Or you can even do the opposite, so who was your least favorite character(s) and/or least favorite scene(s)?
Tosca: I admit, I really loved writing Wynter’s character. She’s not your typical badass hero; she’s been sheltered from the world and doesn’t have many of the skills a hero would normally have—but she’s loyal, tenacious, and she finds a way. That said, I have a new favorite character in the sequel, A Single Light. His name is Otto and I adored writing him.
Alicia: With these books focusing more on a grim topic (especially after you revealed you based your story on a real virus), were there any moments while writing that you found difficult to write?
Tosca: No… it is dark in moments to be sure, and the world quickly gets chaotic. But that’s part of makes the stakes so high and makes it fun. The one thing that I feel differentiates these books is that they’re imbued with hope. The world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket—there’s the hope of ending all the terrible things that have gone completely haywire.
Alicia: You have amazing talent and a lot of works under your belt to back that fact up. For you, what makes The Line Between and A Single Light stand out from your other books?
Tosca: For me, the special tie to the setting; the books take place in the Midwest where I live, and a big chunk of the first one and almost all of the second book take place in my home state of Nebraska.
Alicia: If everything that happened in your duology happened in real life and you found yourself in Wynter’s shoes or another character’s shoes, what do you think you would do?
Tosca: Haha, I’d be super grateful that I live on a farm with its own well and am married to a hunter/fisherman.
Alicia: What would you like readers to take away after reading The Line Between and A Single Light?
Tosca: First and foremost, a good time. I write novels to entertain readers and transport them from reality for a while. Second, the idea that A Single Light is based on: that a single good act or person is enough to save the world a moment at a time.
Alicia: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Tosca: I just want to say how grateful I am to get to do this for a living. Big shout-out to my husband, Bryan, who encourages me when I’m struggling and to my readers. It’s an honor to write these stories and I love you guys.