KEARNEY — On March 20, just as the nation began to understand the ramifications of COVID-19, Fremont resident and New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee began an 8 p.m. nightly online ritual of reading from her books.
She made a promise to read until the quarantine is no longer necessary.
Which means she has no idea when she’ll stop.
“It’s been surreal,” she said in an interview from her home in Fremont. “I’ve had people ask if I knew something no one else did — or if I’m a prophet. I’m not. But I’m not going to lie, it’s been really weird. When I wrote ‘The Line Between’ and ‘A Single Light,’ I was going off of research, of course. I was also thinking common sense-wise what would happen and what would the response be.”
In her book, “The Line Between,” published 18 months ago, Wynter Roth finds herself in a world ravaged by an extinct disease that gets rejuvenated from the melting Alaskan permafrost. “A Single Light,” published in September, continues the story as Wynter searches for antibodies to combat the disease.
“It was very weird when the outbreak happened in Washington state, where I also had the first continental hotspot in the book,” Lee said. “That was a little eerie. The whole, ‘Stay home, stay safe, stay inside,’ mandate is eerie, too, along with schools shut down, boarders closed, flights grounded — which were all things I wrote about. That’s just been weird, watching it all play out.”
In a way, the author sees a reasonable timeline in how the nation copes with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It makes sense because this is a logical progression,” she said. “To see it play out in real life is definitely surreal.”
Lee credits includes 11 novels. She acknowledges using speculation when creating a story.
“Every novel begins with a ‘what if,’” she said. “In this case, what if a pandemic or a disaster of this nature happened? There are a lot of stories about this. This is part of what makes apocalyptic and dystopian fiction fun, I guess. I spent a lot of time last year wondering about what we find so entertaining about disaster fiction. It’s a question of if I would be able to survive.”
She also considers it pure escapism.
“In a way it puts everything into perspective for us,” Lee said.
Right now, in reality, we don’t know how the pandemic will end. That uncertainty, in contrast to the plot of her novels, creates a great deal of tension in society.
“That’s the scary questions,” Lee said. “And that’s the scary part. In fiction, things have an end. There’s going to be something to tie it all together. In real life, we’re reading articles about how this might be around for good and it may just be a way of life.”
The author considers her nightly online readings as a way to cope with daily stress.
“I started doing this for my readers and fans, who like me, are struggling with the blahs or with outright anxiety,” Lee said. “They might need a little bit of structure or community. There are a lot of people who are quarantining or self isolating on their own. I can only imagine that it might get a little lonely and difficult without a sense of community. At 8 p.m. every night I go on my author page on Facebook and I read from my novels.”
Her fans have become attached to her dogs and her cat.
“I feature the dogs, show the audience what I’ve been growing and talk about what I had for dinner,” she said. “I ask about their day, do some giveaways and then I read.”
Lee also reveals some of the secrets in the stories and offers details that inspired her writing.
“It’s storytime but, more than anything, it’s an excuse to get together and have a sense of community,” she said. “The funny thing is, I usually wear the same clothes everyday. Most of the time I don’t put on my makeup. But now I think I’ve set a world record, at least for myself, of putting on makeup for the readings. I’m going on 60 days of doing this. Part of me says, oh, they’ll understand if I don’t put on my makeup, but part of me says, yeah, I don’t know if I want that up on Facebook.”
And as creatures of habit, Lee and her family benefits from a set routine.
“It’s been a blessing for me because at 7 o’clock we pick up the living room, I clean myself up and brush my hair,” she said. “It’s something I started doing for other people but it’s really very good for me to help keep me sane as well.”