Don’t you just hate it when you get tossed out of your doomsday cult only to have doomsday happen a few days later? We’ve all been there. And by “we,” I mean Wynter Roth, the main character of writer Tosca Lee’s medical thriller The Line Between. Sadly, Wynter’s life isn’t getting any better in the sequel, the dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel A Single Light (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) that’s also the final book of this duology. In the following email interview, Lee discusses what inspired and influenced this second (not entirely implausible) installment.
For people who haven’t read it, what was The Line Between about?
The Line Between is the story of 22 year-old Wynter Roth who, at the beginning of the book, is just getting ousted from the doomsday cult she grew up in. Just as she’s trying to start over in the outside, secular world, a pandemic begins to rage across the nation. For Wynter, it looks a lot like the apocalypse she’s been taught all her life was coming. This is a survival story, a story of family and sisterhood…and a pandemic. Though I should note that it’s not a coronavirus infecting people in my books, but a prion disease — without cure, and always fatal.
These are also the first of my books set in the Midwest, where I live. So that made it a little extra fun…and spooky.
And then for people who did read The Line Between, and can thus ignore my SPOILER WARNING, what is A Single Light about, and how is it connected, both narratively and chronologically, to The Line Between?
A Single Light picks up exactly where The Line Between ends: with Wynter, her niece, and her friends Julie, Lauren, and Chase, taking shelter in an underground bunker in Nebraska. For six months, they endure underground life, trying to ride out the pandemic — only to find that the world has changed in unexpected ways when they emerge.
When in the process of writing The Line Between did you come up with the idea for A Single Light, and what inspired this second book’s plot?
I knew when I started The Line Between that there would definitely be a second book — it was in my contract. But I’m not one who knows what happens in book 2 when I start book 1. So I write the first book, finish it — usually having written myself into a pickle — and then have to figure out how to get myself out of that pickle and overcome even higher stakes in book 2.
In The Line Between, the disease screwing everything up is released when global warming causes permafrost to melt. Does that mean these books have a socio-political bent to them, or was the melting permafrost a means to an end?
The story was inspired by a real headline about a reindeer that thawed in the Siberian permafrost. It was infected with anthrax and made an entire village sick. I found this fascinating and terrifying — especially as I went on to read other articles about the fact that, as permafrost begins to melt around the world, scientists remain both curious and wary of the ancient microbes that become viable once more when they thaw. So when I went to meet with my publisher in New York, I took a list of various story premises — about ten. One was this idea of a young woman starting over in the outside world after getting ousted from a doomsday cult. Another was this idea of a disease coming from the permafrost. My publisher pointed to these two and said, “I like this one and that one. I think you should put them together.” Viola!
People called The Line Between a medical thriller, but A Single Light sounds like it might be a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story as well. How do you describe it, genre-wise?
My books tend to fall across more than one genre. I didn’t expect The Line Between to be a medical thriller, but when it came out it released as Amazon’s #1 in that category. I suppose it could be called that — to me it was really just a thriller with apocalyptic overtones because it’s a pandemic survival story.
A Single Light happens after everything falls apart, and I would consider it dystopian. Though these days, I’m not sure it seems that removed from the realm of possibility. You’ve seen that meme of a bookstore sign that says science fiction has now been moved to current events, right?
Don’t remind me. Moving on to the always appreciated questions about influences, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on A Single Light but not on any of your other books, and especially The Line Between? Because having people escaping an apocalypse by living in an underground bunker makes me think of Hugh Howey’s Silo series.
I’d definitely say so many books have inspired The Line Between and its sequel — including Howey’s series — but also World War Z by Max Brooks and The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which was nonfiction. I’ve always enjoyed a good pandemic story…that is, until we lived through one.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Was A Single Light influenced by any of those things?
For sure. Contagion, Pandemic, 28 Days Later…The Walking Dead. I love movies and TV, and so anything along this vein — and just about any disaster movie — is something that definitely inspired these books. Also, the game Plague Inc.
As we’ve been discussing, The Line Between and A Single Light form a duology. And with Light finally out, some people will consider reading The Line Between and A Single Light back-to-back. Do you think that’s a good idea?
Definitely. That said, I know some readers who read A Single Light not knowing it was book 2 and they still enjoyed it. But it’s really meant to be read in order, back-to-back, staying up way too late at night.
Earlier you mentioned the movies, TV shows, and games that influenced this series. A favor they’ll one day be able to repay, given that it’s been optioned for TV by Radar Pictures and Ed Burns’ Marlboro Road Gang Productions. Aside from who optioned it, and for what, is there anything else you can tell us about it?
At the moment, no. The project got put on hold when Covid hit — it was just too close to the current reality. I think they will eventually brush it off and begin shopping it again, but Covid definitely put a speed bump on that road.
When that happens, if Ed and the other producers ask you to cast the show, who would you try to get to play Wynter, Chase, and the other main characters?
This is so hard for me because I so rarely imagine actors in the roles. I’d love to see some exciting but less known up-and-coming actors in these roles. Who that might be, I’m not sure. But I will say that Morgan Freeman [Deep Impact] would make a great Noah — the man who builds the silo bunker and oversees those who come to live there — including the shelter-seekers at his above-ground farm.
So, is there anything else that people interested in A Single Light should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?
I wrote it with the sole intention of keeping them up way past bedtime and it contains one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. A character that I knew would come along even though I didn’t know anything about him until it was time to introduce him. And then there he was, and I was immediately in love with this sweet, funny character named Otto.
Finally, if someone enjoys A Single Light — and, of course, The Line Between — which of your other novels would you recommend they read next?
Definitely The Progeny and its sequel, Firstborn — my duology about the modern-day descendants of real historical figure Elizabeth Bathory, also known as the “Blood Countess.” If you like secret societies, running for your life, and centuries-old blood feuds, this is the duology for you.