This interview with Tosca Lenci was conducted in the summer of 2012. The questions are in bold type while Tosca’s answers are in plain type.
There’s been an exponential growth of and participation in Internet literary publishing, concomitant with the advent of E-readers. How do you feel about the seeming demise of the handable printed word?
I confess that the lifelong avid reader-in-me held off a long time. Carrying books around has been as natural to me as carrying an infant. I even went so far as to reduce my library to its most precious items that conceivably I could save, were some superalien’s magnet to sweep overhead and wipe out all our System’s stored literary bytes. But the widowed senior citizen finally got to the point of needing to bolster her modest fixed income.
I hear that if a writer is also tecky, he or she can effect e-book publication for nothing—right?
Still can, so far as I know, in getting a distributor, who then makes its profit a bit off each sale. Being as un-tecky, however, as one can be, I first bought a telephone consultation with an e-book publishing expert, who guided me to research and select a distributor. Then I hired an agency as liaison between my company, LP, and the distributor. The agency did the required final formatting required by the distributor, which an author can do him or herself. I, on the other hand, am maxed out so far as mechanically clerical tasks go.
You know I’ve done some heavier writing myself, other than journalistic labors. I can imagine how hard it is to be fully programmed for the art and instead steeped in detailed business operations.
It’s been challenging at times but, besides receiving what was needed when it was, I’ve had the best trainings for the tasks. Also born with a right hand and fingers that could move fast, I had the good fortune in 1950 of being taught by Ms. Healy at San Francisco’s Galileo High School—brain-to-hands programming seemingly congenitally perfect for facilitating Gregg Shorthand, disciplined to scribe words heard almost as fast as they reached the ears. Shorthand was a critical timesaver recording research from various sources. Yet, if that configuration had been born in a male body, the same matrix would have been perfectable as butcher’s hands beside those of their father and the muse would have had to go unrecorded.
Another valuable research tool gained in the mid-1950’s was Remington Rand’s
Descending-Subject Ordered Filing System, taught by a female RR representative, who I served in a complete revamping and indexing of the files of all divisions—fish ladders to fishery closures—of the Washington State Department of Fisheries. Filing, this would-be-author discovered, is sometimes half of the battle. In effect, the D-SOFY is the ancestral prototype of today’s e-Sites’ addressing system.
Labor by my own hands, however, wasn’t all it’s taken to bring LP to its current state. There was expert help over the years from local businesses and workers [I sound like Obama?]—copy stores and their expert staff; office supply and equipment stores; two solid bookstores (although one was forced to close this year due to the sagging print world); a photographer; local agencies—all situated within a perfect artists’ community [I sound like Hillary—“it takes a village”?]; great friends over the last two decades; some have moved on but always others just as good taking their place.
Altogether, given beginnings and odds, and the tosses of human existence, I gratefully have been allowed quite fortunate a life so far. However—in a currently conceived, subsequent book, should I live enough long enough to write it—I hope to pay homage to all that has brought me to this era, given another potential quarter-century chance at the requisite longevity.
Our Editor thinks that one only need look over LP Publication’s Library—not read any of the works—and still get a good idea of your umbrella themes. Do you agree? And how would you summarize them?
They’re pretty much obvious. I’d summarize them offhand, not reflecting necessarily the author’s order of import, as human sexuality, mental perception, and spiritual conception. I have the strongest feelings as author about the value of the studies and writings purposed, vis-à-vis for independent, author e-book publishing. The author creates the product. The author is the company that effects production and obtains a distributor. Then, to gain sales, he or she must perform the publisher job of searching out, networking, and developing fundable avenues of promotion!
As you noted earlier, it’s killing for a writer’s mind to be forced to deal with a welter of non-writing-material-related details. But the Internet self-published author is faced with spending a great deal of time on intensive Internet social networking. Apart from expensive advertising (e.g. thousands of dollars for a quarter-page ad in the New York Review of Books), social networking is the current main way to garner potential e-book purchases.
I’ve been known to get pretty garrulous about my favorite subject, understanding ancient peoples as persons not unlike us; but I said, “I’ve been known to get,” because I no longer remember all the processed data I used to. Chalk it up to age! Frequently, to answer something brought to mind, I need to look it up in my own book. Thus, where marketing is concerned, in this decade I have some misgivings about speaking publicly on it all.
I did see a San Francisco Chronicle announcement of a new e-book review segment in its Sunday Books section. One speculation I heard is that it might feature e-book authors reading in an e-book section (such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook) on print bookstore premises, with the author signing some type of commemorating favor in place of a tangible book.
How do the latest releases fit under LP’s umbrella?
The shortest one, Jesus’ Beloved Disciple, is a new edition of the paperback published in 1999. For this e-book release under a new title, names of some characters given in Hebrew form in the print edition are replaced with their Greco-Roman versions—more user-recognizable.
You also mentioned another of the latest releases, Journey With JC, in that first interview. Why did you hold on to it so long?
A reviewer called it my sex book. But that gives altogether the wrong impression. A few graphic episodes, integral to the book’s explorations, might titillate some of the mature readers to which the work expressly self-restricts itself. I only humbly can mention feelings in concert with Doris Lessing about her 1962 Golden Notebook in her era—that the writing be appreciated for its serious offerings.
Journey’s first-person style is such that the main woman’s name never needs to be mentioned but, as the Preface testifies, it is autobiographical. Since it covers both your marriages to the same man, did you give your husband a chance to react to your depictions of him?
Yes! And it makes me chuckle whenever I think it. It was about mid-way through our remarriage, so the manuscript he read didn’t have our last years of time nor, of course, the epilogue about his illness and death.
Naturally, at the time the first reviewer read it, I was apprehensive, allowing all the self-revelation; but all he did was call attention to a place where Writer had glossed over some act or thought of Self, which relative to it had a problem being totally truthful. The combination—tacit acceptance of the whole and catching that private avoidance, by the one person who knew the most about both sides of me, both absolved me and kept me as honest as I was claiming to make myself.
I see from the blurb for your third new release, Delilah, that you’re back in the Mid-East again. This time, however, in the present day.
Yes, a different vehicle for dredging regional human histories, but hopefully with sufficient doses of good espionage and romance for an engaging if not page-turning read.
The term, Beloved Disciple, has appeared lately on a number of books. How would you explain the growing interest in that Gospel character?
Whoever that unnamed Gospel individual really was, psychologically speaking, the New Testament draws a personality with a feminine cast. As a symbol, the beloved disciple is consonant with man’s freer contemplation of human qualities irrespective of gender, especially with women’s professional advances in the area of biblical studies.
You refer to Jesus’ Beloved Disciple—the e-book originally published as Beloved Disciple, Daughter of Logos—as a “modern gospel report for the new millennium.” What is the basis for that reference?
Primarily, because the book historically moves the material from the realm of impossibility to believable probability, offering common identification with those peoples and events that marked a major epoch in our collective history. Collective realizations typically are marked by restatements—of laws, self-understanding, and tolerance. Once again, Time and Science have created a need for civilization to refine its beliefs toward a more reasonable existence. I see History of the Daughters and Jesus’ Beloved Disciple as a weight on the balance.
Moreover, the Gospel story has undergone 2000 years of transmission—copying and recopying, language to language, and recomposed in varying versions. Subtle differences between tongues, in both word definitions and grammar, can greatly affect interpretative deductions. There are probably as many possible renditions of the gospel story as persons to write them. JBD’s writing was preceded by the years of History’s research, adhering to historical data wherever possible, such as first century Hebrew historian, Josephus.
What are the major differences, then, with standard gospel versions?
Jesus’ Beloved Disciple explores and interprets the scriptural records with a genderly binocular, collectively neutral humanistic eye. God, in whatever form one may assign, may purpose all things; but God also created in Humankind its thirst for Reason. And the more of Reason we can ascribe to our articles of faith, the more comfort we can take from them. JBD—which places the man some call Yehoshua, some, Jesus, squarely against the political powers of the time, secular and sectarian—reaches for that, real people acting convincingly in full knowledge of their history, beliefs, and customs.
As you’ve noted, JBD really is an appendix to the History compendium. What, exactly, makes your history different from others?
As mentioned earlier, my research focused on human and political relationship patterns and maternal bloodlines, striving always for neutrality and avoidance of preconceptions. Most importantly, the research restricted itself to core sources and biblical texts, relying totally on the interlinear English of both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek.
Doesn’t JBD (which, contrary to popular belief, ascribes vast respect to chief priest Annas or Hananiah) also seem to hint at a possible material relationship between him and Jesus? Does it concern you that some might find certain implications scandalous or blasphemous? How do you measure fleshing out the Gospel record against use of literary license?
Fiction comes in mainly with the creation of personalities—how they think and talk to each other, and the very human reasoning drawn for their actions. Success of that creative part depends on whether the whole rings true in presentation of situations, people involved, and mutual feelings the reader would share with them under similar circumstances. If that goal is achieved—regardless it pleases or displeases—reactions result from striking a reader’s own core feelings. If there is nothing to strike, the reaction would be bored indifference.
As to literary license in JBD, an historical man is revealed privately as a down-to-earth, family-oriented, pacifistic human being of extraordinary intellect. The figure of Mary Magdalene follows suit, portrayed as the middle-aged woman—a depiction supported more on the record than the ill repute borne for 2000 years. Also followed are Jesus’ popularly-known legitimate royal and priestly lineages under The Law, so crucial to events.
Two plot facts relate to what appear as unresolved academic/apocryphal issues: I chose (a) that apostle Philip was a son of Herod the Great and half-brother of Antipas Herod (whom many would have seen Jesus replace as Rome’s client-tetrarch in the Galilee); and (b) that Annas/Hananiah as a young man and scribe was emissary between the Temple’s governing body and Mother Miriam/Mary.
Like Norman Mailer in The Gospel According to The Son, did you mainly follow one specific gospel book more than the others?
Yes. And, like him, I focused on The Book of John. John has some fascinating differences in descriptions and sequencing from the other three synoptic books, called that because they are so similar. John was considered unorthodox from the beginning. Early Church fathers weren’t all too comfortable with it being made part of the canon, but it was too widely held to be omitted. A fragment of it, a tiny portion of Jesus’ dialogue with Pilate on Truth, dates to the early second century.
And it’s in John where the mysterious beloved disciple—who you believe was Mary Magdalene—repeatedly appears.
Right! But the speculation that Mary Magdalene and not apostle John truly was the beloved disciple isn’t a new one.
Don’t all the book’s premises, taken together, lead to a further speculation—that Mary Magdalene may have written The Book of John?
Heretical as that may sound to some, yes. It certainly is within the realm of possibility that she did write it, if not entirely on her own perhaps as John’s scribe. Tradition long has held that Mother Miriam/Mary traveled away from Jerusalem in John’s company. And, if she was the solid companion of Jesus’ mother, as depicted in ancient scrolls found in the 40’s, she easily could have been part of that group.
Finally, the qualities of The Book of John frequently have been viewed as having that unique, some call feminine cast. Isaac Asimov remarked on it in his compendium on the Bible. Asimov said, “If the [John] gospel actually were written by a secretary from words or writings of the apostle, it may have been the secretary…used reminiscences of the beloved disciple as…source material.” [pp. 293-94].
Won’t your concept of the birth of genderless consciousness be seen as an over-extension of even John’s symbolic allusions?
I would hope not. What I love most about that is how it resonates with some of the earliest Old Testament proscriptions about assigning God any attributes at all, despite text use of the pronoun He. All JBD’s literary license serves the book’s strongest motivation, an invocation of a genderless kinship of souls, to nourish our reach toward a collective intellect and spirit free of race and creed as well as gender.
What other avenues of research and personal experiences were important in the composition?
Zeroing-in on the complicated assumptions behind Mary Magdalene’s undeserved ill-repute was most interesting. She is introduced generally onto the scene, among the other women and mothers supporting Jesus, at the start of The Book of Luke chapter eight. However, immediately before in Luke seven there is described a sinner woman anointing Jesus in an unnamed town.
That sequencing alone connected the unnamed sinner with Mary Magdalene, despite the fact that her introduction in chapter eight is independent of the preceding chapter. The general consensus, that apostle John was the beloved disciple, relies on a round-robin elimination of which males were or were not named as present, when the unnamed beloved disciple also is mentioned. History has a section that contains all of the pertinent biblical passages and possibilities.
Another great enjoyment, complimenting what I was trying to achieve, was in word discoveries—others’ as well as my own. Differences between old words and their definitions as commonly taken for granted can be amazing—like the end result of that childhood game, Gossip, after a round of whispering into neighbors’ ears. One example was to learn (from Marcus Borg’s The Lost Gospel) that the closest original meaning of the word we’ve received as “sin” was missing the mark—a wonderful expression I used in my book.
I confess I did become steeped in the project, at times needing real effort not to feel purposely singled out for it. Once in ’85, for example, I suddenly was made to leave my desk at the office where I worked and take a path I never had before, to a coffee shop I hadn’t known existed, for an encounter with a young man, a stranger who yet it felt I had known forever.
Immediately I found us discussing my theories and, incredibly, he not only also had fervent interest in them but gave me a certain book at just the moment I needed what it contained. There were other such happenings, along with dreams. One dream caused me to use a certain word in the book, although to this moment I’m uncertain about its pertinence. In that, as with other instances, I decided not to question and go with the force.
You felt the call to be a writer when you were a girl. Is JBD the book you always meant to write?
Not at all. I’ve come to think that concrete art is realized through the doer’s particular life circumstances. I graduated from high school at 16 and went the way of many (if not most!) young women of my era, culture, and class—dropping out of college at 18 to become a typical, end-of-the-20th century working wife and mother. I didn’t resume serious studies until my 40’s and still had little time for writing until I retired at 55. If I’d gone on to pursue the journalism scholarship with which I began college, I may have had a career in the writing industry; but the writing entity in me would have developed otherwise, based on different life experiences, associations, and emotions.
The entire History and JBD project began when I was moved to pick up an old college humanities text as distraction from a high-charged, mid-life crisis. I had abandoned institutional religious practices when a teen but had clear recall of childhood indoctrination in a major sect. As I perused Scriptures at middle age, I began what was to be a simple article; then, decided I needed to know a little more. Before I knew it I was buried in research. For a writer, writing one’s way out is the only escape; and you see the results of that!