Book 2 in your THE ASHES TRILOGY, SHADOWS, was just published last month. Congratulations. Can you tell us a little about the series?
IJB: Well, let’s put it this way; it’s kind of complicated by this point, but the nitty-gritty is this: in ASHES, a wave of EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) sweeps the sky (and, maybe, the globe). In a heartbeat, everything with solid-state processors—computers, power grids, communications—just flat-out dies. Nuclear power plants go up; so do nuclear waste storage facilities. A ton of people drop right off the bat, notably those between the ages of about 25-65 (so the folks who might actually be able to fix things), leaving only the very young and the very old. Those in-between, the teenagers, are all Changed into people who make interestingly life-style choices and become, therefore, not the ideal folks to meet in a dark alley. ASHES follows Alex, who’s not only an orphan (both her parents died in a crash three years ago) but dying in her own right: she’s got a terminal brain tumor. At the beginning of the story, she’s left her aunt and gone off into the Waucamaw Wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on what might very well be a one-way trip. And then the world comes crashing down around her ears, and we go from there.
note- Ilsa wants to let you know that if you've read ASHES but it's been a while and your about to start SHADOWS, she wrote a recap to remind you what happen in ASHES. You can find it HERE.
You’ve had a very eclectic job history. Can you tell us about it?
IJB: Well, I guess the short answer is I’m easily bored. But, yeah, I’m a doctor (started out in surgery, changed to child psychiatry, did a private practice for years and I’ve also been a consultant to a women’s prison and done forensic psychiatry). I also got kind of . . . bored during my residency training and so I went to school at night and got a masters degree in film and literature studies. For years, I wrote and published and presented on psychoanalysis and film in a bunch of academic arenas. (And, yeah, I trained as an analyst for several years though didn’t finish; life is too short to make like Woody Allen and analysis interminable.) Throughout medical school and for several years after, I also served in the Air Force during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Almost deployed, too, but I think having a second child put the kibosh on that, barely. And now, I write. Like I said, I’m easily bored and peripatetic to boot.
Did you always want to be a writer and what made you decide to write your first novel?
IJB: Nope, never did. I read, constantly, devoured just about everything. But I never saw myself as a writer. The only stuff I wrote in high school was really bad epic poetry. But I’ve always been interested in literature. In fact, I couldn’t decide what I liked better: English or bio, so I majored in both. If I hadn’t gotten into medical school, I might well have ended up going to grad school in English. I had some vague fantasy about teaching at an ivy-covered university where I, too, would be ivy-covered, wear a tweed jacket, drink a lot of coffee, and smoke a pipe while discussing Dickens. Then I got interested in film and psychoanalysis, started writing and publishing a ton. It was my husband who dared me to try fiction. I think he saw all my essays and papers as the sublimations they were: a way I could enjoy myself creatively while not admitting that I wanted to be creative. (He’s a pretty insightful guy, but I suppose that happens when you hang with a shrink long enough.) Specifically, he understood that I’d always wanted to write myself into a Star Trek book. (Yes, it’s true; Kirk had a chest to die for.) So he dared me to try, and I don’t back down from dares. So I started writing. Did six terrible, deservedly unpublished novels (although one came close) and about thirty, forty equally awful stories before I published my first story, and that was a prize winner (and I’d been ready to give up, too). And it was Trek, to boot. What’s not to like?
About how long does it take you to write your average novel and how many rounds of edits do you go through?
IJB: Takes me anywhere from a couple weeks to a month to draft an outline, but usually about two weeks. About three months to write a book, although a very complex book will take about four but that’s pushing it. I aim for three and give myself a deadline. I let it sit for a couple days, and then I’ll go back and edit the crap out of it—usually about 20% because not every book deserves to live—which can take about another week or two. Then I send. What happens after that depends on the editor. Normally, we’re looking at one round of edits and then ditzels, little things that we think of or which escaped us the first time around.
JS: You are a big Star Trek fan. How did it feel to write Star Trek novels?
IJB: Uhm . . . good? I really liked it; I mean, come on, I got to hang out with some very cool characters and play in that sandbox. The only thing I ran up against was that you have to stay true to the universe and the canon. You can’t go off in directions that threaten the universe. Like, you can’t kill Kirk and not bring him back. My work-for-hire days were tremendously helpful in terms of teaching me plotting, structure, narrative, voice, all that. But there is also a price: you can be original (and all my stories are original; no one told me what to write), but you can’t go too far outside the box, or you’ll get axed by the higher-ups. That happened to me with one story: I liked it, the editor liked it, but the Paramount people, who hold the license, said no. The biggest favor my Trek editor ever did was to boot me out of the universe. He didn’t fire me; what he said was that I was getting beyond what the universe could accommodate and he wanted me to go out and write my own stuff. (He and I even talked about an original series.) So that editor really was all about nurturing writers and getting them started on their paths. Scared the hell out of me, though. I wanted to stay because Trek was safe. But he was right. Love that guy.
JS: How do you get inspiration for your books?
IJB: I know this is going to sound stupid, but it just happens. I’ll hear a news story, or maybe I’ve read a book that I really liked and think, Oh, I got to write me one of those. But there’s no one place. My books come together as a confluence of events, and probably a prepared mind. I’ve been astonished at how often I’ll find just the perfect article or radio listen when I’m either in the middle of a book or coming up with one. It’s a light-bulb moment. 7. How many queries did you send out before you got published? Oh, too many to count and certainly enough to stuff three mattresses. My favorite is the rejection I got for ASHES—a year after it came out ;-)
JS: What was your favorite book to write, who is your favorite character, and why?
IJB: I know you’re going to think this is a cop-out, but I love all my books, all my characters. Whenever I write something, it’s because I’m compelled to do so and I put everything I have into making that story come alive. So I’m completely in love with that book and those characters at that moment. I can’t choose a favorite.
JS: What’s your favorite and least favorite part of being a successful author?
IJB: Favorite part: Actually, there are two. As you’ve noticed, I’m easily bored. What’s fun about being a writer is how much you get to learn. LOVE that. I’m such a geek. The other favorite part is I get to make stuff up and some of it sees the light of day. I love creating scenarios where I feel so deeply, so intensely, for so long. If I’m not sobbing at various points in my books, there is something wrong. Producing a book is about as emotional as it gets. I spent the whole last part of SHADOWS in tears, I really did. Least favorite: Again, there are two. One is letting a book go. I hate that. I feel horrible when I’m done. I have about a day of feeling good, like, wow, I did it. But then the depression sets in. I get this horrible empty feeling, and it’s torture until I start up the next book. In fact, that is one of my caveats: I am always about the next book. Having something else going or about to go or dreaming up the next scenario (something I sometimes do as I’m coming to the end of a book) cushions me against not only the depression of letting go but . . . What is my second least-favorite thing about being a writer: the anxiety that people will hate what I’ve done. I know I’ve done the best I can, but of course, I want people to like the damn book! So if an editor doesn’t or the book doesn’t sell, or it does and then I get just ripping, scathing reviews (and people can be so cruel), then I’m just . . . you know . . . okay, this is why I always carry a very sharp knife. Seriously, it’s vital for an author to always be looking ahead, to the next project. You can’t afford to obsess over that with which you have no control. Because, yes, it’s true: reviews are only private tastes made public, and there is no controlling for taste. Nothing I can do about that, except I always do my best. Can’t please everybody. I just have to remember that someone had enough faith in me and my story to buy it, and I had the courage to put it out there.
JS: Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?
IJB: Oh, I wrote a whole blog entry on this, so I’m gonna cheat: look here http://www.adr3nalin3.blogspot.com/2012/01/so-you-wanna-be-contender.html
Vanilla or chocolate? Chocolate
Coffee or tea? COFFEE!
Beach or snow? Snow
Last book read? The Last Policeman
Favorite author? Whoever’s just told me a thumping good story
Most played song on iPod? I don’t listen to music at all anymore. The only tracks on my iPod are audiobooks.
Favorite movie? Gosh, I don’t know. I love and studied so many. I don’t know if I have a favorite. Just depends on my mood. Uhm . . . shoot . . . well, either Alien or Aliens. The first film is stylistically superb; the second is a wonderful adventure.
Outliner or panster? Outliner.
Flats or heels? Flats. My feet thank me daily.
Lipstick or chapstick? If I’m on the trail? Chapstick. Lipstick attracts ‘skeeters and gets all over your water bottle. If I’m off trail? Lipstick, because a girl has to look her best and you never know when Captain Kirk might come around the next corner.
Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including the critically acclaimed Draw the Dark (Carolrhoda Lab, 2010); Drowning Instinct (Carolrhoda Lab, 2011); Ashes, the first book in her YA apocalyptic thriller trilogy (Egmont USA, 2011) and the just-released second volume, Shadows. Forthcoming is The Sin-Eater’s Confession (Carolrhoda Lab, 2013) and the last installment in the ASHES trilogy, Monsters (Egmont USA, 2013). Ilsa lives with her family and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: They’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon. Visit her at www.ilsajbick.com. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @ilsajbick.