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I’m back from vacation and ready to get down and dirty finding new free and amazingly bargained books for you! But first this week I have something special. I convinced super hot and crazy talented …

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Interview with author Ilsa J. Bick + GIVEAWAY

Submitted by on October 22, 2011 – 9:00 am7 Comments

 Ilsa J. Bick is an award-winning, best-selling author of short stories, e-books and novels. She has written for several long-running science fiction series, most notably Star Trek, Battletech, and Mechwarrior:Dark Age. She’s taken both Grand and Second Prize in the Strange New Worlds anthology series (1999 and 2001, respectively), while her story, “The Quality of Wetness,” took Second Prize in the prestigious Writers of the Future contest in 2000. Her first Star Trek novel, Well of Souls, became a 2003 Barnes & Noble bestseller.

Her original stories have been featured in numerous anthologies, magazines, and online venues. “The Key,” a supernatural murder-mystery about the Holocaust and reincarnation, was named “distinguished” in The Best American Mystery Stories and a sequel, “Second Sight,” recently appeared in Crimespells (2003) and was named to the 2010 Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy recommended reads.

Bick’s first YA novel, DRAW THE DARK, is a paranormal mystery that was recently awarded the 2011 Westchester Fiction Award. ASHES, the first volume in her new dystopian thriller trilogy featuring a new perspective and unique twist on science fiction themes and zombies, was recently released and is earning rave reviews.

Before she became a successful author, Bick was a child/adolescent and forensic psychiatrist. She also holds a degree in literature and film studies, and has presented and written widely on applied psychoanalysis and film. She currently lives in Wisconsin.

What inspired you to create such a unique setting where the chaotic events are a result of an EMP?

The simple answer is that I wanted to blow up the world in a way that I thought hadn’t been done yet—and, really, let’s face it: who doesn’t like a good disaster? As a geeky adolescent, I cut my teeth on science fiction and one of that genre’s appeals is that some scenarios are just the other side of tomorrow. They are so possible the stories scare the pants off you.

That’s what an EMP attack is for the adult geeky-me. My aim was to plunge people, very quickly, into a desperate situation that was both plausible and based on real science. Go read a couple newspaper articles, a few scientific papers, a Congressional report or two—or talk to think-tank guys who’ve been worried about this for decades—and you realize that an attack like this—a massive wave of EMPs, or only one, that could blanket the continent and plunge us into a pre-industrial black hole—is not only possible but something against which we have no adequate defense.

So that’s what I wanted: something really close, a happen-tomorrow kind of thing that could level civilization in a matter of seconds; something that would give absolutely no one any time to prepare and potentially wipe out everything you take for granted in less time than it took you to read this sentence.

Readers will likely form their own opinions as they read ASHES, but what do you feel sets your “changed” humans apart from other, more classic zombie images?

How long you got?

My image of a zombie is this shambling, un-dead, fairly gross-looking thing that’s nothing more than an eating machine with very little brains. Sure, put a whole group of them together, and then you’ve got a Night of the Living Dead scenario—a creepy movie that gave me nightmares for a week, as I recall—but not something so bad that I couldn’t outrun the thing or jump in a car and drive until I was in the mountains and safe. Wait for winter, and those suckers’ll freeze to death. Of course, you’ve got other varieties of near-zombies, like the virus-infected things in 28 Days Later, and they’re scarier because they move faster, are plausible and might know enough to come in from the cold.

Being a shrink, I know the brain’s a funky place. How you think and the way your brain develops depends heavily upon a wash of the right neurochemicals released in the right sequence at the right time. The brain is malleable; it changes—and kids, in particular, change fast and in sometimes unpredictable ways. Their thinking processes can morph fairly quickly as well. One day you’ve got a kid who’s quite concrete—let’s say, doesn’t think to look behind you for that toy—and not long after, the kid’s bored with peek-a-boo because he’s gotten smart enough to know that you haven’t disappeared.

An adolescent’s brain is even more different still and doesn’t settle down for quite some time. Everything changes, from sleep-wake cycles to mood to intellectual capacity. It’s no accident that most geniuses make their breakthroughs while they’re still young adults because that’s when your brain’s running hot, reaching its potential, all the juices flowing just right. Once you get beyond a certain age, it’s downhill for everyone.

So you’ve got immense potential there. As a shrink, I’ve seen what happens to people’s thought processes, moods and behaviors under the influence of various drugs and/or stimuli. Given that the way the brain works is mediated by chemicals and, essentially, electricity, I thought, okay, let’s take the highly volatile environment of the adolescent brain and really give it a good jolt: something that unlocks or unmasks hidden potentials and is mediated by a variety of factors (hormones, brain development, neurochemicals, etc.).

My aim in ASHES was to layer what’s real over an imagined but still plausible scenario, and the thing that I think sets the Changed apart is that they still have what they had before. Yes, they’ve been knocked for a loop; they’ve made some interesting lifestyle choices. Their menu options have changed. But the Change is not a one-time event just as a kid’s doesn’t become an adult’s brain overnight. The Changed have Changed to be different from us—and they’re still Changing. They’re evolving because that’s what growing kids do.

Just stop me when I get too geeky.

Your heroine, Alex, is quite the survivor but at the very beginning readers see a young woman who seems ready to give up. When disaster strikes she really rises to the occasion. Is her will to survive fueled by wanting to help others, finding answers, or something else?

I think I’ll turn that back around to the reader. I’m not being coy, but I do want people to draw their own conclusions.

I’ll say this: isn’t there a huge difference between voluntarily stepping in front of a car and darting across the road? When things are suddenly out of control, it’s human nature to try to impose order, right? Yes, some people dissolve into worthless puddles, but Alex is a survivor from the get-go. She’s got cancer; she’s living with a monster that’s eating her alive. I don’t see her as ever giving up so much as wrestling for control: the difference, really, between stepping in front of the car and waiting for the car to find you.

Hypothetically, let’s say that an EMP  exactly like in your story, ASHES, has impacted all of earth. Is it a scarier thought that you might become one of “the changed” or that you would have to fight them?

Oh, my. Fighting them, for sure. But, of course, in my scenario . . . well, I’d be dead.

Do you have a favorite zombie story from fiction or movies?

The original Night of the Living Dead. Somehow it was way worse because it was a low-budget, black and white vehicle. Like that was the way the world ends.

With Halloween right around the corner, do you have a favorite spooky tale or memory you can share?

Mmmm . . . the day I was hiking, alone, in the Shenandoahs and became convinced there was someone following me. This was at a time when there’d been a recent string of killings in the mountains, too.

You know how things in Blair Witch Project happen just out of earshot and the corner of your eye? That’s what this was like: late fall, leaves all gone, so close to winter there wasn’t a ranger at the entrance to the park (which is huge, by the way; you can enter and then drive for a good hour before you come to whatever hike you want to take). This particular hike was a 10-miler, one way—which meant that I had to retrace my steps if I wanted to get out.

So it was middle of the day, about the time to turn back, the light already going because it was fall and dark comes earlier.

Thing was . . . there was somebody between me and my car.

The short version: I’m alive.

The long version: I didn’t think I would be. Because did I really see what I thought I saw? There was a face; I’m positive of that. But . . . was that a flash of red flannel? I know he was following me. And there was the truck . . .

I don’t even like thinking about it.

You also have another release that I hear is fairly chilling and suspenseful for the YA audience. Were darker thrillers your favorites to read when you were a teen?

I guess that would have to be yes, sort of, because I also read all the wonderful classics like A Wrinkle in Time and Dune, both of which are dark but have highly redemptive elements. For me, the best lit, regardless of genre, can’t be hopeless so much as a journey where the going is rough and the problems, as well as moral dilemmas, huge. You just don’t know what people are made of until their backs are against that proverbial wall.

What is next for you?

For one thing, the second volume in the ASHES series, SHADOWS, hits shelves in fall, 2012. The third and final book, Monsters, follows in fall, 2013. Then I slink off and have myself a good cry.

In the interim, DROWNING INSTINCT, a gritty, YA contemporary centered on the relationship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a troubled older man will appear in February, 2012 from Carolrhoda Lab. SIN-EATER, a YA mystery that revolves around the murder of a homosexual boy in small-town Wisconsin, comes out in the spring of 2013, again from Carolrhoda Lab.

On editors’ desks right now is the first book of a new two—and possibly, three-book—series. Let me tell you: I’ve gnawed my nails down to nubbins, fretting over this thing because I’ve followed my own advice and tried something that I know hasn’t been done before in quite this way. The result’s a weird little sucker. Think Matrix meets Inkheart-with-a-Vengeance, and you’re only scratching the surface.

I’ve also finished the outline for a new standalone thriller that’s bound to piss off some people (so that’s good) and into which I thought I’d be diving PDQ.

Except the other day, I got this FABULOUS idea—scifi’ish—and now I’m thinking, well . . .

Only a follow-on to my YA paranormal mystery, DRAW THE DARK (Carolrhoda Lab, 2010), has been rattling around in there for a while now, too: not as a sequel, mind you, but a parallel story.

So, a lot of possibilities. Just have to sit down and write what’s begging to get out.

Paperback Dolls wish to thank Ilsa J Bick for taking the time to answer a few questions. Be sure to check out our tween doll, Desi’s, review of ASHES and enter to win your very own copy in our GIVEAWAY! 

Paperback Dolls is made up of women from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds, different tastes and beliefs that were brought together through a love of reading. We like to think of ourselves as a cyber version of "The View" that focuses on books, authors, and reading. We are proof positive that one common love can unite the most opposite of people and form lasting friendships that introduce other ways of life and perspectives to each other.
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  • Vivien says:

    I personally cannot wait for the sequel to this. I’m highly anticipating it! Congrats on the great release.

    Reply to this comment »
  • Sarah Bibi Setar says:

    This sounds like an epic read! I look forward to it:)

    Your spooky tale of the day you went hiking gave me chills and I’m glad you made it out of those woods alive.


    Reply to this comment »
  • Victoria Zumbrum says:

    Thanks for the giveaway.Please enter me in contest.

    Reply to this comment »
  • Library Lady says:

    I’ve not read any thing by you…YET! After reading your interview, I see that you have quite a few creepy books either released or coming soon. Those are my types of books! I will definitely be adding you to my TBR pile. Thanks for the giveaway!

    Reply to this comment »
  • says:

    I haven´t read Ashes but I have read good review about it and I love dystopian genre. I would love to read it.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

    Reply to this comment »
  • Krista M says:

    Great Interview! I am so excited to see what this book has in store for me. I saw a photo of a street artist in New York drawing a picture of this cover and have been very interested ever since.

    Reply to this comment »
  • Denise Z says:

    I have to giggle. Your response to “What inspired you to create such a unique setting where the chaotic events are a result of an EMP?” sounded so much like my son and his friends when plotting the takeover of small islands in their games and crowning themselves rulers of their nation – what a fond memory. You are blessed with the gift of being able to express this creativity through the written word. Thank you for taking the time to share with us.

    Reply to this comment »