One of the most chilling novels I’ve read in a long time, ASHES was an instant PJV fave and a best read of 2011. It is a great honor to welcome Ilsa Bick to the blog with a great interview and a giveaway!
PJV: Welcome to Parajunkee’s View Ilsa Bick, can you please tell our readers a little bit about your Ashes series, in your own words.
Ilsa: You bet: 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.
PJV: In the world of the Ashes series, an EMP blast is the apocalyptic catalyst. From your experience, do you believe this is a very realistic threat to our world?
Ilsa: Oh, I sure do. The science argues for it; Congress has already said this is a huge threat. What should really clinch it for you is that the military has taken steps to harden and protect their electronics. If they’re worried, you ought to be, too. The irony, of course, is that in the scenario they’re worried about, there’s no way of preventing the kind of nuclear catastrophes which will occur with a sustained power outage (and we’re talking within minutes to hours), and no way of getting new fuel either. So all those nifty machines they’ve worked so hard to protect won’t go anywhere. Very expensive paperweights.
PJV: Why did you decide to create this world within the Young Adult genre?
Ilsa: Gosh, I don’t know. Just seemed like the right thing to do. I guess it’s because I’d read some other books in the same kind of genre, and while they were good . . . the science felt off (or non-existent) and people were way too well-behaved. Count on people to be their absolute worst in a disaster/survival situation.
The thing about adolescents, though, especially resourceful ones: they’ll find a way to endure and try to build something better. Yes, adults will try, too . . . but I like kids; for them, this is all happening for the very first time.
PJV: And speaking of the Young Adult genre, you also do not hold back, some of the scenes in ‘Shadows’ scared me out of my mind, especially the scene right in the beginning with Alex and the Changed. Do you feel like you are pushing the envelope with the genre?
Ilsa: No, I sure don’t, and you know why? No one would question pushing the envelope with a video game, or a horror movie, things that kids are routinely given or offered as entertainments. Part of my agenda is to make this a little bit more real, with consequences, not just a shoot-‘em-up for fun, because hurting other people or being hurt isn’t a game.
Ilsa: And I’m a doctor. I was in the military. I was a surgery intern. If I’d come along ten years later, I’d have done a residency in emergency room medicine because I truly like the intensity. So everything I describe in ASHES and SHADOWS, I have seen. I’ve dealt with tons of people, some in tremendous pain. There are your everyday horrors—people who are cut up or having a heart attack—and then those that are gruesome: the guy who had the misfortune of being under that girder when the cable snapped; the worker who forgot to put on his safety goggles before he went to work with that wire and now has a long piece sticking out of his eye; the father clutching his little boy whom he’s just run over with that mower; the kid on the prom date—just a beautiful boy, with his whole life ahead of him—who’s now on a ventilator, about to be unplugged, because some asshole got drunk and hit the kid’s car head-on. And all that’s not counting the huge suffering of those with no visible wounds, who carry horror in their heads, often through no fault of their own.
I’m not on some big moral crusade or anything, but I try to bring that sensibility—that this type of scenario isn’t a video game; there is no safe remove; there are real people who are really suffering—to my work. Just about everything I describe, I have seen. Sometimes I’ve seen or dealt with it in a different context. A crush injury, say. But what I put on paper is real or, at least, how it’s real to me—and if you’re going to put video games and films with pretty horrific imagery and themes up there for kids to see, there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be reading it, too.
PJV: Alex is such a unique character, her transition in ‘Ashes’ was an emotional roller-coaster, paired with Tom who is suffering from PTSD, where in the world did you find inspiration for these characters?
Ilsa: Oh, gosh, what I can say? Just from . . . my life and experiences, I guess. I’ve known and treated plenty of people like them.
PJV: Speaking of Tom – you sure left us with some heart-ache at the end of ‘Ashes’, should we even hope for a happily ever after for Tom? Maybe for Alex? Maybe for both? A girl can hope.
Ilsa: Well . . . you can hope. Let’s put it this way: hope doesn’t have a termination date. 😉
PJV: In a really good apocalyptic novel it usually turns out that humans are the worst of the worst as far as the monsters. Do you believe that this is inevitable in a “fight for survival” situation? Are we destined to destroy ourselves?
Ilsa: Oh, yeah, of course, I do. You may think you know how you’d behave, but that’s a crock. You will never know until you’re in the moment, and the imperative to survive asserts itself. By definition, the truly heroic—the guy who will throw himself on a grenade to save his buddies—will not live to procreate and so that quality will never come to dominate behavior. Remember: I’m a shrink, and I’ve crawled in a lot of private sewers.
Even if I wasn’t, look at history. Go revisit any natural disaster and see how altruistic everyone isn’t. We make war on a hugely destructive scale. Yeah, yeah, ants do, too, and so do chimpanzees and wolves, but they don’t take the rest of the planet down with them. Take a good long look at what we’re doing to the planet. We are locusts, consuming our resources, and procreating out of control and the planet’s carrying capacities. Do I think there are some people who try? Sure. But those voices will always be small until the point of virtually no return when everyone panics. By then, I’m afraid that, given the current pace of environmental degradation, it’s too late. For many species and habitats, it already is.[divider top=”1″]
Giveaway! Shadows by Ilsa Bick
Win a copy of Shadows by Ilsa Bick
Even before the EMPs brought down the world, Alex was on the run from the demons of her past and the monster living in her head. After the world was gone, she believed Rule could be a sanctuary for her and those she’d come to love.
But she was wrong.
Now Alex is in the fight of her life against the adults, who would use her, the survivors, who don’t trust her, and the Changed, who would eat her alive.
Welcome to Shadows, the second book in the haunting apocalyptic Ashes Trilogy: where no one is safe and humans may be the worst of the monsters.
- Giveaway is for one copy of Shadows by Ilsa Bick
- Giveaway will last until October 27th
- Giveaway is for domestic shipping, US & Can only
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