Cuddlebuggery is hosting this event; showing love to Egmont’s Last List since closing their doors in January. To see the full list of blogs participating, you can visit the Last List Blog Hop sigh up page.
Today, I am SUPER exciting to be hosting Ilsa J. Bick! The Dickens Mirror, Dark Passages #2 is expected to release March 10th.
About the Book
THE DICKENS MIRROR (Dark Passages #2)
Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Release date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Egmont USA
Critically acclaimed author of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick takes her new Dark Passages series to an alternative Victorian London where Emma Lindsay continues to wade through blurred realities now that she has lost everything: her way, her reality, her friends. In this London, Emma will find alternative versions of her friends from the White Space and even Arthur Conan Doyle.
Emma Lindsay finds herself with nowhere to go, no place to call home. Her friends are dead. Eric, the perfect boy she wrote into being, and his brother, Casey, are lost to the Dark Passages. With no way of knowing where she belongs, she commands the cynosure, a beacon and lens that allows for safe passage between the Many Worlds, to put her where she might find her friends—find Eric—again. What she never anticipated was waking up in the body of Little Lizzie, all grown up—or that, in this alternative London, Elizabeth McDermott is mad.
In this London, Tony and Rima are “rats,” teens who gather the dead to be used for fuel. Their friend, Bode, is an attendant at Bedlam, where Elizabeth has been committed after being rescued by Arthur Conan Doyle, a drug-addicted constable.
Tormented by the voices of all the many characters based on her, all Elizabeth wants is to get rid of the pieces under her skin once and for all. While professing to treat Elizabeth, her physician, Dr. Kramer, has actually drugged her to allow Emma—who’s blinked to this London before—to emerge as the dominant personality…because Kramer has plans. Elizabeth is the key to finding and accessing the Dickens Mirror.
But Elizabeth is dying, and if Emma can’t find a way out, everyone as they exist in this London, as well as the twelve-year-old version of herself and the shadows—what remains of Eric, Casey, and Rima that she pulled with her from the Dark Passages—will die with her.
Now, let’s meet Ilsa!
Hi Ilsa! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions!
Thanks for having me! The pleasure’s mine 🙂
1) Could you tell me a little bit about the Dark Passages series?
Well, at the risk of seeming as if I’m copping out, this is a tough series to distill down into one or two short paragraphs. So I’m going to cheat a little and direct folks to the summaries (which isn’t really a cheat since, except for the “critically-acclaimed” part, I helped write). So go here for White Space and here for Dickens Mirror
Go ahead . . . I’ll wait.
So the basic series arc follows a number of kids, who may not be real but simply characters plucked from novels by Wisconsin’s Most Famous Crazy Dead Writer, Frank McDermott, and are gathered together by McDermott’s daughter, Lizzie, for some special purpose. But the books are much more than that because I’m really playing around with the nature of reality. Honestly, how do you know you’re real? You don’t. You take it on faith. There’s nothing really objective about it, and that’s precisely the problem my characters run into: whether or not they’re real people or simply characters, infused with too much of a real life, who’ve escaped their stories by falling between the lines into White Space.
Because what really goes on in all that seemingly empty white space? Or another way to look at it is like this: a word has no meaning—none, zero, zich, zip—unless there’s emptiness around it. Unless it’s bounded by emptiness—by white space—to give it power and definition. A D is a D because there’s space around the letter to make it a D. A word or letter or symbol or sentence means absolutely nothing if you don’t set it off by a lot of white space.
So . . . what is white space? What is the emptiness between letters and lines and paragraphs o;
chapters? Between scenes (when, all of a sudden, it’s a week later—like, what happened in-between)? What if a writer didn’t put symbols on white space . . . you know, write a letter or type a page . . . but drew the symbols from this emptiness? You know that expression, falling between the lines? That implies there’s something there, doesn’t it? That the lines are solid, but the space is . . . anything?
I started to wonder what would happen if a character really did just that. Is that character lost, or
can she crawl out and find herself in another story? And what happens if the wrong character gets into the wrong story?
Pretty mind-bending stuff, you ask me.
– YEP, I’M SOLD.
2) How did you come up with the concept behind the series?
My youngest daughter. See, I have this habit of killing her off in my stories in the most horrible ways. Honestly, you’d think the kid would catch a clue.
Anyway, she made some offhand remark about a book I was working on, like was I going to kill her this time or not. (I wasn’t; I was busy killing her cousins.) But we did talk about it, because it turns out she was both kind of flattered but also upset that I kept offing her even though it really wasn’t her. Like she had to remind herself that, even I happened to use her name or a recognizable detail—her teddy bear or bicycle, for example—none of what I’d written had happened to her. Still, every time, her brain kind of tripped over those things, and she would feel uncomfortable.
Which was just so interesting and got me to thinking about perception and reality, something in which, as a shrink, you do anyway. (Really, as a therapist, you are attempting to shift a patient’s perception of reality, but is that the same thing as truth? No, it’s your truth; it’s what you perceive as being more normative. Sort of a slippery slope, if you take my meaning.)
We take it for granted that when we open our eyes, that what surrounds us is real. But how do you know for sure? You don’t. For that matter, you have no clue that what you see in the mirror is how you truly appear to others. By extension, what others say about you influences your perceptions about yourself and, by extension, your reality. So . . . can anyone be sure that you’re the author of your own story? What if you’re really a character in someone else’s drama and don’t know it?
So that’s how the series got its start.
3) What’s your writing process? Do you have any weird quirks, follow schedule, etc.
I’m really quite boring. I tend to be a plotter because I started out in work-for-hire and there, you’ve got to submit an outline for approval. They want to make sure you don’t violate the universe rules or kill off Captain Kirk and not bring him back, that kind of thing. So I’m pretty methodical. I also used to write these HUMONGOUS outlines (like, 250 pages’ worth). An editor once joked that all I had to do was put in adjectives, and I was done. But this way, I thought through the whole story. As time has gone on, though, I’ve found that a) my outlines are shorter; b) I get more impatient to get started already and not write the life out of the story; and c) once I’ve written an outline, I oftentimes don’t ever refer to it again. It’s as if I’ve told the story to myself once, but then I have to see how it really plays out on paper. Frequently, I find that what looked good in outline sucks in execution and so things change. They usually do anyway as the characters find their voices and decide which way they want to go. You just let them. They know what they’re doing.
In terms of quirks, I don’t have too many, although I get increasingly uneasy if I haven’t started writing something by 8 a.m. Writing is a job like any other, and so I follow a schedule or my boss will give me hell. So I’m up at 6:30; I have my coffee, pull out my iPad, and type out the basic bullet points and plot elements of whatever chapter or section I’m on that day (although I’ve frequently have done that the day before or on these little scraps of paper that I leave all over the house); and then I screw my butt in the chair and write until I reach my goal, which is normally a set number of pages I must do every day. Sometimes that means I’m done by 2 or so; at others, it means I knock off long enough to exercise, come back, do the dinner thing, and then go back to work until I’m done.
4) You have published books in a few different genres – which one, if any, has been the most challenging to write?
Good question! I was going to say none, but The Dickens Mirror is a weird blend of fantasy, horror, and historical fiction. I mean, a lot of the historical details and sites are real; Conan Doyle was a real person; Bethlem was a real asylum; and, of course, people back in the Victorian era wore different clothes, had their own slang, that kind of thing. So incorporating all that in a way that feels natural was a huge challenge. For example, you’ll read these books where characters will explain things in a way that seems silly. You know, where one character will look at a ship and then the other will say something like, Well, you know, Bob, that sloop is a two-rigger with blah-blah-blah. Just silly and awkward. It would be as if in a contemporary novel a character flips a switch while maintaining an internal dialogue on the nature of electricity.
I remember for Dickens Mirror my editor wanted me to explain what a retort was right when I mentioned it, and I refused, not only because that becomes obvious a paragraph or so on, but it made no sense for the character to explain it to himself. Everything you do in historical fiction has to flow naturally; the meaning has to come through via context not exposition. It’s a very challenging genre to do well.
5) If you could – would you go back and rewrite any of your books? Why or why not?
Nope. I don’t look back. I approach each book the same way: write the best book I possibly can given who I am right then and there, and then move on. Now there are books I have abandoned and then revisited, or ones that I wrote and then pulled out again after a certain number of months that I have completely overhauled—and I mean, completely, from scratch because I’ve learned enough in the interim to understand what I was doing wrong or why the book is such a clunker. But once a book is out there and published, I actually think it’s self-destructive, for me, to keep looking over my shoulder. I’m not about what’s been; I’m about what’s next.
6) You’ve done many things in your life – reading your bio made me weep with envy – is there anything else that you strive to accomplish?
Oh sure. I mean, I wouldn’t mind being Stephen King, or—failing that—trading up for his problems. I sometimes wish I’d try to muscle through that hyperbaric chamber and made it into the astronaut corps. (I have terrifically uncooperative eustasian tubes.) I’d like to learn how to fly a glider and then a plane or helicopter, but the husband has fits every time I mention it. (Which is weird, considering that he seemed to have no trouble when I decided I wanted to learn how to dive. Drowning, he’s okay with. Me falling out of the sky . . . not so much.) There are a ton of parks and hikes I’d like to do; I wouldn’t mind living in Tasmania (it’s really a lovely place).
In terms of a profession, though . . . no, this is it. Writing is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and it continues to be so because every time I approach a new book, I want to make sure to try something I’ve never done before. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting stale. I’m definitely not a wash-rinse-repeat person.
7) What, if anything, have you learned about yourself since writing your first book?
That I really am much happier when I’m in my head and into a story, living with a bunch of made-up people. I always knew I was pretty solitary and I’m quite shy. So I have to be careful and force myself to get out of the house and my own head, or I’d wind up one of those mumbling bag-ladies.
8) What secret talents do you have?
None. I mean, I wish I could say that I have an endless capacity for self-delusion, but I know when I suck, so . . . I sing in a symphony chorus, but I talk about that on Facebook and stuff, so that’s not a secret. I’m a good cook, and I love to bake bundt cakes, and I’ve recently developed a fondness for making old-fashioned cocktails . . . but that’s all out there, too. Nothing, I guess. How boring.
Well, unless you’re talking about my secret fantasy life aboard the Enterprise. But I’m not saying.
9) Is there anything you can share about a project you are currently working on?
Sure . . . let’s just say it involves a bunch of teenagers (some of whom are out to settle old grudges), a plane crash, a ghost town, some really hungry critters, a long-buried secret, and a question of who pulled which trigger when. Think Lord of the Fliesset in the Canadian Rockies . . . and now you’re cooking.
10) Of course I have to ask – do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Well, yeah and no . . . I mean, I’m no expert. I got into this by accident; I’ve never taken a creative writing course or anything (some would say, that figures) and I think that those courses are, by and large, a waste of time unless you’re taking a workshop from someone who actually makes a living selling fiction. Otherwise, you’re only writing for a grade and a teacher’s approval when the only grades that count for a writer are an acceptance letter from an editor, and a check. I’m dead serious.
If folks are interested, they can bop on over here for a blog I once wrote on the subject: http://adr3nalin3.blogspot.com/2012/01/so-you-wanna-be-contender.html Works for me. That, and the caveat that you probably have to write about a million bad words before you tell one decent story.
Cake or Pie: Cake, natch.
Summer or winter: Winter, I guess (I hate heat), but I’m most partial to fall
Physical book or eReader: I’m going to hedge/cheat and say both. Yes, an e-reader’s a lovely device, especially when you’re traveling. But there is nothing like a book-book, especially for me when I’m reading to gather information. You don’t want me to go into all the neurological/brain development reasons why books are superior to e-readers in terms of processing and retaining information (they really are; sorry, but it’s a developmental fact; we are three-dimensional beasts). For me, my retention goes waaaay up if I read a physical book. Like I can tell you where something is in the book, what side of the page, how far up or down, that kind of thing. You lose all that in a reader.
Coffee or Tea: Coffee, but only in the mornings. After ten, I switch to tea.
Thank you again Ilsa for stopping to chat! 🙂
Of course, there is a giveaway! Below, enter to win a Signed Hardback of The Dickens Mirror! Great news, it’s open International 🙂
Tonyalee is an avid reader, gym junkie, coffee addicted workaholic, and blogger. Be sure to follow on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram for random shenanigans.