Monday, March 2, 2015

Last List Blog Hop: spotlight on Ilsa J. Bick's The Dickens Mirror @ilsajbick

When I heard Egmont USA had shut its doors, my heart immediately went out to the authors and the books they had scheduled for release this spring and beyond. What would happen to these titles? Would anyone care besides the authors and readers? Then I read a post at Cuddlebuggery and the wonderful people there were addressing my same thoughts but then they took it further. They came up with the Last List Blog Hop. 

Reader Girls are thrilled to be a part of this blog hop. We are focusing the spotlight on author Ilsa J. Bick (why aren't her books made into TV series or movies yet?) and the second book in her The Dark Passages series, The Dickens Mirror. I'm reading the first book now, Dark Passages, and it is unlike anything I've read in YA (and that's a good thing).

Recently it was announced that Lerner Publishing Group had acquired Egmont USA'a list (read about it here). I'm glad these author's books have a new home. 

The Dickens Mirror (Dark Passages #2)
by Ilsa J. Bick
YA fantasy
Hardcover, 576 pages
Expected publication: March 10th 2015 by 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.

Buy links:

Read Book One:

White Space (Dark Passages #1) by Ilsa J. Bick
YA fantasy

Hard cover/eBook,  560 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Egmont USA

In the tradition of Memento and Inception comes a thrilling and scary young adult novel about blurred reality where characters in a story find that a deadly and horrifying world exists in the space between the written lines.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it's as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she's real.

Then she writes "White Space," a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.

Unfortunately, "White Space" turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she's never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she's dropped into the very story she thought she'd written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they--and Emma--may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.

Now what they must uncover is why they've been brought to this place--a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written--before someone pens their end. 

World building
Funny you should ask about this.  Just today, I was struggling and fussing with this one silly scene in a burger joint, trying to get it right—and then I realized, you idiot, burger joints have smells.  They have sounds.  There are people.  As soon as I started filling that in, from the smell of stale fried onions to the fwap-bap of a kitchen door and the clash of cutlery and the old guys with John Deere caps they’ve worn so long there are salt rings on the brims . . . then the writing went much more easily because I knew where my characters were and the things that were going around them.  

Ilsa trekking across Isle Royale
So world building is tremendously important.  A writer’s task is to create a story in which the reader can get lost.  That can’t happen if the story is thin; if it’s all dialogue, say, or chase scene with only sketchy details.  Trees, mountains, roads . . . those could be anything.  So you have to provide referents: sensory details and analogies that engage a reader as a person in ways other than only through sight because a reader is not just a set of eyes translating funny squiggles on a page into words.  The words have to build the world.  

Having said all that, I don’t ever really consciously think about world building; I’m more interested in immersing readers in setting.  Maybe that’s world building, maybe it’s not; I don’t know.  But a pro-writer friend once told me that I should try very hard to incorporate a sensory element that isn’t only sight at least once per page.  You’d think this would be easy, but it’s really not because you then have to imagine where your characters are, what the weather’s like, how the air smells, if things crunch underfoot, stuff like that.  

Personally, I’m really sensitive to the weather, particularly in its extremes. Maybe it comes from spending so much of my time outdoors, but I know what a poncho sounds like when it rains; how a cold wind hacks your face; the way sweat oozes between your shoulder blades.  How snow has a scent and so do trees and ice and dirt.  I know that I’m a different person when I’m really hot and sweaty versus when I’m cold or limbered up after a good long hike or been grubbing around in the dirt on a fall day when the air is crisp and the leaves smell like cinnamon and wood smoke.  But I have to be able to put myself in some setting and really be there with every single sense before it becomes authentic and fleshed-out in my mind.

It’s the same for my characters.  The weather frequently mirrors what’s going on with them.  Or maybe it’s that they’re one and the same because a person reacts differently depending on whether it’s cold or hot; if they’re stuck on a mountain or riding in a car with the windows down.  Weather really will determine what my characters do next.

For example, one of the first stories I wrote under a huge deadline pressure—I mean, we’re talking less than twenty-four hours because this was a workshop on work-for-hire and our teachers were sadists who thought, sure, let’s give an assignment at five o’clock and expect a turn-in by ten the next morning . . . anyway, that story had to be set in the Battletech universe, on another planet.  Well, I knew nothing about Battletech.  Before I’d been handed the assignment, I’d never heard of the blood thing.  So I’m paging through these sourcebooks, which are these bibles full of information on allowable weaponry, planets, stuff like that—and I’m starting to feel kind of desperate because nothing’s really clicking—and then I come across an entry mentioning some battle on a planet that’s riddled with volcanic calderas.

And I thought, whoa, wait a second.  See, I’d just been to The Big Island, maybe . . . four months back?  Five?  Anyway, I remembered what it was like to walk across a huge expanse of cold black lava under a hot full sun, where there’s very little vegetation and the ground’s still smoking and steaming.  If you listen hard, you can hear water bubbling underneath.  I’d also been up to Haleakala, a dormant volcano with a caldera as desolate as a moonscape and freezing cold because the mountain’s so high you can see clouds spilling over the jagged teeth of the crater, and instead of black rock, it’s red, like Mars.

As soon as I was able to pull up those images and sensory details—the heat, the hissing water, the crunch of brittle lava, how barren everything is, the color of the rocks—then I could start putting people into that situation and then, poof, I had a story set in the Battletech universe. 

So, for me, building a world starts with place and an intense amount of sensory detail.  For me, setting—in all its richness of color and texture and substance—is thebook’s world.  If I can’t get lost and feel where my characters are or what they taste, smell, hear . . . the scene won’t come alive and I won’t believe my characters for a nanosecond—and neither will you. 

About the author

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and now an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including her critically acclaimed ASHES Trilogy, Draw the DarkDrowning Instinct, and The Sin-Eater’s Confession. WHITE SPACE, the first volume of her Dark Passages horror/fantasy duology, is currently long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel.  The sequel, THE DICKENS MIRROR, will hit shelves on March 10, 2015.  

Ilsa lives with her long-suffering husband 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.

Drop by her website,, for her Sundays’ cake and Friday’s cocktail recipes as well as other assorted maunderings; or find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter (@ilsajbick), or Instagram (@ilsajbick).

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