Hi everyone! Special treat for you today!
As part of the Shadows blog tour, the author, Ilsa J. Bick has kindly agreed to do a guest post on the science behind Ashes and her writing processes. So please welcome Ilsa J. Bick:
Well, a couple years back, I’d read a very good book with an end-of-the-world scenario and liked it so much I found myself wondering if I could pull off something like that. The problems I thought that book—and others in the genre—had were that the setup and science weren’t that believable; people were too well-behaved; and/or we were dropped into societies eons after whatever catastrophe had taken place.
My idea going into the ASHES trilogy was that I wanted to create something that would bring down civilization in a big hurryl; wasn’t a virus or some deadly plague; would let me actually create a setting where you could see/watch the disaster unfolding afterward; and was just credible enough to allow me to play around a bit with just how nasty people, in the aftermath of a disaster, can really be.
So, a lot of the science in ASHES is . . . you know . . . real science. For example, a massive sunspot cycle could decimate all the Earth’s electronics, and I knew that the EMPs from a-bombs are a big problem. Building an e-bomb is actually pretty simple; it’s deployment and detonation at precisely the right spot that’s the trick. (Given all the research I did on this, I’m sure I’m on Homeland Security’s radar, too.) You know there’s a real threat, too, if the U.S. Congress holds hearings on the issue, and the military scurries around, trying to figure out how to harden their electronics in the event of an attack. The irony here: even if their electronics can be saved . . . there’s no power, folks. No oil refineries working, so no fuel for all those military toys. Not to mention, there would be scads of nuclear power plants and storage facilities going up in radioactive clouds. Not pretty.
Where I stray into fiction concerns what might happen to people in the event of a massive wave of EMPs. Those aren’t experiments you can really do (although I’ll bet someone has and just hadn’t talked about it; the military’s into some hinky things). There is evidence that weird things happen to animals in terms of cumulative exposure to EMPs, and it’s well-known that screwing around with the Earth’s magnetic fields can mess up birds . . . so I just went a step further.
In addition, being a child shrink and knowing the brain, I understand what happens to the traumatized brain, what age groups are most at risk, and all that. I know that the teenage brain is just this seething stew of chemicals and functions that are being reset, re-equilibrated, just as I know that the aging brain is much more like a wizened little raisin: not set in stone but in need of a good juice now and again. So morphing my adolescents—whom most adults view as aliens anyway—or figuring out what might protect some of my teenage characters wasn’t that big a stretch. The task was to make all the science work without calling too much attention to it, and leaving just enough ambiguity so you’d have a story and not a textbook.
Now, ASHES didn’t become ASHES right away. The first draft had a lot more woo-woo in it and was factually based on a real American CIA program. I’d originally written the book for a workshop that didn’t end up happening, so I put the book aside and wrote something else. When I was done with that book, I decided to dust off this first draft of the manuscript that eventually became ASHES. Well, I saw everything wrong with it right off the bat. I also decided it couldn’t be salvaged. So I killed the whole thing. Just started over. (By the way, that is almost always the best thing to do with any book or story that doesn’t work. Kill that baby. Don’t try to “fix” it. By definition, if it deserves death, none of those words are worth saving. Be ruthless.) The only things I kept from the original manuscript were the setting, the set-up—a massive wave of EMPs—and one single solitary scene that, even then, I heavily rewrote. But the characters, the plot, the evolution, the reveals . . . all that I did over from scratch: outlined that new book and then wrote it.
As for the actual writing, well . . . writing is . . . you know, I don’t want this to sound bleak because it’s not, but writing is, yes, creative, but it is also a job. I have to show up for work, and I have to show up for work on time. I have to produce product on time, which means I have to watch my productivity; see what interferes with me getting my work done.
This means: I get up (usually by 6 a.m.); I have coffee; I answer some email or read a bit of the news; and then I start working. If I am drafting an outline or writing a book, it’s no different; I have goals for each day that must be met, and I don’t go to bed until I meet those goals. Sometimes that means I’m done in five hours; sometime that means I work for fourteen. For this last big deadline I had, I was working for the last six weeks of it pretty much non-stop, seven days a week, more than twelve hours a day. I have no idea what happened in the world other than it didn’t end, and my husband didn’t eat a cat, something for which I know those little critters are eternally grateful.
Thank's ever so much Ilsa!
If you'd like to check out Ashes - book one in the Ashes trilogy then you can find it here on Goodreads. Also, if you have read Ashes and need to get caught up before reading Shadows, check out this great refresher up on Ilsa J. Bick's website.