Today you are in for a treat. In honor of the recent release of SHADOWS, the sequel to ASHES, the wonderfully talented Ilsa Bick is responding to a question I asked. Here is my question:
Why do you lean toward such dark themes/characters in your books?
Here is her answer:
I’m often asked this question. In part, I think you can blame the shrink in me, and my prior experience as a surgery intern. I’ve seen and heard some wild stuff, and as a Freudian, you know, the glass is always half-empty. (Talk about a grim guy.) Let’s face it: no one goes to a psychiatrist because things are peachy. So when you spend so much time with people who are coping with their inner demons and horrible impulses and, many times, treating people in simply abominable ways (and these are the people they say they love), then it’s easy to find and see the darkness and how things got to be so bad.
I also think that being the daughter of a Holocaust survivor plays a role. My dad’s family was wiped out, pretty much. The Nazis came and got the whole family when he was a little kid; he even answered the door when they came knocking. He spent a couple years in concentration camps, and the only reason he’s alive is because he got sick and was shipped out before the whole camp was dismantled and everyone else sent to Auschwitz. Now, do I think about the Holocaust ever single second, or even believe that I should remind people about it? No, I don’t. There are plenty of new horrors to worry about and confront. But does that color my world view a bit? Sure. Think of it as background music, barely audible, always there.
Then, too—frankly—conflict and adversity and inner darkness make for more interesting stories. I never have been much of a wine and roses gal. Even romance has to have angst—that dark moment of the soul, even the uncertainty of does he or doesn’t she—or why bother reading? What fun would “Romeo and Juliet” be if the parents didn’t object? Even Charlotte’s Web is all about scurrying to find a way to save poor Wilbur from becoming bacon. To me, the muck is always much more interesting than eternal sunshine and happiness because, in fact, while life can be filled with many good things and this planet of ours is quite beautiful, life is also fragile, difficult, often cruel, capricious, and fleeting. I’d like to think that out of their encounters with darkness, my characters eventually find their way to a state of grace. Just takes some doing—and that “doing” is what I call story.
If you haven’t already read ASHES, you need to ASAP. If you read it a while ago and forgot some of the details, here is a great recap post Ilsa posted to help you out.
Thank you so much Ilsa! I love all your books (DROWNING INSTINCTS, DRAW THE DARK), but The ASHES Trilogy is my favorite.