About Me


Among other things, I was an English major in college and so I know that I’m supposed to write things like,”Ilsa J. Bick is<fill in the blank>.” Except I hate writing about myself like I’m not in the room.

So, let’s just say that I’m a child psychiatrist (yeah, you read that right), although I started out in surgery . . . it’s a long story.  I’m also a film scholar, former Air Force major, and an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels.  (Believe me, no one is more surprised about that than I . . . and my mother.)

In case you were wondering?  Yes, I used to write Star Trek.  And Mechwarrior.  And Battletech.  And the occasional ShadowRun.  I loved every minute of it, too.

My YA works include the critically acclaimed DRAW THE DARK (winner of the Westchester Fiction Award, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and Bank Street College 2011 Best Book); DROWNING INSTINCT; and THE SIN-EATER’S CONFESSION (a 2014 YALSA BYFA and 2014 TAYSHAS Nominee).

Among many other nominations and awards, ASHES, the first book in my YA apocalyptic thriller trilogy, was a 2011 VOYA Perfect Ten, 2012 YALSA Top Ten Teen Nominee, 2012 YALSA Best Fiction Nominee, and 2012 Outstanding Book by a Wisconsin Author.   ASHES is currently a 2013 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers Finalist, 2013 TAYSHAS High School Reading List, 2013-2014 Gateway Award Final Nominee, 2014 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Nominee, and 2014 Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award Nominee.

SHADOWS, the second book in the trilogy, hit shelves in 2012, and MONSTERS, the final volume, was released September, 2013, and earned starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.

WHITE SPACE, the first volume in the Dark Passages duology, hit shelves 2/11/14 and was hailed as a “sophisticated” horror novel for older teens (and they mentioned Stephen King and me in the same breath!).  The book was also long-listed for the Stoker.  Its sequel, THE DICKENS MIRROR, appeared in 2015.

At the moment, I am a cheesehead in exile, living on a mountain in Alabama with the husband and several furry creatures.  On occasion, I even feed them.

isle royale

222 thoughts on “About Me”

  1. I am reading the second book. I LOVED the first one. It just got my attention. I was as you can say addicted to it. Well, I don’t know if you’re going to approve, but I think you should make a movie about it. I think it would be a good movie to watch and it would go across the tv show ” The Walking Dead.” That’s what I think the book is about ” The Walking Dead.” Well, anyway I love the series so far and I’m going to try to read more of your books. I hope you write more. I love your details and what the books are based upon.

  2. Hi, I adore ashes, monsters and shadows but there needs to be another! I read the trilogy in four days, and I have decided I hate cliffhangers! I usually read horror, but I saw the striking cover and Decided to try the book. Keep writing, your my favourite author and I hope to see Alex, Tom, Wolf and Ellie soon!

  3. Hello Ilsa! I am so completely enthralled in your book Draw the Dark! I have taught 7th and 8th grade English for 16 years and once some of my students got their hands on this book, they were hooked! We live in southeast WI, so the setting “up north” in Winter adds an extra attraction for my students. The mixture of genres, the constant foreboding and suspense, the authentic characterization, the edginess of your craft, and the unique historical connections, all make this a favorite read. I am excited to look for some of your other books! I do have a question for you though. The use of some sexual undertones and language have made this quite a controversy in our junior high. I have used this excitement and fervor in my argumentation unit. “Censorship” will be the topic of our debate. Whether I am able to actually include this book in my classroom, is at this point, undetermined. An overwhelming majority are in favor of it, but there are some parents against its use at this age level and in an academic setting. Do you make school visits? I would love for you to visit our students and discuss both your work and your viewpoint on dystopian YA literature, and on censorship. In order to provide a platform for our debate, we have also read Meghan Cox Gurdon’s editorial online titled “Darkness Too Visible,” and Sherman Alexie’s response titled, “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood.” We would very much love to hear your point of view. You may reach me at this email at any time. I look forward to your response! Sincerely, Stacy Stock

  4. Well, first, thanks so much! I’m thrilled that you and your students like that book. That it might be censored or seen as objectionable by some parents is . . . surprising, although I, too, have written about darkness in YA lit and in response to the Gurdon editorial, “The Monsters in Us All,” and published online for Hunger Mountain (the VCFA Journal of the Arts). I’m also quite happy to make school visits, too, and I will certainly get in touch via your email. Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Hey there…Well I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the book talk you had at Northwood, I found it very inspiring. I am also guilty of writing fan fiction…I think I’m a little obsessed with reading AND writing it. I was amazed that you got so far writing with fan fiction. It just seemed so bizarre, but in a good way. I’ve always like making stories up and of course have my favorite band member and book character fall head over heels in love with me so I wrote books on Wattpad. One after the other they failed. I get so off track of what I originally wanted to do because I over think it too much and I realized that when you spoke about writing at the book talk. I know I want to be a writer when I grow up maybe not full time because becoming a famous writer seems too out of reach for me. I just wanted to thank you for helping me improve my writing, helping me realize what I want, and know what to look for in a future husband if I don’t get my boy band member or book character…someone accepting who knows I will drop them in a second when Niall Horan, Harry Potter, or Percy Jackson comes to sweep me off my feet, and be at my side to comfort me when they don’t.
    ~A fan of you’re work and you, Litzy

  6. Hey, Litzy! I’m so glad you enjoyed that book talk. As you can probably tell, I think it’s a-okay being obsessed with fan fiction. Honestly, it’s how a lot of pro-writers get their start.
    The other thing is, hon, you will fail way more often than you succeed. Happens to the best of the best, but the important thing is–when you’re all done being mopey and pissed–dust yourself off and figure out why you failed so you can try to avoid it next time. But it happens to all of us, all the time.
    Keep writing, kiddo 🙂

  7. Hello Ilsa!
    I am a huge fan of the Ashes trilogy! I am also a big fan of the series Gone by Michael Grant. Basically, I used to enjoy writing a lot but for a while my daughter took over all that and I struggle to find motivation or ideas anymore. Then, i came up with one. I was wondering if you would give your permission for me to use some of the ideas of Ashes and combine them with a few ideas of Gone (i am also asking Michael Grant for his permission too of course) to make my own combination. It’s the first idea I’ve come up with in years and I began privately writing it, and i think it sounds amazing. I am begging for this opportunity, Ilsa. If you were to give me your permission, i would obviously give you credit to the book as well as making it very clear that your work gave me the inspiration for it, as well as Michael Grant. In addition, to help you make your mind up, I could send you what I have written so far and explain to you how Ashes comes into it. Please, at least think about it before you make your decision, i know I’m asking a lot but i wouldn’t ask if i wasn’t desperate. Writing it privately gives me no motivation, whereas if i had your permission to post it online i would have the motivation to complete it. Before you make your decision, I’d like to ask you to read the blurb too, however i wouldn’t be sure if you’d want me to post it publicly on here since its combining your ideas so i could email it to you?
    If you choose not to give me permission, I will delete the privately written work i have began (i can assure you only i have read what has been written) and will forget the whole idea. This is just a question, there is no pressure. I look forward to hearing from you Ilsa,
    Yours sincerely,

  8. Hello, Emma,
    I’m glad you enjoy my work. All writers get their inspiration from somewhere, and while I’m not sure what you mean by “ideas” from ASHES, so long as there’s no plagiarism, you aren’t posting for commercial gain (so you can’t post and then ask for a contribution, or post a snippet and then ask for money so people can read the rest, that kind of thing), and you treat the situations or ideas respectfully–so, no porn fiction, please–have a good time. I would prefer that you not send your work or even a blurb to my site, though.

  9. Hi Ilsa, I read your Ashes trilogy and genuinely thought they were the best books I have read, like you know when you have a book and it’s good but not so good that your bothered to spend every free minute of your time reading it. For me I spent every waking hour of spare time reading the books because I loved them so much. At the time I was in a pretty bad place and it provided a fantasy land that I could escape into even if it is not exactly unicorns and daisy’s haha. First your trilogy was amazing and second Im begging you to write a new one for it, like their travels through America or even maybe their kids and like a kind of ‘we thought the changed were dead but they have come back’ like after they have settled or something. It would be better than Christmas for me so please and even if you can’t please reply?? Jay

  10. Hey, Jay,
    I’m so glad you liked the trilogy and particularly that it helped you through a difficult time :-). In terms of whether I write more…we’ll just have to see. I wrote about this on my blog and the thing is that, no matter how fond I am of them, the characters have to tap me on the shoulder and demand more story. So we’ll see 🙂

    Thanks for getting in touch!

  11. Hello!

    I’ve just finished the Ashes trilogy (literally within five minutes ago) and I’ve wiped the tears from my eyes. They were a fantastic set of books! Amazingly well written and just right amount of excitement, romance and heartbreak that I love in books.
    Just one question, will there ever be a fourth book? I’m desperate to find out if Alex managed to save Wolf, and if she went with Tom and Ellie. Even just a short story, I’d love a final happy ending, even though I guess there is never a happy ending in the apocalypse.

    Thankyou for writing such a fantastic series though!!

  12. Im just wondering because when christian opens the door, he calls out “Mom?”

  13. I’ve toyed with the sequel of and on now for a few years, Nathan. I don’t know if I’ll write one or not. I left it open purposefully just in case I decide to.

  14. Hello Ilsa 🙂 !

    I just finished reading the first part of the trilogy’s ashes, which is amazing and I loved it. Right after that, I went to the bookshop to buy the next part, but it turned out that the publisher of your book in my country (Poland) do not translate second and third parts. I do not know the entire process of publishing, but I wanted to ask whether you, as a writer have some influence whether the book will be released in other country or not. I do not expect a miracle, so tomorrow together with the help of a dictionary and the Internet, I begin to read the English edition, which plans to buy it on amazon. I will be grateful for your response. (Apologize for my english.) Yours faithfully. Bartek.

  15. Hey, Bartek,

    I’m so glad you liked the book!

    You know, this is the second email I’ve gotten about this. I was not aware that the rest of the trilogy not been translated. So I’ll tell you what I told the other fan who got in touch. I will contact my publisher today and ask about this, OK? I would love for my work to be able to reach you and other folks who might be interested, too, without you having to go through so many hoops–though I’m touched by your dedication. ☺️

    Stay tuned!

  16. Your response means a lot to me. I sincerely did not expect it, thank you very much for that. I am amazed how quickly you reply to messages. This kind of concern for the reader fills my heart with optimism, and put a huge smile on my face. I hope you manage to do that magic, and that soon I will be able to read your great trilogy in my language. Meanwhile, I look forward to your reply. Once again, thank you and best regards. 🙂

  17. I just can’t wait any longer 😉 hello again Ilsa. How is the progress, do You have any good news for me 🙂 ?

  18. Remind me again what you needed/wanted to know, Bartek. If you’ve asked about translations, I’ve directed all inquiries to my publishers. I’ve gotten some feedback. They’re good at getting back to me, so if there’s news, they’ll definitely tell me. But jog my memory.

  19. It was about that translation 🙂 nothing more – thank You for information and have a nice day 🙂

  20. You are probably my favorite author out there. I think that’s saying a good bit since I’m ranking you above John Green and Christopher Paolini. Your books are so captivating and full of plot twists that leave me flabbergasted. The Dickens Mirror and White space sort of scared me for awhile. PLEASE TELL ME YOURE WRITING A THIRD BOOK IN THE DARK PASSAGES! If you don’t I’ll be sorta bummed because THEY ARE PHENOMENAL 🙂 Thanks for publishing great books!

  21. *blush*
    Wow, thanks so much! Sadly, though, there is no third book for THE DARK PASSAGES. But you give me incentive to write something else, fast! 🙂

  22. Good morning, Isla(:
    I am apart of the students you FaceTimed with this morning from Greenfield Indiana. I just wanted to tell you that FaceTiming you was a delight and you have a fantastic personality. You’re also very funny and I am so glad we got to talk to you. I personally have not read any of your books yet but I hope to get my hands on a copy of Ashes or Draw the Dark, soon. Thank you again for being a wonderful person and giving us the opportunity to speak with you!
    -Sara, Greenfield Indiana

  23. Dear Ilsa J. Bick,

    My name is Elena Robinson. I live in Omaha NE, and I enjoy writing. I read the “Ashes” Trilogy a while ago, but I loved the books so much that I thought I should try writing to you, if only just to express to you how much I looked forward to reading your books before I finished. Sometimes I write short stories, and I’m currently working on a novel with a friend of mine called “A Totally Straight Love Story.” I’m not going to lie, it isn’t the best, and nowhere near as good as anything you could write, but I think it’s getting there. It’s a little difficult to write without any pronouns, but the point is to kind of trick the reader into thinking the two main characters are a boy and a girl, but really they’re both girls, and they fall in love. The big reveal isn’t until the end, though, because it wouldn’t be shocking any other way, of course, we may need to change the title to something a little less obvious.
    I think I liked the “Ashes” Trilogy so much because it made me hope, and I felt for Alex throughout the entire experience. I honestly wanted to keep reading after it was over. You proved to me that it’s possible to make up a world that doesn’t exist, solely in your own head, and turn it into something beautiful. And a maybe just a little bit gorey. The love stories, betrayal, and twists and turns always caught me off guard and made me happy. I read a lot, and there comes a point where you start to be able to see things coming, but I hardly ever did, and that’s why I wanted to write to you, because you’re one of my favorite authors, and even though I haven’t gotten a chance to read anything else by you, that doesn’t stop me from telling everyone who will listen to read “Ashes”.
    I’ve realized that I don’t know very much about you. Do you have siblings? Are you married? There’s so much I would like to know but, based only on the career choice I’ve made, I want to know, do you have any mental disorders? Like depression or anxiety, or something like an intense phobia of spiders or small spaces? I’ve never really seen famous people as the type to have to deal with those kinds of things, but it would be almost comforting in a way, to know that I’m not writing to an amazing author who will probably correct my punctuation and grammar as she’s reading, but instead, I’m writing to Ilsa Bick. A normal woman who happens to be amazing at coming up with better and better ideas, and turning them into works of art.
    I haven’t read anything else of yours, but I really would like to. I assume every author probably has a favorite book they’ve written, like every other person has a favorite book, period. If it’s not too much to ask, could you send me a list of books you like, not necessarily by you? Also, it would mean a lot to me to receive something autographed by you, and I would be willing to send you a self-addressed stamped envelope. Do you have a snail mail address?
    Keep writing!

    Elena Robinson

  24. Hey, Elena:

    Well, I’m so glad that you’ve enjoyed my work! Please believe me when I say that I would love to answer your many questions, but I don’t give out personal information. I also don’t recommend books or favorite books because we’re all so different and what I like may be completely different from what moves you. I can tell you that the book that has a very lasting impact on me, though, was Charlotte’s Web, and that’s because when I read that–gosh, I guess I must’ve been eight or so, maybe nine–it hit me for the very first time that parents are mortal.

    I would be happy to autograph either a book or simply a bookplate if you supply return postage. So, first, what would you prefer?

  25. Merry Christmas, Ilsa!

    To begin, I’ve greatly been enjoying reading your blog! (I believe thats what this is called) It’s interesting after reading your books to know what a day in the life of the author is about, and how dedicated you are to your book. I really admire that!
    I certainly know this isn’t an advice blog, and I debated writing this at all, but upon reading your about me, I have a question for you about a choice I’m about to make in a week that will affect me quite a bit.
    In your short biography, you mention that you were previously an Air Force major. I’m about to make the decision to join the Air Force (national guard) myself, but with the career field being 3/4th guys ithat has been difficult to receive any sort of reflection/advice from a female perspective. If you’re up to it, I have a few questions.
    Would you say the military changed you in any way? Has it affected your writing to change at all? Was it tough being a female in the military? And lastly, would you have any advice to give?
    Your books are some of my favorites, and it would be great to hear what one of my favorite authors has to say.

  26. Hey, Louise:

    First off, thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad you’ve liked my books, and it’s even nicer to know that someone might actually read my blog from time to time ;-). I think I wrote a post WAAAY back about how writing a blog was like a tree falling in the forest: if I write it, does it make an actual sound? Does anyone care? (Actually, I’ve concluded not many people do, and that’s okay; the blog is, like I said, for me to keep track of what I’m doing.)

    Second–to your questions–wow, that is a big life-choice. I can’t necessarily advise you, but I would say that one thing you absolutely must do is be very clear about why you’re joining up. For me, that was crystal: if I wanted to go to medical school, I had to join up. I’d never have been able to afford med school on my own and while I could’ve taken out loans, I already had debt from college and medical school was REALLY expensive.

    For me, it wasn’t TOO terrible in the sense that I kind of knew what I was getting into. My dad was military; I moved around a lot as a kid; I knew the life, sort of. But it wasn’t easy either because I wasn’t really, really keen on being in a position where I might be deployed and, maybe, killed. Plus, I hate taking orders ;-).

    Second: anything I say after this reflects the Air Force. I was never in the National Guard, so I don’t know much about how they operate or what your commitment might be. I can tell you this, though: reservists, National Guard, inactive reserves are all mobilized and called to duty FIRST and deployed BEFORE regular military. That’s just a fact. Happened in Desert Shield; happened in the ramp up to Iraq.

    Here’s what I’ll say: being in the military definitely changed me, but in a very good way. Now, remember, I was an officer; I was a doctor; I knew a lot of enlisted people, but I wasn’t enlisted. So my path through the military was much better and very different from your regular recruit. (OTOH, the AF is the one branch that I think really treats its members much more humanely.) I was with other professionals. But, even so, as a woman doctor, I ran into a ton of sexism. I also trained in the Dark Ages and there just weren’t as many women in a lot of specialities. That’s changed now, and so the experience might be a little different. But I still ran into a ton of chauvinism from some of my commanding officers. I think it’s a safe bet that, as a woman in the enlisted ranks, you’ll run into that, too, and probably more so.

    Bottom line: it’s hard to be in the military, period. Depending upon your specialty and classification, it can be doubly hard if you’re a woman.

    I dealt with a lot of enlisted, so I know that many of the kids coming into the military are doing so because they don’t have the slightest idea what they want to do or be. That’s not necessarily bad, but different units will have different mentalities. For example–and I just talked to a former enlisted (Army) kid a couple weeks ago–if you’re in artillery, well . . . they tend to be very heavy into drinking, partying, that kind of thing. There are also stone-cold pros there, too, but if you’re going into artillery, it’s because you want to shoot things. So you have to think about that. This kid then transferred to the MPs but couldn’t make a go of it there either because of the job. He just didn’t fit in.

    So your experience will vary with your specialty and classification. Fortunately, there are a ton of very respected women specialists in the AF–helicopter pilots, logistical support, that kind of thing. But this is all quite competitive, too. And, of course, now combat roles are opening up and I do believe that the AF is or will be considering some sort of regular boots-on-the-ground kind of unit (but don’t quote me on that).

    Anyway, me and the military: I walked in convinced I was going to hate it but feeling that I really didn’t have a choice if I wanted to be a doctor. I walked out with a tremendous amount of respect for those who serve and the sacrifices they make. I think I understand the military a lot better than people who’ve never served, and I know it’s affected my writing, but in a very good way, because I know that while you have to follow orders, doing so sometimes isn’t easy. I lose patience with people who are somewhat flippant; think that because someone is a soldier, she should just suck it up. Well . . . no. Try living without a shower for several weeks or a hot meal. Try not sleeping for days because you’re groveling around in the muck. Or try hanging at a FOB with NOTHING to do and NO ONE to shoot at for MONTHS–and see if you don’t go a little nuts.

    Like I said, I have no real advice except this: be very, very clear about why you’re joining up. You may think you know, but re-think that and then think about it some more. Be very clear that you’re going into an organization whose primary mission is to kill the enemy. Yes, yes, it’s about defense, but this is about killing the enemy. No matter what your role–I don’t care if you end up peeling potatoes–you are still contributing to an effort designed to protect your country, protect your buddies, follow orders–and kill the enemy. That was my job as a shrink; my primary mission was to make sure that each patient I saw was fit enough to do his or her job which was to kill the enemy or be killed.

    I was a little different because in my first posting, I did only child psychiatrist, which is my specialty. So there, I was taking care of dependents. But once I transferred to an adult ward and a different base–and once we began to gin up for Desert Shield–I took care of only military members. So if they couldn’t do their jobs or weren’t fit and I couldn’t treat them and make them well enough to do their jobs . . . then it was mine to make sure they didn’t get in the way of the military’s primary mission–and that is to both defend and win. You can win by shooting; you can win by digging sewers and drainage canals, and a lot of military folks do that. Yes, they want to help people. But the mission is also to win allies. They’re not in the Peace Corps. They’re soldiers.

    So just remember that. If you want to be a soldier–if you can do that job and understand that any part of any mission is designed to further that–then you’ll be okay. If you are willing to kill and possibly be killed, then you’ll be okay. It’s the people who forget what the military is for and about who run into trouble.

    One more piece of advice: read your contract very, very carefully. Do not believe everything the recruiter tells you because the recruiter’s job is to get as many recruits as possible. It’s how he (or she) is evaluated. They are salesmen; they really are trained that way. A recruiter can not guarantee anything; he can recommend, but the reality is that you will be shunted to the area where the need is greatest unless you demonstrate some amazing aptitude.

    In addition, even if your contract says you’ll only be on active duty for two years or four, you are obligated to eight years, without exception. What will happen is that when your term is up, you will be put on inactive reserve, which means that the military can call you back into active service anytime within that eight year stretch. (In a time of war, they can also institute a “stop-loss,” which means that even if you were scheduled to get out, the military is under no obligation–in a time of war or extenuating circumstances–to let you out. Happened to people I knew.)

    In addition, while it is true that you can back out at any time . . . this only applies until the moment you hit basic. After that, the only way out is a) a medical discharge (I did a lot of those) or b) a discharge that isn’t “honorable.” Trust me: you want neither because that follows you wherever you go.

    What all this boils down to is this: you are ceding control of your life to someone else. I don’t want to scare you. I mean, heck, I survived it 😉 I even liked it, and I am not sorry that I served. I would do it again and I have often thought of trying to help the military in a civilian capacity. But, again, being a doctor and being regular enlisted are two different things. If you are comfortable with someone taking that kind of control, then you’ll be okay.

    Whatever you do–be safe.


  27. Thank you so much for the response, Ilsa. I truly greatly appreciate it. It made my day you took the time to write that to me.
    I read and reread all you had to say, and it addressed a list of things to be thinking about in the next few weeks.
    As an artist (there’s no doubt about it, it is who I am), I couldn’t help but feel as if the battlefield isn’t somewhere I belong, but, like you, I’m determined to do anything to go through school to do exactly what I want. It’s no doubt I have a big decision to make, and you addressed a lot of hard hitting questions to consider. What I do believe I have on my side is that I love my country and I’m stubborn as hell.
    Thank you again, Ilsa. I was so touched you wrote to me I bought another copy of Ashes when I was walking past a bookstore to give to my friend as a late Christmas present. He’s active duty Air Force himself, come to think of it!

  28. I gotta say, your form of writing is really interesting! I’ve been reading Draw The Dark, and it captured my attention immediately and engages me in its story flawlessly.In my Creative Writing class we’re doing a novel project, so obviously Draw The Dark is my choice for it. Also, what book was your favorite to write or did it all share the same amount of love?

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Young Adult/Thrillers/F&SF/Romantic Suspense