Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mike Mullin Author Interview

Photo Credit: Larry Endicott

Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out.

Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. His debut novel, Ashfall, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association. He is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary.

Tell me a bit about yourself, where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Denver, Colorado and live now in Indianapolis, Indiana. I live in an old Victorian home that used to belong to William Conrad Bobbs, of the Bobbs Merrill publishing company. It’s cool to think that L. Frank Baum and James Whitcomb Riley may once have eaten in my dining room.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Until I was eleven, I attended a brick box of a school, antiseptically clean and emotionally sterile. The children marched in files down the halls, mumbled math facts in unison, and occasionally did a craft project about a book.

When I turned twelve, I escaped from that intellectual prison camp and went to a noisy, dirty, chaotic school where I was—gasp—expected to write. Every day. And—double gasp—read. I wrote my first novel in sixth grade—Captain Poopy’s Sewer Adventures. Sadly, DavPilkey beat me to publication with Captain Underpants, although I still spell better than him. (You don’t see me typing Mik Mullin, do you?) I’ve been writing ever since.

What inspired you to write Ashfall and how did you come up with the title for your book?
The idea for ASHFALL started with another book—Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Dozens of novel ideas lurk within its pages, but the one that stuck with me was the idea of a supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone. A few weeks later, I woke at 3:30 am with a scene occupying my head so completely I was afraid it would start spilling out my nostrils and ears. I typed 5,500 words, finishing just before dawn. Then I put the project away and let it gestate for eight months. When I returned to it after researching volcanoes and volcanic ash, I realized the inspired scene I wrote in the middle of the night wouldn’t work, and ultimately that whole section had to be scrapped.The only word that survived?The title, ASHFALL.

Who designed the cover of your book?
One of the wonderful things about working with a small press has been having the opportunity to be involved at every stage of ASHFALL’s production. My editor, Peggy Tierney, shared several cover concepts with me, and we both loved her idea of Alex and Darla standing in front of a mirror, but Peggy wasn’t sure whether it could be photographed. Iterations of the cover too numerous to count followed. The version showing them inside looked too much like a paranormal novel. One version showed too much of Alex’s face, so the reader wouldn’t be allowed the freedom to create their own image of Alex. An illustrated version looked too young—more like a middle grade novel than young adult book.

After much travail, a Colombian photographer, Ana Correal, delivered the final cover art, which is a composite of numerous photos. I’m a huge fan of her work in general. You can check out more of it

on Facebook or on Flickr. Even after the artwork was finished, the layout and typefaces changed several times due to input from the sales force and retail book buyers.

What was your first introduction to horror literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
I wouldn’t call ASHFALL a horror novel. It’s young adult science fiction, although a more specific description would be to call it an apocalyptic novel with dystopian elements. Some people label it a thriller, adventure, or survival tale, which also fit.

I’ve written an unpublished young adult horror novel. Probably the first horror novel I encountered—and one that’s stuck with me the best—was King’s Carrie. For sheer twisted weirdness I love KatheKoja’sThe Cipher.

What is it that you’re exploring in this book?
The outer story of ASHFALL is a horrific natural disaster. But the inner story is a teen struggling to understand and master his rage, struggling to learn when violence is okay in a world that demands it, struggling, in short, to become a man. It’s the quintessential young adult story.

What was your favorite chapter to write and why?
Chapters 37 and 38. They were never part of any outline for ASHFALL. I added those two chapters spontaneously as I was visiting my Uncle Chuck, who was in the final stages of his battle with cancer. The first time my wife read those chapters, we were driving. (Well, I was driving. She was riding along. It’s safer if you don’t read and drive.) I looked over at her and tears were streaming down her cheeks. I thought, yes! Those chapters work! (I’m a really terrible husband.)

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing Ashfall?
That I enjoy making my wife cry. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Only with my writing, I swear!

Do you ever come up with anything so wild that you scare yourself, that leaves you wondering where that came from?
Yes, that’s how I know I’m getting to something good. That’s when I have to put it on the page, no matter how much it scares me.

What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
Would you accept my blog’s million-dollar writing fellowship?

Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
Not really. I was neurotic about my writing before it was out there for everyone to read and critique, and if anything I’m even more neurotic about it now.

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
About five years ago a friend of mine was attacked by a gang on the Monon Bike Trail. Five of his attackers had bicycles, and the sixth was on foot. They wanted my friend’s $10 garage-sale bike. So they hit him over the back of the head with a 2x4, kicked him dozens of times, and dragged him into some bushes—leaving him for dead.

He survived, and he has recovered somewhat, but that event had a profound influence on me and my writing. For a while I was afraid to walk around outside, despite the fact that the attack didn’t occur in my neighborhood. Eventually I enrolled in martial arts classes, and now I hold a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo.

But I see the world differently now. If you pick up a package of bologna in the store, hopefully you’re thinking about making sandwiches. I’m thinking about the violence that was done to a pig to make that sterile-looking package of lunch meat.

Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
Meet over a nice dinner of duck egg, goat cheese, and kale omelets. Serve cornbread as a side.

Any advice for writers?
The most important part of being a writer is reading. You have to read to experience the despair of prose so lovely you know you can never match it and the vicious little satisfaction of whispering “I can do better” to yourself after reading a particularly bad piece. If you don’t read widely in whatever genre you choose to write in, how will you know if your work is original or not? That great idea for a post-apocalyptic reality show in which children battle to the death? Yeah, it’s been done.

I read more slowly now that I’m writing professionally. I often reread sections and puzzle over word and plot choices, trying to answer the question: how did the author do that? But although my pace has slowed, if anything, the volume of reading I do has increased. And that’s one of my greatest satisfactions in writing—I can curl up on the couch with a good book and a cat in my lap and honestly say, “I’m working.”

Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us?
Yes! I’m grateful to my publisher and editor, Peggy Tierney, because she has already purchased the sequel to ASHFALL! Its title is ASHEN WINTER, and it’s scheduled to be released by Tanglewood Press in October 2012. I’m working on a major revision my critique group suggested now. I’ve planned ASHFALL as a trilogy, so I hope to offer readers a concluding volume in 2013. Right now that book is about ten pages of random notes and ideas.

What are you reading now?
I finished Saundra Mitchell’s new novel The Springsweet (Harcourt, April 2012) last night. It’s excellent—a cross between its companion novel, The Vespertine, and the middle grade classic, Sarah, Plain and Tall. I’ve got to return it to Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore this afternoon—I stole their advance reading copy.

Over lunch and at the doctor’s office today I’ve read about half of Jeff Hirsch’s debut, The Eleventh Plague. It reminds me of Shipbreaker—a realistic and scarily plausible post-apocalyptic adventure.

Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano, so large that the caldera can only be seen by plane or satellite. And by some scientific measurements, it could be overdue for an eruption.

For Alex, being left alone for the weekend means having the freedom to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek to seach for his family and finds help in Darla, a travel partner he meets along the way. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster.

Ashfall is the story of your ordinary teenager, Alex, who is at home alone while his parents and sister visit relative hundreds of miles away. He is nothing special, very normal and self-centered in his own things. The thrill of spending time on his own was all the excitement he needed to have fun. His anticipation quickly turns into a nightmare after rumblings, tremors, and earthquakes transmitted from the earth. A huge boulder hits Alex’s home and sets it ablaze. A blanket of ceaseless ashfall engulfs the sky that buildings would shatter beneath its weight. The world he knows has severely changed and he embarks on an expedition to locate his parents.

The cataclysmic destruction of the volcano wiped out all resources of food, water, and communications. With no order of the law being enforced, volcanic ash covering the ground, and the bad air quality all account for making traveling dangerous.

Alex realizes that he has to mature if he ever wants to see his family again. His maturity level literally rises almost overnight as he uses all of his resources like his martial arts when confronting people along the way. His traveling partner, Darla, is extremely smart and inventive. Handy with mechanics, she becomes very useful on their journey together.

The synopsis of a super volcano erupting was very intriguing for me. I enjoy reading post-apocalyptic stories and author Mike Mullin did not fail to deliver pages that kept me on the edge of my seat. The quick development of Alex’s maturity was creatively written and it was a thrilling adventure experiencing Alex’s first encounters of events and meeting people of a post-apocalyptic world. The relationships of the characters were remarkably written as more often female characters are entrusted to secondary roles in order to demonstrate how incredible the male main character is. However, Darla is more experienced and stronger but needs him just as badly as he needs her.

No one is unaffected by the ash. Mullin’s creative style of writing, as we experience the characters being thrown head-first into the apocalypse and experience every moment as it happens, was very compelling and believable. I enjoyed reading all of their “firsts” and the tribulations that Alex overcomes, the physical problems of going through thick ash layers, the risk of starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, are very detailed and makes a gloomy portrayal of a gray inhospitable surroundings of a future appear all the more real.

You can purchase Ashfall at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MIKE MULLIN for making this giveaway possible.
3 Winners will receive a Copy of Ashfall by Mike Mullin.


  1. Thanks so much for the giveaway!! My favorite Sci-Fi movie is Serenity Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres. Loved it.

  2. Thanks for this another great interview and giveaway Jean!
    I like a lot of sci-fi movies but one of my favorite would be The Fifth Element!Since watching that movie i became a fan of Mila Jovoich! Man she can kick butts!

  3. Thanks for the interview and giveaway!

  4. I think Pitch Black would be my favorite movie. I love Vin Diesal lol.

  5. My favorite Sci-Fic is Star Wars! Ewan McGregor :D

  6. Thanks for participating in the hop and for the giveaway opportunity.

    My favorite sci-fi is Star Trek

  7. My favorite Sci-fi movie? Wow, hard to pick only one. I love the ones mentioned above. I think I can add another favorite though. The Aliens movies. The second movie titled Aliens is my favorite.

    LadyVampire2u AT gmail DOT com

  8. Thank you for this giveaway! This book looks very interesting :)
    I tried entering yesterday but it kept shoing me I hadn't done stuff that I had so I eventually gave up :( But today I have had success :)
    Only, I'm still having problems with my tweets, have tagged you in the tweet because I wasn't able to post the URL!!

    Thanks Jean <3

  9. Thank you for the giveaway! Sent a friend request on FB to Mike

  10. Star Wars & Star Trek. They're great! Thanks for the giveaway! Gloria

  11. My all time favorite sci-fi movie ever is The Fifth Element!

  12. I don't twitter, so the rafflecopter won't let me read the instructions on leaving a comment, but since everyone else is talking about their favorite sci-fi movie, I guess that's what I'll do. Since I'm a major sci-fi geek, it's hard to pick just one, but I'll go with the original Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

    drainbamaged.gyzmo at gmail.com

  13. Thanks for the giveaway. My favourite sci-fi movie is Star Wars

  14. Great interview. Ashfall is a wonderful book, thanks for the giveaway, I really wish to have it on my hands! My fav Sci-Fi movie is Avatar! I can watch it everyday!

  15. thsnk for the hop and have great holiday
    desi rthe blonde @ msn .com

  16. The First Star Wars movie that ever came out! I can't remember when it came out but I sat through it twice in the theater that day. Mainly because the adults I was with wanted to, but also b/c my sister hated it!! Oh, I saw Avatar up there, I love that one too. I watch it every time it's on HBO over and over. I see you.

    Great interview with Mike. I must read Ashfall. Really. I've been a twitter follower of his since before it came out.

    Thanks for letting me know about the giveaway!


  17. Wow! That's a hard one! I guess Star Wars but I also love Jurassic Park, Avatar, Star Trek, Independence Day.... Thanks for the giveaway and for participating in this blog hop!


  18. Thanks for the giveaway. I enjoyed the interview.


  19. omg thank you so much for the giveaway, ive heard nothing but amazing things about this book!!!
    STAR WARS!!!!!

  20. i love the movie contact!

    madamerkf at aol dot com

  21. So sorry I missed this giveaway.

    This sounds like a fabulous book! I enjoyed the interview too. The part where Mike's wife was reading the chapter out loud and crying was priceless. (When he said 'bad husband' he made me laugh!

  22. Oh - and I forgot to mention... I love the nostalgic Thanksgiving photos. :)