Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that writing was not just a hobby.
About ten years ago, I had just gotten fired from the latest in a series of jobs I hated, and I turned to my wife and said something like, “I’m going to write a book and sell it!” She replied with something like, “Fine, whatever, just do something!”

So, I wrote a young adult horror novel called HEART’S BLOOD. It never sold because it SUCKED! Oh, my god, it was bad. But I learned a lot from writing it, drastically simplified my approach, and the next book I wrote was ASHFALL.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
The best Christmas gift I ever got was a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia. I was having a terrible time in school, hating every minute of it, and those books helped me cope.

I had the horrible teacher, Mrs. Walsh, who thought that the best way to teach reading was to lecture us ad nauseum about reading. I was bored out of my skull. So I read The Chronicles of Narnia under my desk. One day I got caught and heard Mrs. Walsh shriek, “Michael, if you’re just going to read in my class, you can do it out in the hall!” I calmly got up, walked out to the study carrels in the hall, and spent the rest of the day reading The Horse and His Boy. Best day of school evah!

In your new book; SURFACE TENSION, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
Sure, it’s about Jake, a 17-year-old who is on the cusp of becoming a professional bike racer. He’s out training ridiculously early one morning and sees a group of men, who turn out to be terrorists, causing a plane crash from the ground. Jake is the only one who knows how they’re crashing planes, and the terrorists want him dead.

Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
For a long time, I thought I shouldn’t tell this story. I thought of a really devious way to cause a plane crash. I told my brother, Paul, who is an electrical engineer, physicist, and all-around mechanical genius about my idea. His response was, “Don’t write that book. I want to fly again.”

But the idea kept percolating at the back of my mind, and it provided a great opportunity to tell some of my own stories—like Jake, I wanted to be a bike racer and trained endlessly as a teenager. (Unlike him, I didn’t have the lung capacity or physical attributes to have a hope of turning pro.) Eventually, the book more or less demanded to be written.

What was the most magical thing that happened while creating your characters?
SURFACE TENSION went through 17 major revisions, transforming radically along the way. The character who changed and developed most as I kept redrafting the book was Betsy, the lead terrorist’s daughter. At first, she was just a nameless assassin. But early readers found her fascinating and more-or-less demanded to know more. After the first seven or eight drafts, I finally gave her a voice of her own in the story. And that voice kept expanding as I redrafted the book, ultimately making up about a third of the final story.

What part of Jake did you enjoy writing the most?

I love mining my own teenage memories for material. Much of Jake’s early life is borrowed from my history. The car crash where Jake gets thrown onto the hood of a massive Buick, and his feeling of riding on an endless expanse of maroon sheet metal is something that happened to me when I was fourteen or fifteen. (If you’re ever driving a car and find a cyclist on your hood, please coast to a stop if you can. I was hurt worse by being thrown off the hood when the driver slammed on the brakes, than I was by the initial impact.) Similarly, the fourth-grade bike race is something I actually organized and competed in when I was ten.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m working on a fourth ASHFALL book right now. Once that’s finished, I may write a companion novel to SURFACE TENSION or something else entirely.

Any new and exciting books that you would like to share?
I just tore through Cinda Williams Chima’s Flamecaster and Shadowcaster. Her work is always amazing, but she’s at the top of her game in this latest series. My wife and I own all three books in the series, but she’s still reading Stormcaster. I won’t get my mitts on it until she’s finished. It probably doesn’t help that as she reads I’m standing beside her chanting, “Read faster, read faster!”

What is your biggest fear?
Losing my mental abilities. I spent a lot of time about fifteen years ago sitting beside my grandmother’s bed talking to her about playing basketball in high school in the 1920s because she’d lost the ability to remember anything more recent.

I’m grateful beyond words that I sucked at football and never competed. The risk of brain damage from concussions is way too high for my comfort. I’m a maniac about wearing a helmet when I bike. And I’m working to develop eating and exercise habits to keep my brain healthy as I get older. I think I could handle physical incapacity, although I know it would be difficult. Mental incapacity terrifies me, though.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I’d only go back two weeks, to the beginning of the last vacation my wife (Margaret) and I took. We drove to Minnesota and took a week-long trip in The Boundary Waters, right on the Canadian border. In one sense, it was the worst vacation we’ve ever taken together. It rained four of the seven days. We ran out of propane and water purification tablets. We missed two portages and wound up dragging our heavily-loaded canoe through some of the craziest rapids and roughest terrain I’ve ever seen. I carried a seventy-pound canoe down a waterfall on my shoulders. We both got bitten by mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and at least two other insects neither of us could identify. We rolled the canoe, and all our gear got wet. (It’s the first time we’ve ever dumped a canoe, by the way; we’re both excellent canoeists.) Our canoe sprung a leak, and we had to bail to keep it afloat.

Despite all that, it was glorious. We persevered through all those obstacles. We built fires to boil our water. We laughed at our misfortune when, after dragging ourselves, the canoe, and our gear packs down some rapids, we found a nearly impassable thicket of fallen trees around a bend at the bottom. On day four as twilight fell, we were lost, wet, cold, tired, and probably ten miles from the nearest other human being. So we pitched a camp, made dinner, warmed up a bit, and figured it out the next morning.

I already knew that Margaret is one of the toughest human beings I’ve ever met, but this brought it home to me in a visceral way. I got to see her laugh at my stupid jokes as I pulled ticks off her with a tweezers. I watched in awe while she yanked three sodden 70 lb. packs out of our flooded canoe and tossed them onto the shore. (I was swimming to retrieve the one that was floating away.) She lit my socks on fire while she was drying them on rocks by a fire I’d built. (I’m keeping those socks forever!) And we got to spend time together in a way we rarely do at home—with no cell phones, computers, email, or other distractions of the modern world. We went days without even seeing another person.

I came out of the experience with a renewed appreciation for just how far up I married. And I fervently hope that there are many more utterly miserable vacations in our future.

If you wrote a journal entry today, what would it say?

It would probably be a bunch of panicked notes on the order of: OMG, I’m a day late on my interview for Jean that I’ve already delayed once. Will she ever forgive me? And a Skype visit I promised a teacher I really like isn’t on my calendar—I hope that doesn’t conflict with anything else! And so on….

Who was your first girlfriend?
Selene Carter

Tell me about your first kiss.
I don’t remember the specifics of it—just the feelings. An overwhelming sense of longing, like the longing for air and light when you’re being rolled under a large wave. A sense of wonder. I also remember feeling confused—what do I do next? What does she want or expect? What happens next? How does this all work?

I feel very lucky to have grown up in the pre-Internet era. That sense of wonder and confusion, of discovering an unknown territory, is largely missing today. We’ve ripped all the mystery away from romance and sex, and we’ve lost something in the process, I fear.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?

I often think about what I’m going to write or do the next day. I think this focuses my subconscious, and sometimes leads to a great idea the next morning.

What did you do for your last birthday?
Went to Fogo de Chao, a churrascaria in Indianapolis with Margaret.

Where can readers find you?
Start at mikemullinauthor.com. All my social media accounts are linked there. Be sure to sign up for my mailing list. I’ll even send you a free ASHFALL cookbook as a thank you.

In no particular order:

1. Jake (SURFACE TENSION) – In the early drafts of the book, he had a sister named Heather. I cut her and gave all her roles to Laurissa. Which sounds a little squicky now that I think about it, but actually it worked out great.

2. Laurissa (SURFACE TENSION) – Admires Thurgood Marshall more than any other person outside her family, and she aspires to become a lawyer like him.

3. Betsy (SURFACE TENSION) – Loves target shooting with pistols, but dislikes large caliber guns, since they’re more difficult for her to control and therefore less accurate. She’s very competitive about target shooting.

4. Zach (SURFACE TENSION) – He’s the character whose bike-riding skills are most similar to mine. I had a friend, Dave Riggs, when I was a teen who was a far better racer than I.

5. Betsy’s father (SURFACE TENSION) – Is partly based on a real person I met on a Boy Scout trip when I was a teenager. The real person had the same profession as Betsy’s father and, sadly, the same set of prejudices.

6. Alex (ASHFALL) – Ordinary things he misses most from before the volcano: pizza, Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Ice Cream, and blue sky.

7. Darla (ASHFALL) – Is based partly on my wife (Margaret), partly on my cousin (Hannah, who lives on a dairy farm in Wisconsin), and partly on my brother (Paul, the electrical engineer).

8. Target (ASHFALL) – Is based on the story of Polythemus from The Odyssey, although I didn’t realize I was retelling a version of that story while I was writing it.

9. Spork (ASHFALL) – Got his nickname due to an extreme love of KFC.

10. Uncle Paul, Aunt Caroline, Max & Anna (ASHFALL) – Are based in part on my real brother’s family, who live on a small farm where they used to raise goats, ducks, and kale. (Now it’s pigs, turkeys, goats and kale.)

After witnessing an act of domestic terrorism while training on his bike, Jake is found near death, with a serious head injury and unable to remember the plane crash or the aftermath that landed him in the hospital.

A terrorist leader’s teenage daughter, Betsy, is sent to kill Jake and eliminate him as a possible witness. When Jake’s mother blames his head injury for his tales of attempted murder, he has to rely on his girlfriend, Laurissa, to help him escape the killers and the law enforcement agents convinced that Jake himself had a role in the crash.

Mike Mullin, author of the Ashfall series, delivers a gripping story with memorable characters and all-too-real scenarios.

You can purchase Surface Tension at the following Retailers:

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


  1. I can't wait for this book!! The most horrifying dream?? Wow, I have a lot of weird dreams. The one that scared me the most was that I had a dream that my dad dug up a skeleton wearing jewelry in our backyard-- he actually was digging up the backyard at the time, so I think that's why it was so scary... for a second I thought it really had happened.

  2. I've had many horrifying dreams over the years, but the one that's haunted me the most was one I had when I was a kid. I was in a room with a pit in the center. The pit was full of flames and demon looking things were torturing people down there. Just as I was about to be pushed in, I woke up. And was REALLY glad it was just a dream.