YA Author Interview: Mike Mullin

While many in our community have merged themselves into the mayhem of Superbowl festivities, I’m hunkering down, calling it a Jammies day, and just maybe I’ll get the first-chapter rewrite polished up enough to send to my critique group. Where they’ll destruct it and I’ll say thank you. We call ourselves the cannibals for a couple of reasons. We are ruthless in our critiques. And Mike likes things that are gross. Not the taste of people, but read his book, Ashfall, and you’ll know what I mean.

But, just because he’s into the gross and violent, doesn’t mean he’s that way. He’s very nice. He even let me interview him here on Sparks and Butterflies. His debut, young adult novel is selling like hotcakes and was picked as one of the top 5 young adult novels in 2011, by NPR.

Here’s a synopsis:

Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.

Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter.  When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.

Awesome premise. Fast-paced read. Mike knows what dudes want in a book! Here’s what I had to know about him and his book:

Jody: How long do you think you’d survive the ashfall? Be honest. I’d make it to chapter 7 (which for the main character is next door) and die of fear.

Mike: I’d probably make it past chapter 7. I’ve never witnessed anything quite as horrible as what I write about in Chapter 7, but I’ve been in violent situations before—seen my own blood and bones—and I’ve been able to stay calm and continue thinking. I’d probably die during the trek out of Cedar Falls. People older than 35 don’t fare well in disaster situations. We’re not essential to the preservation of the species, after all. I’d probably get sick, or my lack of aerobic conditioning would catch up to me, and I’d die a hacking, wheezy, death of pneumonia or something similar.

Jody: In high school, what grade did you get in weather?

Mike: Um.

Jody: That’s not a class?

Mike: No.

Jody: How about Geography? Social Studies? Science?

Mike: My high school grades are easy for me to remember. Every subject. Freshman and Sophomore year, I got ‘A’s in everything. Junior year, I flunked out. I’m pretty sure I took Biology, Physics, and Chemistry during my first two years and aced them. If I remember correctly, I flunked out of Organic Chemistry and Physics II. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work: I just didn’t care.

Jody: Describe your teenage self.

Mike: Incredibly maladjusted and incurably nerdy. My peers were a foreign country to me, one whose shoreline promised both riches and headhunting cannibals. I coasted along that beach for two years without landing or learning anything useful, and then I gave up. I spent a year in Brazil as a youth exchange student, and rather than returning to high school when I came back, I took the G.E.D. and went straight to college.

Jody: See? Cannibals. Sounds like you need to participate in Self-Deprecating Sunday. Yeah?

Mike: Sure. Why not?

Jody: Awesome! See you back in two days. Now on with the interview. What would you miss most during an ashfall?

Mike: The toilet.

Jody: That’s not a luxury.

Mike: Ha! I take it you’ve never dug a pit toilet. Or trudged to an outhouse when it’s below zero outside.

Jody: That is true.

Mike: If the plumbing quits working, we have two choices: 1) Defecate wherever and suffer the disease that will result, or 2) Dig pit toilets, trenches, etc. and tend them: digging new ones as necessary, adding layers of dirt and lime, etc.

Some readers have wondered why ASHFALL spends considerable time on bathroom issues—a subject most novels avoid. I wrote those scenes specifically to help readers internalize how different the world would be after this kind of disaster—even something we take for granted, like a decent place to urinate—becomes a challenge.

Jody: That’s another reason I wouldn’t make it past Chapter 7. Okay, random question pulled from the Internet: Grab the book nearest you, turn to page 18 and find line four. Recite it. What book is it from?

Mike: “He could go without breakfast, graze at lunch, and barely touch dinner, all while working twelve-hour days of constant activity, and still his weight never fluctuated.” Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Jody: I wish my weight and I were both that disciplined! Now, if I gave you $50 and told you to go have fun spending it, what would you buy? NO BOOKS!

Mike: I’d take Margaret (my wife) to lunch at Fogo de Chao. Fifty bucks wouldn’t quite cover it, but it’s worth the splurge.

Jody: That’s on my list of places to eat in Indianapolis! I’ll try it after the Superbowl maybe. What’s the best or most interesting thing someone’s said about Ashfall?

Mike: “Mullin never shies away from the truth, not once, in this book.”  Intergalactic Academy.

Jody: When’s the sequel come out?

Mike: October 8th! There’ll be a big party on October 7th at Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore. Hope you can make it!

Jody: Will there be a third book?

Mike: The third book is a few pages of random notes right now. I plan to produce a proposal and sell it to Tanglewood Press sometime next month. ASHFALL has sold so well that I don’t foresee any problems with that. I’d like to get it written in time for a 2013 release, but my top priority is to write the best book I can, not just to get it out by 2013. If it slips to 2014, I’m okay with that.

Jody: Sounds great!

Mike: By the way, it’s wonderful to work with a small publisher that shares my values in this regard. I already know that Tanglewood wants to publish the third book and is willing to give me however much time I need to write it. Many of my author friends write to very tight deadlines, so I’m well aware what a luxury it is to be published by Tanglewood.

Jody: Congratulations on getting published and having a great experience with your publisher. Thanks for stopping by, Mike. It was fun.

Mike: Thank you.

If you want to buy a copy of Ashfall, click on any of the links below. And, don’t forget to stop back by on Sunday to see this young adult author as a young adult.

Autographed Copies



Barnes & Noble

Published by jody sparks

Jody Sparks Mugele spent her first career in marketing writing and leading teams of writers and editors. After her son came out as transgender in 2015, she dedicated herself to advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. For two years, she led the Indianapolis regional chapter of PFLAG, a nationally renowned LGBTQ+ advocacy group. She has given many conference talks about parenting trans kids, healthcare in the trans community, and suicidality among LGBTQ+ youth. And with GenderNexus, an Indianapolis-based advocacy organization, she created programming and led support groups to work with parents to help their children through all aspects of gender transition. She recently moved to Northeast Georgia where she is excited to develop opportunities to continue to strongly and proudly advocate for LGBTQ+ members of our society. She also LOVES kitschy Christmas crafting!

5 thoughts on “YA Author Interview: Mike Mullin

  1. Awesome interview Jody & Mike. I didn’t realize Mike is your critique partner Jody. How cool!

    Can’t wait to read Ashfall. The library finally got it and it’s on reserve. I’ll watch for those bathroom scenes. Good luck with your books Mike.

  2. Thanks, Natalie! The sequel, ASHEN WINTER, will be out October 8th. It’s considerably better for Jody’s thoughtful input.

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