I’m stoked to be a part of this fabulous tour that Fiktshun and Two Chicks On Books have put together. Today, I’m hosting one of my most favorite authors who wrote a book that is in at least one of my top 10 book ever. If you haven’t read it, do so! It’s fantastic. So let’s go meet this incredible mastermind!
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 hoping this writing thing works out.
Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife and her three cats. ASHFALL is his first novel.
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.
Interview with Mike Mullin
The idea for Ashfall started with another book—Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I found it on a display at Central Library in downtown Indianapolis. 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 after I read it, 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 remains from that draft? Ashfall.
Q. Tell us about Captain Poopy’s Sewer Adventures? Yes, I
stalked read your bio!
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, Dav Pilkey beat me to publication with Captain Underpants, although I still spell better than he does. (You don’t see me typing Mik Mullin, do you?) I’ve been writing ever since.
Q. Ashfall deals with the Yellowstone supervolcano and an incredibly realistic aftermath of its eruption – what kind of research did you have to do on the subject? Is it likely to happen anytime soon? *Looks at you in fear*
No, the Yellowstone supervolcano is extremely unlikely to erupt during our lifetime. So you can stop looking at me like that. It will erupt again, but nobody knows when. Occasionally you hear someone claim that since the last three eruptions were 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago, it’s “overdue” for another eruption. That’s bunk—the eruption preceding the last three was 4.2 million years ago, and the average interval of the volcano’s caldera-forming eruptions over the last 17 million years has been closer to 120,000 years. The good news is that even 120,000 years is such a long time in comparison to a human lifespan that you’ll probably be long dead when Yellowstone erupts again.
I had an interest in volcanoes before I started writing ASHFALL, but it was the sort of ‘look, shiny!’ kind of interest lots of people have in Mother Nature’s most impressive temper tantrums. I definitely didn’t know enough to write ASHFALL without a ton of research.
I started by reading all the books I could find on the subject. Greg Breining’s Supervolcano: The Ticking Time Bomb beneath Yellowstone National Park was particularly useful as was Savino and Jones’s Supervolcano: The Catastrophic Event that Changed the Course of Human History. You can find many of the sources I used on my website. Online resources like the United States Geological Survey and Wikipedia were helpful as well.
From there, I delved into primary sources, reading many of the scholarly articles cited in the secondary sources I read. I found several relevant articles in The Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. I visited the Indiana University Geology Library in Bloomington during this phase, passing myself off as Margaret Mullin (my wife, who is a doctoral student) so I could check out books.
I got stuck at one point during the writing process. The solution: road trip! My wife and I took off for a week in romantic Iowa. We drove every step of the route Alex takes through northern Iowa and Illinois. Many of the scenes in ASHFALL were created as a direct result of our trip. Later, I flew to Portland to relearn cross-country skiing and visit Mt. St. Helens.
Finally, I sent a manuscript to two geologists and made numerous changes based on their suggestions.
Q. If it were to erupt tomorrow, would you survive? What’s your survival plan?
No, I wouldn’t survive. And I live in Indiana, where things would initially be much better than in Iowa, where Alex starts.
The super volcano I depict in ASHFALL would directly kill hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. But the bigger death toll would be from global starvation and disease in its wake. Twenty percent of the world’s grain supply is produced in the United States, primarily in areas that would be buried in ash. Globally, we have less than a 60-day supply of stored grain. Starvation would reach epidemic levels very quickly following a supervolcano eruption.
In thinking about who would survive and how, I found this research on the Donner party very useful. I have two strikes against me: I’m too old, and I’m male. Being female roughly doubles your odds of survival in a starvation situation. Women start out with an average of a third less muscle mass and higher body fat than men. So they both need fewer calories to survive and have a greater reserve.
Being between the ages of 6 and 35 also roughly doubles your odds, and I’m past that. (Only by a day or two . . . maybe. Ha!) The other thing that roughly doubles your odds is having family close. While my wife and I are lucky enough to have both sets of parents in town, they’re obviously even older than we are.
My odds aren’t good. So I don’t spend any time preparing for a global-scale disaster. My wife and I do have a plan about where to meet if we’re separated, but that’s about it. If the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts tomorrow, my goal will be to try to live the short remainder of my life in a way that helps the younger generation survive and rebuild.
Q. Like Alex, you’re leaving in this ashfall, and you can only bring a backpack worth of supplies. What’s in it?
I don’t think about this much—if an ashfall is bad enough to hit Indiana, I’m not likely to survive it anyway. I’d rather spend my time writing than prepping for a disaster that’s extremely unlikely to happen.
But, just for fun, here’s how I’d think about what to pack. I’d prioritize the things that could kill me fastest. So my first worry is protecting myself from exposure. Hypothermia can kill you in less than an hour. Hyperthermia is equally dangerous, if a little slower to kill. To prevent hyperthermia, you need a lot of water, which brings me to the next potential killer—thirst. Lack of potable water can kill within a week while dying of starvation normally takes at least a month. For an ashfall, you need to protect your eyes and lungs. Ash is microscopically fine and sharp, so it can scratch your corneas, and, if inhaled in sufficient quantity, cause silicosis, a deadly lung disease. Next I would prioritize medical supplies, and then, finally, food. If I have a choice, I’d pack dried foods—rice, beans, and such. They pack a lot more calories per pound than canned or fresh food.
So here’s a rough list off the top of my head. I’m limiting myself to stuff I know I have on hand and putting it in approximate priority order.
2 sets of weather-appropriate clothing, including a hat.
All the N-95 dust masks in the house.
Ski or swim goggles (whichever I can find first—I’m not sure where they are)
Heavy-duty plastic tarp
Hatchet (for cutting wood and self-defense)
Plumber’s spark lighter (for starting fires)
Every plastic water-bottle in the house
Pan for boiling water and cooking
Bleach for water purification
All the aspirin, antiseptic ointment, vitamins, and other medicine in my cabinet
All the rice, beans, nuts, pasta, and dried fruit in the house.
Coil of ¼ nylon rope
Thread and sewing needle
Blade for a bow saw
I probably missed something crucial, so please don’t rely on this list in a real disaster.
Q. Except for the Ashfall series, do you have plans/ideas for future books you can tell us about?
I can hardly sit down to write without having a colorful new idea butterfly flutter by and try to distract me. I deal with these butterflies by opening a new file, typing everything I know about the new idea, and then returning to the work I’m supposed to be doing. As a consequence, I have two or three dozen ideas for new books stored on my computer. When I finish the final book in the ASHFALL trilogy, I’ll write whichever of those ideas seems most worthy of a year of my time. Some of them are science fiction, others fantasy, realistic fiction, thrillers, or mysteries. The one thing they all have in common is that they have the potential to be really exciting young adult novels.
Q. What’s on your reading this this fall?
I’ve scored ARCs of several of the fall books I’ve been looking forward to and read them already. Rae Carson’s Crown of Embers and Antony John’s Elemental are both incredible. It’ll be hard for the fall season to top this spring, though. It seems to be the year of fabulous books with blue covers: The Fault in Our Stars, Bitterblue, and Wonder all made my all-time favorites list. 2012 was the first year I’ve ever added three new books to that list.
Thanks for inviting me to participate in your Authors Are Rockstars Tour. Rock on!
Drop by Xpresso Reads on October 5th for the Ashen Winter blog tour!
Thanks to Fiktshun and Two Chicks on Books for hosting this fabulous tour!