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’s Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter
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!
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An amazing interview Giselle/Mike!
I have just read and absolutely loved both Ashfall & Ashen Winter, now impatiently awaiting the third book 😉
Thankyou for sharing.
You know, I have had Ashfall on my kindle for awhile now, and after reading this awesome interview I’m bumoing it up my tbr list! I really never think about the possibilities of the Yellowstone volcano erupting, living in the East Coast of US, makes me feel safe but after reading your response to “If it were to erupt tomorrow, would you survive? What’s your survival plan” Has me a little curious of the whole concept!
Great interview Giselle and Mike!!
Awesome interview!! I loved Ashfall too. It was very realistic and it seems like Mike put tons of time and effort into creating a realistic story! I am super excited for Ashen Winter and can’t wait to read it!!
Awesome interview. I just picked up Ashfall, and I am excited to start it soon. Thank you for sharing the interview.
Jenea @ Books Live Forever
Liesel K Hill
Great interview! And thanks for the review as well. Ashfall looks pretty good. I’ll have to check it out. (Thanks for visiting my blog, Giselle!) 😀 Happy Friday!
I met Mike at BEA and he was so much fun to talk to. I have yet to read his books, but I hope I get around to it soon!
Jenni @ Alluring Reads
bhahaha yes Mike thanks for curing my insomnia as well, it’s all I think about since reading it!! Really great interview, it sounds like writing the novel was quite a journey for Mike and his wife. Great interview!
I love this author! His books are amazing! Awesome post 🙂
an amazing interview you both . i can\t wait for my copy to arrive
Great interview! I really want to read Ashfall, I haven’t read any disaster books but this sounds amazing.
Maggie K @ ReadingDiva Blog
Awesome interview – I have both books in my kindle now and I think I will bump them up in the list. Thanks for sharing.
Love the tour idea! We need more of these!
Nereyda @Mostly YA Book Obsessed
OMG, I saw him at ALA! HE was doing a signing for his upcoming book. I was literally 5 feet away from him but waititng in line to meet Katie McGarry and Kady Cross. By the time I was done with that he was gone 🙁 Great post!
WOOHOO! Great interview Giselle! 😀 I have yet to read Ashfall (tsk tsk) But i’ve seen it everywhere, and from the comments above I can tell it seems reallllly good 😀 Must give it a go! Thanks for the lovely post Muffin-top (:D)
Thank you for a great stop. I read and loved Ashfall. He writes it in a way you can believe this stuff could happen that way.
I love this interview! I think I smiled throughout. I love that author shared that only the word “Ashfall” made it through. And I loved his story about Dav Pilkey and his misspelled name. 🙂
As far as that supervolcano, however, the timespan still has me nervous as I’m thinking half-lifes and 4+ million, 2+, million, 1+ million, 640,000. Which means it’s due right about now using those numbers. *Gulp* BUT, if Mr. Mullin is right and it is 120,000 from now, give or take a decade or two, I do agree that we “probably” won’t be around to witness it.
And I love how well-prepared he is for an ashfall. Aside from the water, knife and spoon I think I have none of those items. Granted, owning a hatchet would tough to justify in Los Angeles.
Anyway… Thank you so much for being a part of this tour! And wow, your top ten list of books to read ever? I’m definitely excited to read both books in the series. And I can’t wait to check out your stop on the Ashen Winter blog tour.
Michelle @ In Libris Veritas
I loved both Ashfall and Ashen Winter, and I can’t wait for the third. I love how much research and detail went into these and how obvious it is when you read them. Mike Mullin is definitely a rockstar.
Awesome review Mike and Giselle! Glad I don’t have to start having an “In the Event of Ashfall” emergency plan.
Enjoyed both Ashfall and Ashen Winter. I’m a real wimp with gore so I did whine in my reviews, but that didn’t stopped me rating them highly! Love all Mike’s characters, and his writing’s so smooth.
Natalia Belikov @ Dazzling Reads
I really want to read Ashfal! but Im waiting for the paperback to come out since they changed the covers =9 I want them all to match! I got an arc of Ashen Winter at BEA and Im excited to get to these books! Ashfall is even got a kirkus starred review! so is totally a must!
I relly liked Mullin’s answer to about the backpack worth of supplies! Gonna keep that in mind when the Zonbie apocalypse arrive XDD
Great post sweetheart <333333333
Two Chicks On Books
Great and insightful interview! I got to meet Mike at ALA and he’s just one of the sweetest authors I’ve ever met and so funny, too. 🙂
Thanks so much for being a part of the tour!
Sara (of the Page Sage)
Awesome interview! I definitely have to pick up Ashfall (:
Mary @ BookSwarm
This book was AWESOME and freaked the hell out of me. I passed it along to my science teacher friends (good women who require their students to read a science-y book…) who loved it and added ASHFALL to their suggested reading list. The research in it was fantastic!
Oh, and I’d die pretty quickly, too. I have very little in the way of survival skills. Mike, YOU are a ROCK star!
Such a wonderful interview!! I haven’t read Ashfall yet, but I have heard endless praise. It definitely sounds like my type of book, so I’ll be picking it up soon hopefully!
This thing with the volcano is so interesting, it makes me want to find out more! Volcanoes have always fascinated me- another reason why I think I would love Ashfall.
Thanks for the fun interview! =)
Nice interview! I’ve got Ashfall on my Audible Wish List — guess I need to move it to the top!
Volcanoes sound so scary! I used to love watching Dante’s Peak. I am a horrible survival person. I would never last. Grabbing food and water would be my first thought but things like eye protection I would never think of. This really sounds like something I should pick up! I actually had no idea what it was about. Thanks for the interview.
Great interview! I’m with everyone else – Mike is such a cool guy (even when he’s not breaking large concrete objects with his bare hands). And ASHEN WINTER is going to cause a whole lot of nightmares, so be warned! (It’s also awesome.)
Great interview. I loved his book. I didn’t knew he did that tour in Iowa, sounds cool!! I’m writing down all of the supplies.. You have to be ready for anything, anytime!!
He’s a ROCKSTAR!! 🙂
I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by abscence?
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