Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about the release of Ashfall! Congratulations! Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself- the person behind the writing? (think of this as your bio)
A) I always feel like I’m writing a personals ad when I write about myself. Hi, MMWW (married male white writer) here, seeking PYAN (perfect young adult novel). I’ll obsess over you 24-hours a day, talk about you until my other friends hate you, and alternate between spastic fits of writing and avoiding you with any mind-numbing activity that’s handy, like playing solitaire with a 49-card deck.
When we’re not together, I’ll be reading other novels. (It’s not cheating if all you do is read.) I also like to ride my bicycle, train in taekwondo, and go for long walks in the woods.
Why don’t you tell us about the book?
A) Fifteen-year-old Alex Halprin struggles to survive and find his family after the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupts, plunging the U.S. into a cataclysmic natural disaster.
That won’t fill up the back of the book, will it? Well, let’s see. What else do they usually stick there? How about these:
“In this chilling debut, Mullin seamlessly weaves meticulous details about science, geography, agriculture and slaughter into his prose, creating a fully immersive and internally consistent world scarily close to reality” Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review.
“Mike Mullin’s Ashfall glows and throbs with everyday life and the business of survival in a dystopic future, after an unthinkable disaster.” —Richard Peck, Newbery Medal winning author of A Year Down Yonder.
“Ashfall is a post-apocalyptic gem with a terrifying twist. Get ready to sleep with the lights on because this one’s not about what could happen. It’s about what will happen– and possibly very soon. Riveting!” — Saundra Mitchell
I could keep copy and pasting these, but you get the idea. Visit www.mikemullinauthor.com if you absolutely must read more.
Oh, you asked about genre and word count, too. ASHFALL is a young adult post-apocalyptic novel of 101,000 words.
The first two chapters are available on my website: www.mikemullinauthor.com.
To buy the book, any of the following links >>
What was the inspiration for your novel?
A) Ashfall was conceived in the stacks of Central Library in downtown Indianapolis. Sadly, that’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds. I can’t convince my wife to try that particular trick—she’s smarter than me, as you can no doubt discern.
Anyway, I found Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and checked it out because it’s way too small a book to be a history of nearly everything. I read the section on the Yellowstone supervolcano and was hooked.
What was your favorite part about writing it?
A) I love research. I like trying to get every little detail of my novels as close to correct as I can. I read everything I could lay my hands on about volcanoes, disasters, and failing societies. You can see a few of the references I used on my website. I got about two-thirds of the way through the first draft and got stuck. So my wife and I went on a road trip, tracing every step of Alex’s journey through northern Iowa and Illinois. Nearly every location, street name, and town in ASHFALL is a real place—I just transformed them horribly in my imagination for the novel.
What was the hardest part?
A) My weakness is writing emotion. I’m a huge fan of Suzanne Collins and Lauren Oliver because they do it so well. The first draft of ASHFALL was 92,000 words. When I’d cut the boring parts and excess verbiage, it dropped to 85,000 words. As I was searching for an agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich generously provided some feedback: there wasn’t enough feeling in the book—the reader wasn’t deep enough in Alex’s head.
I used The Hunger Games as a mentor text, rereading it three times and taking copious notes on how Collins injects feeling into her writing. When I rewrote ASHFALL, I added more backstory, internal monologue and physical reactions, expanding the manuscript to close to its final length of 101,000 words.
Now I’m struggling with the same problem in ASHEN WINTER, the sequel. Sigh. You’d think I would learn, wouldn’t you?
Can you tell us what the road to being published has been like for you?
A) Twenty four agents rejected ASHFALL at some stage of the process: query, partial, or full. I’m still not represented by a literary agent. But I did find Tanglewood Press, a wonderfully supportive small publisher. If you’ve got a kick-butt children’s manuscript, I highly recommend them. Here’s their submissions page.
Here’s the query I used:
Before the disaster, Alex Halprin was a typical teenager: he spent his time arguing with his mom, worrying about his lame social life or training in taekwondo. He never expected that the colossal volcano at Yellowstone would erupt, transforming the U.S. into a hellish land of darkness, ash and hunger.
He never expected to be fighting just to stay alive.
When it happened, Alex was home alone in Cedar Falls, Iowa—his parents were visiting an uncle in Illinois. A confrontation with a gang of violent looters convinced Alex to leave his hometown and trek across Iowa in a dangerous quest to rejoin his family.
Do not read unless you are absolutely hooked and still want to buy the book 😉
Now, two weeks later, he’s bleeding from a hatchet wound and starving—ready to give up. He stumbles into a barn, looking for a sheltered spot where he can die in peace. Instead, he meets Darla. At first, she sees him as nothing more than a freeloader. But when her mother is killed by escaped convicts, Darla must partner with Alex to survive. Together, they confront desperate refugees, the volcanic winter and a corrupt government.
At every step of their journey Alex and Darla face difficult choices: can they afford compassion, trust or love in a world increasingly consumed by brutality and self-interest?
ASHFALL should appeal to readers who enjoyed Suzanne Collins’s dystopian adventures, Gary Paulsen’s survival stories or realistic disaster novels such as Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It.
I’ve worked for Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore as a buyer, school and library salesperson, store manager and marketing consultant for over twenty years. I’m also a member of the SCBWI.
What advice do you have for others joining you on this rocky road?
Read. Read more. No, read more than that. You read to learn your craft and to learn whether you’re doing original work or not. Read everything you can in your genre, then read some work outside your genre. Carry a book or e-reader everywhere. The minutes spend waiting here and there during the course of a day add up to a lot of reading time. Unless you’re writing television scripts, turn off the boob tube. Better yet, throw a brick at it. It’s cathartic.
Just to give you an idea, here’s a shot of my to-be-read pile on August 19th:
If you can’t get enough of Mike Mullin you can follow him in the following locations: