Greetings, all who
spend their workdays reside in Forever Young Adultland! Today we've managed to nab a conversation with Mike Mullin, author of Ashfall. In my review, I credited this book for giving me some major stress attacks and gaining a few pounds due to the fact that there's no such thing as pizza after the apocalypse. But it also had awesome protagonists, and a realistic (I imagine) world demise. And safe sex!
After talking with the author, I've gotten even more excited about this book, because man, the research that went into it! But also, aaahhh! Volcanoes!
For those of you who don't already know him personally, Mike Mullin has had an interesting and varied work history before finding his niche as a writer. He's done everything from scraping gum off of desks to eating termites to getting occasionally swarmed by wasps, and he also holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. So without further ado, I give you Mike Mullin!
THE BOOK RELATED QUESTIONS
This book was SO SCARY. How much research did you put into volcanoes, and how long the world's food supply would last, tanning hides, etc.?
I had an interest in volcanoes before I started, 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. There's a more detailed discussion of the geology behind Ashfall on the Our Time in Juvie blog.
As far as the hide-tanning scene, I wrote that partly from memory and partly from research. I went through a phase as a teenager during which I was intensely interested in primitive living. At one point, I went into the woods with a knife and the clothes on my back and came out three days later, dirty, hungry, but otherwise no worse for the wear. During this period I first tried tanning animal hides, with mixed results.
The effects of a global grain-price shock were amply demonstrated during the 2007-2008 crisis, which was precipitated by a drought in Russia. All I had to do was imagine how much worse the sudden destruction of 20% of the world's grain supply would be.
You're not helping my fears about this only being fiction...
I know nothing about Taekwondo, but obvs. as someone who holds a black belt, you do. How realistic, exactly, were Alex's fights?
I act out every move I write, in an effort to make sure that my fight scenes are realistic. This is mildly embarrassing when I'm writing in a coffee shop and need to, say, check to make sure the most natural move out of a right inner crescent kick is a reverse left sidekick, for example. (I actually did this in Panera Bread recently to test a fight scene for Ashen Winter, the sequel to Ashfall. Luckily, people are very tolerant of eccentric behavior when you explain that you're a novelist.)
I've occasionally been criticized for writing very short fight scenes, to which I answer, that's real. Real fights aren't like the movies, or sparring matches, or schoolyard brawls. The first unblocked strike will usually end a fight. A solid groin strike can kill a man, not to mention being excruciatingly painful, which is why they're illegal in all sport fighting.
We love discussing what we'd do in case of the apocalypse at my house. What would you do if something like the super volcano erupted?
First, I'd find Margaret. Because if we're both going to die, I want to die beside her. Beyond that, I know my odds of surviving a supervolcano are very low: I'm too old and the wrong sex. In famine conditions, women fare much better than men---they start with a third less muscle mass and higher body fat on average, so they both need less food and have a higher reserve. Similarly, people older than 35 tend to die off fast---we're not essential to the preservation of the species, after all. So my goal after a supervolcano would be to die in a way consistent with my values, a way that helps the younger generation survive and rebuild.
Wow. That is way kinder and more realistic than my usual 'gather weapons and figure out a way to get lots of food'. Also, good to know that we women are built to last in a famine. I think.
THE YA QUESTIONS
If your real life adolescence was a YA book...What would you, the main character, be like?
I was a horribly awkward, nerdy teenager. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
This picture... Is AMAZING. It's begging for a movie! Also, if you'd only been a teenager now, you'd have been asked to model for American Apparel!
Who is your secret crush?
Stephanie who sat in front of me in Calculus. She didn't know, or maybe chose not to acknowledge, that I existed.
What is your number #1 source of angst?
My peers. I was just completely clueless about how to find a place for myself in high school. I fled to Brazil for my junior year, and things got better.
At what point would the reader pump his/her fist in victory?
Maybe when I attended an English class in Brazil. Afterward, I went up to this incredibly outgoing, sexy student and started a conversation. I was sweating bullets, but I did it. We dated for two years, and even took a trip through Italy and Switzerland together.
That is a TOTALLY victorious high school moment!
And who would play you in the film adaptation?
Paul Rust or Michael Cera?
THE SLUMBER PARTY QUESTIONS
What is your secret power?
I break concrete blocks with my bare hands. It's not really a secret though.
What is your #1 favorite food?
Churrasco, which is a sort of Brazilian barbeque. I developed a taste for it in Brazil, but now there's a churrascaria within walking distance of my house.
Tell me about your area of expertise.
I'm a really good cook. And I'm good at eating. I guess I'll be the craft service boy at the Forever YA slumber party.
I am also good at eating! You can definitely run craft services at the slumber party!
If you could assemble your own Ocean's 11 of fictional characters, who would you pick and why?
Ree from Winter's Bone, with her chainsaw. Katsa from Graceling. Katniss from I really don't have to tell you this, do I. Andrea from Two Moon Princess. D.J. from Dairy Queen, with her football pads. Hmm, maybe I should choose some guys. On second thought, nah. Amelia from The Vespertine because knowing the future might be helpful. Claire from Claire de Lune---we don't want to discriminate against the werewolves, after all---they bite! Sadie from BZRK because she's tough as titanium and fabulously rich. Hermione for her brains and loyalty. Lucy for her heart. And Galadriel because, well, elven queen!
This would be the most amazing group of ladies ever gathered to perform a heist. Or anything else.
What is your best karaoke song?
I can sing anything William Hung can, but even worse.
So we'll just stick with the slumber party then?
Tell me something scandalous!
When I was in Brazil, my girlfriend and I went to a party. We were dancing when the power went out, which was fairly common in Cuiaba, where I lived. It was pitch black, and she pressed up against me, and in seconds we were, um, getting hot and bothered in the middle of a room packed with people. Then the lights came back on. And I was making out with the wrong girl.
HOLY CRAP! THAT IS THE BEST BEST BEST STORY EVER!!!!!! You NEED to write a book about your YA self!
What is your favorite adult beverage?
Wow, that recipe... filing for future. Thank you, Jody Sparks!
What book have you read the most number of times?
The Chronicles of Narnia. I got the boxed set for Christmas when I was in fourth grade. I read the whole series eleven times that year (I kept track with hash marks inside the front covers). I've read it at least three more times since.
My favorite part about this whole interview is that your 9-year old self made hash marks for the number of times you read a book. That is a kid I'd want to adopt.
Who is your "freebie"?
Katrina Law (my wife's is Viggo Mortensen)
Let me commend your wife's taste in freebies.
YA authors are so cool. Who would you give a BFF charm to?
Michael Grant: he's both a fearless badass and a nice guy.
If you were invited to the FYA slumber party (and obvs, you ARE), what is the most crucial snack food and/or movie/or anything you'd bring?
Something homemade. Maybe chocolate/oatmeal no-bake cookies or a crockpot of chili.
Excellent! We need to plan this slumber party ASAP! Also, we'll need you to bring your wife to take your place at the party, since you'll be manning the craft table. Because she sounds like an excellent lady.
And now it's time for everybody's favorite fortune telling game, MASH! Mike gave us his top 3 picks for each category, and we added in 1 'bad' pick, chose a random number, and found his future!
A S H
Margaret, Margaret, Margaret (seriously, I'm married to the right person. I wouldn't trade her for anyone.) But if I have to play for real . . .
Margaret (you convinced us)
# of Kids
2 feline "children"
2 adopted children
Porsche 550 Spyder
Hmm, somehow I think there's a mismatch between my career choices and car choices. Oh, well.
I don't care what American Apparel says, this haircut and pair of glasses is way cooler.
Well, Mike, you obviously did something right! Enjoy living in that mansion with your one true love and no kids to bother with! And thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!
You can visit Mike's site!