Here at the FYA branch in Washington, DC, we have a new hobby. Following our wildly successful Skype date with Sara Zarr, we have decided to stalk authors. Someday, this will come back to bite us in the ass when our story reaches its inevitable conclusion of Megan McCafferty taking a restraining order out on me (MARCUS FLUUUTIIIEEEE!), but for now, everyone we've approached has been graciously amenable to the prospect. We have absolutely no incentive to change our behavior!
So when book-clubber Sue found out that Mike Mullin was going to be in town on his book tour for the fabulous Ashfall, she emailed him to see if he wanted to meet up. He said yes, natch, and last Wednesday night, we found ourselves at a pizza place in Bethesda talking to Mike Mullin about taekwondo, Forever by Judy Blume, and how he was definitely trying to give us all nightmares by making Ashfall so scary.
FYA DC book club with Mike Mullin, all very pleased by half-price sangria night.
If you haven't read Ashfall yet, get on that. I will refrain from spoiling you in the meantime, but here are three things you need to know:
1. The book is about this kid Alex trying to find his family following the catastrophic eruption of the supervolcano at Yellowstone.
2. Alex survives the apocalypse by being totally boss at taekwondo.
3. The premise of this book could actually happen, which is why it's so unsettling. If you read this book, you will probably be afraid of volcanoes forever and ever.
One of the reasons this book is so plausible is that Mike researched the hell out of it while writing. For instance, although he is a black belt in taekwondo now, he had never studied it prior to writing this book! In fact, Alex was originally going to do Brazillian jiu-jitsu, but those classes were too expensive for Mike, so he took taekwondo instead. He also wasn't a black belt until just before the book was published, but he included this non-fact on the book jacket and had to up his game to keep from being a liar.
Another cool thing that came out of his taekwondo classes is the model for Alex! Inwardly, Alex is mostly based on Mike himself, but outwardly, Alex is based on a kid named Ben in his dojang who is really, really good at taekwondo. (Mike was really pleased with himself because last time he sparred with Ben, he only lost 5-2.)
Several other characters are based on real people, or at the very least, named after real people from Mike's life. Alex's gay, gun-toting neighbors are real, and Darla, the primary love interest and the first person I'm looking up when the apocalypse hits, is based on Mike's wife Margaret. I would like to think that this will prevent anything bad from happening to her character, but Mike is ruthless. He was ecstatic when his mother reported that the book had given her nightmares, and he kills off his own nephew in the sequel, Ashen Winter. Luckily, there seems to be some family resemblance there, because his nephew was delighted to hear about his fictional counterpart's tragic demise.
We talked about sources of inspiration for his writing, and although he can identify a few specific examples, like Jericho, Mike often does not know where his ideas come from. He once had a fan point out that his character Target (who minor spoiler is totally a cannibal! Confirmed by Mike Mullin!) is very clearly inspired by Polyphemus, the cyclops in The Odyssey. Mike was surprised to discover that, not only was this fan 100% correct, but that there was a part of his brain unconsciously inserting long-forgotten mythology from high school literature class into his writing.
Following dinner, Megan no h and I decided that we definitely needed to trek to the "nearby" Barnes and Noble to have Mike sign books for us. Unfortunately, nearby turned out to be about eight blocks away, a distance that seems to span the entire continent after three to four glasses of sangria (half price sangria night ftw!) and only a small salad for dinner. But at long last, we made it to the bookstore.
Prospects looked dim as we rode the escalator down to the YA section and spotted three full aisles of "Teen Paranormal Romance." At the help desk, our worst fears were confirmed: this Barnes and Noble did not stock Ashfall! We were all extremely upset and felt the need to make our concerns known to the very nice and helpful employee behind the counter. I must commend her for her patience because I fear we overwhelmed the poor woman.
Normally, when I've had a couple drinks, I am a happy, friendly, generally pleasant person, often with the single-minded goal of starting a Robyn dance party. But in a few rare instances, this megabitch, drunk evil twin takes over my body and feels the need to insult everyone and everything around her. Let's call her Mirror Alix. Anyway, Mirror Alix decided to make a cameo at the Bethesda Barnes and Noble last Wednesday, where she heckled some poor staff member about their dearth of Ashfall copies.
"It's a really good book," Mirror Alix told the woman. "It's especially sad you don't stock it because there are many shitty books over there instead," she added, gesturing to the YA section.
Mirror Alix actually said that! Out loud, to another human being! even if the other human works in a crappy store that doesn't stock Ashfall, that is still horrible!Ugh. I can't take her anywhere.
After Mirror Alix had sufficiently insulted all visible store personnel, and the manager promised to order some decent books, we sauntered back to Mike's car. Apparently Mike had some copies of Ashfall in the back, which we gladly took off his hands at our impromptu trunk sale. We also found out what else he stores in his car, which includes a model volcano and a few dozen concrete blocks he uses for BREAKING with his HANDS, because he is just that badass. He even gave a spontaneous and interactive taekwondo demonstration.
Coincidentally, this is exactly what I have in my car!
I guess I should thank the Bethesda Barnes and Noble for their terrible taste, because without their help, we would have never gotten to go to the Ashfall Trunk Sale and Taekwondo Demonstration in a Bethesda parking garage, where I purchased a 1st edition copy signed by the author himself:
It's good that you can own up to your mistakes, Mike.
He also defaced public property by signing someone's library copy, which was pretty great. I believe it says something like, "Dear readers of D.C. I hope you like the book. ~Mike Mullin." And just for fun, here's a picture Sue took of Mike at the library event I could not attend because Bethesda library rudely schedules their Young Adult programming during Adult business hours:
Mike Mullin could do this to your head, but he's too nice.