Monday, May 28, 2012

Interview With "Ashfall" Author Mike Mullin!!!!

The Militant Recommender is thrilled to have as its first Author Interview the amazing Mr. Mike Mullin!

I’m thrilled to be here, thanks for inviting me!

Hi there, Mike! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for the Recommender!

It’s my pleasure.

I don't like to give away too much in the reviews I do, as I'm sure most readers love the thrill of a good story evolving without remembering some critic that revealed too much, so these are pretty basic questions.

That’s good; I’ll try to provide basic answers, ha! I’ve had my second cup of coffee already this morning—wait, that’s wrong—it was my third, so we should be okay.

I've read a lot of end of the world themed books, but "Ashfall's" scenario and the suddenness and the realism of the disaster grabbed me right from the start. What gave you the idea of using a supervolcano erupting and its aftermath as the theme of your novel?

The idea for Ashfall started with another book—Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. 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. 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.

Alex is a regular kid, someone readers can easily identify with. He also has a kind of hidden superpower. He holds a black belt in taekwondo and right at the beginning, when he's trapped by his desk, that first comes into play. What was your inspiration for giving Alex those impressive martial arts abilities?

I knew the disaster in Ashfall would be so terrible that my protagonist would have to be a special teenager to survive. And although I love the current crop of dystopian novels, some of them feel more like fantasy than science fiction to me, so I decided to try to differentiate Ashfall by making it intensely realistic. That ruled out magic, superpowers, and vampirism (thank goodness, right?). So I decided Alex should be a martial artist. The only problem: I didn’t know anything about martial arts. At that time, I was reading every book I could find about volcanoes to try to learn enough geology to write Ashfall—I didn’t want to add a huge stack of martial arts books to my to-be-read pile. So I enrolled in taekwondo classes. I enjoyed the classes and stuck with them, finally earning my black belt just before Ashfall was released last year.

 I love that Alex's survival skills kick in and he's smart about adapting to the new reality he's faced with, like using the skis to get around. How did you conceptualize these adaptations?

Many of my ideas came from my reading. Somewhere I read about a volcanologist who relies on snowshoes to traverse fresh ash more easily. It seemed more plausible that Alex could find a pair of skis than snowshoes, so I made Alex’s dad an ex-cross-country skier.

The parts of the book that relate to outdoor survival and primitive living come from my personal experience. I was intensely interested in survival as a teenager—I even spent three days in the woods with nothing but a knife and the clothes on my back once. Now I prefer to stay in hotels instead of improvised shelters, but I remember what it’s like to skin a rabbit and tan its hide.

 Darla is one of the most impressive female characters to appear in YA literature. She's tough, smart, has amazing mechanical know how and also has a softer, sweet side. She's not just Alex's girlfriend, but a complete and complex character in her own right. Was she based on anyone you knew in real life?

Yes. Darla is largely based on my wife, Margaret.  She’s just as tough, smart, and loyal as Darla. Sadly, she can’t fix our cars. That would save a lot of money on repair bills! When I need Darla to do something mechanical, I call my brother Paul, who is an electrical engineer. He’s the mechanical part of Darla’s brain that my wife and I both lack.

I couldn't put "Ashfall" down and I kept wondering how everything was going to wrap up... and now that I've had the pleasure of  reading a preview of "Ashen Winter" ... I know a lot more of the story. Will this be a trilogy... or are you taking the story further? Fans want to know!

I planned Ashfall as a trilogy from the beginning—roughing out a story arc for three books before I even began writing the first. I’ve sold the final book to Tanglewood Press, and I’m currently working on writing it. I’m also working on a short story about everything that happens to Darla between the supervolcano eruption and when she meets Alex. When both those projects are finished, I plan to move on to one the many other novel ideas clamoring for my attention.

And, finally, this is such a visual world that you've created. Any calls from Hollywood asking you to write a screenplay?

Tanglewood Press is trying to sell movie rights to Ashfall. So far, they haven’t had any takers, but if the books continue to sell as well as they have, I imagine that may change.

Thanks for interviewing me for The Militant Recommender—I deeply appreciate your enthusiasm and support!
More info for fans of  "Ashfall" :
Mike's Bio

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. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.

Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter.  When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.


The first two chapters are available on my website: You may reprint the first two chapters in whole or in part on your website so long as you do not charge anyone anything to access them.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Code Name: Classic!

Sometimes a book comes along that is so transcendent, so destined to become a classic that it gives you the chills just writing about it. I knew nothing about "Code Name Verity" by Elizabeth Wein before I read it, and once you pick up a copy, be forewarned, you will not be able to put it down.
 Set in WW ll Great Britain and later, France, this is the story of two young women,  Maddie, a girl from Manchester who learns to be an ace motorcycle mechanic at her grandfather's repair shop and later an ace pilot flying an assortment of beautifully described aircraft for Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary, and the "Verity" of the story, a girl from an aristocratic family brought up in a castle in Scotland and as the book opens, a prisoner in the hands  of a ruthless Gestapo leader. I won't spoil the how and why of this situation with details you, as a reader, should learn for yourself!
You will come to care as deeply for these two courageous women as they come to care for each other. “It's like being in love, discovering your best friend,” one girl
quotes on the delight of their sharing some pretty amazing adventures together. Many under unimaginable war time circumstances, "we make a sensational team" she adds.

UK cover
They become so real you can't believe they AREN'T real and that you aren't reading the true account of a woman pilot and a woman who does things for the military that we won't speak of here, because loose lips sink ships... and give away the joy of unraveling the plot lines of this intricate, beautiful story. You'll feel like you're along for the ride, strapped in a plane with Maddie at the wheel, "Verity" beside her, ready to go on some secret mission, and flying through the night with only the moon to light your way. There are moments of great beauty and also heart-stopping suspense and places where you'll cry your eyes out. You'll want to run out and buy copies for your best friends because you won't want to lend it as it's the kind of book you'll want on hand when you feel the need to re-read it, again!
Cheers to Ms.Wein for giving us the gift of a truly great story!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ashen Winter: A Book Preview

Life seems about as good as possible on Alex's uncle's farm, considering the volcanic destruction of almost everything. They are growing kale which seems to thrive in the farm's green houses and is also a great trade substance as, besides being nourishing, also has loads of vitamin C which prevents scurvy, a nasty ailment making the rounds.

Then, one day, while his aunt and uncle are away cutting wood, and Alex and Darla are working in the barn, they hear shots and screams. Four men are dragging away Alex's cousin Anna and his sister Rebecca and have beaten up his cousin Max.
Alex leaps into action, OK, maybe not such a great move, but Darla has his back... so
they are able to take out a couple of the bandits and gather some weapons from them, one of which, Uncle Paul says... belonged to Alex's dad!

Alex had put off searching for his parents, but now it looked like they needed his help, if they were still alive, that is. Darla's not so sure this is a good idea, but against her better judgement she decides to accompany him on another journey into the unknown. This time they have "bikezilla", a bicycle snowmobile hybrid Darla created. They have kale seeds for currency. And one creepy wounded bad guy to get information out of.  Will they succeed? What lies on the road ahead for the couple? And will the word "flensing" forever give you the creeps? You'll have to read this terrific book to find out for yourself. The Militant Recommender does not give away the details, so put your order in now, or reserve "Ashen Winter" from your library because you won't want to miss this incredible, terrifying and all too plausible story.
Coming soon: a brief online interview with author Mike Mullin.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Volcanus Eruptus: Ashfall

Getting out of visiting relatives with his parents and annoying sister and having some alone time to play World of Warcraft online seems like the perfect way for 16 year old Alex to spend the weekend. That is... right up until he finds himself trapped in the dark beneath his desk and there's this burning smell coming from somewhere. What can it all mean?
From the opening paragraph, Mike Mullin's "Ashfall" grabs you and takes you on a wild ride through his realistic post-apocalyptic vision of hell on earth.
A supervolcano in Yellowstone has erupted and changed the landscape and civilization almost overnight. Everything is covered in layers of ash.
Rescued by his neighbors, Darren and Joe, the three hunker down to wait out the deafening sounds of explosions and eat what's left in the fridge. Things can't get much worse, or can they? Three men break in and attack Joe. Alex, a taekwondo black belt manages to take one down, then Darren returns with a gun and suddenly their living room is drenched in spilled bad guy blood. Too much for Alex, he hits the road on a journey that he hopes will take him to his uncle's farm and his family.
The journey won't be easy. Who can he trust? Food is in short supply. Yet, there are some people out there who seem to have no trouble finding meat. Along the way, injured and struggling, he meets Darla, who may be one of the coolest possible girlfriends any boy in the new world of ash and snow could hope for. I won't give away anything further. You'll have to join Alex on a road trip that will keep you up reading until the last page and keep you thinking about possible scary futures and what to do to avoid them and maybe brushing up some martial art skills. "Ashfall" is a debut title from Mr. Mullin... and it won't be the last, because "Ashen Winter", the sequel, will be out in the fall and I'll be giving you an advance review next week.

"Ashfall" fan video (above) by Karin Perry
Check out this footage (below) taken when Mt. St. Helens erupted!