I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Mike Mullin here today to talk about his latest release, Sunrise. The finale to his post-apocalyptic Ashfall trilogy, Sunrise released on Monday, and I loved it so much–I honestly could not put it down (my review here). I’m really excited to have been given the opportunity to interview Mike a little about these books. There’s also a chance for one of you to win the entire series down at the bottom in a huge multi-blog giveaway. So keep reading!
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 glad this writing thing seems to be working out. Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Sunrise is his third novel. His debut, Ashfall, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association.
The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived the eruption has collapsed completely. The ham radio has gone silent. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors’ constant companions.
When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task requiring even more guts and more smarts than ever—and unthinkable sacrifice. If they fail…they, their loved ones, and the few remaining survivors will perish.
This epic finale has the heart of Ashfall, the action of Ashen Winter, and a depth all its own, examining questions of responsibility and bravery, civilization and society, illuminated by the story of an unshakable love that transcends a post-apocalyptic world and even life itself.
Five Questions with Author Mike Mullin
Jen: Tell us a little bit about the idea for the series–I love the premise of the supervolcano. What made you interested in it, and writing a book about it?
Mike: 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.
J: One of the things I love so much about the Ashfall series is how well-researched the books are; the science of it all isn’t intrusive, but it’s a nice, solid foundation for what’s going on in Alex’s world. Just how much of your time and effort goes in to making these books as accurate as possible?
M: 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 science behind ASHFALL on the Our Time in Juvie blog.
My obsession with research continued in ASHEN WINTER and SUNRISE. I learned about shortwave radios from Ken Bandy, president of the local shortwave club. Fred Ropkey was kind enough to let me crawl all over and under his beautifully restored M35-A2, and he lent me its repair manuals. For SUNRISE, I spent hours learning about wind turbines, and consulting with my electrical engineer brother on a scheme for heating greenhouses with wind power.
J: I’ve had some mixed feelings about some of Alex’s actions throughout the series, but I do love his unfailing loyalty. As the author, what do you feel is Alex’s greatest strength?
M: His empathy. Yes, it gets him into a lot of trouble in ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER. But the reality of an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario is that individuals and small groups won’t survive very well. People are fundamentally social. Emotional and physical resilience comes from being a member of a group, from having friends to pick up the slack when you’re sick or injured.
People will cohere around talented leaders, some of whom will doubtless rule by fear, like Red in SUNRISE. Others will inspire true loyalty in their followers. By the end of SUNRISE, I’m sure you’ll be able to tell which approach I think will be most successful in the long run.
J: As much as I like Alex, Darla is my favorite character in the series. In fact, she’s one of my favorites in all of YA lit. I think she’s uniquely sensible and capable, and not at all flighty or silly. I love that so much! Talk to me a little bit about how she came about.
M: Darla is mostly based on my wife, Margaret. She’s amazing. In fact, you probably should interview her instead of me. She doesn’t have Darla’s mechanical skills, but in most other respects she is Darla: fiercely loyal, whip-smart, and intensely practical. Need proof? She puts up with me. Now that takes an extraordinary woman.
There are also numerous fictional heroines that provided inspiration for Darla. I adore novels that feature tough female leads. D.J. from Catherine Murdock’s outstanding Dairy Queen series was the most direct influence on my depiction of Darla, but Cashore’s Katsa, Woodrell’s Ree, and Collins’s Katniss all seized and held my imagination as well.
J: So, now that the Ashfall series is finished, what’s next for you?
M: I’m about 30,000 words into the first draft of SURFACE TENSION, a young adult thriller. It’s about a teen who sees a group of terrorists crashing an airplane from the ground. He’s the only one who knows how they did it, and they want him dead. I haven’t sold it yet, so I don’t know when or even if it will be published. Wish me luck!
So much luck! I have to tell you guys, I love Darla even more, now, and this interview was a blast for me. Thanks again, Mike!
As a special treat, Mike’s made the first two chapters of Sunrise available to us to read for free! I’m going to link to the PDF here, so that those of you who don’t want any spoilers won’t see them. But go! Read!
This book starts off running, and I promise you’ll be sucked in. It’s so much fun. Thanks again to Mike for such a generous offer.
This giveaway is sponsored by Books With Bite. Enter to win one complete set of The Ashfall Series (Ashfall, Ashen Winter & Sunrise) from The Book Depository, and a set of Sunrise pendants. Please make sure they ship to your country. Open to everyone! Giveaway closes March 24th. BWB is asking that you be 18 or older to enter. Good luck!
For more blog tour stops and fun, head on over to Books With Bite! Thanks so much to Mike Mullin, BWB, and Tanglewood Press for all their consideration!