Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thursday TAG! - Mike Mullin

Today's TAG! features the amazing Mike Mullin. I met Mike at NiNoCon (the online writers conference hosted by Ali Cross @ Ninjas Write). Okay, I didn't exactly 'meet' him. He was one of the guests and was there to talk and answer questions about Marketing and Promoting and what not (you can find his talk on the Ninja website OR you can go to his blog). NiNoCon is also where I won his fabulous book, which I reviewed here. You can find Mike in several places: he blogs, Tweets, Facebooks, and is on Goodreads.

And make sure you check out his book-it's AWESOME :) (BTW- Mike says this: 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.)

1.      When did you start writing?
Until I was eleven, I attended a brick box of a school, antiseptically clean and emotionally sterile. The children marched in files down the halls, mumbled math facts in unison, and occasionally did a craft project about a book.

When I turned twelve, I escaped from that intellectual prison camp and went to a noisy, dirty, chaotic school where I was—gasp—expected to write. Every day. And—double gasp—read. I wrote my first novel in sixth grade—Captain Poopy’s Sewer Adventures. Sadly, Dav Pilkey beat me to publication with Captain Underpants, although I still spell better than him. (You don’t see me typing Mik Mullin, do you?) I’ve been writing ever since.

2. What made you want to write?
I had to in middle school, and discovered that I (usually) enjoy it.

3. When did you decide you wanted to write to be published? (As opposed to writing just to write)
2008. I’d tried and failed at every other career I could imagine, so I figured it was time to try writing.

4. What genre(s) do you write?
Young adult science fiction.

5. Why that(those) genre(s)?
I grew up reading Cormier, Blume, Heinlein, Asimov and Peck and I never quit. I’ve been reading young adult novels for more than 30 years.

6. Do you have any particular ritual when you write? (A specific way things are done during the process)
Nope. I open my laptop wherever I happen to be sitting and start typing. I do set word count goals. After each 500 words I get some kind of reward—often a walk to the library. Then I sit down and try to get another 500 words.

7. Do you use an outline, or do you just start writing?
In 2008 I wrote a young adult horror novel without outlining first. It was such a hot mess that two out of the three literary agents who saw it quit the business forever. I used a rough outline to write ASHFALL.

8. Is there something you MUST have when you're writing? (Aside from the typical writer tools-computer, pen, paper, etc)

9. Do you write out your story on paper and then transfer to a computer, or straight to the computer?
I type it straight onto my laptop. I dislike handwriting anything, let alone a novel.

10. How many books/short stories have you written? (Published or not, even those you wrote and then thought-what the hell?)
Four novels: Captain Poopy’s Sewer Adventures in middle school, a YA horror novel that was, well, a horror, ASHFALL, and its sequel ASHEN WINTER, which will release on October 8, 2012. (Read it quick before the world ends! Ha!)

11. Is there, or has there been, anyone in your life (real or online) who thought you being a writer is/was just another hobby? Or that you are/were wasting your time as a writer?
Nope. Thank goodness.

12. Do you do Social Media sites? If so, which ones? If not, why don't you?
Yes. All of them. Sigh. Here are some links:

13. Any advice for writers that makes you cringe every time you hear it? (I know there is some cringe-worthy advice still worth following, so only advice you don't follow.)
Any advice that’s phrased as an absolute makes me cringe. Never use adverbs. Never use the verb ‘to be.’ Don’t self-publish. Don’t sell your work to a traditional publisher. There’s probably a nugget of truth behind all these. Certainly some writers overuse adverbs and passive voice (which is not the same thing as the verb ‘to be,’ grr.) Some people who traditionally publish might do better self-publishing and vice versa. To be helpful, writing advice has to take account of where you are in your writing journey.





47 flamingoes

Volcanic ash

(Okay-not really, here are the real ones)

14. What made you want to write about a super volcanic post-apocalyptic type of novel?

I grew up reading dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels. Some of my early favorites included Z is for Zachariah, The Postman, The Day of the Triffids, and Alas, Babylon. So when I started writing for publication four years ago, it was natural that I’d choose to write in that milieu. (I’ve been writing more or less non-stop since sixth grade. But I didn’t decide to try to write a publishable novel until 2008.)

Unfortunately, the first idea that called to me was a young adult horror concept. While I was working on that, I happened across a display in my local library that included the lavish, illustrated edition of Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s an impressively-sized book, but, I thought, nowhere near big enough to merit the title. So I checked it out, and learned about the Yellowstone supervolcano in its pages.

A few weeks later, I woke in the middle of the night with a scene from ASHFALL bubbling in my brain. (I know it’s a cliché—the writer dreaming his book—but evidently my subconscious doesn’t care.) I wrote 5,500 words before dawn. When I returned to ASHFALL eight months later, after finishing my YA horror novel and researching supervolcanoes further, I realized that the scene I’d written in the middle of the night was junk. Only three words survive from the 5,500 I wrote that night: ASHFALL, Alex and Darla.

15. Did you base any of your characters in Ashfall or the sequel Ashen Winter on anyone you know personally?
Almost everyone in ASHFALL is loosely based on someone I know. The original inspiration for Alex, for example, was Ben Alexander. He was sixteen when I first met him, a third-degree black belt and instructor at my taekwondo school. I chuckle every time I read a review that questions whether a teen could be as good at taekwondo as Alex is. I want to see those reviewers spar with Ben Alexander. He can kick my butt and make it look easy, and I’ve got almost a foot in height and 80 lbs. of mass on him.

Uncle Paul, Aunt Caroline, Max, and Anna are named for my brother’s real family. They’re far nicer in person than their characters are in the book, of course. My brother, Paul, was a huge help in figuring out Darla’s MacGyver moments. I also learned about goats, ducks, and greenhouse farming from them.

16. Did you query agents for Ashfall or was Indie Pubbing always the plan?
ASHFALL was rejected at some stage—query, partial, or full—by 24 literary agents. (If you’re struggling with getting published, take heart from this. Yes, your work might not be ready. But it might also be great work that simply hasn’t found a champion. Take a look at the list of awards and blurbs at, including a starred review from Kirkus and a listing among NPR’s top 5 YA novels of 2011. I’m pretty confident that ASHFALL wasn’t garnering rejections due to its quality.)

Two editors requested ASHFALL after hearing about it from my mother. (She owns Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore in Indianapolis) I haven’t heard back from one of them yet. The other was Peggy Tierney of Tanglewood Press.

17. When did you become interested in Taekwondo and how long did it take you to get a black belt?
I started taekwondo in 2008 at about the same time I began working on ASHFALL. I enrolled in taekwondo classes in part because I knew the protagonist of ASHFALL would need to be special to survive, and I decided he should be a martial artist.

I found I enjoyed taekwondo and stuck with it, earning my black belt in April of 2011, after about three years of training.

18. How many times did you hurt yourself before you mastered breaking bricks with your hand? 
I hit upon the idea of doing a taekwondo demo at all my author presentations back in August of 2011, before ASHFALL was released. I’d been practicing with rebreakable plastic boards, working up from the easier boards (yellow, green, and blue) to the hardest (brown and black). To challenge myself further, I started sandwiching two boards together: yellow and black, blue and black, brown and black, etc. When I tried breaking two black boards simultaneously with a palm-heel strike, I bruised my hand. But since I could break a brown and black board simultaneously, I figured I was ready to try concrete patio pavers.

I bought a two-inch thick paver from Home Depot and bruised my hand badly attempting to break it. A couple weeks later, I was in Menards and found a slightly thinner type of paver. I bought a few, took them to my dojang (martial arts studio) and broke them easily.

I still hurt myself occasionally while attempting break at my author talks. If I don’t hit the paver squarely with the correct part of my palm, I wind up bruising my hand. Once the bruises migrated down into my wrist, and a chunk of my arm was swollen for about a week. Generally though, I execute the strike correctly and the only ill effect I notice is that my hand stings for a minute or two.

19. What do you do when you aren't writing?
I like to hike, cook, bicycle, try new restaurants and foods, travel, canoe, and play computer games.

20. Any words of wisdom for anyone who is thinking of becoming a writer, or just something you think all writers should know?
The most important part of being a writer is reading. You have to read to experience the despair of prose so lovely you know you can never match it and the vicious little satisfaction of whispering “I can do better” to yourself after reading a particularly bad piece. If you don’t read widely in whatever genre you choose to write in, how will you know if your work is original or not? That great idea for a post-apocalyptic reality show in which children battle to the death? Yeah, it’s been done.

I read more slowly now that I’m writing professionally. I often reread sections and puzzle over word and plot choices, trying to answer the question: how did the author do that? But although my pace has slowed, if anything, the volume of reading I do has increased. And that’s one of my greatest satisfactions in writing—I can curl up on the couch with a good book and a cat in my lap and honestly say, “I’m working.”


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds like Mike and I share similar interests in science fiction. And I briefly queried my first book as a young adult science fiction before a publisher picked it up as an adult science fiction.
Hope you get a deal soon, Mike!

Karen Walker said...

Kate, love the title of your blog, by the way. And thanks so much for your visit and follow on my blog. Nice to "meet" both you and Mike. Good luck.

Mike Mullin said...

Thanks, Alex! I still don't have a literary agent, but I got something better--a publishing contract. You can learn more about my debut novel, ASHFALL, at The sequel, ASHEN WINTER, will publish October 8th.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Great interview.
Best of luck.