Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Mike Mullin
After reading this author’s books, readers might believe Mike Mullin is a dark, brooding kind of guy–they could not be more wrong! Mullin’s strong sense of humor has been evident since his first book Captain Poopy’s Sewer Adventures was written at the age of twelve. Hitting the hallowed halls of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis for his B.A. in Political Science, with minors in both Latin American Studies and Economics, Mullin also worked full time in his mother’s business, Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore; and graduated early with honors! Taking a brief break from higher education, Mullin focused on helping his mom open a second store and computerize the entire operation. Going back for his M.B.A. from Indiana University, Mike found time in his schedule to work as a reference assistant at the college. It was the timely discovery of a library display that included a title on the Yellowstone supervolcano that kicked-off his current Volcanic Ash Period and the creation of a wildly successful book series! Topping off this mountain of good things? Mullin is a proud hometown guy who still lives in Indianapolis with his wife of twenty years and their fancy clowder of cats!
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
MM: Nerd and complete outcast, sadly.
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?
MM: The worst thing that happened was getting accepted to Brebeuf Preparatory in Indianapolis. And that was my fault. My parents let me choose where I wanted to go to high school. I chose one of the two schools in Indianapolis where most of the rich kids go. We weren’t rich, so I got a scholarship for part of the tuition money and a work study job for part of it. My work-study job? Scraping off the gum the rich kids stuck to the undersides of their desks. I was miserable.
The best thing was getting accepted to spend a year in Brazil with the Rotary Youth Exchange program. I went from being a nobody at Brebeuf to being a rock star at the Escola Technica Federal de Mato Grosso.
SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
MM: My favorite book changed constantly as I grew up. From age two to four my favorite book was Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. My younger brother and I had a special ritual for it—when Mom reached the words, “’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’” we would begin to dance. We didn’t need any music, just the example of Max and his subjects over the three full-page spreads that followed. The other book I loved at that age was Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, for perhaps obvious reasons. When Darla is geeking out over construction equipment in Ashfall, I’m definitely writing what I know.
By kindergarten, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie had supplanted Sendak. I even went so far as to organize a production of it in my backyard. I recruited classmates to act, held rehearsals, and scheduled a big opening night (well, afternoon) with parents and classmates comprising the audience. When Mom asked why I didn’t have a role in my own play, I told her indignantly, “I can’t act—I’m the director.” The young actor assigned to play Captain Hook froze up with stage fright so bad he peed his pants. I convinced Dad to jump in and improvise the role.
Our family was firmly middle class, and I got all the usual stuff for Christmas: Lincoln Logs, Legos, even a bicycle one year. But the best Christmas gift of my childhood was the one I got while I was in fourth grade—a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia. I read the series eleven times over the following year, keeping count with hash marks inside the front covers. That year I’d been placed in a gifted and talented class with a particularly vicious and mean-spirited teacher, Mrs. Walsh, and C.S. Lewis provided me with a much-needed escape. Once, I escaped in a literal as well as figurative sense—Mrs. Walsh interrupted her excruciatingly boring lecture about reading to scream, “Michael Mullin, if you’re just going to read that book under your desk, you can go out in the hall to do it!” Busted! So I calmly got up, left the classroom, and settled in one of the study carrels in the hall to finish The Horse and His Boy.
As a teenager, I needed the escape books provided even more desperately. I read adult science fiction and fantasy voraciously, but my favorite book was one written for teens: Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky. It described my perfect world—one without adults, where teens could live without the oppressive constraints of parents and teachers. Like the protagonist, Rod Walker, I was interested in primitive survival at this time. I practiced building shelters, foraging for edible plants, and matchless fire starting, both on my own and with the Boy Scouts. Today I prefer a lighter or matches for starting fires and hotel rooms over improvised shelter, but I still enjoy foraging for edible wild plants.
At twenty (and today), I still was reading science fiction, but my tastes were a little more sophisticated. My favorite book was probably David Brin’s Startide Rising. It’s a novel brimming with strange creatures and ideas, populated by aliens and humans both sympathetic and viciously self-interested. I’ve reread it several times since then, and it still ranks among my favorites.
My favorite food is churrasco, which I learned to love in Brazil. It’s a type of restaurant where they cook huge skewers of meat over an open fire and bring them around to be sliced and served table-side. I took my wife out for Valentine’s Day to Fogo de Chao last night—it was amazing!
My favorite band? If I’m going to hear them live, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. There’s something compulsive about their music and enthusiasm—you just have to dance.
My favorite television show is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It’s really the only television show I watch routinely, although I watch it on my computer or phone, not on the TV.
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?
MM: There’s a story from the time I spent in Brazil that I tell occasionally. While I was there, 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.
SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?
MM: Are there any English teachers reading this? If you’re an English teacher, just skip to the next question, okay?
I wish I’d paid far less attention to English courses in both high school and college. As a professional novelist, I’ve had to unlearn a lot of bad habits I picked up in school. I was always a good writer, probably because I’ve always read so much. So, for my classes in high school and college, I would usually write a first draft the night before the paper was due, turn it in, collect my “A,” and get back to doing whatever I wanted to do. Now that I’m competing with all the other brilliant YA novelists out there, I’m trying to force myself to write rougher, messier rough drafts, to tap into my creative side more and pay less attention to mechanics and spelling in my early drafts. Most classes spend far too much time on mechanics and far too little on creativity. Honestly, the mechanics are the easy part.
If I could add one class to every high school curriculum, I’d add a period or two during which each student decides what they want to study. It would be serious, not a study hall. Each student would have to submit their own plan for the course with deliverables that the teacher would grade. The teacher would also serve as a resource for connecting each student to information in whatever field they chose to study. Education is far too top-down and adult-centered now. We ought to allow more time for students to explore and study whatever they’re passionate about.
SH: If you could spend the day with one of the characters from your books, who would you want it to be? What would you do?
MM: I think it would be a blast to attend a state fair with Darla.
SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?
MM: We play touch football every year after Thanksgiving dinner. I wrote a blog post with pictures about it here: http://www.lindapoitevin.com/2013/12/04/holiday-traditions-memories-with-mike-mullin/ I don’t remember how or exactly when it started.
SH: If you had an important secret or story to share, who would be the first person you’d turn to?
MM: My wife, Margaret. Always.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
MM: I’ll give you two. More people should read David Patneaude’s brilliant dystopian novel, Epitaph Road. The writing is gorgeous, and Kellen’s plight as one of the last boys to survive a plague that kills only men is gripping and affecting.
The other book more people should be reading is The River Between Us by Richard Peck. It deals with race in a way nothing else I’ve read does, and belongs on your shelf right after Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird.
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
MM: Rules for writing. Seriously, the only rule worth following is this: Do what works for you and your readers.
SH: Is there one moment in your life you’d love to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?
MM: When I was in third grade, I told a little black girl that she couldn’t play Ramona Quimby in a play I was organizing because the girl on the cover of the book was white. I didn’t mean to be hateful, but I recognized not long afterward that I had been stupid and insensitive. I still regret saying that, and I’d change it if I could.
SH: If you could spend a little time as a fairy tale character, which character would you want to be and in which fairy tale would we find you?
MM: Okay, this is going to seem weird, but if I didn’t have to permanently become a fairy tale character, but just could spend a little time in their world, I’d become the Little Mermaid. Unlimited, effortless scuba diving? Yes, please. And I’m pretty sure the Little Mermaid has boobs. Which are endlessly entertaining. Just sayin’.
SH: When you’re done writing for the day, or taking a little “me” time, do you have a hobby or special treat you indulge in?
MM: I play computer games. Right now I’m playing the heck out of Ancient Domains of Mystery. It’s free—you can try it out here: http://www.adom.de/ I still haven’t beaten the game—but I will!
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
MM: Me: kind, serious, hard-working. Others: determined, goofy, smart.
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?
MM: J.K. Rowling, Jared Diamond, Michael Grant, Richard Peck, and Suzanne Collins. We’re eating churrasco at Fogo de Chao in Rio de Janeiro.
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
MM: The ability to shapeshift into different animals, like Sam Merlotte in the Sookie Stackhouse novels.
SH: Who was the first person who told you should be a writer?
MM: A physics professor I had in high school. He thought I ought to go into science writing. Well, Mr. Kaplan, you sort of got your wish.
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What makes you sad? What scares you?
MM: A fast bike ride on a sunny day makes me happy. Television news makes me sad (so I don’t watch it—I get my news mostly from NPR.) Bigotry and stupidity scare me.
SH: Any epic family vacation stories? Current or from the past?
MM: I got stuck at one point during the process of writing Ashfall. 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.
Now we’ve been back to the area four times in the last three years researching my books. In fact, my wife is so sick of spending all our vacations in Iowa, that at one point, while we were driving near Olwein, she turned to me and said, “Michael, if you’re going to waste all our vacations researching your books, you next book must be set in Key West, The Bahamas, or Italy. Those are your only choices!” I replied, “Yes, dear.” And then, I kid you not, I turned a corner and up ahead of us was The Key West Bar.
SH: What is one (or more!) of your favorite features about yourself? It can be anything from an impeccable sense of style to your sense of humor to crazy long toes that can pick up a variety of objects.
MM: I’m not afraid to look silly. I’m willing to do all kinds of crazy things in front of an audience to be entertaining, tell self-deprecating jokes, and try new things that I’m not very good at (like tae kwon do). It’s a useful sort of courage.
SH: A series of choices: Comedy or drama? Spend or save? Salty or sweet? Cats or dogs? Tea, coffee, or soda? Movies, television, or music? Email, telephone, or text? Board games or online games?
MM: Comedy or drama: Comedy. Spend or save: Save. Salty or sweet: Yes (this is why I weigh more than I should). Cats or dogs: Yes, but my lifestyle isn’t really suited to having a dog. I would need a fenced backyard and I travel way too much to own a dog. My wife and I have three cats. You can see pictures here: http://genrecats.tumblr.com/post/7799823465/mikemullin. Tea, coffee, or soda: I’ve pretty much given up soda. On rare occasions I will drink Diet Coke. I love coffee and tea. I particularly like green tea. Movies, music, or television: I like an occasional movie. I’m not sure whether the television in our house still works—I hardly ever turn it on. I enjoy listening to music in the car or while editing. I have a special Pandora station for editing. It’s seeded with Metallica (heavy metal), Time for Three (classical), and Big Smith (bluegrass). I think the jarring changes help keep me from slipping into a rut. I don’t listen to anything while I write—at least for me, writing requires too much concentration. Email, telephone, or text: Email for business, texting for acquaintances, telephone for friends. Board games or online games: I love both, but I rarely get a chance to play either.
SH: Back in the beginning, before the world fell apart, Alex had a huge bookcase full of computer games, history, and sci-fi books. What’s on the shelves of your bookcase?
MM: Same thing, more or less. I also have a lot of non-sci-fi young adult fiction, middle grade, thrillers, mysteries, and picture books. I don’t buy physical computer games anymore, so that collection isn’t growing the way it used to.
SH: The smell and consistency of the ash, how the ash mixed with rain, where it would blow away or settle deep, the sights and the noise, all had to be partly imagined but still plausible. How hard was it to get the science of a volcano eruption correct? What made you choose a volcano as the ultimate villain of nature for your series in the first place?
MM: The idea to write about a supervolcano 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 a.m. 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.
It took a ton of research to get the details in Ashfall right. 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 had 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 did quite a lot of travel researching the Ashfall trilogy. As I mentioned above, I drove every inch of the route Alex and Darla take through all three books. I’ve been back to northeast Iowa four times in the last three years for research. I’ve also flown 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.
SH: There is *a lot* of butchering that takes place in this book but it might be the food crops (or lack of food crops) that are more critical to the world’s survival. Would you rather be a crop farmer or be involved with animal husbandry? (Did you get any kind of feedback over Jack’s last scene?)
MM: I’d rather be a crop farmer. You can feed a lot more people with crops than with animals. (Although I do love to eat meat, so I recognize that I’m a bit hypocritical in this regard.) That said, after an apocalypse, you can’t afford to be picky.
Jack’s last scene is one that really hits some people hard—worse than the human-on-human violence in the book. Sadly, I borrowed the idea from a real post-disaster episode. After Hurricane Katrina, police officers often shot pet dogs instead of allowing them to stay with their owner.
SH: Darla is 18 and Alex is 15 for a large portion of the story. Do you think the age difference qualifies her as a cougar? And prom is mentioned as pretty important teenage rite of passage, is this because you did/or did not attend your own prom? Was it a big event for you?
MM: I wouldn’t call Darla a cougar. Just older, more experienced, and less naïve than Alex. Remember that initially she wants nothing to do with him, while he’s instantly attracted to her.
I did not attend my prom. By the time it rolled around, I had flunked out of high school, gotten my G.E.D., and was already attending college.
SH: After you started writing this book, did you begin to hoard things? What would be the top survival items you’d want to have handy? What frivolous items you would want access to? (When I worry about a shortage of things, it’s the lack of coffee I think about most!)
MM: I keep enough food and water on hand to survive about three weeks. That would get me through a local disaster—something on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy. If the end of the world as we know it comes, I don’t expect to survive. Survivors of famine situations tend to be women between the ages of 6 and 35 with families. There’s some really interesting research on who survived The Donner Party and why here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1022425/, if you’d like to know more.
SH: Darla is absolutely key to the Halprin family survival with her ability to design and create functional tools out of almost anything. How did you decide to settle all these skills on Darla? Do you know someone like her? What helped you come up with Darla’s inventions–a person, a book, a website, or is it all from your own imagination?
MM: I know several people similar to Darla. My first cousin once removed, Hannah, is a sixteen-year-old farm girl who spends her days breaking wild horses and rebuilding tractors. I consult with my brother, Paul, whenever I need to describe one of Darla’s MacGuyver moments. He’s an electrical engineer and tinkerer who owns a farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio. And my wife, Margaret, is just as tough, loyal, and determined as Darla, although she can’t fix our cars.
SH: Have you ever eaten boiled wheat? (It doesn’t sound too horrible.)
MM: It’s good! Try this recipe: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-tender-chewy-wheat-berries-and-farro-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-189553.
SH: In the book, getting around Illinois and Iowa without current maps, faced with changing landscapes and randomly appearing gangs has become life threatening. Is finding your way around a personal phobia? Or are you one of those people who have an amazing ability to find your way anywhere?
MM: I have no fear at all related to finding my way around. I do get lost, but I’m very good at getting unlost. I can read nearly any kind of map and use a compass effectively for orienteering.
SH: Rita Mae is the best kind of librarian–she’s good at finding information and even better at putting it to use! Did you know a Rita Mae when you were a teen? Do you know a Rita Mae now? And the book titles she mentions–are those a few of your favorites?
MM: I don’t know any specific librarian like Rita Mae—she’s more of a composite of a lot of different librarians I’ve met. The book titles she mentions aren’t necessarily my personal favorites, they just seemed like they fit Rita Mae. My favorite books are all listed on BookLikes here: http://mikemullin.booklikes.com/shelf/favorite-books.
SH: Are you interested in short wave radio? Or was Ken’s knowledge of how to jimmy the radio to send/receive and the proper etiquette required, based on research? What made you include it?
MM: I needed a way to broaden the scope of my books—to include information and events from places Alex couldn’t experience directly—but I didn’t want to introduce other point-of-view characters. Shortwave radio seemed like a natural solution.
I didn’t know much about it, and I tried reading up on the subject, but it’s incredibly complicated, and I quickly realized that I was going to have a tough time getting it right without help. So I reached out to the shortwave radio club in Indianapolis, and its president, Ken Bandy, responded. I spent several hours in his house learning the ins and outs of shortwave radio, and chatting with folks in Russia and Australia on his set.
SH: There’s so little discussion of what people did before the volcano eruption, it’s almost a shock to learn what Alex’s dad did for a living when everything was normal. How did you pick CAD/CAM drafting for him? Have you ever had the desire to design sewer systems?
MM: While I was in high school in Brazil, I studied architecture and drafting. My final project was to design a ten story apartment building from top to bottom—rebar and concrete, electric, plumbing, mechanical systems—everything. In Portuguese. It was quite a challenge, but also a lot of fun. I’ve never been particularly interested in designing sewer systems, although I did tour a huge sanitation plant for a diaper factory once, which was fascinating.
SH: The FEMA response in this story doesn’t create a strong feeling of security. Do you think this is pretty realistic or were you taking creative license?
MM: It’s completely realistic, sadly. I stole most of the ideas related to FEMA in my books directly from things they actually did during Hurricane Katrina. Some of it is also based on my experience volunteering for the Red Cross after the floods in Columbus, Indiana a few years ago.
If you’d like to know more about what happened after Hurricane Katrina, try reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggers and A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit.
SH: Would you rather be fighting for survival (Iowa, Illinois) or observing the chaos with little chance to make a difference from a green zone area (Florida)?
MM: I’d prefer to be in Yellowstone when it blows. I’ll take a fast, relatively painless death in a pyroclastic flow over slow starvation any day.
SH: How did you decide to give Red an interest in Roman gladiators–coming up with Doctore, Primus, and familia?
MM: Originally Red was a woman and governor. My critique group didn’t buy such a vicious female character, and thought that if she styled herself as a governor, it would be too similar to The Walking Dead. So she became he, and I cast around for a different title for Red. His fascination with knives and anatomy was an idea I borrowed from a real person described in The Disaster Diaries by Sheridan. The idea to make him a Doctore flowed from that and from a really bad television series I watched via Netflix a few years ago.
SH: I love the list of foods they found in Stockton’s warehouse: sugar-free grape Kool-Aid, saffron, three kinds of sugar substitutes, and Sriracha sauce. If you had been without extras for so long–would this be a dream list or nothing but a nightmare collection of foods for you?
MM: A nightmare. The stuff that’s left after everything with caloric value is gone.
SH: Darla has those crazy phrases like: “Christ and Santa Claus” or “Christ and the Michelin Man.” Where did the idea for those phrases come from and do you have a favorite? Maybe even a phrase you found yourself using by mistake?
MM: Well, Darla has always used “Christ” as a swear word. Which really bugs some people—my mother-in-law would actually prefer it if she used the f-bomb. I was just trying to mix it up a little and make it less of a cliché.
SH: Ben is confident that post-apocalyptic society will in time become a feudal system–do you agree? What feudal system role do you think you would fulfill?
MM: Yes, I think Ben is right, at least in the short term. I don’t think we’d enter a protracted dark age. Some of our technological savvy would survive, and we’d rebuild fairly quickly. My role? I’d wind up filling a grave or someone’s belly. I’m too old and too male to have a reasonable hope of surviving.
SH: A considerable amount of time passes from the first to the last novel but there aren’t many changes to the environment–after the ash falls. What do you see happening to Alex and his fellow survivors in Speranta in five years? Or ten??
MM: They’ll steadily rebuild and grow. They’ll also make contact with other survivors and form larger political entities, perhaps even reforming the United States. Darla will have the passel of children she’s always wanted, and play a key role in rebuilding a technological society. Alex will lead for a while and then retire to allow someone who likes politics more than he does to take over.
SH: It’s a slow reveal within the series but once the hints are added up and turned into a conclusion, it seems so obvious. Learning Alex’s mom was a school principal, after years of being a special education teacher makes her choices so complex. How did you decide on her career?
MM: I had a personality in mind for Alex’s mother, and her job flowed from that. I made her a former special education teacher because I wanted to show a bond with Alyssa that would humanize Alex’s mom. I didn’t want to turn her into a full-blown antagonist—just a complicated and interesting character and another challenge for Alex.
SH: Have you gotten more feedback about the violence or the romantic relationship between Darla and Alex?
MM: The romance, sadly. I went to a school once where the librarian had read the scene where Alex smashes Target’s eyeball with his staff out loud to the students to psych them up for my visit. Later the same librarian took me aside and scolded me for mentioning condoms in Ashfall.
The permissive attitude we have toward violence is a cancer eating at the heart of our culture. I hope that by portraying violence with real physical and emotional consequences, my books don’t contribute to that cancer, but perhaps I’m deluding myself.
SH: If your books were translated to a different format, would you prefer a graphic novel series or something to be seen on a movie/television screen?
MM: Ashfall has been optioned for development as a television show. I would prefer that to a movie. The Motion Picture Association of America has had a pernicious influence on our culture. By banning blood from PG-13 movies, they tend to force movie makers to show a sanitized, fake version of violence. Real violence is shocking. It should scare and disgust us. Television can still do that. I watched an episode of The Walking Dead that caused one of my relatives to run for the bathroom and throw up.
I love graphic novels and would be all for a series based on Ashfall, but so far no-one has approached me about doing one. I certainly couldn’t. I only know how to draw two things: poop and hot dogs.
SH: Would you be willing to share any hints about what you’re writing now?
MM: Sure. 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!
SH: I love the use of Yellow and White pages to find stores and goods in Rockford. Are you a user of the old school phonebook or are you more of an online research guy?
MM: I do most of my research online or at one of several libraries: Central Library in downtown Indianapolis, the IUPUI library, or the geology library at IU in Bloomington. But for the bits in Sunrise about the phone book, I actually, um, borrowed, shall we say, a phone book from a hotel room in Rockford, Illinois. Here it is:
SH: Why are the roving outlaw bands made up primarily of men? Where are the crazy, violent lady gangs? Especially considering how many ladies join the volunteer army?
MM: I guess I have a higher opinion of women than men. If you look at the crime statistics (over 90 percent of homicides in the U.S. are committed by men, for example), I’d say my pessimism about male behavior after an apocalypse is justified.
SH: Would you be as quick as Alex was in forgiving former flenser and gang member Ed Bauman? (A good lesson for all, considering how helpful Ed turns out to be!)
MM: I doubt it. Psychological research has shown that for the vast majority of us, our ethical choices are situational. There’s a famous research study which showed that 90 percent of seminarians on their way to deliver a talk on the good Samaritan would not stop and help a person in distress if they believed they were late to the talk. Only about 10 percent of us are truly altruistic—i.e. will try to help others even when it results in harm to ourselves. Alex is part of that 10 percent. That, plus his impulsiveness, gets him in a lot of trouble in Ashfall and Ashen Winter. But that empathy saves his life repeatedly in Sunrise, as he starts accumulating a group of followers like Ed, Darla, Alyssa, and Uncle Paul—people who would literally lay down their lives for Alex, if necessary. Empathetic people make fabulous leaders, although they rarely want the responsibility that leadership brings. I believe George Washington was one such leader—a man who agonized endlessly over the hardships his people were facing, and ruled just long enough to insure that our budding democracy would survive and then retired to his farm. My own ethics are more like the majority than like Alex.
SH: Is there a question you wish someone would finally think to ask?
MM: Yes. “Would you please accept VOYA’s million-dollar writing fellowship?”
Books by Mike Mullin
Ashfall. Tanglewood Press, 2011. 466p. $17.95. 978-1-9337-1855-2. VOYA December 2011. 3P 3Q J S
Ashen Winter. Tanglewood Press, 2012. 576p. $17.95. 978-1-933718-75-0. VOYA October 2012. 5Q 5P J S
Sunrise. Tanglewood Press, 2014. 466p. $17.99. 978-1-939100-01-6.
Mike’s Website: http://mikemullinauthor.com/