Interview with Mike Mullin by Lissa Price

Mike, your first book, ASHFALL, had tremendous awards and honors. You were one of NPR’s top 5 YA novels, and Kirkus had you on a Best Teen Book List as well as a starred review.  There were many more honors. How did any of this affect you as you wrote the sequel, ASHEN WINTER?

It has certainly increased my writerly anxiety. The question is always hovering just out of sight behind my left shoulder: Can I write anything as good as the first book? Answering that question will be up to my readers, of course.

You also had many amazing blurbs from wonderful authors. How did the Richard Peck one come about?

One of the disadvantages of being published by a small press is that they don’t have a stable of famous authors to solicit blurbs from. Tanglewood Press’s most famous author is Audrey Penn, who wrote the perennially best-selling picture book, The Kissing Hand. Not exactly the same target audience as ASHFALL. So I took it upon myself to solicit blurbs. I wrote to 18 famous authors, most of whom I’d met while working at Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore in Indianapolis. Richard Peck was gracious enough to reply, read ASHFALL, and offer a few kind words about it. He’s an amazing writer and true class act.

Definitely. So does ASHEN WINTER close the series?  Or will there be more books?

There will be one more novel, tentatively titled SUNRISE. I’m working on drafting it now. I’m also putting the finishing touches on a novelette called DARLA’S STORY. It covers everything that happens to Darla between the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano and the afternoon when Alex falls into her barn.

I noticed your website mentions that you are working without a literary agent. Has that changed? 

Nope. I recently got a rejection from a literary agent who I queried MORE THAN TWO YEARS AGO!

Another literary agent called me earlier this year and requested a copy of ASHFALL. I sent it, waited a couple of months, and got a rejection. Next time that happens, I’m sending the dang agent to their local bookstore. That way at least I’d get a sale out of it.

The world of literary agents is baffling to me. Most authors I’ve talked to tell me I should keep trying to find an agent willing to represent me. Michael Grant, on the other hand, has built a career I very much admire without an agent, and tells me not to bother.  Anyway, it’s irrelevant for at least another year—I sold SUNRISE to Tanglewood Press with a proposal back in March, and finishing that and promoting ASHEN WINTER will consume all my time for a while yet.

Well, you’re saving 15% this way, that’s a plus. So I’m guessing you sold ASHFALL directly to Tanglewood.

Yes, and ASHEN WINTER, and SUNRISE. Tanglewood is one of the few publishers that still accepts unagented submissions.

What would you most like your readers to take away from ASHEN WINTER?

The most important thing in Alex’s life at the beginning of ASHEN WINTER is his relationship with Darla. So, being a sadistic writer, I test that relationship in numerous ways over the course of the book. While none of us have to face tests quite as severe as Alex does (supervolcano, eternal winter, cannibal gangs, etc.), all our relationships are tested in smaller ways nearly every day. I would hope that the way Alex faces his tests and what he learns from that experience might inspire some of my readers.

You are doing an enormous number of signings! What’s your worst/funniest/most surprising event story?

I had an event scheduled at the Cedar Rapids Juvenile Detention Center last year. On my calendar, it was two forty minute presentations with a twenty minute break in between. Easy.

So I get buzzed in through the airlock-style double doors and meet the staff. They say something like, “Our inmate population is fairly light, so we’re putting them all together for you in one presentation.” I think, great, I’ll be out of here in forty minutes. But no—it quickly became clear that they needed me to fill the entire two hours that was originally scheduled.

Now, I’m a very entertaining speaker. I have no problem holding the attention of almost any crowd for forty minutes. But two hours? No way. So I quickly changed what I’d planned to a writing workshop, in which I speak for part of the time, the students write for part of the time, and we hold a discussion on writing for part of the time. And it was absolutely freaking amazing. You would not believe the incredible stories these juvenile delinquents had to tell. I still remember it as one of the best events I’ve done yet.

I love that story. What looks like it’s going to be the worst thing, turns out to be the best. You gave them a chance to tell their stories. What about short stories for you, do you ever write them?

I wrote a short story for Halloween last year. You can read it here. I tried to write a short story about what happens to Darla between when the volcano erupts and Alex shows up, but that turned into a novelette. In general, I prefer long-form fiction both as a reader and a writer.

Is there one piece of advice you’d like to give unpublished writers?

Read. A lot. Both in the genre you write in and in other genres. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to become a writer.

What’s next for Mike?

I’m finishing up SUNRISE, and then I’ll probably write this strange near-future science fiction yarn that’s simmering at the back of my overheated brain.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the League readers?

Umm, I hope you’ve found my posts interesting?  I’m pretty sure I’m the world’s worst blogger, so thanks for putting up with me for the last 9 months!

I always enjoy your blog posts, Mike. So keep doing what you're doing. Thank you for this interview during your busy launch week!


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. Ashen Winter is his second 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.


It's been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex's relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this trilogy. It's also been six months of waiting for Alex's parents to return from Iowa. 

Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex's parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.

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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K M Kelly said...

Fascinating interview. I'm a hige fan of all things apoca;yptic and simply love the seductive power of volcanoes!

Anonymous said...

Not only do I want to read these books, I also enjoy reading your blog posts.