A Unique Author Visit – Mike Mullin at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington

I had the pleasure of visiting Bookmama’s Bookstore in Indianapolis this past thursday after work, where author Mike Mullin (“Ashfall” and the recently published “Ashen Winter”) was a guest speaker. I posted awhile back about the first book and in that post mentioned how Mr. Mullin was a black belt in Taekwando and how coincidental it was that the main character of Ashfall (Alex) inherited that skill. Well, Thursday – as Paul Harvey used to say – I learned “the rest… of the story.”

(below: Bookmama’s bookstore in Irvington)

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Mr. Mullin first spoke a little about vulcanology (for those that don’t know or haven’t guessed, “Ashfall” is a post-apocalyptic novel that imagines the aftermath of an eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano). He mentioned, if I recall correctly, that the idea for the book came to him at the Indianapolis Central Library, when he viewed some material on that subject. Although I have two geologists in my family, I don’t know very much about the subject of volcanoes and was happy to learn more.

He related how, at the time of the great Krakatoa
Eruption in 1883, European colonists two-hundred miles away, hearing the explosions, thought they were under some kind of artillery attack. Pausing for dramatic effect (there were several wide-eyed kids in the small audience) he then said that the last eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano was hundreds of times more powerful… Our scientific education continued when Mullin described how first the use of tree-ring dating and, later, examinations of ice cores have allowed vulcanologists to see further and further back into the geologic history of our planet. Fascinating stuff.

He also performed a dramatic reading of the passage near the beginning of the book where catastrophe strikes (quite literally) Alex’s house. Technically, maybe this couldn’t be called a “reading” since he didn’t have to look at his book once, so either he’s done it often enough to learn it by heart or is gifted with an impressive memory.

He then fielded fielded questions from the audience. Some were the standard variety – How long did it take you to write it? When did you start writing? Etc. (I think he said four years to the former, with over three years spent on the revision and editing process, and the sixth grade for the latter). The second book was much quicker. Why? He “already had the characters.” I asked him about the reaction of scientists and geologists with whom he consulted when they learned the premise of his book and was happy to hear that the feedback was positive and that many thought it was “cool.”

I was surprised to learn, though, that he began to study Taekwando only AFTER he had written it into the book. He said that, due to his limited schedule, it had taken a little longer than usual for him to make the progression to black belt and that, for awhile, there was some doubt as to whether or not the blurb on the back cover (already touting him as a black belt) would be truthful. Rest assured it was, as the master of his do-jang was able to help fit the final testing into his schedule in time.

He concluded his talk with a Taekwando demonstration, breaking a brick and signing the pieces for two of the younger members of the audience.

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I got a hardcover copy of “Ashen Winter” signed for me and my friend, Ann Marie, got him to sign a copy of Ashfall for her daughter as a Christmas present. I asked him what HE was reading now, and he recommended two books: “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio and “Velveteen” by Daniel Marks. Subsequently looking them up, I doubt “Velveteen” would be my cup of tea, but the former sounds very good. Overall a fun time. I am always thankful when I see authors who are willing to visit smaller locations like this one and am particularly impressed when they are as gracious as Mr. Mullin was. Well, that’s about it. I’m off to start reading “Ashen Winter” now… 🙂

(below: Mr. Mullin’s “break-through performance”)

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Ashfall by Mike Mullin

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I just recently finished reading “Ashfall” by Mike Mullin. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale with a great premise: the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano in the present time. Oddly enough, I think my fondness with post-apocalyptic literature might stem from an early reading (likely of the “Classics Illustrated” version pictured below) of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – probably the first time I was self-aware enough to ponder the question of “what would I do if there were no civilization to support me?”

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The first book of a trilogy, “Ashfall” follows the post-eruption survival struggles of sixteen-year-old Alex – a typical teenager in many ways – he likes video games, has an annoying “brat” sister, and two “nagging” or “interfering” parents. Or so he thinks of them before all hell breaks loose. Oh, he’s also a black belt in Tae Kwan Do (he started taking his lessons seriously after what he mentions in passing as “the year of the bully”). And yes, proficiency in a martial art can certainly come in handy in a post-apocalyptic world…

(below: the Yellowstone Supervolcano has had three major eruptions in the last 2.1 million years. If the timing remains consistent we’re due for another one soon (that’s “soon” in geologic time, thankfully). The map below shows the supposed ashfalls)

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Alex’s family lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, but as this story begins, his parents and sister have just left to visit his Uncle Paul in Warren, Illinois. This leaves Alex alone when the disaster occurs, and his house is the unlucky impact site for a huge chunk of rock ejected from the eruption almost a thousand miles away. After the initial carnage of the disaster’s fallout eases, Alex decides he must try to reach his family, hoping that, being further east, conditions will be better where they are. Armed with as much food and water that his backpack will hold, he sets off (on skis, to make traveling over the ash easier) and soon learns how quickly civilization deteriorates in the face of a major disaster. Indeed, Chapter One is introduced with a great quotation from historian and philosopher Will Durant:

Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

How true, as Alex finds out first hand, encountering the worst – but also sometimes the best – in humanity during his quest east. In one narrow escape from the villainous, tattooed “Target,” he is seriously injured, barely managing to stumble upon a farmhouse, where he is taken in and cared for by a mother and daughter. The daughter, Darla, though a couple years older becomes his companion and love interest as he continues his journey east.

This book was written for a younger audience than me, but I still liked it a lot. It’s a page turner, too, and – the best part – the second book of the trilogy comes out today. I’ve already purchased and downloaded it, and will likely be reading it soon as well. I should mention also that I appreciated the fact that the author gave some bibliographical information at the end of the book, with suggested future reading for those interested in the geologic side of things in the book.

I first learned of this book through my the blog of my young colleague, Jade. Her take on Ashfall maybe found here: http://www.chasingemptypavements.com/2011/09/its-monday-what-are-you-reading-5-and_19.html. She’s also already read the second book and blogged about it here:
http://www.chasingemptypavements.com/2012/09/ashen-winter-by-mike-mullin-review.html. (yeah, she got an ARC I guess – someday I must look into that. 🙂 ) I also recently learned that the author, Mike Mullin, is an Indiana writer. Since I’m trying to make reading local authors more of a focus for this blog, this book was a natural choice for me.

Have you read Ashfall – or Ashen Winter? What did you think of them?

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