Thursday, May 17, 2012

7 Questions For: Author Mike Mullin

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 (they taste like a cross between walnuts and carrots), 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 hoping this writing thing works out. 

Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Ashfall is his first novel. 

Mike and I are critique partners in a writer's group known as The Young Adult Cannibals (and Middle Grade Biters) and I consider him to be not only one of my favorite writers, but also my friend. 

Click here to read my review of Ashfall.

Click here to read my review of Ashen Winter.

And just for fun, here's another interview with Mike by our fellow Cannibal, Jody Sparks

And now Mike Mullin faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I keep a list of my all-time favorite books on Goodreads. But my three favorites, hmm . . . Where the Wild things Are, Charlotte’s Web, and The River Between Us.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

Well, I write first thing in the morning. Every morning, or as close as I can manage given my touring schedule. If I’m drafting, I try for a thousand words a day, although sometimes I write more. If I’m editing, I’ll set my goal at anything from one chapter (total rewrite) to 100 pages (light line edits). I don’t worry much about how long this takes. Some days it’s as little as two hours; rarely, it will take as much as sixteen. In a typical week I’m spending about 40 hours writing, spread out over all seven days.

Let’s see, reading. In 2011, I read 40,093 pages of text in 171 books (thanks for the help keeping track, Goodreads). I read roughly a page a minute, so that works out to about 13 hours a week. That seems low to me. I would have guessed I spend closer to 20 hours a week reading.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

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.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?
Taught. But the lessons that make a writer often begin so early that they’re indistinguishable from genetics to the outside observer. For example, my mother and I went to library school together—she read her library science textbooks out loud to me until I was two. By then I’d graduated to picture books. Mom continued to work as a librarian and then a bookstore owner throughout my childhood, so I was immersed in an environment that nurtured my love of reading and ultimately gave me the tools to be a writer.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

Not having a boss is my favorite thing. I mean, an editor is a sort of boss, but one with a very light hand. I am not good at being a subordinate—as a consequence, I’ve been fired from nearly every job you can imagine other than writing.

My least favorite thing was querying literary agents. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to choose between getting a root canal and querying literary agents, I’d say shoot me.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)
How to become an author in three steps:

1)      Read a lot

2)      Write a lot

3)      Submit or self-publish your work

Yep, it’s that easy. And that hard.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Richard Peck. And I’d prefer to have lunch with him in his current state—living. He started writing professionally when he was my age and he’s still going strong.  A River Between Us belongs with Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the greatest works of literature ever written.
I also admire him personally. He’s generous, gracious, and speaks extemporaneously in sentences better crafted than my fifth drafts.


  1. Great interview. I can't believe Mike read 171 books in 2011. I'm impressed.

    Ashfall's on my list of books to read. It sounds really good and I love dystopians.

  2. Love this! BTW - Middle Grade Ninja has been added to Middle Grade Mania, a directory of Middle Grade book blogs.

  3. Thank you for this interview. I love to read about writers and their process, likes, dislikes, and quirks.

  4. Great interview! I haven't heard anyone talk about A RIVER BETWEEN US with such passion and energy before. It is such a powerful story and one that doesn't get a lot of press.

    The three steps and additional commentary on Question 6. Love that.


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