Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Caroline Trussell Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/20/2024
  • Jenna Satterthwaite Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/10/2024
  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.


Hi everyone! There's no Tuesday Tip today. Before I get to our interview today, I want to shout out for Jessie Humphries, one of our followers. She just got an agent! Go to her blog here to congratulate her.

I’m excited to be a part of Mike Mullin’s blog tour. I’m interviewing him about ASHEN WINTER, Book 2 in The Ashfall Trilogy, which will be released October 8, 2012.

I enjoyed that Mike chose to tell the story from Alex’s point of view. There’s not too many YA stories told from a male point of view. And I really liked that he chose the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano as the natural disaster that’s changed our world because it’s something that could really happen.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

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.

Hi Mike. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thanks for inviting me to appear on your blog, Natalie. I love Literary Rambles—I’ve been a faithful reader for years.

1.      Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer. 

I started writing in sixth grade. 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 he does. (You don’t see me typing Mik Mullin, do you?) I’ve been writing ever since.

2.      I always I had written as a kid like you. For those of us who haven’t read ASHFALL, share a bit about it.

ASHFALL is about a teen struggling to survive and find his family after the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts. It 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, among other awards—visit www.ashfallbook.com to see the full list.

3.      So awesome ASHFALL got so many awards. What were some of the challenges in writing ASHEN WINTER and how did you resolve them? Do you have any tips for authors writing a second book in a trilogy?

I recommend the Harper Lee approach. Just write an instant classic/bestseller for your first novel and call it a day. Because, seriously, writing the second book sucks polluted swamp water.
Here’s the thing: for the first book, you have all the time in the world. You can afford a dozen false starts, a hundred rewrites. In fact for most writers, the first book isn’t their first. They write many—sometimes dozens—of books and only get published when they happen upon a truly great idea and have acquired the skill to execute it well.

So while the first book is essentially the best of however many you’ve written, you only get one shot at the second. And usually you have a year or less to write it. It’s a small miracle that anyone produces a readable second novel.

I realize I’m whining. In truth, I feel very fortunate to have a publisher that was eager to buy my second novel. And my third. And to have readers who, in defiance of all common sense, are eager to read them.

4.      I've heard about the pressure to write book 2 in a shorter period of time. I think all authors (me for sure) worry about being able to do that. What went into the decision to use the eruption of a supervolcano as the inciting catastrophe and Iowa as the setting for your story?

The idea for Ashfall 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 am with a scene occupying my head so completely I was afraid it would start spilling out my nostrils and ears. I got up and typed 5,500 words, finishing just before dawn. 

At that time, ASHFALL was set in Indianapolis, where I live. I was working on another book then—a YA horror novel that was never published because, well, it sucked. So I put the shiny new idea away and dutifully finished my horror novel. (When I completed it, I sent it to three literary agents, two of whom quit the business forever. Yeah, it was that bad.) While I worked on the doomed horror novel, I researched the Yellowstone supervolcano. I quickly realized that the disaster wouldn’t be bad enough in Indianapolis. It would be horrible everywhere, but in Indianapolis most people would die of starvation, societal breakdown, and disease. I wanted to depict ash, lightning, and collapsing houses.

By poring over maps of previous Yellowstone ashfalls, I estimated that the closest Alex could start to Yellowstone and have a decent chance of surviving would be 900 miles. I drew a circle in an old Rand McNally road atlas with a radius of 900 miles from Yellowstone. It neatly bisected Waterloo, Iowa. So Alex moved to Iowa.

Later, I drove to Waterloo and traced every step of Alex’s journey, making sure I had the streets and locations right. Many details of ASHFALL changed as a result of that trip. I went back last summer and drove much of the route again, researching ASHEN WINTER.

5.      Wow! You were totally dedicated to doing the research to get this right. My favorite character is Darla. She’s so independent and resourceful. Tell us how you developed her as a character. Is she patterned after anyone? 

Darla is largely patterned after my wife, Margaret. She doesn’t have Darla’s mechanical skills, but in most other respects she is Darla: fiercely loyal, whip-smart, and intensely practical. Need proof? She puts up with me. Now that takes an extraordinary woman. 

In her mechanical skills, Darla is very much like my brother, Paul. In fact, whenever I need Darla to perform some mechanical wizardry, I email my brother wish some crazy question like this: “So, Paul, if you were stuck on your farm and had no power, how would you go about recharging batteries?”

There are also numerous fictional heroines that provided inspiration for Darla. I adore novels that feature tough female leads. D.J. from Catherine Murdock’s outstanding Dairy Queen series was the most direct influence on my depiction of Darla, but Cashore’s Katsa, Woodrell’s Ree, and Collins’s Katniss all seized and held my imagination as well.

6.      That's cool that Darla is patterned after your wife. How sweet! I really like that you tell the story from the point of view of Alex. Have you found that this has drawn more teen guys to read your story?

It’s hard to say. I do get some fan mail from guys, but the majority of my fan mail is from teen girls. I’m certainly flattered that ASHFALL seems to appeal to both sexes.

This points question points up one of the many problems with the publishing world. My background is in brand management—I worked for Procter & Gamble and Spectrum for a while. We knew exactly who bought our products and why—publishers, as best I can tell, have no clue.  

7.      Your publisher is Tanglewood, a smaller publisher, and you’re not represented by an agent. Share your road to publication and why you went this route.

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.)

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.

 8.      What tips do you have for marketing a debut book? Are you marketing any differently with ASHEN WINTER? Why?

For my tips on book marketing, please visit this post. You can replay the hour-long seminar I gave on that topic and click through to any of the eight blog posts I developed on specific tools and tactics for book marketing.

The main thing I’m doing differently with ASHEN WINTER is that I’m saying no a lot more often. I’m doing less marketing, not more. Why? I have a limited amount of time, energy, and willpower to invest in marketing. I want to preserve those resources for the most effective events and activities. I’ve run myself ragged over the last 10 months since ASHFALL was released. I’m still trying to do too much—I plan to scale back further for the third book, but hopefully what I do choose to do will be more effective.

9.      Thanks for sharing the link. I'm definitely going to make time to check it all out. Guys, you should too. There's some great topics, including how he got 8,600 twitter followers in 8 months.

10.  What are you working on now?

Responding to your excellent interview questions. What, you mean more generally? I’m drafting the final book of the ASHFALL trilogy, tentatively titled SUNRISE.

Thanks Mike for sharing all your great advice and for letting me be a part of your blog tour. You can find Mike at:

Thanks for hosting me on Literary Rambles, Natalie. Keep up the great work—I love this blog!

So glad you like Literary Rambles. Mike's publisher has generously offered an ARC for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on October 20th. I’ll announce the winner on October 22nd. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. 

Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday I'm interviewing debut author Gennifer Albin and giving away an ARC of CREWEL. It's a really unique dystopian and you'll love hearing about Genn's road to publication.

Next Wednesday I'll be sharing about THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater and giving away my ARC. I'm a HUGE fan of Maggie's and this urban fantasy (I guess that's the genre) is one of my favorites by her.

Next Friday I'll be sharing a guest post by debut author Jordan Jacobs and giving away a copy of his middle grade book, SAMANTHA SUTTON AND THE LABYRINTH OF LIES. It's a story about a legendary ghost, a hidden treasure, and a ancient temple in Peru.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you Monday!


Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for the interview, Natalie & Mike. Mike, it's inspiring to hear the story of how you got published. Good luck with writing the third novel!

Charlie Barshaw said...

"Ashfall" was an amazing thrill-ride of a book. We met Mike's Mom when we visited Indianapolis for Ruth's school visits. When Mike appeared at a nearby indie bookstore, we were unable to make it, but Mike left us an autographed paver that he broke himself (he's into martial arts).

Kristin Lenz said...

Congrats to Mike - what a ride! I love how these interviews give us a glimpse of the author's personality - and that makes me want to read their books even more.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks Natalie for this interview with Mike. Its always inspiring to read other writer's journey to publishing. Wishing Mike lots of good luck.

David P. King said...

Awesome interview. Sounds like a fantastic book, too! :)

Martina Boone said...

Sounds like a great read. I always love your interviews, Natalie. You really dig in and do your homework, so the interviews end up being really meaningful! Thanks so much!

Have a great week,


Pili said...

What a wonderful interview! I love reading some insight about this new series for me, I need to go get Ashfall now!

Kelly Polark said...

Congrats, Mike, on your books!
What a cool concept for a book. I've seen TV programs on the Yellowstone supervolcano, and it's so interesting!!

Eli Yanti said...

That's Great giveaway

thanks for the chance to win this book :)

share on twitter : https://twitter.com/Eli_Yanti/status/255680240083415040

LTM said...

LOL! do the Harper Lee thing--I hear that! Ashfall sounds like an exciting book! I'd love to read it! Best of luck to Mike, and yay! Indy writers~ <3

Barbara Watson said...

Love your twisty sense of humor! Great questions and informative responses. Thanks, Natalie and Mike.

Diane T said...

Sounds like a fascinating story ... I'll have to get my hands on the first book, and this one sounds great, too. I love post-disaster novels.

Beth said...

What a great story about getting an editor!

And congratulations on the awards and reviews. Truly impressive for a debut novel.

Carina Olsen said...

Love this interview! Sigh. Loved Ashfall. <3 And Ashen Winter :) Both books were amazing ;) Loved that it was a male point of view, as well :D Wish to win this ARC, cause I have just read it via netgalley. Really want my own copy, to re-read my favorite parts. <3 :) Thank you for this post and giveaway :D
Love, Carina

Kessie said...

What a great interview! Living in California, we've often pondered what would happen if the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted. As well as Mammoth Mountain, which is a little closer to us and would probably crack California into the ocean. Great to hear you made a book out of it! I'll have to look up Ashfall. :-)

Unknown said...

Haha! I love your description of writng the second book as sucking swamp water, so funny.

Thanks for your advice Mike.

Lydia Kang said...

I've always wondered about the Yellowstone supervolcano. Looking forward to reading Ashfall and Ashen Winter!

Jessy said...

I'm super excited about this series. I just downloaded the deal for book one on Amazon too. I must get started on it...

tweet: https://twitter.com/Emma015/status/256129461588725760

Kathrine Roid said...

I need to look up Ashfall. :D My library probably has it. And of course I wouldn't want to pass up the chance to get my hands on any free book, especially one that sounds like it is part of an interesting series!

I follow via Greader, I hope that counts.

Janae's Book Obsession said...

Great interview! I've been dying to read these books.

Evie said...

I can't wait to start reading this series!
Thanks for the interview and giveaway :)

Psyche said...

I want to join.
GFC: Maly

sweety white said...

Thanks Natalie for this interview with Mike and for the giveaway
My GFC: sweety white

Gwen Gardner said...

I love the story of how you started writing, Mike. I love your story premise, as well. It reminds me of Revolution - a dystopian televsion show I recently found, where the lights go out all over the world. No more electricity, no more computers. Everything becomes about survival and the hunt for food. I love dystopian!

Thanks for sharing with us, Mike and Natalie:)

Ryan Snyder said...

following! snyderyan16@gmail.com! GFC name: ryan snyder. thank you! :D

Veronika said...

Congrats on the awards for Ashfall!!! Loved the interview!
GFC: Veronika
verusbognar (at) gmail (dot) com

Unknown said...

I like the sound of this book! I have watched a movie about the tragedy or erupting volcanoes and I would love to read a novel about it. Thanks for this review!
I like this site :: delicious BeefJerky