Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Writing a Trilogy--Guest Post by Mike Mullin (SUNRISE Blog Tour)

I am so excited to be a stop on Mike Mullin's Sunrise Blog Tour. For the record I've read all three books in the Ashfall Trilogy. This is a riveting, nail-biting, (almost too) realistic, post-apocalyptic adventure that follows main character Alex as he does his best to survive after the supervolcano under Yellowstone explodes and takes out half of the United States. (See below for the synopsis and for other info about Mike and where you can find him and his books.)

Over the years, I've gotten to know Mike "virtually," and have met him in person, too, at a book signing. Side note: teachers--this is an author you MUST invite to your classrooms. Let me just say that when Mike karate chops a cement block in half, he will get your students' attention. Side note #2: Mike has become a gracious and generous mentor to me. He blurbed my book Thin Space, and he is my role model for promoting and teaching and presenting. (Except for the karate chopping of cement blocks aspect.)

Here's Mike now on what it's like to write a successful trilogy:

I’m probably the wrong person to ask about writing a trilogy. I’ve only done it once—maybe it was a fluke? Who knows if I can do it again? The question would probably be better asked of someone like Cinda Williams Chima, although now that I think about it, I’m not sure she’s ever written a trilogy. She always seems to turn her trilogies into tetralogies or more.

Perhaps the quintessential trilogy was The Lord of the Rings. But J.R.R. Tolkien never intended to write a trilogy—he turned his opus in to his publisher as one book, so long that it was unpublishable given the technology of the time.

I had the advantage of knowing almost from the beginning that I was going to write a trilogy. I had expected Ashfall  to be about 80,000 words, a fairly typical length for a young adult novel. But I kept thinking of new and interesting ways to torture my poor protagonists. As a result, Ashfall grew and grew (it was published at 101,000 words), and I still hadn’t come anywhere near exhausting my store of ideas.

I also thought a lot about endings as I was drafting Ashfall. One of the many things I love about young adult literature is that most books end on a note of hope. I don’t think it’s an absolute requirement—Charles Benoit’s You, for example, is a brilliant book with an ending like a gut-stab, but hopeful endings are normally a feature of YA novels. To deliver any kind of believable hopeful ending for Alex and Darla, I had to follow them through the entire volcanic winter, which could last anywhere from three to ten years. I simply had too much story for one book.

So I set my draft of Ashfall  aside for a few days and wrote an outline for the whole trilogy. My outlines are chaotic affairs—pages of rough notes, not neatly marching columns led by Roman numerals—but all the major turning points in the trilogy exist in that first outline.

I paid special attention to the transitions between books. I tried to tie up every plot thread except one at the end of both Ashfall and Ashen Winter. I can’t really talk about what plot threads I left open without getting into massive spoilers, but readers of the trilogy will know exactly what I mean. My theory was that by tying up almost all the loose ends, I’d make each book somewhat satisfying on its own, but leave one thread as a cliffhanger to propel readers through the books and tie them into a cohesive trilogy.

I also paid attention to the scope of the books. In a great trilogy, the scope of the work increases from book to book. The Lord of the Rings starts with a small cast of characters centered around Gandalf and Bilbo and set in The Shire. By the end of the trilogy, there are dozens of major characters involved in epic battles all over Middle Earth. The Hunger Games starts as a family story centered on Katniss and ends in world-changing revolution. The progression of scope in my work is simpler: Ashfall is about Alex and Darla’s struggle to survive, Ashen Winter is about family, and Sunrise is about building a community capable of outlasting the long volcanic winter.

It has been a joy to spend more than five years with Alex and Darla, but I’m ready to move on and write something different. I’m working on a stand-alone young adult thriller now. I’ll leave it to readers to judge whether the Ashfall trilogy was successful or not, but despite the fact that I’ve only done it once and am full of doubts about the future, I’m satisfied. I can look back at the 335,000 words of young adult fiction I’ve published with pride and say, yeah, I did that.

About the author:

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


The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived the eruption has collapsed completely. The ham radio has gone silent. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors’ constant companions.

When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task requiring even more guts and more smarts than ever—and unthinkable sacrifice. If they fail . . . they, their loved ones, and the few remaining survivors will perish.

This epic finale has the heart of Ashfall, the action of Ashen Winter, and a depth all its own, examining questions of responsibility and bravery, civilization and society, illuminated by the story of an unshakable love that transcends a post-apocalyptic world and even life itself.


The first two chapters are available on my website at: http://mikemullinauthor.com/books/sunrise/. 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. Warning: the sample does contain Ashfall and Ashen Winter spoilers.

Blog Tour Info:

Website: Mikemullinauthor.com
Twitter: twitter.com/Mike Mullin
Facebook: facebook.com/Mike.Mullin.author

Buy Links for Sunrise:
Barnes & Noble
The Book Depo


  1. It's not enough to write an exciting trilogy; the guy breaks cement with his hands?!

    1. He does. Believe me, if you ever end up at a conference with him, make sure you go on BEFORE he does. Hard act to follow. (Unless you can stand on your head or something)

  2. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  3. I really enjoyed the two previous books and this one was a very good conclusion to the story arc. It is so refreshing to read a good post-apocalyptic novel that isn't just thinly cloaked racist crap or simplistic gun fan fiction. These books have none of that, just a realistic scenario, strong characters, fast paced action and clever adventure.

    I highly recommend this series.