The ladies of Badass Book Reviews are pleased to welcome a guest post by Mike Mullin the author of Ashfall and Ashen Winter.
How People React to an Apocalypse
In writing my debut novel, ASHFALL, I put a lot of time into researching the geology of the real supervolcano that underlies Yellowstone National Park. (ASHFALL is about a teen struggling to survive and find his family after it erupts.) But even once I had a firm handle on what the geological facts of a big eruption would be, I still didn’t know enough to write ASHFALL. Why? I had to know how the people would react. This question becomes even more important for the sequel, ASHEN WINTER, which starts six months later and deals in part with the struggle to survive the volcanic winter that would follow a major eruption at Yellowstone.
The most useful reference I found on the sociological aftermath of real disasters was Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell.
Solnit discusses five major disasters, beginning with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and ending with Hurricane Katrina. She doesn’t focus on the physical facts of each disaster, but on people’s responses to the disasters. A few key points from the book that influenced ASHFALL:
1) People often form amazing utopian communities in the wake of disasters. In San Francisco after the earthquake, dozens of open-air free kitchens sprung up. People who had food brought it, and everyone was welcome to eat—even Asians, who were widely discriminated against in San Francisco at that time. You see this kind of utopian community in my depiction of Worthington, Iowa and Warren, Illinois in ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER.
2) Existing governments often don’t act in the best interests of survivors of a disaster. A large swathe of Chinatown was bombed in 1906—not for the ostensible reason of creating a firebreak—but because the mayor had a personal financial interest in a redevelopment project for the area.
The government response to Hurricane Katrina was notoriously inept—people were imprisoned in chain link cages on the asphalt in front of the city’s bus and train terminal. Another good non-fiction source for information on the Hurricane Katrina response is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. The way our government responded to Hurricane Katrina directly inspired my treatment of the FEMA camps in ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER.
3) It’s probably a good thing that radio and TV stations couldn’t function through the ashfall in my book. Hysterical reports about looting, rapes, and carjackings contributed to the chaos following Katrina, and many of the reports were later proven to be wrong. The panic fanned by the media contributed to the Danziger Bridge incident, in which law enforcement officers and civilian volunteers lined up and shot refugees attempting to flee the city.
In ASHEN WINTER, I explore conditions that A Paradise Built in Hell doesn’t—what happens when the government collapses completely. I think we would devolve into small groups—clans, if you will, competing for territory, food, and supplies. As things got better, these clans would merge into larger structures, mirroring the original growth of civilization: from tribe to city-state, to nation, and ultimately, empire. But that gets into topics I plan to touch on in the final book of the ASHFALL trilogy, tentatively titled SUNRISE.
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.
About ASHEN WINTER
The first two chapters are available on Mike Mullin’s: www.ashenwinter.com.
Social Media Links
Thanks for stopping by Badass Book Reviews, Mike! Stop by on October 13 when the girls at Badass Book Reviews discuss our thoughts about Ashen Winter. If you haven’t read this wonderful series, run to your nearest bookseller and pick up a copy.
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