16 October 2012

The Bones under the Staircase

Since my debut novel, ASHFALL, came out last year, I’ve given 194 presentations at schools, libraries, and bookstores. I know exactly how many I’ve done because I do a taekwondo demo at every presentation: I break a concrete block with my bare hand. (Yes, really.) I bought a total of 200 blocks and I have 6 left, so I’ve done that break 194 times now.

What does this have to do with the bones under my staircase? Hold on, I’m getting to that!
Anyway, when you’re talking to students and you leave ten minutes at the end for a question and answer period, sometimes a really great discussion will ensue. But sometimes, you can stand there twiddling your thumbs uncomfortably for ten minutes. So, to combat the horror of dead air, I bring my own questions and pass them out. Here’s what they look like:

I hand these little packets out, telling students to tear one off and pass the rest along. One of the questions in the packets is, “Have you ever seen a ghost?” Here’s how I answer:

About ten years ago my wife and I moved to Indianapolis. We bought a wrecked 1895 Victorian house because it was cheap and we could fix it up the way we wanted to. (Actually, that’s not true. Later, if you get married, you’ll realize that you do not remodel a home the way we want to, you remodel it the way your wife tells you to.)

Our newly-acquired junker house was in a historic district, so I had to go downtown to get permission for the remodel. The guy at the historic preservation office told me I’d bought a famous house. “Really?” I asked, “I thought I’d bought a wreck.” He told me that my home had originally been owned by William Conrad Bobbs, half of the Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Company. Back when Bobbs lived in my house he was publishing authors like James Whitcomb Riley (who wrote Little Orphant Annie) and L. Frank Baum (who wrote The Wizard of Oz).

So I tell the students, “Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a ghost, but I’d really like to. I want to ask Riley, Baum, and Bobbs some questions!”
I did have an experience while I was remodeling the house that made me wonder if a ghostly encounter was imminent. The exterior stair into the basement had collapsed, leaving a huge pile of junk and dirt, so one day I set about clearing the space in preparation for building a new stair. It was grueling work, scooping up spadesful of detritus and hurling them out the door at ground level, above my head. About a half hour into the job, I turned up a scrap of half-rotted clothing—a flannel sleeve. Strange, I thought, that someone would abandon their clothes under the old stair. I kept digging.

A moment later my spade turned up a filthy leather boot. I slowly turned it over, not certain I wanted to know whether the boot held anything. It appeared to contain only dirt. Still, for some reason I didn’t want to touch it. I used my shovel to hurl the boot out the door.

The very next time I stabbed my spade into the dirt, I hit something solid. I got the shovel under it and I pried it up. As the earth fell away, it revealed a long brown object, crusted with dirt and pitted from an uneasy rest under the basement stair.

It was about the right size and shape for a femur, so I was worried that I might have to call the police and abandon my project while they investigated a corpse. Fortunately, when I fully unearthed the object, it turned out to be a pipe. Whew!

I wish I’d taken pictures of that excavation to share with you. But you’ll have to make do with this shot of the stair I built.

It’s probably still the spot in the house most likely to shelter a ghost. But like I tell students during my author talks: no luck yet.

Title: Ashen Winter (Ashfall, #2)
Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood Press, 576 Pages (October 16th, 2012)
Add to: Goodreads

Synopsis: 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 series. 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.

Excerpt: The first two chapters are available on Mike's website: www.ashenwinter.com.


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.

Find Mike Online:

Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Goodreads | Pinterest

Order the Ashfall books Online:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | The Book Depository | Indiebound | Signed Copies

Mike, thanks SO much for sharing today's guest post for Haunted Halloween! You know I'm a huge, HUGE fan of your books and you are always welcome to stop by and hang out on my blog anytime! 

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  1. Ooh interesting! Does look like a ghost should pop out or something!


  2. WOW! Breaking concrete blocks is pretty amazing! I can barely break a small stick.

    Glad it was just a pipe!

    mmafsmith AT gmail DOT com

  3. I really love this series!!! It's so bloody addicting. Mike has done a fantastic job :)

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  4. BONES UNDER THE STAIRCASE WHATTTTT???? lol. That would freak me out and I would move. I hate scary things or the possibility of scary things. Thanks for the post!!!


  5. It's interesting that you bring your own questions to pass out. And how cool that you break a concrete block with your bare hands!! I would like to see that =)

    Thanks for the giveaway!!

  6. Not only am I drooling to read Ashen Winter, but I have to say that I think Mike's bio is one of the most creative & funniest I've had the pleasure of reading! <3
    Mary DeBorde M.A.D.
    zenrei57 (at hotmail dot com

  7. thanks for a fun post! This series is at the top of my want list ;)


  8. Great story Mike, that must have been a tense few minutes until you figured out you were digging up a pipe and not bones.

    Barbed1951 at aol dot com

  9. I don't know... That stairway is just invited a ghost in. It is Creepy as hell.

  10. I don't know... That stairway is just inviting a ghost in. It is C-R-E-E-P-Y.

  11. Yeah Hoosiers!!!


  12. Yeah Hoosiers!!


  13. I really need to read these books! I've heard such great things about them!!


  14. Thanks for the lovely post I really need to pick up that book!



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