July 5, 2011

Plotter-Pantser: Talking with Author Mike Mullin

The Writer

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 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.

Website: www.mikemullinauthor.com
Blog: http://mikemullin.blogspot.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Mike_Mullin
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001482248900
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4445700.Mike_Mullin

The Book

Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.

Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter.  When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.

The first two chapters are available at Mike Mullin's website!

Plotter ... Pantser

Are you a plotter or pantser...and why?
Yes, I am, thank you. A plotter and a pantser.  In fact, I don’t think any of us are purely one or the other. It’s sort of like autism spectrum disorder—all writers fall somewhere on the plotter/pantser spectrum. Writing is probably a disorder, too, but I’ll leave that for you to judge.

No, you protest? I plot every detail of my story and follow my outline with religious fervor. Or, I never plan ahead—how dare you suggest I put my precious characters into straitjackets? My response: you need to try the other style.

I’m not pulling this suggestion out of my butt. (Clearly I’m capable of pulling ideas from there—I write fiction, after all.) Deren Hansen recently posted a helpful piece on Literary Rambles summarizing recent psychological research on this topic. The punch line:  “People with a rational problem-solving style (plotters) and people who approach problems intuitively (pantsers) generated more creative answers when they were asked to solve a problem using the opposite style.”

I’ve tried both. I pantsed my first novel, which may forever remain in a drawer.  But even while pantsing that novel, I had plot ideas in my head. I even had whole scenes written out—I was pantsing the spaces between them, not the whole thing. I’m now on my fifth full revision of that novel—one of which was a rewrite done plotter-style.

I plotted my second novel, ASHFALL, which will be released by Tanglewood Press on 10/11/11. By plotted, I mean I started with five pages of chaotic notes about the novel. I frequently pantsed my way off the plan. For example, I stayed with my uncle, who was dying of metastasized colon cancer, for a few days while I was drafting ASHFALL. While I was there, I wrote a section of ASHFALL that had never appeared in any of my notes. In those two chapters, Alex, my protagonist, meets a family grieving their dead father.

Later, my wife and I took a road trip to Iowa to drive the route Alex takes while trying to find his family. A stop in Bellevue, at Mississippi Lock and Dam Number 12, inspired another couple of pantsed chapters, in which Alex crosses the Mississippi.

Plot if you want, but be open to pantsing. Pants if you want, but be open to plotting. Whatever it takes to reach your maximum creative potential and give your readers the novel they deserve.

Talk to us about your plotter/pantser role as it relates to the experience you had in writing your latest publication.
Oops, I already covered this question in my answer to the first. I should have plotted this interview instead of pantsing it. Sorry about that.


Jennifer C. said...

Wonderful response. After reading it, I can see how what Mike says is true. Thanks for pointing this out to me a pantser to the core, but a plot at heart.

Unknown said...

Thanks for inviting me to guest post on your blog!

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks for the interview, Mike. Half an ARC to go before I can start Ashfall, I can't wait!