Slate Interviews Hugh Howey
Slate recently reviewed Wool and interviewed Hugh, calling Wool’s popularity his “Cinderella story”.
Howey’s self-publishing Cinderella story is so compelling that it often becomes the media story about Wool. But way more fascinating than that is the way the world of Wool reflects our own world—and how Howey’s interactions with readers are overturning the traditional relationship between an author, his creations, and his audience.
Howey also taps into many of our current anxieties. Who controls the flow of information to all of our screens? How much privacy and control are we willing to give up to ensure domestic security? And how much good will it do to know the truth if you can’t change the system? It’s this last question that fuels uprising in the silo. Knox, the head of Mechanical who rallies his colleagues and others to revolt, explains why his anger compels him to violence: “I only want to hurt those that lied,” he says. “That’s all any of us want. We’ve all lived in fear. Fear of the outside. Fear of cleaning. Afraid to even talk about a better world. And none of it was true. The system was rigged, and in a way to make us hang our heads and take it.” Being in the silo is like living in a world where the decisions were made a long time ago by people you didn’t vote for. Sound familiar?
To read the full review and interview, head over to Slate.com.
Hugh Howey Talks to The Down Deep About Wool and Fan Moments
Today is the big day! The day Wool is released simultaneously in hardback and paperback in the United States. Did you pre-order your copy yet?
I have to admit it’s crazy to remember that I first picked up Wool when it had under 500 reviews, and now it’s passed 3,800 and will surely pick up hundreds more with the book’s wide release.
To coincide with Wool’s big day, The Down Deep sent some questions in to Hugh, which he graciously answered for us.
You just spent some time over in the UK and Europe. What was the biggest highlight of that trip for you?
There were quite a few awesome moments. Seeing posters of my book on the tube, seeing a guy on the flight back from Dublin reading a copy of WOOL, meeting awesome fans like radio host Rick O’Shea, spending time with the Random House team . . . but one moment really stood out. And that was getting off the plane, checking into the hotel, and then walking straight to Foyle’s — a famous bookstore in London — and walking through the door with my wife on the phone while I saw my book on store shelves for the very first time. It very nearly moved me to tears, both the realization of a dream and also being so far away from home when it happened.
What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming book tour? What are you most nervous about?
I’m most looking forward to meeting readers, shaking hands, signing copies of books (especially the occasional oldie they might bring in, the Plagiarist or Molly Fyde book). I’m most dreading the airports and airplanes. Twelve flights in the next two weeks seems inhumane, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever said to you during a meet-up or random encounter?
I had a guy stand up during a Q&A in Wales and say that he has read thousands of books in his life and WOOL is his absolute favorite. That blew me away. I’ve also heard of people naming their pets after a character from the book, which is very flattering.
What are your personal favorites in the science fiction genre?
The FOUNDATION saga. Neal Stephenson’s DIAMOND AGE. BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Card’s ENDER’S GAME. DUNE. Mostly the classics.
When you traveled to California to talk about the Wool movie, what was your biggest personal fan boy moment?
Meeting Danny Glover (and getting my picture taken with him!). I grew up with his films. Talking with him in the flesh was awesome.
In your recent WSJ interview, it was mentioned that the idea of re-naming Wool came up. While we agree that would have been a bad idea, did any of the new title suggestions seem like they would have worked well if you went back in time to before you published Wool 1?
Sure. If I could go back in time, I might have called the first book SILO or DUST or any of a number of things. But I can’t imagine repeating the success I’ve had. It has all been serendipitous. Perhaps the quirky title is one of the reasons so many people have picked up this work.
You seem to have fulfilled so many of your dreams. Do you now have new dreams?
I have old ones unfulfilled. I want to sail around the world. And I will.
You’ve mentioned that Wool was a story that had been in your head for a while. Do you have any stories like that rattling around right now that give you that same writing itch that Wool did?
Oh, yes. I have one called INVARIABLE that’s actually my very oldest story idea. I’m dying to get this one written. Maybe in 2015.
You do such an incredible job of making the reader invested in every character, even for those that only have brief appearances in the book. As a writer, how do you approach your characters and make them so compelling?
It’s hard to describe. I just see them in my head. I can hear them. I feel their exhaustion or their merriment, and I make sure I describe this, that I capture the essence of what they’re feeling. I don’t know why or how it works. It just feels natural.
Wool is already in the top 50 on Amazon just 3 days before release. If it hits the top 10 or #1, how are you going to top your ballet dance?
Oh, no! It’s #13 right now. I hope it falls. Please fall. The dance videos are never a good thing.
I think my next video will be of me performing a front flip. I’ll take out insurance, first.
We want to thank Mr. Howey for taking the time to answer our questions!
Hugh Howey to Be in Friday 3/8/13 Print Edition of WSJ
In addition to the video we published earlier today, the Wall Street Journal has published a full article on Hugh and Wool, providing readers new to the story with a great write-up on his career take off since he first published Wool 1 in 2011.
The story will be in the March 8 print edition of the WSJ tomorrow.
When “Wool” hits bookstores next Tuesday, publishing industry insiders will be watching the experiment closely. Simon & Schuster will release a $15 paperback and a $26 hardcover simultaneously, competing directly against Mr. Howey’s digital edition, which costs $5.99.
“We would have preferred to own all the rights, but that wasn’t going to happen,” says Simon & Schuster President and Publisher Jonathan Karp. “It was a very unusual circumstance.”
The story also interviews the women in his life such as wife, Amber Lyda, and mother, Gay Murrill.
Mr. Howey grew up in Monroe, N.C., the son of a farmer and a schoolteacher. As a teenager he devoured popular science fiction books like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “Ender’s Game,” and always had a wild imagination. He studied physics and English at the College of Charleston, but dropped out his junior year to sail to the Bahamas. He cycled through a series of odd jobs, working as a yacht captain, a roofer, and a technician for an audio-video company. Four years ago, he decided to give writing a shot. He and his wife were living in a 750-square foot house in Boone, N.C. He was unemployed; his wife, Amber Lyda, was working as a psychologist. He had an idea for a story about a young spaceship pilot who travels across the galaxy in search of her missing father. He sold the novel, “Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue,” to a small Indiana publisher for less than a thousand dollars. Sales were meager.
“When he first published ‘Molly Fyde,’ I’d call his wife and say, ‘How many books has he sold? Should I go to Amazon and buy three more?’” says his mother, Gay Murrill, who owns a yarn shop in Charleston.
Mr. Howey kept trying. He got a 30-hour-a-week job at a university bookstore that paid only $10 an hour but gave him some flexibility. He got up at two or three in the morning to write, and wrote through his lunch hour and after dinner. He designed his own cover art, enlisting his wife and sister to pose in photos. He would often jolt up in bed in the middle of the night to scribble down ideas.
So cute of his mom, seriously! And now she can go to a newsstand tomorrow and buy out the WSJ.
The article is a really great read, so you should check it out here at WSJ.com.
Hugh Howey Talks to the BBC About Wool’s Rise
With Hugh Howey currently touring in Europe and the UK, he took some time to speak to the BBC about Wool’s rise to bestseller status and his thoughts on the likelihood that a movie will be made.
How involved were your readers in shaping Wool?
I liken it to the difference between recording an album in a studio and playing live. When you play live it’s you and an audience and you get energy from the applause.
Everyday I was getting emails, Facebook posts and tweets. It was energising knowing I was writing for an audience.
I’ve hidden my phone number in one of the books and people find it and call me randomly. It’s awkward when it happens but I like that blatant transparency about everything. This ride’s not going to last forever and why not just enjoy it?
What’s it like dealing with publicists and agents?
Hugh Howey’s sequel will be published next in April
Agents started calling me when the first four Wool books were topping the the science fiction chart on Amazon.
The agent I’m with now hired a co-agent in Hollywood to take it to JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon and all those guys – and Ridley Scott’s the one who won the rights for it.
How likely is it the film will get made?
I’ve had really low expectations because I’ve worked in the book industry and I’ve seen how many books get optioned – but everyone is really excited about this.
Me and Ridley Scott have exchanged emails, but he’s the top of the food chain and would get involved when this thing goes ahead.
Have Ridley Scott’s films been an influence?
I’m sure I was influenced growing up on Alien and I’m sure Ripley [the character played by Sigourney Weaver] was in my mind when I wrote the character of Juliette. I’m sure the pacing of Wool also harkens back to his older works where you can develop characters and tell the story rather than starting off with explosions.
The full interview can be read here.
Hugh Howey Talks Ebooks and US Publication with The West Australian
Wool is in bookstores this week in Australia and The West Australian interviewed Hugh Howey about his success with Wool, where he was a year ago, and why there’s still no US hardcover edition of Wool in stores in the States.
“It’s been fascinating for me,” Howey says — a remarkable understatement.
“It’s been weird to watch this take place. It’s not like having a dream that you want to come true, it’s like watching something you had on the side completely take off. This dream you have comes and takes you.”
When asked about a US edition of Wool, Howey confirmed what I’d suspected: that the digital rights to Wool is an issue.
“If you believe in your story, putting your work up on your website, making it available for everyone will lead to more success. It’s counter-intuitive and publishers won’t do it. But once you do that, the success of the physical book will come.”
Howey has recently signed with Random House for Australia and the UK but is still negotiating over the US rights. Talks are progressing but Howey said it was still hard for publishers to come to terms with all his publishing ideals.
“We have got closer and closer, and every time they come back they are being more adventurous with their conditions, but I don’t want to sign over my digital rights and I don’t want to commit to anything that will make my stories less available.”
It’s hard not to agree with him. It seems counter-intuitive to finally sign with a publisher only to have your books not as readily accessible to your potential readers. As an avid reader and Kindle owner, I find it completely ridiculous that some e-books are priced higher than their printed versions. Did it cost more for them to convert to PDF than it did to print the book?
What I find amazing about e-books is their non-existent size. I don’t have to buy more bookshelves or keep a box of crappy books to donate. I can carry around dozens of books in my purse and read whichever one I want while traveling or waiting in line. I can read them on my phone or during my lunch break at work. And if the book sucks, it simply goes into my archive.
But when a truly good book comes along, I want that thing in my hands. I will buy both the e-version and the hard copy. And while I’m sure not everyone feels the same way, I’m a customer that just bought the book twice. A book like Wool is one of those books that people will want to place on their bookshelves, which has now, for me, become the place for only the best stories I read.
To read the whole interview, go to The West Australian.
The Down Deep Interviews Hugh Howey
Warning: This interview contains WOOL spoilers!
Last week, we sent in some interview questions to Hugh Howey and even though he was recently traveling, he got back to us with impressive speed! Read below for more on Second Shift’s release and some cool details on his past work.
Thanks to Hugh for taking the time to answer our questions!
You’re doing NaNoWriMo now on top of your regular writing. Do you participate every year and how many times have you succeeded?
This is my fourth year in a row participating in NaNoWriMo. In 2009, I wrote HALF WAY HOME. I wrote THE HURRICANE in 2010. Last year, I wrote WOOLs 2, 3, and 4. So, I’ve been successful the past three years. This year has been the biggest challenge thus far. I’m completing one book (which will be released this week) while starting a new one. I’m just barely hanging in there!
You posted that you just finished Second Shift. When can people expect to be able to pre-order and what is the release date?
There won’t be any pre-order for SECOND SHIFT. It should go live on Amazon before Thanksgiving. I’m hoping to have it uploaded by the 17th.
You’ve said previously that you didn’t believe in Wool at first. Which of your current works is your personal favorite book or story?
I like them all for different reasons. My favorite might be SECOND SHIFT, which is a risky book but with themes that I really enjoyed exploring.
Your detail in Wool 2 about knitting seemed almost as if it was written from experience. I’m guessing you don’t knit yourself (or do you?), so how did you “research” into the mind of a knitter to write the start of Wool 2?
I can knit, but I can’t purl! My mother and sister started a yarn shop in Charleston, SC called “Knit.” I’ve turned out a couple of scarves, but nothing fancier. Maybe when I get done writing, I’ll learn a few patterns.
In Wool 2, you very subtly reference past sexual abuse with Mayor Jahns. Was there a reason you put this into the book?
It just felt like part of her character to me. She has this resiliency, this drive to be a good person in a bad place. There’s also the desire to show that life in the silo is a lot like life in our world, which means children play and chase one another, and bad things happen as well.
Did you look to anyone in particular for inspiration in creating Juliette’s personality?
I have a lot of strong women in my life. My wife, sister, and mother are all inspirations. But my characters come just as much from all the other stories I’ve absorbed through my life. There are certain tropes we absorb, recombine, and regurgitate. She’s probably just as much Han Solo and Wookie as she is Ripley from ALIEN.
When you self-published in e-book form, did you ever think you’d see Wool in print? What went through your mind the first time you held the UK hardback published by Random House?
Absolutely! I make physical versions of all my books. I paginate them with InDesign and use CreateSpace to print them. What I never expected was that I’d sell so many or hear that these books are being picked up by libraries and bookstores. And now with Random House in the UK, I’m able to hold a hardback version, which is very cool.
Is there any specific significance to having the silos located in Atlanta?
There is a little symbolism and a little logic. Atlanta is the home of the CDC, which adds an aura of mystery behind the cause of the world’s end. It’s also an urban setting that seems removed from the major US cities. I wanted it to feel a little random and unexpected. As in, you finally discover what city that is over the hill . . . and it’s Atlanta?
You mentioned in your recent Ustream that you are working on a TV show. Can you share anything with us about that?
I don’t think so. I’ll check! Basically, I’m helping set up the world for a new TV show. It’s been pretty exciting so far.
Where did the idea for Wool come from? Did it start with a character or line of dialogue, a specific image, or just a vague premise for the story?
It started with the idea of the wallscreen. I wanted to explore the fact that our view of the world is distorted, because we get it through a filter. We watch 24-hour news and think we’re getting a clear view of reality. WOOL asks whether the world outside might be better than that.
You talk about children’s books several times throughout Wool. Were any of the books you mentioned modeled after ones you enjoyed as a child?
Possibly GO, DOGS, GO! My favorite books as a child were HAROLD’S PURPLE CRAYON and everything by SEUSS. The idea was that children’s books might survive because nobody would expect to take them seriously, anyway. But there would be shades of the truth in their zany stories.
When you wrote the character Solo, you could easily have made him a serious threat to Juliette, instead of you made him in an endearing ally for her. What made you write him this way?
Oh, I thought Juliette had been through enough at that point! And I liked to think of her bringing help to another. It was also unexpected, which is always an aim of mine. I like for plot points to be both logical and unexpected, which is a challenge.
Back in March you posted some casting suggestions should Wool end up making it into production. Now, eight months later, do you still stand by that fantasy casting or have your picks changed at all?
These days, I lean more toward having unrecognizable actors play the various roles. I get pulled out of movies sometimes when the star is bigger than the role, or when I feel like I know that actor, and therefore they couldn’t possibly be living underground hundreds of years from now. There’s also something appealing about giving fresh actors a new start. That’s what readers did for me!
You picked Evangeline Lily as your Juliette. Are you by any chance a LOST fan and if so, what was your take on the ending?
I loved the first season of LOST. I saw a handful of episodes after that, but I never saw the ending. My favorite way to watch TV is to wait until it’s all out and then watch the entire seasons all at once. I just haven’t felt the urge to do that with LOST yet.
You have four more books planned for the Wool series. What made you want to stop there?
I see the story playing out in three acts. Act I is WOOL. Act II will be SHIFT. The final act will be called DUST (I think). There are so many other stories I want to write that I don’t want to get stuck just cranking out an endless stream. That’s one of the reasons I took a step back with SHIFT and did a prequel. WOOL has such a nice ending. I want it to stand on its own.
Do you have plans to write from the Molly Fyde universe again?
Yes! I was about 95% done with the fifth Molly book when WOOL took off, and I started writing the rest of the Omnibus. I took a break this year to write I, ZOMBIE and a short story, but as soon as I wrap up the WOOL series, I’m going to finish that Molly book. It’s a great story. I can’t wait to get back to it.
Hugh has also generously offered us the chance to give away one of his UK hardbacks, so keep watch for that this week!