I'm incredibly honored to interview Hugh Howey, author of awesome stories like Wool, the Molly Fyde saga, and I, Zombie. Wool has recently been optioned by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian for a potential feature film, and it was just featured as the Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon. Please check out his website, as well as his work on Amazon.
1. What inspired you to become a writer?
My love of reading. I think when you enjoy something so much, you aspire to create some of your own. I found early on that I enjoyed relating stories, both real events from my life and made up tales, and so I began to dream of one day becoming an author. Not that I thought it might really happen!
2. How did you come up with the idea for Wool? Did you envision it as a series, or was it one tale that people demanded more of?
It started with this question of whether or not we can know the world by staring at a single screen. It’s something that occurred to me from watching the advent of 24-hour news. In my travels, I’ve seen one sort of world, a pretty nice place. On the news, I see something largely horrific. What does this bias toward what’s newsworthy do to us?
And so I thought about a society that can only see this dismal view of their landscape. They live underground. They aren’t allowed to question what lies outside their limited scope. But there are those who do, and their punishment is to be let out to see for themselves.
3. I see from your website that you're working on several books(including two in the Wool saga). How do you plan out your work? Do you outline or simply write as the words come to you?
I do a lot of both. I outline the general plot, and then allow the characters to roam freely as they go from a set beginning to a set end. New and unsuspected twists pop up, and I work to incorporate them. I think the best stories are told if they are well thought out and planned ahead of time, but I think the best writing happens when you allow the characters some liberty and just go where they take you. The trick is to find a balance that works.
4. How have your travels over the ocean affected your books?
Immensely. My view of the human condition would be less well informed if I had stayed in one place. And my travels put my life in jeopardy several times, which gave me an intense appreciation for its worth and for what that sort of danger feels like.
Then there’s the characters and the cultures I encountered throughout the islands and abroad. They all find their way into my stories. Fact is far crazier than fiction, so all I have to do is tone down what I see and experience, and it makes for unbelievable drama on the page.
5. What do you think of the current market transformation concerning the shift between traditional and indie publishing?
I think it’s wonderful. There are more choices for both the reader and the writer. And the shift is benefiting traditional publishing as well. The large publishers are loathe to take risks, and by signing successful indies, they are able to promote works that readers have signaled they want more of. The market, in essence, is becoming smarter and more efficient.
My message to aspiring writers is to view the indie route as the best way to begin one’s journey as an author. There’s zero risk. A book that fails on the open market can be unpublished down the road. A book that fails with a traditional publisher can make it more difficult to get a second contract. Now that the stigma is gone, now that publishers no longer fear taking on independent authors, what used to be the path of last resort is now the best path to success. You can languish in slush piles or you can prove yourself with your audience. Wool would never have been published by a major press. Neither would many of the erotica works tearing up the charts these days. Only the readers know what they want. The market is now designed to cater to them. Everyone should find this exciting.
6. A lot of writers hate the business side of writing. What do you think is necessary for a writer to be successful in getting his or her career off the ground?
I think you have to love every aspect of writing if you hope to be successful. I have friends who are traditionally published, and they have a lot of the same obligations that I do. I get requests from my overseas publishers to film a video of me speaking to a particular audience, or write this letter to book reps, or okay this cover, or do this bit of social networking. It keeps me very busy. So I don’t think there’s this huge difference in the amount of work necessary to be successful. If you are with a big publisher and all you do is write, you don’t do any marketing or promotion, I don’t think you’ll gain a very wide audience.
I should also note that I still view writing more as a hobby than a career. A hobby is something you love, something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid. It’s healthier and more honest for me to view my own writing in this manner. If everyone stopped buying my books, I’d still be writing.
7. Editing our work is one of the hardest things for a writer to do, especially a newbie. Describe your editing process.
I do 7 or 8 full passes through my work, from rough revision to hunting for typos. Then I pass the work off to my wife and mother, who mark it up with all the problems they find. I fix these, then send the work to a dozen or so beta readers, all of whom find issues. I fix these, and then I publish the work. Of course, errors still creep in there (where the hell do they come from?!), so I make corrections to the ebook over time as readers point out errors. It’s a lot of work, but I would do most of this before submitting to an agent or publisher if I wasn’t self-published. There’s this perception that other authors get to write rough drafts and send them somewhere to be polished to perfection. That doesn’t happen.
8. What kind of books do you like to read? What's your favorite and why?
Non-fiction, mostly. I’m curious. I enjoy learning. My writing is full of the things I encounter in history books, works on human psychology, biographies, and the like. I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, went through a long phase of gobbling up the classics, but now I mostly read non-fiction.
9. How influential has your wife been in both inspiring your ideas and supporting your career?
Oh, she’s been amazing. My muse and my first beta reader. She has been very tolerant of my desire to live in small, affordable homes so I could squeeze by working part time in low-paying jobs while I concentrate on my writing. And she has been equally tolerant of all the new demands on my time and my frequent travels. But I think it helps that she’s a fan of my writing. She often complains that she can’t find anything to read as good as my rough drafts. Then again, she keeps telling me that I get handsomer as I get older, which I know isn’t the case, so maybe it’s a bunch of baloney!
10. What advice would you give to a newbie writer just starting out?
Ask yourself why you are writing. Is it to get rich? You’ll be disappointed. Is it to amass legions of readers? Again, that’s not a goal you’re likely to meet. And it isn’t because success is rare, it’s because I firmly believe that what you write and how you write are determined by why you write. This is true for me, and I suspect it’s true in general.
Write because you love it. Write to tell the stories you wish were out there, as a reader. Write for that audience of one, that single stranger who will pick up your work and find that it resonates with them. Write beautifully and tell interesting stories. If you do that, you can’t fail. If your motivation is to be happy while writing, success is guaranteed.
This is how I approach it. It’s a hobby. Like gardening. Could I buy my vegetables at the store for less than the time and effort cost me to grow my own? Of course. Could someone who enjoys fishing save themselves similarly by going to the market? Yes. But that’s not why we garden and why we fish. It isn’t why I write.