January has been a wonderful month for me, despite being busy as anything. In fact, being busy has been what has made it so great. I’ve been running around, working, learning more about some fantastic authors through Sci-Festival, and writing like there is no tomorrow. It’s invigorating, being so prolific.
My final guest for Sci-Festival is another author known to be rather prolific. You can see how many projects he has going on his website. With how busy he is, not to mention that I had a bit of a fan girl moment when he responded to my email, I was overwhelmed with excitement when Hugh Howey agreed to answer a few questions for us.
How did you get into writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy?
I write in a lot of genres, but science fiction is my favourite. I would say it’s from being an avid reader within the genre when I was younger. But it’s also the best way to comment and satirize the world we live in today.
Which is the first aspect of a story you usually plan? The plot, the setting, or the characters?
It’s different with every story. Most often, it’s the setting. For my first series, it started with the characters. It’s all so intertwined that it’s hard to say. Often, every bit of all three just occur like a dream.
If you had to say that your stories were Sci-Fi/Fantasy crossed with something, what would it be? For example, Sci-Fi/Romance, or Historical Fantasy. Why did you choose this?
I would say literary fiction. It’s what I read a lot of these days, and I try to bring that lyrical prose style to my works. Not sure if I succeed or not.
What, or who, would you say is your greatest influence in your writing?
My mother. She instilled in me the love of reading. I wouldn’t be a writer today were it not for her.
How did you come up with the idea for the book you’ve listed here?
Most of my ideas come from reading the New York Times every morning. SAND started by thinking of how many pockets of humanity are suffering out there, and what it must be to live in a stricken environment where no one will come to your aid. We don’t seem to have the will or the means or methods to help those who most need it, and that has to be a terrible feeling.
What was your proudest moment in the creation of this book?
The fact that I wrote it while on the road. I wrote the rough draft during NaNoWriMo, which is a program that encourages writers to come up with a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November. This is my fifth year participating, and I worried that being on book tour in Europe for the entire month of November would make completing my goal impossible. I’ve never worked so hard or so diligently on a novel in my life. And I’m really proud of that and proud of the resulting work.
Have there been any points that had you doubting yourself? How did you get past them?
Every single day. I wrestle with my doubts as a writer constantly. The way to overcome them is to write through them and realize during the revision process that you aren’t as bad as you think. Emails and reviews from readers help as well.
What is your favourite aspect of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres?
The ability to comment on the human condition. You can take the world we know and twist it out of shape with some grand idea, and the way that humans are constant is revealed by how the characters react and what they do. Hypothetical futures are the lenses through which our pores are examined.
What is the element you like the least about the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres?
Info-dumps. Both of these genres can get too caught up in the ideas and lose sight of the people. The ideas should be spread throughout the entire work. They should come slowly. I can’t get into fantasy novels that start with a history lesson or a litany of lords. Put a single character in jeopardy and let the world gradually build around them.
The same is true of science fiction. Don’t explain to the reader how the FTL drive works. Just get the characters to their next source of tension. Romance novels don’t delve into the magical nature of cell phones by describing how voices are beamed across the planet. They just focus on what’s being said. Sci-Fi is best when it doesn’t get caught up in the details.
Discounting ‘because I’d have made a lot of money’ (if that is the case,) which Sci-Fi or Fantasy book/tv series/film do you wish you’d written, and why?
The original Star Wars film. The blend of magic and science was perfect. The hero’s journey has never been better told. Runner up would be the first Matrix film.
You’re incredibly productive with your writing. How do you balance a number of different stories on the go?
I try to stick to one story at a time, but if a scene in my next book occurs to me, I’ll jot it down. I just try to stay busy and moving forward. Always moving each work forward. Eventually, you get to the end.
Authors are told that to be successful, they need a good author platform. You’re active on Facebook, and close with your readers. How would you say this has influenced your career?
It’s been crucial for me, but probably not for the reasons you’d expect. I find the feedback from readers to be the greatest motivator to keep writing. Staying in touch, being able to take a break and converse with people, it’s how I unwind and relax. Otherwise, writing would be too lonely for me to endure.
You release a number of your works as smaller segments before releasing the omnibus edition when it’s complete, how would you say this has effected your readership? Do you find that it brings more loyal fans, knowing that they’ll receive regular works from you?
Many of my readers enjoy the serial aspect of my releases. Others prefer to wait for the full story to come out. I like giving readers the choice. And if someone reads the first part and realizes the work isn’t for them, they don’t waste their money on the rest. I look at several of my books as TV shows. Try an episode, see if you want to watch the entire season.
You’ve been an inspiration in the self-publishing world, both via your success and your business dealings in refusing to hand over your eBook rights to publishers. Who would you say was your biggest inspiration in self-publishing?
To be honest, I wasn’t very aware of self-publishing when I got into it. I just saw with my first book, which was released by a small press, that everything they were doing were things I could handle. It wasn’t until after WOOL took off that I discovered a lot of the people who had forged the path I took. Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, people like that. But these days, my inspirations are everywhere. Every person out there who is devoting some part of their day, every day, to writing – they inspire me.
While you’ve received many accolades for your various works, Wool really propelled you into the public eye with your print deal with Simon & Schuster. What do you think it is that really pulled the public into this story?
The characters and the mystery. Juliette is such a powerful heroine. And the secrets unfold slowly like the first season of the TV show LOST. The difference is, I knew where I was going early on and I stuck to it. 🙂
You have a graphic novel edition of Wool in the making, what has been the biggest change in seeing your work go from novel to comic?
Looking my characters in the eye. It’s crazy, seeing people you made up brought to life. I imagine the film would be even more surreal. The artwork for the graphic novel has been freaky-good. Jimmy Broxton is knocking it out of the park.
You’ve done wonders with your writing, and I’m sure many authors would love to pick your brains for advice. If you had to choose a single piece of advice to give to Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers out there, what would it be?
Read and write every single day. This is a profession that’s all about habits. Work on forming good habits, and everything else will fall into place. You do need to love what you’re doing, though, because it could be years. It could be your entire lifetime. If you enjoy this, you won’t have any regrets. The doing is the reward.
You’ve already sold the movie rights to Wool, and it’s rumoured there is interest from numerous directors. What are you looking forward to most if and when the movie gets made?
I’m looking forward to the on-set vacation stipulated in my contract. I’m a film nut. Spending a week on-set to watch how they come together – that would be amazing. Other than that, I would love to be at the premiere. I can’t imagine what that would feel like.
Many fans connect characters to actors and actresses. Are they any actors you’d like to see in the roles of your characters?
I’m probably alone in this, but I prefer unknown actors over big stars. I want these people to truly inhabit the character, not be someone that I recognize from elsewhere. When Brad Pitt walks into the scene, he’s Brad Pitt for a while. It takes a pause to convince yourself that this is who he’s pretending to be, and that drags me out of the world for a moment.
Also, I like the idea of unknown actors getting a break. Like what happened with me.
Hugh Howey spent eight years as a yacht captain before giving up the seafaring life and taking up writing. His New York Times bestselling Silo Saga has been translated into more than thirty languages and optioned for a feature film by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian. He lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Amber and their dog Bella. When he isn’t writing, he’s taking pictures or talking to strangers.
The old world is buried. A new one has been forged atop the shifting dunes. Here in this land of howling wind and infernal sand, four siblings find themselves scattered and lost. Their father was a sand diver, one of the elite few who could travel deep beneath the desert floor and bring up the relics and scraps that keep their people alive. But their father is gone. And the world he left behind might be next.
Welcome to the world of Sand, the first new novel from New York Times bestselling author Hugh Howey since his publication of the Silo Saga. Unrelated to those works, which looked at a dystopian world under totalitarian rule, Sand is an exploration of lawlessness. Here is a land ignored. Here is a people left to fend for themselves. Adjust your ker and take a last, deep breath before you enter.