Interview with Hugh Howey

Here’s the scoop: I’m sitting at my work station on the Death Star, flicking dried bits of chewing gum at Carol Wyer, when suddenly I get an alert that Hugh Howey’s ship is cruising past, just out of tractor beam range. Knowing that the Evil Mastermind will be less than happy if I miss this opportunity, I run down to the shuttle bay. With no time to lose, I wind up the rubber band on the back of the shuttle really, really tightly. Then, I get in the shuttle and – ping! I’m hurtling across the heavens on an intercept course with Howey’s ship. I reach it, knock on his window, and manage to ask him these few questions before the rubber band contracts and pulls me and the shuttle back to the Death Star. Phew, that was a close one!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Hugh Howey is the author of the award-winning Molly Fyde Saga and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling WOOL series. The WOOL OMNIBUS won Kindle Book Review’s 2012 Indie Book of the Year Award—it has been as high as #1 in the Kindle store—and 17 countries have picked up the work for translation.

Here’s what Hugh had to say:

Hugh, you’ve mentioned that you write in multiple genres. How do you handle different genre projects at the same time? Do you have any difficulty in switching voices and moods?

Man, I wish my moods were more stable! But since they’re not, it helps me to have several projects going at once. If I get stuck or lose energy in a science fiction story, I can pop over to my erotica novel or my memoirs and add a chapter (or write one chapter and copy/paste into both of these).

I think my voice is more suited to the plot and characters than to the genre. I like getting in touch with the mood of a piece, and it colors my vocabulary, my sentence flow, my injection of humor or horror. What I’ve found, incidentally, is that the vast majority of readers are keen to explore different genres with the same author. I get a lot of emails that start off with how much they loved Wool, but that they just read I, Zombie or The Hurricane and enjoyed them even more.

Putting Wool aside for a moment, which of your other titles are you most proud of/satisfied with?

I, Zombie. It’s a book I don’t recommend anyone reading (I even warn them not to in the product description, and this isn’t a marketing trick. I really advise against it). But to me, it’s the most personal work I’ll ever write. It’s my ode to New York City, the only novel in which I directly confront my experiences at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and also a very public internal monologue in which I wrestle with my lack of belief in Free Will. In sum, it’s horrific. But I’m very glad I wrote it.

If you could turn back the clock, is there anything you would do differently?

I would wind that clock back until something snapped. I would go back to when I was twelve years old, dreaming of becoming an author, and I would have stuck with all those novels I started and never finished. I would have goofed off less and written more. I would have thirty books published by now. My lack of faith in myself to write to completion is the one thing I wish I could go back and change. It shouldn’t have taken this long to figure out how to stay motivated.

Have you participated in any groups similar to Indies Unlimited, or other writing groups? If yes, were they helpful?

Absolutely. I was part of a writing group in Boone, N.C. called Highcountry Writers. I did workshops in the writing forums of SF World. I stay active on the Kindle Boards Writers’ Cafe. There’s so much to learn from other writers and from their feedback. Writing is an inherently lonely endeavor. Having a place to commune with like-minded people is a blessing.

What would you say to a young, new writer who has a few great story ideas and little else, and who looks aghast at all the things self-publishing involves – what key advice would you give him/her?

Self-publishing involves as much or as little work as you want to invest in it. You don’t need to market your book. You don’t need a website. You don’t need to upload your work to sales channels. If you enjoy writing stories, you can email them to friends for free and see if they are entertained. You can post them to a blog in an instant.

The hard work is self-inflicted. I put in very long hours and work every single day because I love what I do and because I want to put out the best work possible. Don’t feel any pressure to do likewise. If you enjoy writing, do as much of it as you can. There has never been a better time to be a writer, whatever your goals and ambitions are.

Do you think a self-published book will ever win a major literary award? If yes, how far are we away from that day?

Absolutely. There are a few literary awards like the Hugos that are voted on by the fans, and the success of indie breakouts has highlighted how much power fans truly wield. As for awards like the Man Booker, Pulitzer, National Book Award, etc., I would be surprised if we didn’t see a win from a self-published book in the next five or six years. My guess is that the first of these will come from a major author who decides to publish something on their own that was too quirky or non-commercial to be picked up elsewhere. Look at Tinkers. It won the Pulitzer and came from a small press. A book like that could have been self-published and shocked everyone. I can’t wait to see it happen! (The 2013 Hugo Award nominations are open, by the way!)

Final question: Indies Unlimited has quite a few lady writers who, if they can’t actually have your babies, would nevertheless appreciate an opportunity to throw their under-garments at you. Any special message I could convey to them? 🙂

My wife and I live in Jupiter, Florida. So my advice would be to face south and throw away! Granted, your room is going to look like a mess afterward…

Look for WOOL in hardback in 2013 from Random House UK and keep your fingers crossed that Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian will do something exciting with the film rights!

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

26 thoughts on “Interview with Hugh Howey”

  1. Excellent interview, Chris. I think Hugh and I are kindred spirits. I seem to have a variety of genres to keep me going depending on my mood. I won’t be throwing any panties his way, my hubby likes them where they are.

  2. Fantastic interview, thanks Chris & Hugh. I’m with you on winding that clock back. There are so many half-written stories from my childhood/early teens in boxes somewhere…perhaps now’s the time to dust them off and see if I was any good?

  3. Thank you, Mr. Howey (I call all famous people Mr./Ms) for validating writing in multiple genre. My cubby is filled with rough drafts in lit fic, SF/fantasy, humor, creative nonfic. When my mood turns dark I go to my SF/fantasy folder; when I go maniacal I reach for the humor; when I think I have life figured out I work on a lit fic.

  4. Chris James and Hugh Howey. My week has been made! Great post, Chris. I’m fascinated by Mr. Howey’s style and openness. I’ve read only the introductory chapter to Wool but it reads wonderfully; I can see how why it’s caught on so.

    Really enjoyed reading these insights. Thanks so much!

  5. Wonderful post, Chris.
    A post like this redirects me back to my office and away from the 81-no humidity-perfect day!
    And, shame on you for letting Mr. Howey know that we have discussed his comeliness as well as his literary prowess. 🙂

  6. Great interview. Hugh, you seem like one of the least annoying writers in the world. Something must be up. Chris… 😉

    Seriously, enjoyed this much and congrats on your success. Good interview, CJ.

  7. Brilliant interview Chris! And I love the honesty of Hugh’s answers. I just hope the rubberband didn’t smart too much on the way back. 😉

  8. The first time I’ve heard that readers get to like an author and then try their other genres, that’s so exciting to hear from someone who has the first hand experience, as opposed to from people who spout rules. A great read, thank you both.

  9. Great interview, Chris. Got in some great questions – and must have jotted the notes quite quickly – before the rubber band pinged you back to the Death Star.

    Hugh, I particularly appreciate your mention of making self-publishing what you want to make of it. Sometimes, just getting it out for friends and family is the end goal, and that’s just fine 🙂

  10. Chris, you just made my day. Nay, sir, you’ve made my week. Thank the stars for those strong rubber bands we have lying about. And thanks to Hugh for slowing his speeding ship long enough to answer some questions. Kudo’s to you both.

  11. I forgive you for getting gum in my hair even though I had to cut it out and look like a punk now. This was a fabulous interview. Thank you Chris and thank you Hugh. I love hanging out with the elite. Damn! Is that the paparazzi hanging about the back door again? I haven’t got any lippy on.

  12. @Everyone:
    Thanks all for your kind comments, however the credit should go to Hugh. He’s achieving some remarkable things, and everywhere he is called a self-published author. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds his success to be inspiring, and his success is going some small way to showing the rest of the world that there really IS talent among the Indie movement (yes, I know that we all know there is, but the more Hugh Howeys break out, the better it will be for all of us). 🙂

  13. Great interview, Chris.

    I’m with Hugh on the multiple moods as I have multiple books going at once. If I get stuck I just go on to another I was perhaps stuck on. And the clock– turning it back—so with you on that one too. I have so many books started, I’m afraid I won’t finish them all.

  14. Well done, Chris, and kudos to you for pulling off this excellent interview, and thank you, Hugh, for such fresh, candid responses to our Chris’s guileless, penetrating questions. For the record, I do believe I would have answered most of Chris’s questions almost identically; however, to Rich’s question, I would have answered, ‘a Caledonian pine tree’; I like to live above the smog and pollution, in the clean, sweet air of the elevated ground, far from the madding crowds.

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