I’m quite thrilled to have as my guest today author Hugh Howey, whose WOOL books are as popular as chits in a Silo and are making international headlines… including in the UK, where WOOL was officially released in hardcover recently. If you haven’t read them, go grab the WOOL Omnibus, First Shift, Second Shift, and Third Shift (or the Shift Omnibus), and get ready for audio books, comic books, and a possible movie! Here’s Hugh himself to answer my questions. I’m in italics; he’s not.
Hi Hugh! Thank you SO much for being willing to talk to me about the phenomenon that is WOOL. I’m going to try to concentrate on questions that I haven’t seen answered elsewhere… I’m not going to ask you what your writing desk looks like, or how many words you write a day. But feel free to tell me if you want to!
You have been very open with fans from the beginning and have a rare connection to readers. How do you manage to find the time? Do you enjoy blogging and making dance videos, or is it just a cynical ploy to sell more books… no, seriously, are you a gregarious kind of guy?
Yeah, this is just who I am. When I’m out in public, I make an effort to talk to strangers. And I’ve never really grown up. Besides, writing is such a solitary endeavor. I get antsy for social interactions. So it isn’t really about finding the time to connect with readers; it’s something I enjoy. Long before I thought I could make a living as a writer, I was driving two hours to sit and visit with middle school classrooms or conduct writing workshops. It’s not about making money. It’s about feeling happy and fulfilled.
The Wool universe is complex for a reader to follow, the way you move around in time and spotlight different characters in each segment. Is this tough for you to figure out even as you write it? Do you have to go back and reread the old books to remind yourself what is in each book?
I have notes I can refer to, but I rarely do. Each book feels self-contained to me in a way. I know where the beginnings and ends are, so all I have to do is shade in the middle bits. I have thought about putting together a timeline for readers so they can see how the stories overlap. Maybe when I’m done with the writing.
Do you ever regret something you did in an old book and wish you could change it? Will you change some of those books, since you can do so easily with ebooks?
I don’t have any regrets on plot and structure. If I could go back and change one thing, it might be to give the first Wool a subtitle. At the time, I thought it would be a single work. It creates some confusion when there’s a novelette called “Wool” and a full novel from Random House and Simon and Schuster called “Wool.” But there’s no way I could have predicted the success of the series.
Are the indie published ebooks going to be very different from the print books you’re now doing through S&S? Do you think they’ll try to make editorial changes? How much control do you have over your material?
I’m going to update the ebooks to reflect the changes made to the physical books. Most of the changes are very minor. The only big one is the inclusion of a new chapter to give some backstory on Juliette. I love how seamless this chapter slotted into the story. If I told readers who have only seen the print version that it was an addition, I think they’d be shocked.
Two of my favorite novels have origins similar to Wool. Ender’s Game and Fahrenheit 451 both began as short stories that grew due to demand into full-length novels. Ender’s Game was later re-released in an “Author’s Definitive Edition” years after winning the Hugo and Nebula. This process goes back to Dickens, who expanded his serialized works before combining them into a novel. Heck, it goes back to the books that came together to form the Bible, which has been edited and changed over the years. If it was good enough for the greatest works of literature, it should be fine for my scribblings.
Why are you allowing fans to publish (and charge for) books based on the WOOL series? Is someone at some point going to yell at you for doing this?
The world of Wool is ripe for exploration. I won’t be able to scratch the surface. When readers got in touch to ask about fan fiction, I not only gave my blessing, I insisted that they charge for the work. Even if it’s just a dollar. I know what it’s like to struggle as an artist. If I’m now in a position to give someone else a boost, I’m going to. And yeah, I’m sure my lawyer is going to have a fit when he finds out. But I don’t care. I’m a fan of open-source, someone who hates DRM, and someone who thinks we shouldn’t go around suing one another. I’m making enough money. It warms my heart to see Ben Adams selling Wool prints and keeping 100% of the profit. The same goes for fan fiction.
Do you have ideas for a new universe after you finish the WOOL series? Will you stick with post-apocalyptic dystopian worlds, or are you going to switch to hot teen romances?
I started my first erotica story a few months ago! I also have a vampire novel I’m dying to write. Plus, another Molly Fyde book to wrap up. Then there’s another dystopian world I want to explore, and a fantasy novel I’ve had in mind for ages. I’ll keep bouncing around and writing whatever excites me. I know that goes against certain rules and formulas in the publishing world, but my primary motivation is to enjoy what I’m doing. I never thought I’d make a living at this. I’m fully prepared to go back to a day job while I write for fun.
Do you worry that you might never have such a spectacular success again?
I don’t worry about it. I just assume I won’t. Nothing about my success feels natural or normal to me. I marvel at it. I don’t have the feeling of: “Finally! Everything I’ve always wanted and fully deserved is now at my doorstep! What took so long? Give me more!” Instead, I’m feeling: “What in the world is going on? Is the universe going to get back to normal? Soon?” My focus is to enjoy it while I can.
Can you believe it… are you pinching yourself with amazement every day?
Every hour of every day. I wake up amazed and go to bed amazed.
You made a rare deal to have your books published traditionally in print while holding onto all of the electronic rights. Will this become more common? Where do you see the indie/traditional book scene going?
I hope it becomes more common. Bella Andre had a similar deal from a smaller publisher. Colleen Hoover just followed with a similar deal from Simon and Schuster. I don’t think I deserve any credit for breaking through any boundaries. It was just going to happen. It had to be someone, and I just happened to be publishing and gaining attention at the right time. The key for all of us and for everyone who comes after was saying no to contracts that simply weren’t fair. The reason we were able to do that was because we were already making money on our digital rights. So we owe a lot to the indie authors who came before us, to the e-reader revolution, to readers who embraced this technology. It’s been a gradual change with a lot of people involved. I’m just one person.
Congratulations on your success, Hugh, which continues to grow. You deserve it.
Thanks for taking the time to answer. And don’t let me keep you from writing! I’m now holding my breath for the next book in the series!
Thanks, Patrice! I’ll get back to work on DUST. Keep an eye out for March 12th. I think that’s when WOOL hits bookstores here in the U.S.
Patrice here: Having been swept up into the world of WOOL, I couldn’t help coming up with ideas of my own. I ran the synopsis of a short story past Hugh, who gave me his blessing. “My Name is HELEN” should be out at the end of February.
For a fun, quirky take on another version of the future, try my short Till Death Do Us Part.