Here’s a thank you to all of you who read “The Sky Used to be Blue”! I made a video for you, kazoo and all. And if you wonder what I’m talking about when I mention that the picture behind me is backward (and it’s not), that’s because a friend flipped the vid for me! So now the cover makes sense, but I don’t. Oh well!
However, it was a very good hair day, so…
Thanks for buying, thanks for reading, thanks for telling your friends, and thanks for reviewing!
Thanks to the several hundred folks who have already bought The Sky Used to be Blue since it was published two days ago. I am blown away! And thanks to Hugh Howey, whose generosity in sharing the world he created with the WOOL books is unprecedented.
Here’s a quick look at a scene from the upcoming Part 2 of the Karma series, Cleaning Up — a rough draft that I just typed up last night. You are getting a glimpse into the mind of a writer… this is how the creative process works. Just jump in and create something out of thin air!
Let me know what you think:
Now, we don’t watch the Cleanings. Now, we find it too terrible.
But the first time, we didn’t know.
I stood in the cafeteria with hundreds of others, curious to see what Andy would encounter once the doors opened into what looked like a toxic world of swirling dust and dead soil. I was worried for him, but not really afraid. It didn’t seem possible that they would send him out—let him out, since he had been eager to volunteer—simply to die. How foolish it seems now.
Rick stood beside me that day. We had left Athena, who was only two, in the nursery. I had worked out my routine by then—vague and mostly compliant with Rick, sharp and curious with Andy. Somewhere in between for my daytime job. I had left the laundry, where I first worked, and found a position as a teacher in the elementary class for the Up Top. Though I had to remain cautious about revealing my clear memory of the time before, it seemed safe to demonstrate that I had enough intelligence to teach five- to seven-year-olds.
It had been hard enough keeping my two selves separate when I had Andy to talk to. Now, I knew, it would be doubly difficult to do so. And doubly critical.
We didn’t realize what would happen to him. At least, I didn’t.
I hadn’t seen Andy since the day he was dragged out of the cafeteria, not yet afraid, just stunned at what was happening to him.
And now, I could see him. Though his face wasn’t visible through the reflective glass on his helmet, and his moves were jerky and impeded by the bulk of the protective suit they had put him in, I still recognized my friend.
I knew that when Andy made a slow, balletic but clumsy twirl, he must be awed by the view. And even thought the landscape featured only the usual menacing gray clouds of dust and the barren hills, it still must be thrilling to get a 360 degree view of the sky and the world—what was left of it.
He went to work right away scrubbing the lenses through which we saw the outside. A cheer went up after the wallscreen view cleared—and we realized that we had been looking through a grimy build-up of dirt and whatever else was flying through the air with those noxious clouds. Somehow Andy’s work with these ingenious pads—wool?—had made all the difference.
But I was less concerned with the cosmetics of our view than with his health. Though everyone believed the outside air to be toxic, this suit they had put him in seemed to be doing the trick. Andy showed no signs of distress. Perhaps after he had completed the brave task of scrubbing the silo lenses, he would be welcomed back in, penance completed, cleansed of whatever sins he was considered guilty of.
Rick was right beside me, his hand laid protectively on my shoulder. I was careful to keep both my expression and my body language neutral as the emotions raging through me swung from fear to relief to pride and then back to fear.
Andy had apparently finished his duties with the little wool pads, and had returned them carefully to the numbered pockets on his suit. He turned and started to walk away from the wallscreen, toward the brown hill in front of us. Somehow he seemed to be heading for the ruins of the tall towers I knew to be what was left of Atlanta.
My breath caught in my throat as I realized how naïve I had been to imagine a triumphant return into the silo. I would have given anything to have him safe back inside again. What had felt like a prison only moments before seemed like a blessed refuge compared to the wasteland Andy was now shuffling through.
Keeping my voice carefully neutral, I turned to Rick. “So what happens now?”
He looked down at me and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
As was so often the case, I imagined I saw something in Rick’s eyes that meant he knew more than he was admitting. But how could he know what Andy’s punishment entailed? Rick wasn’t part of the Sheriff’s staff. And no one had ever gone outside before.
I turned back to the screen to see Andy start to slow, and then stumble. What was wrong? Had the suit ripped? I couldn’t see any outward reason for his change of pace. Maybe he was simply getting tired.
But then he fell, clutching his thickly padded hands to his gut. It was all I could do not to scream. He tried to rise again, but could not. For a few feet, he crawled forward, even the awkward suit unable to conceal what looked like spasms. As my friend’s agony became apparent, and he drew what appeared to be very painful breaths, the mood in the immense room changed. What had first been curiosity, followed by celebration after the lenses were cleared of grime, became gasps of horror and disbelieving cries. Voices around me started to sound.
Women began to sob and men clenched their jaws.
As Andy sank to the ground for the final time, I wept, ashamed and full of despair. How could I have let this happen to my sweet Andy?
Rick wrapped his long arms around me.
“Ah, baby, I’m so sorry. I know he was your friend.”
As Andy’s form, still encased in the bulky suit that was supposed to protect him, stilled at last, I nearly crumpled to the floor myself. Only Rick’s arms kept me upright. It was safe to cry now, as so many others were, stunned and horrified to witness the dead man lying in full view of the giant wallscreen and all the observers.
Only I had the irrational urge to scream at my strangely unreactive husband, to pound on the doors to the outside begging to retrieve the remains of my friend, or do something, anything, to change the outcome of his tragic last walk.
But I did nothing.
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.