Sci fi writer Hugh Howey feels the pain
February 10, 2014 | 2:17 pm
By Dan Bloom
“Wool” is a gripping genre novel published as an ebook and trade paperback and set in a dystopian future after global warming and its impact events have made human life on the Earth’s surface iffy. Below ground, a community exists in a giant silo, 144 floors down.
Self-published at first by sci fi novelist Hugh Howey, the novel went mainstream later on with a major publisher picking it up for release after Howey used social media platforms to push the ‘Wool” series uphill. There’s an option on the table for a movie deal with Hollywood now and if the film gets green lighted, the story will touch millions. This could be the future.
Howey came to Taiwan in early February to sign books and speak at a major regional book fair
in Taipei. In a brief email interview with TeleRead, he spoke about his excitement about getting a chance to meet some of his Taiwanese fans — who have read two of the books in the series in Chinese-language translations — and his desire to walk up the stairs of the 101-floor skyscraper known here as Taipei 101.
At the book fair, Howey told his fans — in English but with a translator at his side — that his visit to the Taipei 101 skyscraper made him feel bad about what he put his WOOL characters through.
Howey said the skyscraper’s height and his looking down between the stairwells reminded him of the 144-story underground silo he created for his novels.
Human beings are forced to live in the silo because the Earth’s surface is toxic, Howey explained to his Taiwanese fans. ”Society in the silo is divided into castes, and people move between the levels by walking a spiral staircase,” he said.
“To realize that I had my characters do this all the time, I started feeling bad for them,” Howey confessed.
When asked why the silo in the Wool was set at a depth of 144 underground levels, Howey replied: “I love the number 12. 144 is what we call ‘a gross’ or 12 x 12. I liked this better than going with the more obvious and round number 150.”
Howey said the series is now translated into 31 languages worldwide.
“The movie hasn’t been greenlit, but a screenplay has been written, and Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian have optioned the rights with 20th Century Fox attached. We should know more soon. But I’ll believe it’s real when I’m in the theater with a bucket of popcorn in my lap.”
Sci fi novels are not big sellers in Taiwan, although sci fi movies starring top Hollywood stars do very well, according to film industry sources. But Howey’s novel was presented here as just a very good book, without too much emphasis on the sci fi theme, and the book resonated with readers that way, he said.
Howey said that he hopes that science fiction will gain as much popularity in literature as it has enjoyed on TV and in film.
“People everywhere love stories about what the future might hold,” he said. “I think as our lives become ever more enmeshed with science and technology, more people will embrace the genre. The future is coming to us. We might as well crack a book and meet it halfway.”
“Another trend I’ve noticed is that we are becoming more attuned to our impact on the planet. That makes stories like ‘Wool’ really resonate. These books can entertain; they can be read like thrillers; but there’s also an implicit warning in them. We need to take care of each other and our planet before it’s too late.”
Regarding advice for writers, he said that the best advice one can give any writer is to spend more time writing.
“All I can offer are my own experiences and the things that seemed to have worked well for me,” he said. “It’s important to read a lot, to observe the world around us, to come up with amazing stories and tell them with all our heart. If you find yourself getting out of bed early in the morning before you go to work, because you have to get another chapter into your novel, there’s a chance you’re writing something special. These are the stories we should all seek out.”
Howey said that he does not worry about or get caught up in labels for his work.
“I prefer to look at Wool as a work of dystopian science fiction,” he said. “The great works like ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World’ that explore the faults in civilization and humanity were my inspiration. But I don’t get caught up in labels. My favorite thing about this work is that people who don’t normally read genre fiction really love it.”
Howey said he had worked as a yacht captain and bookseller before he began to self-publish his books on Amazon in 2011, explaining that “the eight years I spent on the sea gave me a chance to travel to many places and experience different cultures, providing me with inspiration for my books.”
“A lot of who I am today is because of those adventures,” he said. “I can’t imagine the novels that I would write had I not lived on the ocean for eight years. It’s such a huge part of me.”
He said he decided to self-publish his books online because he wanted to be able to reach his readers in a timely manner, instead of having to wait for the books to be printed and delivered.
“I love bookstores and I love publishers and I love everything involved with books, but I love readers the best,” Howey said. “They come first to me.”
He believes that the series has become a hit because it speaks to universal human nature, such as people’s desire for justice and equality and their fight to survive.
“I couldn’t live more on the other side of the world from Taiwan than I do,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that so far away people are finding the same things in this book that I found in it, and that my wife found in it. ”
Howey also waxed poetic, telling his Taiwanese audience that he believes ”the world is improving because people are becoming more inclusive and more humane.”
“With my writing, I hope to warn people what could happen if people do not improve how they treat each other,” he said. “I would love for people to think ‘I want to be a better person because of the story that I just immersed myself in.”
Asked if the film gets the greenlight in Hollywood, who he hopes would be the actress to play Juliette, the trilogy’s protagonist, Howey said Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly and South African and American actress Charlize Theron were among the actresses he envisioned for the role.