Hugh Howey is the bestselling author of WOOL, SAND, and BEACON 23. His works have been translated into over 40 languages, and several projects are being developed for film and TV. He currently lives on a catamaran that he is sailing around the world.
Hugh wanted to be a writer since he was very young. “I read voraciously as a kid, and the more I fell in love with these worlds I could escape into, the more I wanted to create some of my own. I’d often finish [reading] a novel and carry on daydreaming about the characters and world, always wondering what happened next. This is where fan fiction comes from, something I knew nothing about at the time. But it’s easy to see why many authors start with fan fiction of some sort before graduating to their own worlds. It’s similar to how musicians always get their start by playing other artists’ tunes.”
As Hugh Howey took his love for writing to a traditional publisher with his first book, he chose to self-publish his next few novels. When those novels became successful among readers, offers from major publishers became better. “I still prefer to self-publish my works first, and then entertain offers that may or may not come in after. The delay to publication with a traditional publisher is just too painful.”
As for writing style, Hugh says every writer is a combination of both a plotter and a panster (someone who writes by the seat of their pants as the expression goes). “This is a distinction that seems too black and white to me. When someone writes an outline, they do it by the seat of their pants. The story isn’t concocted out of some kind of formula. You have to sit down with a blank page and dream up what your story is about.
Likewise, with pantsers, there is always plotting and outlining going on, even if it’s all internal. There’s also structure forced on all stories by the nature of the hero’s journey, by genre, and by reader expectation. So every pantsed story is more constrained than we give it credit for, and every plot outline is more creative and organic than we acknowledge. We all do a bit of both.
I think the real distinction between the two ways to go about writing a novel, and this is a very big deal in my opinion, is whether the author knows how the story is going to end. If the author does not know this before they start writing, I think this is a disservice to the reader and will result in an inferior story. That doesn’t mean the ending can’t change as the writing goes, but to not have some idea of the climax is to have almost no idea of what the story is about. I generally feel like I can tell when this is the case, as a reader. It’s like watching the TV show LOST. You can tell that there’s no great plan here, just a bunch of words stringing along, and it’s never quite as satisfying.”
Hugh uses his combination of plotting/pantsing to craft unique science fiction stories. “There is no other genre like science fiction for satirizing the human condition and for warning people about the costs of our actions. When we write about the future, we’re really writing about the present. The arc of human history is like a ball in flight. Imagine a frozen image of a ball in the air. It’s impossible to say if the ball is falling or flying upward. Is it going to the left or right? And how fast? We can’t know.
This is how the present appears to anyone who doesn’t study history and isn’t thinking about the future. Science fiction authors are generally the kind of people who have a deep appreciation for history and who think a lot about the future. We see the ball in motion, and we use our best guess to determine where it might land, what it will strike next, how it will bounce. And then we write about this. Often, our writing is a great shout of “Heads up!”
What scientific advancement do you feel is right around the corner?
“The obvious ones are the ones everyone is talking about: Self-driving cars, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. But I think the technology that truly changes our lives will be one we haven’t imagined yet, or is lurking more quietly in the fringes. Just like the smartphone was what change the world, when we were dreaming about jetpacks and flying cars. Or how it was the internet that brought us together, not videophones on watches.
If I had to guess, I would say that it’ll be a biological revolution that changes the world. An end to aging, or the ability to live forever (barring accidental death). This might mean having to choose between having kids or being immortal, which will vastly restructure society. The other change that I see coming is an end to work, possibly within the next 300 years.”
If you could choose any of the worlds you created to live in for one year, which would you pick and why?
“Oh, it would have to be in the world I created for the Molly Fyde series. I’d love to own my own spaceship and go gallivanting among the stars. Heh. I guess that’s why I chose to live on a sailboat in college and why I’m sailing around the world now. I always wanted to be Han Solo. I guess this is as close as I’ll ever get.”
Do any of your characters represent you as a whole or someone you know? Or are they qualities you admire in others?
“I think I write myself into all of my characters to some degree, both the heroes and the villains. You tend to write what you know, and so we draw from within. Of all my characters, I’m probably most like Cole from the Molly Fyde books. If I look at my novel WOOL, I’m a blend of Lukas and Juliette. I have an even mix of hopeless romantic and logical engineer.”
Are there any genres of literature or movies that you won’t read or watch? What’s your favorite genre to read/watch?
“I don’t read much horror, and I don’t watch a lot of westerns. Not sure why that is.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
“Write every single day. If you can form this habit, and stick with it for years, you’ll write many things worth sharing. It’s all about working hard, not waiting for inspiration. Sit down and write.”
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
“I’m currently working on an anthology of my short pieces, which have been scattered to the winds for years. This will be the first time it’s all been in one place, and I think even my biggest fans will find works they didn’t know existed. I’m also going to write a few new pieces for the collection. I’m very excited about this project.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“Just my thanks to all the avid readers out there, even if you never check out my work. I love the world of literature, and people like you and blogs like this keep it alive. Spread the joy by turning your friends onto great books. Geek out over what you’re reading. And never stop turning the pages.”
Thanks to Hugh Howey for joining me today! I look forward to reading more of your brand of science fiction.