Hugh Howey answers YOUR questions!

We recently had an opportunity to sit down (via the internet) with THE Hugh Howey, author of the hit novel WOOL, July’s Literarily Wasted selection. Our book club members submitted some great questions, and here’s what the man himself had to say:

1. Love your leading ladies! When and how did you make the decision that our hero would be a heroine? (Jordan Crenshaw)

I dreamt up Juliette when I started writing part 2 of WOOL. I was laying out a plot of the ultimate underdog being way outside his or her comfort zone and pulling off the unthinkable. Because of the age we live in, having that underdog be a female gives the plot extra kick. We have an emotional connection with Jules because she's a woman working in the man's world of Mechanical, and then having to become "the man" in cop parlance. The story just wouldn't be the same if Jules was a guy.

That's because of the world we live in. WOOL has a lot to say about our current times. What I would love more than anything is for the story to become dated as quickly as possible. I look forward to a future where gender doesn't connote status. Sadly, many of us are not there yet, and the rest of us live with the burden of knowing this is so.


2. Was there a certain color palette you imagined for the insides of the silos when you were first writing the series? (Josh Karg)

The color of rust and grease. Maybe it's from working on and living on boats for most of my adult life, but I've seen what happens to mechanical things that are kept around too long. I also think of the interior of old government buildings, where they probably picked the paint by what was cheapest by the ton: muted greens and grays. Paint slapped down as soon as the concrete was dry and left to chip and fade over the decades.


3. What made you choose Georgia as the setting? (Leigh Ann Mott)

I wanted something sorta logical but also innocuous. I feel like many stories take place in the same handful of major cities (LA, NY, London), or in the same few rural places that provide local color (New Orleans, Florida). When I was younger, the Olympics came to Atlanta, which seemed so strange a choice to me. So maybe that played a role. I also grew up in Charlotte, not far from Atlanta, so that possibly influenced me. But for the plot, there's a busy airport (the busiest in the world, I believe), and enough open land nearby. I think it would be a good place to hide the silos.


4. I would like to know your dream casting for Bernard and Walker. (Matt Scalici)

Gary Oldman for Bernard. And since I'm dreaming, I'm going to name someone who sadly passed away much too soon: Robin Williams for Walker. Man, he would've been perfect for that role.

Dare to hope.
— Hugh Howey

5. There is a lot of death in these books. As a writer, sometimes I get particularly affected by character deaths. Do the deaths of major characters affect you as well? If so, which ones were the hardest (or easiest) for you to write? Were there any that particularly hurt your heart or any that felt really satisfying - in the cases of those guys you just love to hate. (Stephanie Board)

Yeah, I have a very hard time letting go of characters. Which is why I force myself to do it often. It also frees up the plot for the introduction of new characters. As series go on, they become a bit bloated, and you have too many plot arcs tangling together. It makes wrapping up a multi-book series difficult to do in a satisfactory way. I think it's better (and more analogous to real life) if you tie up these arcs as you go along, rather than look for one big moment at the end that satisfies everyone's journeys. The reality is that in most fiction, all those characters are going to die someday. Not revealing that moment isn't an act of courage or a way to immortalize those characters ... to me it cheapens their story not to show how it ends.

There's a death in SHIFT that really gets me. I won't spoil it for those who haven't read the next book. You'll know if you read it what I'm talking about. Bernard's death was satisfying for me. It put an end to an awful totalitarian reign and gave the people of the silo a chance to be ruled by hope instead of fear.


6. Is there anything people think you’re “symbolizing” (think English class analysis) that you are surprised about? (Phillip Hunter Gilfus)

Not that I've seen. What has surprised me about being a writer is that my English teachers were right. There really is that much symbolism baked into these plots and characters. It's impossible not to do this, for me at least. I end up doing a dozen writing passes through a book, making massive revisions and edits, and by the second or third pass I know what this book is about, what the big themes are, and that allows me to layer in all the foreshadowing and thematic allegory that makes a text deep and rich for me. My four MOLLY FYDE books are a great example. The level of satire and social commentary in those books is deep. It can all be ignored and the story enjoyed, or you can look for the meaning. I love writing like this, and I now respect that many other authors do as well.


7. Do you have a favorite character or one that you wrote yourself into in Wool? (Christy Schwartz)

My favorite character in WOOL is Jules. I know that's the obvious answer, but it's obvious for a reason. She's just a badass. I enjoy spending time with her. Right up there with Jules would be Solo for me. I think I put more of myself into Solo than maybe any other character I've ever written.


8. I imagine you’ve done hundreds of Q&A’s and have often had to answer the same questions again and again. Is there anything you wish you were asked about, or any Easter eggs you’ve written into Wool? (Talia Lin)

I don't often get asked about what the builders of the silos were thinking, how they expected or hoped it would all work out, and I find the answers to those questions fascinating. Because I had to know their thinking and plans, but I couldn't really reveal any of it through the narrative of the three novels. SHIFT and DUST leaves lots of hints and innuendo about what they were hoping to accomplish, but spelling it all out in one place would have been awkward in the story itself. These were some really sinister and vile people. Which I base on actual events in history. There were several times when the government decided that certain people should live and others should die. Poisoned blankets sent into Native American camps. Or the tragic history of Japanese internment camps (ever pondered the fact that we didn't create German or Italian internment camps, even though they were our primary foes in WWII with plenty of first-born Germans and Italians living here?). Or the forced chemical castration of the mentally handicapped in the 20th century. There were all kinds of eugenics perpetrated in what we think of as modern times, usually pulled off when bigots received political power and used the teachings of other bigots disguised as science or political philosophy to carry out mass killings on a whim. It's happening today, right now, on our southern border. It breaks my heart that we haven't learned from the past or improved as a species. WOOL was meant to satirize that ugliness but leave us with hope at the end. I still have hope, but the ugliness hasn't gone away.

9. Since we’re primarily a sci-fi/fantasy book club, what are some of your all-time favorites that you would recommend we read next? (Adam Schwartz)

I could tick off a few classics that I love, but how about something more obscure, like Max Barry's fantastic novel Lexicon. I was blown away by that book. Another great one is The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Or Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. All three have sublime writing and great stories that don't go where you expect. Just mentioning them has me wanting to go back and re-read all three!

10. We have several aspiring writers in our book club. Given your experience, what are the top tips you’d give to an aspiring author as they work to bring their creation to market? (Lucas Pepke)

I'd do a disservice to summarize my thoughts here when I've written them out clearly elsewhere. I highly recommend reading all three parts of this series: http://www.hughhowey.com/writing-insights-part-one-becoming-a-writer/ It's everything I know about being successful as a writer.


Thanks again for picking WOOL for your group read. It's a great compliment. And thanks for the questions. I hope they spark more discussion within the group. Wishing you all my best, especially the aspiring writers in the group. Dare to hope!

- Hugh Howey (<—Basically our best friend now)

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