Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Interviews with Indie Authors: Hugh Howey

Well, folks. Today is the day. It's been difficult to keep this interview to myself since last week, because it is very entertaining and I have high hopes that you all will enjoy it thoroughly. I would have posted it sooner, but I was desperately getting my Kickstarter campaign for Blade's Edge together as the launch was Monday. But, now that we're up and running with that, it's time to share this little piece of awesome with the rest of the world.

For those who are unfamiliar with Hugh Howey here's a bit of background: Hugh Howey is a very well known author. He is best known for his Silo Saga and for being one of the most successful independent authors in existence. For those of us who are wading into the self publishing waters he's not only the poster child we all wish to be like, he's also an excellent resource for information on how it's done and how publishing is changing. Here's some info from his about the author page
My first stories detail the life of a character that I’ve been mulling over for quite some time. Her name is Molly Fyde, and she draws inspiration from the awesome women in my life. 
My Wool series became a sudden success in the Fall of 2011. Originally just a novelette, the demand from Amazon reviewers sent me scurrying to write more tales in this subterranean world. The resulting Omnibus has spent considerable time in the Amazon top 100, has been a #1 Bestseller in Science Fiction on Amazon, and was optioned by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian for a potential feature film. The story of its success has been mentioned in Entertainment Weekly, Variety, and Deadline Hollywood among many others. Random House is publishing the hardback version in the UK in January of 2013. 
When I’m not writing, I like to go for hikes with my family, take a stroll on the beach, and keep up with my reading. I currently live in Jupiter, Florida with my wife Amber and our dog Bella.

Here's what he looks like: 

And here's what I think of his work (please note that Mr. Howey's body of work is much greater than just the Silo Saga, I just haven't read it all yet): The Silo Saga may be one of my all time favorite series. I found the plots engaging, creative and intelligent. I found the characters vivid and compelling. I found the ending satisfying and appropriate. The whole thing was well done from start to finish. A summary? Inside is safe, it's organized, everyone has their place, everyone has enough. Outside? Outside is where you are sent for the worst possible crimes. Crimes that tear up the community and leave holes. Crimes like wanting to go outside. 

Unfortunately, it's one of those books with a plot so compelling and complex that it's difficult to explain and avoid spoilers and I do NOT want to spoil these books for anyone. So, go get them! Read them! And then come back and read this interview. For those who don't have the time or inclination to follow such sound advice, I will include <@> to mark all spoilers at the front of a question whose answer might contain one -or even just a tiny hint of one. 

Finally, before we start the interview I want to mention that Hugh Howey has some really great advice for aspiring and established indie authors alike. His articles tend to be humorous as well as informative. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Discoverability and Donald Rumsfeld (this one contains one of my all time favorite writing quotes: "Don’t be miserable. Be happy. And nice. And work hard. And get discovered. How, exactly? I have no fucking clue.")

And here's a link to his analytics on indie and traditional publishing sales:

I mention all of these because many of you may be tuning in to this interview in hopes of getting some self publishing gems out of it. I tried to limit my questions to things that aren't covered in those articles so there may not be as many of those here as you wanted, but it's well worth your time to read Mr. Howey's posts.

Alright. Without further ado, (because that was quite enough wasn't it?) I give you: An interview with Hugh Howey (standard warning about me asking silly questions and getting silly answers applies):

1. I've read that you spent some of your early days swashing a buckle or two. I was surprised to find that we have this in common. What's your favorite anecdote form the sea?

Man, it's hard to pick just one. The craziest thing that ever happened to me was the time I left Cuba heading for Panama, and we hit really rough seas. I told my first mate that we'd be screwed if we lost our sat phone, watermaker, genset, and main engine. And then over the next twenty-four hours, we lost them in that exact order. I still suspect he sabotaged them just to mess with my head. We ended up on a small island in the middle of nowhere, a little spit of paradise, where we spent the happiest two months of my life. So it all worked out.

2. If you could send one non-human animal on a mission to mars which would it be and why?

My dog, Bella. I'd be so proud of her!

Ok, getting into the Silo Saga: (if any of the answers to these questions reveal spoilers I will be sure to mark them clearly)

3a. The story feels very character driven, which is something I really enjoy, and you write very vivid, believable characters. By the end of the books it feels like everyone is real and we know them all quite well. How do you accomplish that? (In a nutshell, cause you know, that's not a huge question or anything. ;-P)

I think it helps to be crazy. I had an imaginary friend when I was very young. I've always been good at hearing different voices chat back and forth in my head. You either get locked up for this, or you make a fortune as an author. I lucked out.

3b. Are any of your characters for Silo based on particular people?

Not really. My characters are mash-ups of all the people I've encountered in real life and in fiction (both in print and in other forms of media, like TV and film). Honestly, they appear out of nowhere, fully-formed, like strangers emerging from a crowd. I instantly know their background, their fears, their dreams, what their family is like, all of that.

<@> 4. Of all the characters in the books Thurman is perhaps the most enigmatic. We never get to read from his point of view. Why is that? Was it a conscious choice or just the way the story developed?

It was very conscious. Thurman is the engine behind so much of what befalls humanity. I didn't want to define him too strongly, because I hope readers will see the potential of him everywhere. He's scarier in his potential than he is in his reality. There are so many Thurman's out there, especially in politics.

<@> 5. In the Silo books we start with a very small world view, and as the stories continue that view gets wider and wider. Did you do your world building in reverse? Did it happen that way because it started as a self contained novella or was the world already there in your head and we just got to see more of it as the story continued?

The latter. I have to know more about my world than what I reveal. I heard Jim Butcher refer to this last weekend as world-building like an "iceberg." The reader only sees the very tip. You have to know all that lies beneath. Even if you never show it.

6. Machinery comes to life in your stories and a number of characters have a very important and believable relationship with machines. Why is this? Does it come from personal experience or is it solely an experiment in imagination?

Definitely from personal experience. I grew up around a lot of machinery. My father was a farmer. Later, I got into computers and repaired them for a living. I still build my own. When I started working on yachts, I was responsible for keeping everything up and running. So it's a big part of my life and always has been.

7. If Jules could come join us right now in... let's say New York City... what things would she find the most hopeful, and what things would she find the most horrifying?

She would LOVE elevators. And I think Times Square would terrify her. All those bulbs that need replacing, and all those screens not to trust.

Ok. Back to you, and to independent authors...

8. If you could give a single-sentence piece of advice to every author who is considering self publishing what would you tell them?

There's no reason not to; the stigma is rapidly vanishing; self-publishing will not harm your career, it'll only help launch it—and all things are possible with semi-colons and em-dashes.

9. Let's fast forward 10 years into the future, where do you imagine the publishing industry? (Emphasis on imagine.)

I imagine it on the west coast rather than the east coast. This is almost already true. Technology companies will be our primary publishers: Google, Apple, and Amazon. New York will be down to three major publishers. Barnes & Noble will be out of business, but some other chain will take their place and feature print-on-demand machines and smaller footprints. Book reading overall will be in decline, as more people spend their hours reading on the web. And libraries will be places for writing as much as reading, as they embrace self-publishing and become joints for writing groups, author discussions, and book launches.

10. As a person who cannot honestly identify a place that is home, I find it to be an interesting question to ask others. Do you have a place that is home? If so, where is it and what makes it home?

The sea is home for me. I feel lost everywhere except when I'm on a beach or on the deck of a ship.

11. What's your favorite writing space and why?

My favorite writing space was the conference room in my old bookstore. With the lights off, it was pitch-black in there. I did my best writing in that spot.

12. What is your least favorite form of social media and why? (Please don't say blogs... please don't say blogs... please don't say--)

Facebook. It's the one that sucks up most of my time. I am addicted to checking it, and it's been great for keeping up with friends, family, and fans. But I wish it would come on for an hour every day and then switch back off.

13. If it were legal to own a liger how many ligers would you own?


14. Should one go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line? Why/why not?

Absolutely. But only if you've developed a resistance to iocane. Which I have.

15. Please use the word inconceivable in a sentence.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

16. What book that you've read do you wish you'd written and why?

BATTLEFIELD EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard. The book is pure genius. And if I'd written it, I never would have let that movie get made.

17. What is one fact that no one knows about you? (Or almost no one anyway, we don't need the GPS coordinates of all the bodies you dumped in the Caribbean.)

I'm a crack pool player. I can clear a rack in 8-ball. That's something that doesn't come up much.

18. Who is your favorite visual artist and why?

MC Escher. My mom was a math teacher, and I became both a math geek and a fine artist in high school. Escher was the perfect blend of both.

19. What fuels your writing?

My curiosity and my thirst for knowledge. I read a ton. I read the paper every day, and I consume books like they're chocolate chip cookies and I'm the Cookie Monster. I have so much coming in that I have to have an outlet to release it all.

20. Please complete following analogy: Self Publishing is to Traditional Publishing as __________ is to _____________ . (Can you tell that I used to teach SAT prep classes?)

Expedia is to Travel Agencies.

21. You seem to have a number of new projects on the go, what are you most excited about and why?

Right now it's my children's picture book. Oh my goodness, it looks so amazing. I can't believe how this thing came together. It comes out on November 18th. It's called MISTY: THE PROUD CLOUD. And I just love it.

22. You have provided some incredibly helpful insight into publishing statistics through amazon and other websites. These analytics have been very influential in a number of authors' decisions to self publish (including my own). What made you decide to pursue this information?

I wrestled with the decision whether or not to self-publish. I had a publisher at the time, and the first book with them was going very well, but I saw the future trending a certain way, and I made the leap. It was a blind leap. The more I can help paint a picture of what's over here, the more I can possibly help people feel secure with their decision, whichever way they go.

23. Who is your favorite character from Firefly? Why?

What's "Firefly?" Is that a book?

(I'm not sure if Mr. Howey is mocking me, or really isn't familiar with the amazingness that is the show Firefly -created by Joss Whedon, but after his excellent answers to all the Princess Bride related questions I'm willing to forgive him either way.)

24. The ending to the Silo Saga is one of the best endings I've ever encountered. It's rare that I find an ending so... balanced. I don't want to give anything about that ending away, or even talk about the Silo ending specifically, but I'd like to raise the question in general: How specially do you tend to your endings and what are your all time favorite endings in works that aren't your own? (That might have been two questions disguised as one... oops.)

I have to know the ending before I write very much in a story. I need a destination, one that makes sense and is satisfying. So I really start there, and then I go back and play with how the world and those characters ended up there. To me, one of the best endings in any novel was ENDER'S GAME. Just so many twists and turns in the last fifty pages, all of which were consistent and made perfect sense.

25. And finally, and most importantly, do you celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th) and how will you be celebrating it this year? (Because obviously, if you didn't know about it before, you do now, and therefore have no reason not to.)


Well, I can't argue with that. 

So, there you have it folks. I don't know about you but I found that highly enjoyable, I'm kicking myself for not having arranged for an in person interview because I have a feeling the follow up questions, and more importantly their answers, would have been amazing. Alas, this is a blog, and blog interviews is what we do here. 

I don't know about you, but I'm going to go buy some more of Hugh Howey's work because anyone who thinks they can handle six ligers as pets must be crazy enough to write well. And yes, that's a prerequisite. 

**Special thanks to Aurora Wilson-McClain for helping me hone my questions regarding the Silo Saga**


  1. Great interview! Now, unfortunately I can't say that I'm already familiar with Hugh Howey's books, but after this I'll definitely look into it. :)

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! It's just my opinion, but I think you won't regret it. :-)