Interview with Hugh Howey, author of Wool

Naturally, we at Post Apocalyptic Media are big fans of the post-apocalyptic. Wool books and eagerly await the adaptation of the Apple+ series. If you are unaware, Wool began in 2011 as a self-published short story (also called “Wool”), which was later released with four sequel novels as a novel under the same name. It follows the story of Jules, an engineer living in a self-contained silo-bunker in a post-apocalyptic Earth, and his journey to find out why they can’t get out.

Wool is unusual in that Howey managed to sell the printing rights to Simon & Schuster (which rarely happens to independent publishers). I had the chance to read Wool in 2021 (as well as the suites Change and Dust) and loved them, so if you haven’t read them yet, any fan of the genre will love them (they’re also available as an audiobook, but only on Audible). Or you can wait until (probably) 2023 for the show (which will feature Rebecca Ferguson and Tim Robbins).

To prepare us for the show, Mr. Howey was kind enough to do an interview with me, where he talks about Wool, water world, Wayfinding and his favorite post-apocalyptic medium (of course!).

How did you come up with the idea for the Wool series? What was your inspiration?
The initial germ of an idea had come a year or two earlier. It was around 2009 or so that I found myself working in a college bookstore, and I noticed more and more people walking around looking at their phones. I also noticed how we were starting to consume social media and how suddenly our view of the world came from screens rather than going out and seeing things with our own eyes. Around the same time, I took a group of college students to Harlem to work at a soup kitchen for a week. We were staying in a convent and walking every day to work in a rough part of town, and what I noticed most were children playing all over the streets. A decade earlier, I was in a very poor part of Cuba and noticed the same thing: children playing in the same areas as adults feel exhausted and run down. WOOL’s opening line captures this dichotomy. And the story reflects my opinion that the world is best experienced through direct interaction, and we should dare to hope that’s better than what we see on our screens.

Was it always intended to become a trilogy or did it just unfold naturally into three novels?
It was never meant to be just one novel! It all started as a short story, just fifty pages. I put it online for 99 cents and went back to writing another novel. But the demand was overwhelming for more in this world, so I took up the challenge. I saw a way to turn the initial story into a novel. And as this book became an international bestseller, I introduced the two books to follow. Trilogies are natural settings for stories. We are almost biologically programmed to expect stories to have a beginning, a middle and an end. This structure works across so many different story lengths, from a single Tweet to a trilogy of trilogies.

You have achieved what is probably the dream of most self-publishers: success! Any advice for writers out there? Or comforting words?
My advice is not to go big. Create interesting characters and fascinating worlds and see if you can make your phrases sing. Fall in love with craftsmanship. Enjoy your time at the keyboard, your time improving your writing, tightening your plot, finding your voice, engaging with readers and other writers, learning about the craft.

It is a fully rewarding hobby, whether it pays off or not. Most people who learn to play guitar or piano don’t ask themselves “how can I get rich doing this?” They marvel at the sounds coming out of their fingers. They become addicted to creating art.

The beauty of storytelling is that we can invite others into our imagination and captivate them. If you decide to do so, many good things can follow. If you view the publishing landscape as something to conquer for an income, heartache is almost certainly imminent.

My advice is not to go big. Create interesting characters and fascinating worlds and see if you can make your phrases sing. Fall in love with craftsmanship. Enjoy your time at the keyboard, your time improving your writing, tightening your plot, finding your voice, engaging with readers and other writers, learning about the craft.

We know you love to sail – have you been inspired by water world to take it back?
I was sailing long before water world came out of! But I love the movie and vehemently defend it against all of its objectively incorrect reviews.

Do you plan to write anything else in the post-apocalyptic genre or another book in the Wool world?
I do. I have started the next book in this world, which should be completed this year. But probably not until next year. Lots of things in the works right now! Two TV shows in the making this year, and one we’re launching from scratch. Plus a couple that seems likely to land in good homes.

Was Jules (the main character of Wool) inspired by someone you know?
She is a mix of myself (all failures), my sister (the badass) and my mother (the unwavering hope).

Do you think Jules would have any hope in a fight against Furiosa (from Mad Max: Fury Road)?
They would never fight in any universe. They were talking about internal combustion engines on a road trip through the wastelands while drinking mojitos from the skulls of the men who drove through them.

What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic movie?
I must say children of men. I love this movie so much.

What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic book (besides Wool of cours)?
I have too many here to list but I think more people should go back and read is Hammer of Lucifer. It holds up really well.

What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic show?
WOOL. I mean, I’ve only seen the dailies, but this is my favorite so far. 🙂

What do you think is the most terrifying version of a post-apocalyptic future? (e.g. Skynet? Zombies? Vampires? Nuclear devastation?)
Definitely zombies. I think the smell would push it over the top.

You mentioned Wayfinding on your website. Can you explain a bit more what it is, if it had any impact on Wool, and do you think that would be an important skill in a post-apocalyptic future?
Orienteering is the art of navigating without using modern instruments. Just the stars, the position of the sun, the heat of the currents, the formation of clouds, migrating birds, etc. This is how the Pacific Islands were colonized and America was reached from Asia. It can also apply to terrestrial navigation.

There is a second definition that I invented, it is the art of navigating psychologically in a world for which one is not well adapted. I’ve written non-fiction self-help books about it. And yes, I think the concepts are super useful.

On Twitter, you posted about the possibility of visiting the set of the next Wool show! What was your favorite part of the visit?
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment from what has been one of the best weeks of my life. There was an entire office building there filled with people designing and building various aspects of the sets and the show (motivational posters, cards, fabrics, costumes, props, plans and much more). Walking through it was surreal, like walking through a dream I had told people about, and suddenly they were having the same dreams but with added details.

Being on set and seeing the actors get to work was… otherworldly. I was in a stupor for hours, watching take after take. Seeing a chair with my name on it, as corny as it sounds, was very, very cool.

But if I had to take a moment, it would be to walk into a building the size of a football field and see the stairs for the first time. Here is a cross-section of the actual full-scale silo. A huge circle of apartments, walkways, landings, built from a mountain of concrete and steel, looms up all around me in a dizzying buzz of construction workers and heavy lifting equipment. I walked up the stairs for the first time, and I really felt what it could be like to live like this, to travel like this, and it gave me goosebumps.

What are you most looking forward to seeing come to life on the show?
A second season. 🙂

Discover Hugh Howey’s other novels on his website! And he is also very active on Twitter.

TS Beier is obsessed with science fiction, ruins of industry and Fallout. She is the author of What Branches Grow, a post-apocalyptic novel (which was among the 5 finalists of the 2020 Kindle Book Awards) and the Burnt Ship trilogy (space opera). She is a book reviewer, editor, freelance writer and co-owner of Rising Action Publishing Co. She currently lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, two feral children, a one-eyed pug and a shepherd-mastiff.

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