Books, Wool

An Interview with Hugh Howey, author of Wool

Understandably, we at Post Apocalyptic Media are big fans of the post-apocalyptic Wool books and are waiting eagerly for the Apple+ series adaptation. If you’re unaware, Wool began in 2011 as a self-published short story (also called “Wool”), which was later published together with four sequel novellas 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 her journey to discover why they can’t go outside.

Wool is unusual in that Howey managed to sell the print rights to Simon & Schuster (something that rarely happens to indie publishers). I was lucky enough to read Wool in 2021 (as well as the sequels Shift and Dust) and loved them, so if you haven’t read them yet, they will please anyone who is a fan of the genre (they’re also available on audiobook, though only on Audible). Or you can wait until (probably) 2023 for the show (which will star Rebecca Ferguson and Tim Robbins).

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

 

How did you first 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 staring at their phones. I also noticed how much social media we were starting to consume, and how much our view of the world was suddenly coming from screens rather than going out and seeing things with our own eyes. Around the same time, I took a group of college kids up to Harlem to work in a soup kitchen for a week. We were staying in a convent and walking to work every day through a rough part of town, and what I noticed most was kids everywhere playing in the streets. A decade prior, I was in a really poor part of Cuba and had noticed the same thing: kids playing in the same areas that adults are feeling worn out and run down. The opening line of WOOL captures this dichotomy. And the story reflects my opinion that the world is best known through direct interaction, and we should dare to hope that it’s better than what we see on our screens.

 

Was it always intended to become a trilogy or did it just flow naturally into three novels?
It was never supposed to be a single novel! It all started as a short story, just fifty or so pages. I put it online for 99 cents and went back to writing another novel. But the demand was overwhelming for more in that world, so I took up the challenge. I saw a path to turn the initial story into a novel. And while that book was becoming an international bestseller, I laid out the two books to follow. Trilogies are such natural frameworks for stories. We are almost biologically programmed to expect stories to have a beginning, middle, and end. That structure works on so many different lengths of stories, from a single Tweet to a trilogy of trilogies.

 

You have succeeded at what is likely most self-publisher’s dream – to make it big! Any advice for writers out there? Or comforting words?
My advice is to not set out to make it big. Set out to create interesting characters and fascinating worlds and see if you can make your sentences sing. Fall in love with the craft. Enjoy your time at the keyboard, your time improving your writing, tightening your plot, finding your voice, engaging with readers and fellow writers, learning about the trade.

It’s a fully rewarding hobby, whether or not it pays. Most people who learn to play the guitar or piano aren’t thinking “how do I get rich doing this?” They are marveling at the sounds coming out of their fingers. They get hooked on creating art.

The beauty of storytelling is that we get to invite others into our imaginations and captivate them. If you set out to do this, many good things can follow. If you look at the publishing landscape as something to conquer for income, heartache is almost certainly imminent.

My advice is to not set out to make it big. Set out to create interesting characters and fascinating worlds and see if you can make your sentences sing. Fall in love with the craft. Enjoy your time at the keyboard, your time improving your writing, tightening your plot, finding your voice, engaging with readers and fellow writers, learning about the trade.

It’s known you like to sail – were you inspired by Waterworld to take this up?
I was sailing long before Waterworld came out! But I do love the film and defend it vociferously against all its objectively incorrect critics.

Do have any plans to write anything else in the post-apocalyptic genre or another book in the Wool world?
I do. I’ve started the next book in that world, which should be wrapped up this year. But probably not out until the following year. Lots of stuff in the works right now! Two TV shows filming this year, and another one that we’re launching from scratch. Plus a couple that appear likely to land at good homes.

Was Jules (the main character in Wool) inspired by anyone you know?
She’s a mix of myself (all the failings), my sister (the badass), and my mom (the unfailing 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’d talk internal combustion engines on a road trip across the wastelands while drinking mojitos out of the skulls of the men who crossed them.

What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic movie?
I’d have to say Children of Men. I love that film so much.

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

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

What do you think is the most terrifying version of a post-apocalyptic future? (for example, Skynet? Zombies? Vampires? Nuclear devastation?)
Zombies for sure. I think the smell would push it over the top.

You mentioned Wayfinding on your website. Can you explain a bit more what this is, whether it had any impact on Wool, and whether you think it would be an important skill in a post-apocalyptic future?
Wayfinding is the art of navigating without using modern instruments. Just the stars, sun position, warmth of currents, cloud formation, migrating birds, etc. It’s how the Pacific islands were settled and America was reached from Asia. It can also apply to land navigation.

There’s a second definition that I made up, which is the art of navigating psychologically in a world for which we are not well adapted. I wrote some non-fiction self-help books about this. And yeah, I think the concepts are super useful.

 

On Twitter, you posted about getting to visit the set of the upcoming Wool show! What was your favorite part of the visit? 
It’s difficult to pick a favorite moment of what was one of the best weeks of my entire life. There was an entire office building there full of people designing and building various aspects of the sets and show (motivational posters, maps, fabrics, costumes, props, blueprints, and so much more). Walking through that was surreal, like walking through a dream I’d told people about, and suddenly they were having the same dreams but with extra details.

Being on set and seeing the actors go 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 that sounds, was very, very cool.

But if I had to take one moment, it would be walking into a building the size of a football field and seeing the stairs for the first time. Here was a cross-section of the actual silo in full scale. A huge circle of apartments, walkways, landings, built out of a mountain of concrete and steel, looming 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 truly felt what it might be like to live like that, to travel like that, and it gave me goosebumps.

What are you most excited to see come to life in the show?
A second season. 🙂

 

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

T. S. Beier is obsessed with science fiction, the ruins of industry, and Fallout. She is the author of What Branches Grow, a post-apocalyptic novel (which was a Top 5 Finalist in 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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