Hugh Howey is the author of the award-winning Molly Fyde Saga and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling WOOL series. The WOOL OMNIBUS won Kindle Book Review’s 2012 Indie Book of the Year Award — it has been as high as #1 in the Kindle store — and 17 countries have picked up the work for translation. Look for WOOL in hardback in 2013 from Random House UK and keep your fingers crossed that Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian will do something exciting with the film rights!
Hugh lives in Jupiter, FL with his wife Amber and their dog Bella. When he isn’t writing, he’s reading or taking a photograph.
Welcome to SFWG! Wool began life as a work of short fiction. What are your thoughts about the status of the short story, the periodicals that publish them and where you think they are going in the future?
I’ve always been a fan of short fiction. I grew up on Philip K. Dick and Asimov and all the “Best of 1990 in Science Fiction” anthologies. It’s been upsetting to watch the decline of these periodicals, but I think the rise of the e-reader has the chance to revive short fiction. I have a Kindle Single that does very well. It sells month after month, and I can’t think of another outlet for short works that would keep giving like this. You’d usually get your 5 cents per word and that was it. You’d hope to get anthologized later.
WOOL is an even better example. A 12,500 word novelette that took off online at 99 cents a pop, WOOL inspired more stories in much the way that THE BATTLEROOM inspired ENDER’S GAME and THE FIREMEN inspired FAHRENHEIT 451. I released more short works in quick succession, combined them into a novel, and that work changed my life. It’s now in over 30 countries, optioned by Ridley Scott, being turned into a graphic novel, has sold over half a million copies, all because of a short work. Yeah, I’m a fan.
How can short stories give a different point of view? What can they explore that a novel cannot?
I have another short work, THE PLAGIARIST, that I don’t think would be as powerful as a novel. With short fiction, you can present an idea and a small cast without losing a grip on the theme of the story. There aren’t so many plot lines twisted around that central kernel. You can also take risks with unhappy or discordant endings, because the build-up isn’t so great. Twilight Zone episodes were remarkable for this. You couldn’t end an entire season of TV with the same ending without upsetting the viewer. With a small and contained story, you can do anything.
I, ZOMBIE is another example. Even though it’s packaged like a novel, it’s really a series of short stories from various POVs. It was going to be a part of the Kindle Serials program, but I worried readers might not get the philosophical roots of the story and didn’t want to drag Amazon down with me. The times I’ve taken the most risk, it’s been with the short form. And along with my greatest risks have come my greatest rewards.
Do you develop worlds to fit with your story, to be an interesting backdrop or create worlds to create conflict for your characters? Which comes first, story or world?
I start with story. With my MOLLY FYDE series, story came first and world coalesced around that. The same is true of WOOL; the story is about a man grieving for his lost wife, grieving for a ruined world, and setting off in search of hope or at least something like finality. Genre fiction, in my opinion, is strongest when there’s a believable world for the reader to inhabit and most powerful when a story we care about is taking place in that world. You need both, but too often, story is neglected at the expense of some fascinating idea.
When talking about the layers of short stories and world building, how much thought do you put into social commentary in your shorts and how do the worlds you create lend themselves to that commentary?
I’m always thinking of social commentary. Always. A layer it in with my rough draft, and I continue to layer it as I revise. I’m only interested in writing if I can express my thoughts about the human condition. But it is usually subtle, and I don’t care if it’s discovered. It’s there for me and the handful who look for it.
I’m guessing you are a fan of classic science fiction, not much precognition required there. What is your opinion of science-fiction today, in general?
I don’t read a lot of modern science fiction. I mostly read non fiction these days. I’ve read a few works, though, and enjoyed them. I think some of the classic works were more about the people, more accessible, and that appeals to me. I’m sure there are new stories like this; I just haven’t spent enough time digging through the genre.
Thanks, Hugh! Interested in reading his work? Find it here.