Hugh Howey is the author of Wool, a self-publishing phenomenon that’s now being turned into a film by Ridley Scott. On the back of our review, we got James Harle to interview him to find out more about his thoughts on the popularity of the dystopian future genre, his influences and the movie adaptation. And don’t forget to enter our competition where you can win a copy of the book.
PopBucket: Wool has drawn comparison with the likes of The Road and The Hunger Games; what is it about dystopian futures that people find so compelling? Do you see any reason why this is especially relevant since the turn of the millennium?
Hugh Howey: The fascination with the end of times never seems to get old, does it? People have been setting doomsday dates for thousands of years. The millennium was just another milestone to dread, followed by the Mayan calendar, and I’m sure something else will come next. My gut tells me that this fascination stems from our fears. Our sense of mortality creates a shared dread. For some, it caused them to suspect that the world will end in our lifetimes. For the rest of us, it gives us a predicament to ponder: How will we hold out if something bad happens? What will we do to survive? It’s an adventure story that could come for us at any moment!
(Not that I think it will. I’m actually a quite cheerful optimist who enjoys his rose-tinted glasses. But it sure is fun to write about.)
PB: Ridley Scott has bought the rights to the film – how did that happen? Did he buy them from you personally? And would he be your first choice to direct the film?
HH: When Kassie Evashevski, my film agent, sent the text around Hollywood, I was shocked to hear who all was getting a copy. It was a who’s who of cinematic greats. I thought it was overly ambitious to start at the top like this and didn’t expect anything to come of it.
And then I heard Steve Zaillian was reading the book and loving it. Steve is one of the best screenwriters working today. When he finished the book, he sent it off to Ridley, whom he’s worked with in the past. They both have productions companies, and these two companies teamed up to option the script.
As for a director, I’ll be thrilled with whomever they choose. There’s been gossip that it might be an up-and-comer whose work I adore, and that would be ideal for me. Ridley Scott is one of my heroes, but the thought of someone young and hungry sinking their teeth into this material is even more exciting. I would love for Wool to be someone’s Alien or Blade Runner decades from now. Having come from inauspicious beginnings and feeling like I’ve been given a big break, extending that to another would be awesome.
PB: The script for the upcoming film is being written by Steve Zaillian – is this a hands-off project for you? Why did you choose not to write for the film?
HH: I would only muddy the project. Books can take a week to read. A film is seen in a couple of hours. It takes skill to whittle a story down to its essence and visualise how it will be shot. I hope to learn a lot from this process by watching others do it well with their years of experience. And besides, readers would come track me down if I slowed the pace of my releases because of film development!
PB: Following on from that, do you have any concerns – artistically – about someone else toying with your creation? I would imagine there must be a certain nerve-wracking quality to it.
HH: Not at all. Not in the slightest. As someone who enjoys both literature and film, I don’t think adaptations should try to recreate the source material. I believe in the freedom to tell a similar story from the same germ of an idea. The more creativity injected, the better. I’d rather see a bad film try to be itself than a facsimile trying to be something it’s not.
One of my all-time favourite authors is Philip K. Dick. Some really entertaining films (by Ridley Scott, no less) have come out of his work, and a lot of them took liberties.
PB: I’ve read that Wool has been described as a ‘sci-fi version of Fifty Shades of Grey’ (in terms of buzz surround the book, not anything else!). How do you feel about this comparison?
HH: It makes me feel a lot sexier than I really am! And I feel awful for the readers who picked up Wool hoping to see how Christian Grey wins the hearts of the silo denizens. They must’ve been truly disappointed.
The comparison between the origins of these works is fun because of the massive success EL James has enjoyed, but I think it undersells how incredible her publishing story truly is. While my book was self-published, hers came from even cooler (in my opinion) beginnings. It started as fan fiction on a website where I believe the work was available for free. How awesome for a writer to do so well from such inauspicious beginnings, and all because of fan hype and support. It’s one of the great publishing stories of our time. For that reason, the comparisons are flattering, if not quite truly deserved on my part.
PB: Wool is being lauded as one of self-publishing’s great success stories. Now that it’s also been given a great physical presence, you’ve had the chance to experience both markets; how do they compare, for an author?
HH: Seeing the book come out in print has renewed the thrill of publication. It’s like a rebirth. Readers are sending me pictures of window displays in Australia, end-cap displays in New Zealand, sightings of books in Sweden and Germany. As someone who spent much of his childhood in bookstores as a reader, and who worked as a bookseller while trying to make it as a writer, seeing the print work out in the wild has been an absolute dream. Keep in mind that I have yet to see Wool in bookstores with my own eyes. The release kicked off in Australia, as far from me as possible. This is my debut, and so I’m enjoying it vicariously though the excitement of my readers.
PB: Who are your main literary influences? What do you read?
HH: I mostly read non-fiction these days. The writers who influenced me the most were those whose works I enjoyed as a youth and while in college. I love the style of Asimov and Heinlein. P. K. Dick has been a massive influence. Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Neal Stephenson. I also have a love for the classics. Shakespeare, Swift, and Dumas were among my favourites.
I should also mention the thousands of comics I’ve gobbled down over the years. A lot can be learned about telling a good story through great comics.
PB: Are there any questions you don’t get asked enough? (and, if so, what are the answer(s)?)
HH: Hardly anyone ever asks about my wife. She is my muse and the reason I completed my first work. She reads my early drafts and urges me to keep going. Her support and enthusiasm throughout this journey has been simply incredible. I’ll run out of books to dedicate to her before I’ve given her any kind of proper dues.