Interview with Hugh Howey

Aref: Welcome Hugh, I’m glad that you have accepted to answer my questions. I was afraid that you might be too busy to reply, but you did not let me down. DSC00614 800

Could you give us a brief idea about yourself since the Arabic reader may not know much about you.

Hugh: I’m 37 years old. I grew up the son of a farmer and a schoolteacher. I was always an avid reader and dreamed of becoming a writer one day. Instead, I went to college and studied physics. To save money, I bought a small sailboat to live on while I was in school (it was a house for the price of a used car). After my junior year, I decided to leave school and sail off for the Caribbean, where I lived for the next year. It wasn’t until I fell in love and moved away from the sea that I returned to my dream of writing, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.

Aref: What is your story with writing? Did you you know that you are going to be a writer? Did  the idea ever cross your mind?

Hugh: It’s been my dream since I was 12 or so. I loved reading so much that I wanted to be involved in the creation process. I wanted to fashion my own adventures.

Aref: Let us begin with the “wool”. Supposedly, it started as seed, and because of the interaction of readers, it has evolved into a series of fiction. How did this happen?

Hugh: I never promoted Wool at all. I published the short story in July of 2011. By October, it was outselling all of my other books combined. The reviews were unanimous and begged for more. So I stopped what I was working on and concentrated on fleshing out the story.

Aref: Did you make it a science-fiction series because the plot is likely to fit more than one book, or are there other causes writer puts in mind when he or she interact with the readers.

Hugh: I write science fiction because it allows us to create new worlds. You can exaggerate the human condition, which sheds new light on why we behave the way we do.

Aref: Instead of the traditional publishing ways, you preferred Amazon Kindle, Why was that?

Hugh: Partly because I’m impatient. It can take a year from the sale of a book to seeing it in print. It can take several years to sell a book to a publisher! I never wanted to wait that long, nor did I dream of making a career at this. I just wanted to create stories and have them available. Self-publishing made this simple and free.

Aref: Could you describe your feelings when you followed the sales rate! Did you experience an overnight success or did it take a long period of time?

Hugh: It has felt like an overnight success. A year ago, I was working at a bookstore and dreaming of being a writer. Now, I’m doing it. All the hard work in the years leading up to this are easy to forget. It makes it feel even more sudden. In truth, I wrote a lot of books prior to Wool, and that helped me hone my craft.

Aref: Do you think your interactive communication with the readers through the internet has contributed to the success of the series? Or was the success because the readers themselves had positive reactions by propagating it in behalf of the writer?

Hugh: I think the reader has most of the control over a book’s success. My interaction with readers is something I enjoy. I do it to unwind and to feel like I have company in this endeavor. It’s when readers chat with each other and share recommendations that books take off. And authors have very little control over that.

Aref: Your name was included in the list of the the most successful authers of self-published books. The list includes authers such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and others. How do you feel about that?

Hugh: I feel honored. But I also feel a bit wary. I don’t want to become famous for how I published or for selling a lot of books. I would rather my works be the thing discussed. I want people talking about the stories I make up rather than the story of how I got here.

Aref: I knew that there is a print edition of the book distributed in many stores. Is that true?

Hugh: Yes. There was an old paperback printed and distributed by myself. And now Random House has a book coming out in the UK and Europe, and  Simon and Schuster have a version coming out in the States. Which means my old version is no longer in print. I don’t know if that makes it a collectible or not, but I wish I’d held on to a few copies for myself!

Aref: You were not satisfied with the e-sales platforms and sought a print edition. Was this upon a request of the publishing company, or do you just believe that traditional publishing supplements e-publishing?

Hugh: Oh, I couldn’t be happier with the e-sales platforms. That’s my primary focus. The print deals have been secondary. The deal with Random House in the UK works great for me because I didn’t have a large presence overseas. The Simon and Schuster deal is a print-only deal, which means I get to continue with my e-sales. I see these new deals as an extension of what I’m doing, not as a switch to a different approach.

Aref: I was happy to know that Hollywood is going to make it into a movie. Tell us about this important stage.

Hugh: Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian bought the option on the film rights, which doesn’t mean it’ll get turned into a movie, but it makes the chances better than they were before. It’s been very exciting to watch the process unfold. The next step is to work with a screenwriter to draft the screenplay.

Aref: What is your following project? Are you going to publish it traditionally or digitally?

Hugh: I’m working on the final book in the Shift trilogy, which is a prequel to Wool. I will self-publish the book. I don’t plan on changing how I publish. If traditional deals come along afterward, I’ll explore those.

Aref: Does your family understand your role as a writer? Or they are not very interested?

Hugh: They are completely fascinated by it. My mother is a huge reader and a former bookstore manager, so she couldn’t be thrilled. My sister is one of my biggest fans. It’s bewildering to all of us. My dad calls me every day to ask what the latest bit of news is.

Aref: Do you think that Arabic literature which was translated into English – both quantitatively and qualitatively – portrays Arabs honestly and suitably?

Hugh: It’s hard for me to say. Most of the works I’ve read have looked at the history of the Arab world, but I haven’t been there for myself to see. I think we tend to seek out the versions of the truth we want. The sorts of books I prefer look at the amazing gifts brought to us by the Arab world. The invention of algebra, the preservation of the classic Greek and Roman works that would never have survived were it not for Arab translations. If your motivation is to discover the wonderful and beautiful side of a people, you can. If you want to approach them with fear and distrust, you can do that as well. I think our own hearts and wishes alter what we choose to read and see, which just reinforces our views.

Aref: From your perspective do you think electronic publishing is a viable solution to the problems of publishing on paper, so that it can be used by any writer who wants to be free of restrictions?

Hugh: Absolutely. There’s no guarantee of success, but the tools are very democratic. It’s like creating a webpage. Can you imagine a world where only qualified people can have a webpage or a blog? Anyone should be able to write and publish. Let the reader decide if it’s worthy.

Aref: So far, Amazon Kindle did not add Arabic to its e-sale platform. Do you think adding Arabic will make a difference?

Hugh: I’m sure it’ll be added eventually. They only last year added China and India, so it shows that they are expanding. I would love to see an Arabic Kindle platform.

Aref: Will you be happy if your works are translated to other languages, including Arabic?

Hugh: I would be honored! I don’t think we’ve sold the Arabic rights yet, but I hope it happens. We’ve sold to 20 other countries thus far, which is astounding. Any way to reach new readers is wonderful.

Aref: Thank you Hugh! I wish I will have another opportunity to interview you about a new book of you!

Hugh: Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity.


June, 2013