Listening In is a series of author interviews, featuring authors whose works have been transformed into audiobooks! This time, we spoke with Hugh Howey, author of the best-selling post-apocalyptic Wool series, about the first novel’s new audiobook edition, read by award-winning narrator Edoardo Ballerini.
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 Edition has been picked up by forty countries for translation.
Please tell us more about Wool! Why should we listen to The Silo Saga?
Wool tells the story of humanity on the edge of extinction. The last survivors are living underground; they’ve lived there so long they don’t remember another life. As bleak as the story sounds, it’s one of hope and overcoming long odds. Readers and listeners have been hooked on this story for years, with translations in over forty languages. But there’s no better way to enjoy this story than to have professionals read it to you in audio form. There is so much tension and drama in the world of the silo. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.
Could you please tell us about your career as an author. What first drew you to writing?
I’ve been an avid reader as long as I can remember. My mom taught me to read before I started school. I’ve been carrying books around with me ever since (often reading under my desk and ignoring the day’s lesson). I worked in a bookstore to pay my way through college, and I worked in another bookshop while making my way as a writer. Books have just been an enormous part of my life. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eleven or twelve.
What I never expected was to have an actual career doing this. I started writing for my own entertainment, and then I passed stories and novels around to friends. The feedback was incredible. I kept hearing that the stories I was giving away were better than the last book they paid for, and why didn’t I try to get these published? So I sent my first novel out and got a deal with a small press. After learning what was involved, I decided I could publish these stories on my own. When my seventh published work hit the New York Times bestseller list, things went to the next level, with film and TV deals, publishing offers, agents calling me out of nowhere. It’s been a wild ride ever since.
We’d love to hear about your writing process. Please elaborate!
It’s pretty simple. I get up early, open my current project, and start asking myself questions. “What happens next? Who is this character? What do they want out of life? Why can’t they get what they want? What will they have to overcome next?” With each question, I come up with an answer. And then I try to describe what’s happening and what people are thinking as clearly as possible. Writing becomes a lot like reading – I often push forward to see the world I’m creating come alive, and to listen to the characters interact. A few hours of this a day, and you have a draft of a novel in just a couple of months.
What drew you to Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction? When did you know that it was the genre you wanted to write?
I was into fantasy novels when I was younger (third, fourth grade). I read all the Forgotten Realms novels, and the Dungeons and Dragons books. When I ran out of those, I started browsing the science fiction novels (which were in the same section of my little hometown Waldenbooks). One of the first I picked up was Ender’s Game, which became my favorite book for many, many years. I read it a dozen times. I wanted to create characters like this and drama like that.
Later, in high school, I read Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Slaughterhouse-Five and found my love of history, philosophy, and science fiction all melded together perfectly in the dystopian genres. Here was a chance to tell thrilling stories while also delving into human nature, human failings, and human triumph. Writing is more enjoyable for me if I feel like I’m not only entertaining the reader, but digging into deeper truths, some of which I only uncover for myself by spending long hours wrestling with my own stories.
Where is your favourite place to write?
Honestly, anywhere. I can write on planes, in coffee shops, in the back of an Uber, on my sofa, in bed. All it takes is a laptop. I can really tune out the world when I’m in the middle of a story. The only place I found it difficult to write was on my sailboat while I was traveling around the world. There was always something more interesting to do. Sitting inside on my laptop never felt like a good use of my time when there were whales to swim with or reefs to snorkel.
Describe your writing style in five words or less.
Cinematic and concise.
Any advice for emerging writers?
Do this because you love it, and you can’t fail. There are thousands of hobbies out there. Very few have expectations of a paying career. So don’t even think about that for a very long time. Set goals that no one can take from you, goals that don’t require anyone’s approval or good fortune. My first goal was to write two books a year for ten years. Twenty novels. Only then would I ask myself if I could do this for a living. That’s the sort of long-term thinking and managed expectations that will see you through the ups and downs of becoming a writer.
What do you do when you experience writer’s block or reader’s block?
The best way to overcome writer’s block is to go read something amazing. I’ve never had reader’s block! My problem is too much to read and not nearly enough time to do it all.
What has been the most exciting part of having your novels transformed into audiobooks? What about having them transformed into a TV show?
In both cases, it’s the thrill of someone bringing their creative energy to a world that you started, and watching them take that story to the next level. Giving it more nuance, more detail, breathing life into it. Walking around TV sets, meeting the cast and crew, listening to a professional recording of your words – it’s both humbling and exciting to have others participate in the storytelling alongside you. Most of writing is a very solitary endeavor. I love the collaboration.
Edoardo Ballerini, an award-winning narrator, has been cast to narrate the entire series. Did you have any say in who was casted? Was having the same narrator for each book important to you? What made Ballerini right for the job?
Edoardo is fantastic! I listened to a ton of prospects, and his voice just felt right for the series. He has a huge following of his own, and I look forward to seeing his fans and fans of the series bring a bigger audience to us both. And yeah, having the same voice for all three books is a big deal. I think once you get used to a narrator in a series, it’s awesome to keep them throughout.
Sailing is also a passion of yours. Have you found similarities in sailing and writing?
Absolutely. A lot of people are comfortable going on a short sail, or writing a paragraph or a page, but the thought of writing a novel or a series of books feels too daunting. And the idea of sailing around the world seems impossible. But both are accomplished by doing something you’re comfortable with, just doing it repeatedly and consistently. Sailing around the world is a lot of daysails strung together. Writing a novel just requires that you write page after page, each one of which is perfectly manageable. The biggest thing I’ve learned from writing and sailing is patience. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the destination. Enjoy where you are in your journey.
Please recommend an audiobook you absolutely adored!
I love David Sedaris’s books! All of them.
What are you reading (or listening to) right now?
I’m reading Prophet, a book coming out soon from Sin Blanche and Helen Macdonald. It’s incredible!