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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Author Interview: Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey's startling debut novel, Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue has burst onto the writing scene, capturing the attention of top writers and reviewers to generate considerable buzz months before its release. Drawing from his career as a yacht captain and book critic, Hugh's ability to pen vivid characters and tight drama makes him a young writing star worth keeping an eye on. Hugh has taken time out to answer some questions about his writing.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
With my novels, it’s the last sentence I wrote that inspires me. When I stop writing for the day, which requires an uncommon force of will, I immediately start dreaming of the next scene. My characters will continue talking, keeping me up at night and causing me to stir at ungodly hours to jot down nonsensical codes to my morning self. I’ll get up early the next day and rush right back to the computer, trying to capture it all. My first two books were written like this: manic phases of continuous inspiration. Blog entries and short stories, however, are different. They require that I begin writing and then find my inspiration.

What author(s) have influenced your writing?
Every book I read influences my style of writing somewhat, but I think my pace and content are just as influenced by great movie directors and comicbook writers. Even good TV teaches me something about controlling the ebb and flow of emotions in order to craft an engaging story. I admire Douglas Preston’s ability to write tense, believable action, Charlie Huston for his dialog, Brad Meltzer for his focus on emotions and relationships, and Judith Harris for ladling deep thoughts in tasty sips. I grew up on John D. Fitzgerald’s GREAT BRAIN series, Mark Twain’s satire, and Orson Scott Card’s imagination.

What makes your book so different from other books in its genre?
It’s “future” fiction rather than “science” fiction. I prefer to focus on the relationships between my characters and tense action rather than the hard, speculative science. Contemporary fiction doesn’t delve into the technical wizardry of the everyday, and neither, in my opinion, should science fiction. An author will simply state that Kate called Henry, not that, “she flipped open her wireless interpersonal communicator and pressed virtual keys on her multi-touch LDD display, sending modulated radio waves to a nearby tower, which relayed it in digital form to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit...” Nobody wants to read that stuff. At least... I don’t. Of course, when an unfamiliar tool is used, it’s nice to know what it’s for, but maybe not how to build one from scratch. I think what sets my book apart from others in the genre is that non-sf readers come back and tell me they loved this book. Old and young alike, male and female, find it equally appealing.

What impressed you most during your research for your book?
How much astronomers know! One of the benefits of science fiction is the ability to take liberties with the gaps in our understanding. This is the wiggle-room in which I can write with impunity. Nobody can tell me I’m wrong, because nobody truly knows. Each year, however, this gap shrinks as new discoveries are laid down. It creates a challenge: crafting exciting fiction without upsetting those in the know. There’s a fine line there, and I tend to stagger back and forth across it (apologies to those of you that live to either side!)

Are there any parts in your book that were hard to write?
Absolutely. When readers check out the book, they’ll know which ones. I made life extremely tough for my young protagonist at times. Two scenes in particular were hard on me; one of them I had to re-write and the other was jettisoned completely. Being responsible for the death of a character was a challenge I thought I was prepared for; I was wrong.

Also, I was in lower Manhattan during 9/11, right at the base of the WTC. I just realized this past year that I was more severely affected by that day than I had previously thought. It took a long time to recognize the defense mechanisms preventing me from dealing with the trauma of watching so many die right before my very eyes. I worked through some of those demons in this book. I’m not sure how transparent the metaphor will be to the reader, but I had to stop writing a few times to sort myself out. There are still sections that I can’t read without becoming emotional.

Have you ever read a book that really changed the way you look at things? What was the book?
Several. THE BLANK SLATE by Stephen Pinker, COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen, THE RED QUEEN by Matt Ridley, and THE NURTURE ASSUMPTION by Judith Harris. Non-fiction tends to shake my worldview while fiction usually just entertains me. I try my best to combine both sensations in my novels: the thrill of a good story and the challenge of considering new perspectives on deep issues.

What other projects are you currently working on?
My focus is on completing the first three books in the Molly Fyde saga. I’m also adapting the first book into a screenplay and outlining my fourth book, which will be my first non-sf story. The goal is to release the Molly Fyde books as quickly as we can while retaining their quality. My publisher suspects readers are going to be rioting for the sequel when they reach the end of the first book.

Is there anything else you want people to know about yourself or the book?
I’m awfully fond of the book’s cover. It started as a rough guide to show the publisher what I was thinking their artist should attempt, but I kept dabbling with it, learning new techniques and tools, until I had something fit for print. I never set out to create my own cover, nor was I blessed with the skills needed to do an appropriate job, which makes the final product all the more mind-blowing to me. I’m not sure if it’s a cover that people will gravitate toward as they browse, but anyone that reads the book should form a unique bond with that image by the end of the story. In that way, it allowed me, as the author, to impact the reader on another level and hopefully augment their enjoyment of the book.

Readers might also be interested in hearing how I plan on keeping them engaged between books. Along with my author website,, I have a fictionalized blog,, that continues the story between books. Media has changed. With iPods, listeners have active control over their music, rather than the passive radio. DVR’s do the same for TV. The consumer is in control and I want to cater to that by providing year-round content, rather than the once-per-year cycle that books are clinging to.

Thanks Hugh!

For more information about Hugh Howey and his books, please visit his website here.


  1. This interview made me feel like I am not a writer and like I will never be a writer.
    His last sentence keeping him up at night, characters forcing him to wake up and jot things down.
    In any case, I like the idea of future fiction. I'll haev to check out one of his books.

  2. Great interview- loved the questions (and answers!)

  3. I like that future fiction instead of science fiction. I agree wholeheartedly. I don't need to how and why everything works It just has to. Just like the laptop I am working on. I can't tell you how it works just that it does most times lol. I know me and my sons will like this series.

  4. Wow! This is a great interview with very personal and real feelings exposed......I think it's great that Hugh was able to use his novel as a way to channel the trauma that he suffered on 9/11. I can't wait to read this book and look forward to many more to come.

  5. great interview and good questions

  6. I like the sound of "future fiction"! Great interview :)

  7. Nice interview, I really liked it.

  8. Great interview! I so agree with the author about the cover. That is a great cover!


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