A scratchy, itchy world

WoolA couple of weekends ago, indie-publishing darling Hugh Howey appeared at Powell's Books here in Portland. He's been whipping around the country, speaking about and signing his book, Wool. Now, if you know the Wool story, you can skip ahead. If you don't, I'm not going to tell it, just summarize it:

  • Hugh Howey serialized a self-published ebook called Wool.
  • Hugh Howey found a freakishly large and devoted audience.
  • Freakishly large and devoted audience bought hundreds of thousands of copies of Wool. 
  • Hugh Howey was wooed by traditional publishers.
  • Traditional publishers wanted what they usually want: all of Hugh Howey's rights, in all mediums, in all countries, on all planets, for ever and ever.
  • Hugh Howey (his name is more fun when you say it in full each time) said thanks, but I'll stick with making wheelbarrow-loads of money the way I've been doing it so far.
  • One traditional publisher offered Hugh Howey a landmark deal: you keep all of the rights to everything except for print, and we'll give you a lot of money just for that.
  • Hugh Howey agreed.
  • Hugh Howey practically lives on the NYT bestsellers list now.

So there you go. The short story.

Now, Hugh hadn't planned on visiting Portland. Those freakishly devoted fans staged an internet shaming, and dogged him into making a side trip. Their efforts worked, and Hugh came to Portland -- on his one day off from travel, as he explained during his Q&A.

Hugh Howey at Powells

Local author and GeekDad blogger Erik Wecks kicked off the Q&A with pizazz, having petitioned a local performing artist to open the event in style. The Unipiper is a Portland favorite: a talented bagpipe player who wheels around on a unicycle, in kilt and Darth Vader mask, playing the Imperial March. The Unipiper only almost crashed once, and managed a fancy dismount and bow to close out his brief performance.

After the event, Hugh invited the audience to dinner. (How many authors do this at their book signings? I'm guessing not many.) A half-dozen readers and fellow writers tagged along, and I had a chance to meet some interesting new people, particularly some other Portland authors. (Can't get over how nice it is to have local peers.)

Before dinner arrived, I explained to Hugh that I hadn't yet read Wool, but that it had been introduced to me by a friend who had been unable to make it out for the reading. I asked Hugh if he'd be willing to record a short video for my friend. (He was.) On camera, he lamented my friend's absence, raised a glass to him, and told him to stop spending his weekends working (which, as it turns out, my friend was doing).

All of this is interesting, yes, but I wanted to recap this to talk about my next project.

I've just released The Colonists, the second book in The Movement Trilogy. The Travelers (the final installment) will be out a little later this year. But in between those books, I wanted to take on a short project to keep me on my toes, and keep me fresh. Here's where all this Hugh Howey and Wool business comes into play.

There's one other thing that makes Hugh Howey unique among authors, and that's his attitude about fan fiction. "Fan fiction" is a grotesque little term, but an appropriate one that describes all of the little fan-written stories that exist out there. These stories exist for a reason: sometimes a world is so captivating to readers that they just don't want to leave it behind, not just yet... and the only way to discover new stories, quite often, is for the readers to become writers, and write those stories themselves.

Most authors, I think it's fair to say, employ legal teams to deal with unauthorized works like this. Tom Clancy probably wouldn't be too happy with your Jack Ryan-meets-Tony Stark story. For that matter, neither would Marvel. Howey, on the other hand, encourages fan fiction. And not only encourages it, but advises fanfic writers to publish and sell their work. (He does this while quite aware of the stomach cramps it must cause his lawyer and agent.)

The result has been some exciting new entries in the Woolverse. Canadian author W.J. Davies has turned heads with The Runner, the first entry in a likely trilogy of silo stories. David Adams told a horror story about Wool fans in Shear Terror. Patrice Fitzgerald is gathering impressive reviews for The Sky Used to Be Blue. Lyndon Perry throws a new lens over the silo with The Last PrayerAnd the Woolverse even has room for poetry, too.

You can probably tell where I'm going with this, but I'll just go ahead and bring it home. My next project -- before I end The Movement Trilogy -- with be a short novel set in Hugh Howey's evocative little post-apocalyptic world. There are still a lot of stories left in this universe that deserve telling, and I think I've happened across one that's too irresistible to leave on the shelf, and explores some themes I've spent the last twelve years examining for another project.

With the exception of the Hardy Boys ghost story I wrote and illustrated when I was six, this will be my first foray into another author's established story and world. I have a feeling it's going to be a very powerful journey. Hugh has graciously given me his blessing to dig into his sandbox and play for awhile, so I'm going to give it the old college try, as they say.

Stay tuned for updates along the way!