Two at a time.

I’ve been back to the grind of writing each day for a few weeks now. The time travel series I’m developing will launch with a novel called “The Traveler” presumably by the end of 2013. The series will either be referred to as “The Traveler Series” or “The Daniel Wells Series” or something like that. TBD. The book is a little more than 1/3 to its targeted length and the story is very different than anything I’ve written so far.

A little while ago I decided to write a novella while working on “The Traveler.” It’s tentatively titled “Galaxi” (the first name of the protagonist) and…drumroll please… is part of the Atlantic Island universe!! Now wait a second, it’s not a sequel to the original novel. I think that project is still a ways down the road. So what is it? It’s part of an eventual series of shorter works called “Atlantic Island Chronicles.” The characters and events of my original story certainly inform what occurs in “Galaxi,” but they aren’t the centerpiece. I’m guessing my readers want to know when the story takes place. That’s the other big part of my announcement. It takes place after Atlantic Island. Significantly after. In that sense the book serves two purposes: it’s a semi-sequel to the novel, in that it will let readers know what happened to the world I’ve created, if not to all the characters. It’s also a standalone prequel to the next novel, whenever that comes. The world of Atlantic Island is much more involved and detailed than I ever thought it would be, and you’ll learn a whole lot about it from reading “Galaxi.” The book is also about a third written but it’s much shorter than “Traveler” and I think it will be ready sometime in October. I’ll have more to report on that soon. For now… I’ve got two very different books to write. I love a good challenge. 

Jupiter’s E-Book Sensation: Hugh Howey (From the Palm Beach Post)

Hugh Howey doesn’t look like someone engaged in changing the world of books.
He’s a mild-looking, inquisitive 38-year-old, who enjoys playing with his adored dog Bella in a 900-square-foot house in Jupiter while his psychologist wife is at work.
But in the past five years, he has gone from writing a series of science fiction short stories called “Wool” that he put up for sale on Amazon at 99 cents apiece to becoming a best-selling e-book sensation and landing a print deal for the combined stories with Simon & Schuster. Ridley Scott has even optioned rights for a movie.
How big is Howey?
“In terms of Kindle copies sold in the science fiction/fantasy category,” says Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, “Hugh is right up there with George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury. He’s one of the smartest, hardest working authors I’ve ever met.”
And it’s possible none of it might have happened if he hadn’t been on a yacht in the Hudson River on Sept. 11, 2001.
‘Just like the movies’
Born to a farmer and school teacher in Monroe, N.C., Hugh Howey segued from reading fantasy to sci-fi in middle school. The titles were typical: Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy, Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth.” He went to the College of Charleston and dropped out, but not before reading all the classics he had resisted in high school.
Peripatetic by nature, he worked as a roofer for a time, then captained private yachts. He loved the sea, and the work was reasonably lucrative and carried a low overhead — yacht captains earn about $1,000 per foot of ship and live on board. All told he worked on yachts for almost nine years, and filled his spare time by reading.
Twelve years ago, writing was still far into the future. On Sept. 11, 2001, Howey was in New York, captaining a 74-foot Sunseeker motor yacht for a wealthy hedge fund manager. The boat was moored in North Cove Marina, at the base of the World Trade Center.
“When the planes struck, they did so directly overhead,” he remembers. “The first one was an accident, of course. That’s what we all thought. I remember watching the second plane bank hard and come screaming down Lower Manhattan, and I still thought this was some sort of accident. Your brain just turns off. I was silently yelling for the pilot to pull up, was thinking of some sort of malfunction, the kinds of things I was too smart to believe. But the truth was too evil for me to comprehend.
“I remember the heat from the fireball. I remember thinking ‘It’s just like the movies.’ And then the people started running and screaming, and I thought that was just like the movies as well — the panic in everyone’s eyes.”
Howey’s boss said they had to get out of there — everybody believed more planes would be hitting momentarily. “I cranked the engines and started throwing the dock lines. People asked if I was leaving; I said that I was, and if they wanted to come, they should get on board. I remember asking them to take their shoes off, and how that seemed wrong even in the moment. My wires were crossed.”
Howey steered the ship across the Hudson to Liberty Landing Marina, but there was no room, so Howey tied up at a restaurant. A group of construction workers asked if Howey would take them back to the site of the Trade Center. They wanted to help. He agreed, dropped them off and then picked up others. He would see the same construction workers later when they came back for the lunch pails they left on the docks, and told him about the looting they witnessed.
“It’s easier to talk about now, but I didn’t for the longest time. We sat on the bow of the boat and watched WTC 5 (or was it 7?) fall, the radio bursting with the news before the rubble even settled. We watched both buildings come down. The night before, we had sat in Windows on the World at the top of one of the towers and looked out over the city. That spot was now in empty space.
“It seemed surreal. Still does.”
Low sales, then sudden success
After that came a cooling-off period. Howey piloted the boat to Fort Lauderdale, where he met the woman he would later marry. For a while, he followed her around the country as her career took precedence.
Seven years after the Trade Center came down, Howey began writing. He wrote a couple of e-books in a young adult series concerning a young spaceship pilot who travels the galaxy in search of her father. When he started writing the stories that became “Wool,” they were living in Boone, N.C., where Howey was quite happily working in a bookstore.
Working there taught him a lot about the realities of writing. “Only one book sells at a time. Harry Potter, “Twilight,” Stieg Larsson, “Gone Girl.” Authors would come in for appearances. Their books were well-reviewed, but I noticed they were all professors — there were no full-time authors.
“They were making $50,000 a book, paying 15 percent of that to their agent and then more to taxes. If I hadn’t seen the parade coming through, I never would have known that very few authors support themselves on their books. That’s part of the reason I kept my cost of living so low.”
Howey’s idea was to publish his books serially on his blog, mostly because he researched conventional publishing and it sounded like a huge pain. “Three years to find an agent? By that time, I’d lose interest. And with a small publisher, there’s a small advance. I wanted a say in the cover, I wanted a say in the font. I believe that pagination is important — widows and orphans can help or hurt the reading experience.”
He was sensible about it; he figured that “Wool” wouldn’t be much different than his other e-books. “If I put $200 in the bank over the lifetime of the work, that was fine. I was doing it because I loved it. I really had no idea what was in store for me, and my expectations were subterranean.”
The first “Wool” story was finished in July 2011 and consisted of 12,000 words. He was so indifferent to its success he didn’t bother linking the story to his website and simply put it on Amazon for 99 cents. The opening sentence was a grabber, as opening sentences should be: “The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.”
“Wool” is about a dystopian post-apocalyptic society, where people are forced by the toxic atmosphere to live in an underground 144-story silo. Procreation is allowed only via lottery. Someone has to be sent outside to clean dirt off the sensors that bring in light, said cleaning being done with industrial-grade wool. The narrative tension derives from the fact that once someone is outside, there’s no way to get back inside the silo alive.
Initially, Howey’s expectations were met: Nothing much happened. But after three months, a faint rumble was heard; rave reviews started appearing on Amazon and word-of-mouth — or word-of-chatroom? — began to work its magic. Sales began rising; people began asking for more.
It was October 2011 when everything changed. That month, Howey sold a thousand e-books. On the last day of the month, he stayed up till midnight watching the numbers come in. When he realized what had happened, he sat down and began to write the second story in the series. He would rise at three in the morning to get in his hours at the keyboard before going off to work at the bookstore. “I was consumed.”
In November, the second story was available on Amazon. By January 2012, Howey was making $200 a day, more than he was making in a week at the bookstore. He quit, although not without a great deal of angst — he was about to try to be one of the few writers who doesn’t have a day job.
So far, his luck is holding just fine.
“Wool” was published (in print!) in England, where it became a best-seller. It has now sold to 32 different countries. Ridley Scott has optioned the book. Howey calls the entire experience “life-altering,” and he’s not exaggerating. He returned to South Florida, and the Jupiter house he bought a year ago is paid for.
9/11’s influence
Howey was lucky in one respect — science fiction, along with romance, have very avid fans. Amazon’s Belle says that, “The most active, engaged and well-organized reading communities online are groups of science fiction, fantasy and romance readers. If you write a book that catches readers’ attention and makes them want to share their thoughts about it, these groups can spread the word very quickly.”
Howey says that the reason literary fiction is not particularly dependent on word of mouth is that story is less important than prose and style. “With science fiction and romance, you kind of know going in what the experience is going to be.”
All told, “Wool” is a fairly grim book, as is “I, Zombie,” a book Howey brought out in 2012, which he refers to as “a literary horror novel.” In “I, Zombie,” the creatures can remember all of their previous lives, even as they are helpless to control the desires that compel them to eat people. Some of the gloom derives from Howey’s consumption of a great deal of philosophy and a gradual loss of belief in free will that probably derives from witnessing 9/11 at close range.
“9/11 pops up in most of my works. I’ve been writing about it obliquely since my very first novel. In that debut work, an entire planet is razed, and the protagonist watches from a distance. I remember bawling while writing the scene. It was painful but cathartic. In the ‘Wool’ series, several of the silos are brought down much like the twin towers. I don’t think I’ll ever get that day out of my head, but writing about it helps, even if I’m the only one who knows that’s what I’m writing about.
“ ‘I, Zombie’ tackles that day head-on. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t recommend the book to people and even put a disclaimer in the description. I don’t care if anyone ever reads that book; I just had to write it.”
It was only a matter of time before conventional trade publishers came calling for “Wool,” but Howey turned them down because the standard publishing deal mandates e-book rights, and he was making in the vicinity of $100,000 a month through Amazon, which had priced “Wool” at $5.99 for the five-story omnibus version.
Finally, Simon & Schuster bought the book for print only. The book has done well, but not as well as the e-book version; Howey says about 90 percent of his American sales are e-books, and it’s possible that the e-book has skimmed off a lot of potential readers who would otherwise have bought the print version for a higher price.
Open to fan fiction
Howey has taken his success one step further: he’s encouraging others to share in it by allowing writers to use his settings and characters for their own stories. In other words, he’s opened up the “Wool” series for fan fiction. This would give most writers an aneurysm, but Howey is sanguine.
“I grew up in a different time, with open-sourced projects. Wikipediaand the Encyclopedia Britannica. I don’t have an affinity for a canon; I don’t feel a sense of protectiveness about it. I don’t ask to see anybody else’s story before it goes out.”
Fredric Shernoff, 32, lives in Wellington and works as a real estate developer. He recently published “Angels of the Earth,” a “Wool” story that has been selling 20 to 30 copies a day at 99 cents apiece on Amazon. “There are some general rules,” says Shernoff of the Amazon program, “but they allow the rights holders to set the parameters. Hugh is very open. You can kill one of his characters off, you can revisit a plot he already did.”
Shernoff says that the author of the fan fiction gets 35 percent of the proceeds, Howey gets 35 percent, and Amazon takes the rest. (Amazon doesn’t talk about contractual matters, so won’t confirm or deny the royalty split.) Howey was given an advance once he agreed to the fan fiction, which he took to be a licensing fee.
“If I make a penny in royalties beyond this advance, I’ll be donating those royalties to a literary charity,” he says. “I don’t mind the licensing fee, but I would be uncomfortable earning royalties on another’s work.”
Howey says that he thinks of fan fiction as training wheels for new writers. “I’ve already made more money off ‘Wool,’ than I ever planned, so seeing other people get a leg up because of it is cool. It’s also surreal. One guy told me that he made enough from his story to pay his rent for the month. Worrying about copyright pales next to that. Fan fiction teaches readers that they can become writers too, and that’s exciting.
“I like books like ‘The Road’ and ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale,’ books that cross boundaries. I’m just thrilled that ‘Wool’ has done some of that. I have no ego about the work — I just want it to be as good as possible. I’ve lived a simple life, so this is like winning the lottery. I’m grateful, but I’m also prepared to go back to shelving books.”
Next: sailing the world
Right now, Hugh Howey is enjoying his good life.
He has completed another book entitled “Dust,” which wraps up the Silo saga. “I don’t want to write the same characters over and over,” he says.
He gets up in the morning, gets the paper from the driveway and reads it over a bowl of cereal. He writes until lunch, after which he takes Bella to the beach. Afternoon is for emails and business.
In five years, Howey and his wife plan to retire, buy a boat and sail around the world. He’ll write a serialized memoir about their experiences and post it on his blog. Maybe he’ll even sell it — there’s a long history of sailing adventures staying in print for a century or more. Hugh Howey, meet Richard Henry Dana.
Howey rubs Bella and contemplates his good fortune, which is diametrically opposed to his vision of a world bathed in brutality. He is not unaware of the irony.
“Right now,” he says, “I’m just soaking up every minute of it.”

My Review of Hugh Howey’s Dust

Earlier today I finished reading Dust by Hugh Howey. Considering what the Silo Saga and Hugh have meant to my career as an author it seems only fitting that I should devote a post to a spoiler-free reflection on the experience of reading this phenomenal series.

I first read Wool during a family vacation in Hawaii. I was in the middle of writing Atlantic Island at the time, and learning about the process of publishing and promoting work on Amazon from the numerous articles I read about Hugh Howey. It’s so unbelievably rare for me to try a new author’s work, and even more unusual for me to like what I read. I was hooked by Wool right from the start, and fascinated by the slow reveal that took place throughout that book and its sequel, Shift.  Hugh managed to depict a markedly different, yet strangely similar world while all the time holding back the secrets of what was truly occurring.

I bought Shift to read on my Kindle on the flight home. I later learned that there was some criticism from readers about Hugh’s decision to reveal the backstory to the events of Wool in the sequel. Personally, I liked Shift even more than Wool. Anyone who knows me (and my unwavering love for Stephen King’s The Stand) knows that I prefer to see a world fall apart rather than jump into it after the damage has already been done. That approach guided me in writing Atlantic Island and it was remarkable to see it handled by a master. As the plot caught up with the timeline of Wool, the stage was set with enormously high expectations for the finale.

In between reading the first two books and excitedly reading the third, I became a part of the Silo Saga world when I wrote Angels of the Earth. Because of that book I came to know a wonderful, supportive, ever-growing group of authors, read several of their Silo works, and befriended Hugh Howey himself.

And so it was that I sat down to read Dust, now being a Silo author and knowing that I was reading the words of a friend and mentor. Could I be brought back into that magnificent, ruined world deep within the earth? Could Hugh tie all his characters and plotlines together? Would it all lead to a satisfactory conclusion?

For three pages, I admit I thought to myself, “this is all too much. I’ve been gone too long, too busy with my own stories and now I don’t even remember what was happening.” By page four, all my worries had evaporated. Hugh Howey is that good. He brings the reader right back into the heart of the action without wasting time explaining what came before. His exposition occurs organically as his characters embark on the final leg of their respective journeys.

Everything in this novel comes together to work like a finely tuned machine that would dazzle the hard-laboring gang down in Mechanical. Hugh continues to reveal his secrets in a way that seems natural and not at all forced. There are no reveals just for the sake of the reveal. I can say without spoiling anything that the plans that made all the devastation possible just seem plausible…plausible enough to give one pause about some of what goes on in the real world.

Hugh’s characters have an amazing amount of depth to them. There are very few men and women in his story who can be seen as “all good” or “all bad.” Hugh finds the levels in between. His characters and his story are so much richer for it. This also lends the trilogy an overarching theme of redemption that works whether it is a character or the world itself that must be redeemed.

As to my third question, did Hugh’s conclusion satisfy me as a reader? Absolutely. I’m sure the ending won’t thrill every single reader, but Stephen King (and many others) once said that a story is about the journey, not the ending. Hugh wraps up his journey in a powerful way while leaving room for journeys to come. Whether Hugh Howey is the tour guide who will take us on that next leg or if he will simply pass the torch to his growing legion of Silo Saga authors, he has more than succeeded in doing his job here. He entertained, dazzled and intrigued through three wonderful books and created a world so elaborate and layered that it is just beginning to be explored. Amazing. 


I’ve been plotting the next phase of my writing career since wrapping Atlantic Island not too long ago. That book continues to slowly gain traction and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, which makes me feel pretty wonderful. My goal was, after all, to entertain my readers. If you’ve looked at the little progress bars on the side of my blog page, you’ll know that I finished writing a short story for an upcoming silo-related project. I’m not going to go into detail about that yet, but I certainly will when the time is right. The story takes place in Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga world, but is not at all related to Angels of the Earth. It’s just a disturbing little horror story that I enjoyed writing. 

I’m outlining a project that I’m co-authoring. It’s called Burning Bush and is a conspiracy story based on true events. If you’ve read Ben Mezrich’s books or seen the movies based on them, you’ll get how we are approaching this- it borrows ideas from the real, headline-making story but creates a solid bit of entertaining fiction around it. 

Finally, my latest announcement. No, it’s not a new Atlantic Island project (I know some of you are still waiting for that!), but it is new sci-fi. It’s a series, actually, about time travel (something I’ve always wanted to write) and will introduce a new main character who goes on different adventures in each book. It’s a different style of publishing for me, but I got into this business to have some fun and try new things. I think it will be enjoyable. I’m just ironing out the details on that now.

So that’s what I’m up to. Please continue to send me messages through whatever forum you prefer. I love talking to my readers and the feedback I’ve received has been so helpful to me as I realize what my audience wants. I promise that you will see at least one, maybe two new publications from me before the end of 2013! Thanks again for all your support, my friends.

Charity Day on 7/26 for Atlantic Island: Omnibus Edition

I’m going to be doing a charity sale of the complete Atlantic Island novel this Friday, July 26th. Any money I make from sales of that book that day will go to the Make A Wish Foundation. The organization, for those who do not know, grants the wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening conditions. It’s a wonderful thing that they do, and if it means that the proceeds from the best day of sales I will ever have as an author go to this amazing charity rather than in my pocket, that’s something that would make me very proud. You can buy the book here, but please wait until the 26th if you want your money to go to Make a Wish. Please share this with as many people as possible! Thanks so much for your time and support. Image

The End of Atlantic Island?

This week I published both the final, third installment of Atlantic Island as well as the full novel (the Omnibus Edition). It’s a huge milestone for me as a writer to have truly completed my first novel. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written, coming in nearly a hundred pages longer than Doing the Job. The reviews, including those on Amazon, on Twitter, and told to me personally have been very positive. I’ve been asked several times what comes next. The truth is I’m not one hundred percent sure. I do know I have some other projects coming up (several of those are listed in the word count widget on the side of this blog). After that, there’s a chance I could return to the world of Atlantic Island. The story has many open threads that could be explored in sequels or prequels. I do have a sense that Atlantic Island could become the first book in a true series. Maybe a trilogy. That all depends on a few things that I can’t talk about just yet. Vague enough for you? In the meantime, I would be very open to others exploring that world in whatever way they see fit. Just give me a shout out somewhere on the cover or something. Deal?  Deal. I’ll check in soon with some more Kindle Worlds news as well as some specifics on my next project. Thanks for reading!

Kindle Worlds: The beginning

I know I’m long overdue for a post. I imagine you’ve already picked up on much of what I’m about to say from other social media. Nonetheless…
Hugh Howey has joined the new Kindle Worlds program at Amazon. This formalizes the process of writing and publishing Silo Saga stories (there are other brands in the program as well) and lets Amazon control all the elements to make the books successful. So as it turns out I am the first author accepted to be published by Kindle Worlds! It’s been a fun few days since that happened. The people at Amazon have been awesome and Hugh himself has been great, as he has been all along. Right now Angels is in the store and Amazon is just trying to get things running and get some more works in the store. I know some of my fellow “Wool” authors will be in the store in a day or two. This is great as they are wonderful people with brilliant stories to share. They’ve been unbelievably supportive since I published Angels initially. I can’t talk too much about what’s going to be happening but it should be the most exciting thing to happen since I started writing. More as soon as I can share it!

A little update

I’m in the middle of adding some things to this website and will be flying home to Florida today, so forgive the brevity of this post. Just a quick update:

“Angels of the Earth: A Silo Story” is selling very well. Still lagging most of the other Wooliverse tales but I’m proud enough to just be part of that crew. My book did briefly enter the top 20 sci-fi short stories.

“Atlantic Island: The Event” is picking up a few occasional buys or borrows, one would assume as a result of the silo story’s success. It’s selling about 3% of the number of copies of Angels.

“Atlantic Island Book 2: The Leadership” is in the hands of beta readers. When I have their feedback I will incorporate it, tack on my snazzy new cover, and get it moving to Amazon. I’m already itching to get to work on the final installment.

In other news… Opened a Facebook fan page. Created a new cover for AI Book 1 that more closely matches what I developed for Book 2. That’s on Amazon now. As I said, I’m going to flesh out this blog/website a little more today and tomorrow. That’s all… thanks for reading!

My adventure in the Wooliverse

Well, I finally did it. Since starting on my self-publishing endeavor I have promised to write a short story in Hugh Howey’s Wool universe. After a week of writing at a feverish pace I had something longer than a short story and, I hope, different than any other fanfic type story out there. I won’t waste time telling you Uriel’s story, since if you’ve made it here there’s a good chance you’ve bought the book already. In that case, thanks!
What I will tell you is that while the story is fiction, there are elements of Uriel’s personality that come from my memories of myself at his age. That and the haunting descriptions Hugh and others have given of the silos made writing this a very engrossing, powerful experience for me.
For those who are here to follow my career, I can tell you that sales have been much better than my other work but not yet where I’d like to see them. It’s possible people are just burning out from too much Wool stuff that doesn’t come from Hugh, but I prefer to think it will just take some time.
In the meantime I go back to read and edit Atlantic Island: The Leadership. I still think that story has potential and I’m hopeful that reading with fresh eyes will help me make it all it can be. I’m aiming to have the book available for sale by the end of this month.

To curse or not to curse…that is the question

I know I promised a blog post yesterday, but I elected to sit down and type another 400 words of my story instead. Gotta indulge those impulses when they strike. What I wanted to discuss in this post is something I’ve been debating as I write. “Atlantic Island” was envisioned to serve two purposes. One- to give me the chance to explore a concept I’d had in my head for years. To take the Stephen King approach of throwing a couple normal characters in a horribly abnormal situation and see what they do to get out of it. Two- to position the book (and future series) as a successor to “Hunger Games”, “Twilight”…any of that kind of thing. To that end, I chose to write a book that had mature appeal but was appropriate for young audiences. If you’ve read the first part, “The Event,” you know that although the language gets a bit heated in times of strife, no character uses any of the mighty curse words of doom. As I got deeper into the followup, “The Leadership,” I started to find myself censoring my natural flow of writing. People in stressful situations curse. Teenagers curse. Teenagers in stressful situations? Well, you do the math. With the draft I am about to complete I have dabbled in allowing one new character to use foul language freely, as it fits his personality. I’m not sure that will stay. One of the cool things about writing for the Kindle Store is that I can reedit my already published book if I feel that the dialogue should be modified to fit later portions. It won’t change the story at all. Of course, the tradeoff is losing appropriateness for a young market…though based on my rankings I don’t think I’m selling well in that market at all (sci-fi is where I’m seeing action). As a long time wrestling fan (as detailed in “Doing the Job”…cheap plug) I remember starting to feel a little funny as WWF and WCW dabbled in edginess. Seeing a guy as large as Hulk Hogan say he was going to kick his opponent’s “butt” just seemed phony. Of course, eventually the companies went full bore into adult-oriented language and situations. Now their business is bigger than ever and is back to being a child-oriented, PG product that I find horribly dull. I’m curious to hear your feedback. Is it better to let my characters have their natural voices and lose a huge potential audience? Or should I continue to doctor them to be appropriate for all ages? Did any of you who read “The Event” feel anything was lost by the language being softened?