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A Dystopia With Charleston Roots

Hugh Howey will be signing copies of Wool at the West Ashley Barnes & Noble on Monday, March 25.

March 21, 2013

A Dystopia With Charleston Roots
Wool author and former CofC student Hugh Howey is stopping by on his international book tour

Written by Stratton Lawrence

Centuries from now, after the surface of the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by toxic dust storms, the surviving humans will live underground in 150-story silos. That’s the dystopian premise behind Wool, the five-part novel by former College of Charleston student Hugh Howey released by Simon & Schuster on March 12.

But Wool fans have rabidly awaited each new segment of the saga for two years, since Howey released the series’ first novella online. The CofC dropout (he left after his junior year to sail to the Bahamas) made more than $1 million through digital sales of Wool in 2012. So far in 2013, Howey has landed on the front page of The Wall Street Journal’s Arts section and scored a glowing review from Slate. And Wool’s print version is already hitting The New York Times best seller lists.

Like E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) before him, Howey is proving that self-publishing can be extremely lucrative, with a Hollywood film deal already signed with director Ridley Scott that gives Wool a fair shot at following The Hunger Games as the next futuristic fantasy to ignite box offices.

Howey arrives at the Barnes & Noble in West Ashley for a signing on Monday, March 25 at 7 p.m. amidst a whirlwind international book tour (he’s in Virginia on Sunday and Miami on Tuesday, before heading to Australia, South Africa, and Istanbul). Charleston magazine caught up with him between speaking engagements in Los Angeles to talk about his newfound fame and the joy of coming home.

CM: When you sat down to write the first novella in the Wool series, did you have an idea of how this multi-book saga would develop?
No. I thought the first book was all I was ever going to write. I self-published it online and went back to my other novels thinking nothing would come of it, but within three months the first Wool story was outselling everything else I had ever written. I had killed the primary characters off in the first book, so that made it a challenge to outline the rest of the story. It created this expectation that I was going to kill every “point-of-view” character from there on. It puts a lot of tension on the continuing story.

CM: You grew up in North Carolina but moved to Charleston for school. Now you live in Florida, but your mother lives here. Does the Lowcountry feel like home?
Charleston really rescued me. I had a cathartic experience moving there and beginning a new life. Back then [the mid-’90s], King Street was just mom-and-pop stores. There was a place called the Rainbow Café, and the Horse and Cart on lower King. It’s where I discovered myself, and when I’m able to retire and live anywhere, it’s where I’ll end up.

CM: Your mom owns the store Knit (on Wentworth Street), and one of your characters knits in Wool. What’s a favorite thing your mom has knitted you?
I named the fourth book in the series The Unraveling, and I wanted a piece of knitting for the cover of the print-on-demand book. My mom and my sister knitted me a little swatch that I unraveled and spelled “Wool” with for the cover. Mom moved to Charleston to help get Barnes & Noble off the ground when the stores there opened, so she’s been a part of this whole process, raising me to love books. She’s still a huge part of my publishing adventure.

CM: Speaking of print-on-demand, Amazon’s CreateSpace was born out of Charleston self-publishing start-up BookSurge.
I know! Charleston is a Mecca of print-on-demand technology. The last time I was in town, I got a tour of the CreateSpace facility. I just wanted to see where my books are born. It was really an emotional experience.

CM: Now that you’re experiencing this success, do you think you’ll ever go back and finish your degree?
During college, I was living on my sailboat at Buzzard’s Roost Marina (on the Stono River). I sailed to the Bahamas after my junior year, but I came back twice to take classes and finish, and each time a job opportunity pulled me away. I’m a semester away from my degree. When I’m 65 and retired and living in Charleston, I’ll take advantage of the free classes they offer senior citizens and graduate when I’m 70 from the College of Charleston.

CM: If you had to boil it down, what’s the takeaway from the Wool saga? There’s an element of warning, where the people that control information in the silo have more power than the actual government. Do we need to be wary of companies like Google?
I think the danger is not these companies, but that we, as individuals, don’t seek alternate sources of information or go see the world for ourselves or talk to strangers or travel to parts of town that we’re not comfortable in. We all stick to our narrow routines and live in our own little silos, instead of breaking down the walls. Instead of just taking information from sources that agree with us, I think we have to work to make sure that we are not blinded. My personal philosophy and advice to others is just to explore, physically and intellectually.

To read about more creatives with Charleston ties, click here.

Thu, 03/21/2013