Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A public thank you to Hugh Howey

Wild and wooly

Posted by Chris Haire on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 7:27 PM

Way back in October 2012, the City Paper wrote about sci-fi author Hugh Howey and his surprising emergence as one of the most important figures in the publishing world. By now, you probably know the story about this one-time College of Charleston student, his best-selling series Wool, and his role as the leading literary champion of digital self-publishing. (He was also kind enough to speak with me about how the post-9/11 world affected his writing, particularly with Wool, something which which I've also tried to address in my debut, The Many Crimes of Wyatt Duvall.)

This week, Howey and his e-publishing comrades will be in town for the PubSmart conference, a one-of-kind gathering of independent authors, publishers, and the like. The whole thing kicks off Wednesday at the Francis Marion Hotel and runs until Friday. I wish I could make it, but sadly, Easter is calling, and so I have to head back to the Upstate to see family. However, I’d like to publicly thank Mr. Howey. Without him, I wouldn’t have been inspired to publish my own e-book through Amazon.com, The Many Crimes of Wyatt Duvall. Gracias. (For more on PubSmart and Howey, pick up tomorrow's issue of the City Paper or visit us online.)

See, the great thing that Howey did was to show fiction writers how the traditional rules of novel writing no longer applied. Gone were the days when a writer had to pen a 60,000-100,000-word manuscript before he or she had a novel proper. The old way was a tyranny of sorts, one that benefited writers who wrote in long stretches for days and weeks and months on end, and who were writing for an audience that had the luxury of reading in long stretches for days and weeks and months on end. That's not me. I'm a bathroom reader.

Between writing and editing for the City Paper, taking care of two young girls, and, yes, drinking more than I should, I don't have lots of time to actually read outside of work hours. And so the only time I have to read for fun is in short bursts. Sometimes it's on the can — I know, unpleasant image. Sometimes it's on the couch before heading off to bed. And sometimes it's at the breakfast table just before I take off for a run. 

Finding time to write non-work-related stuff is just as difficult. On a good week, I can carve out 15 minutes here or there, that is if I haven't already gotten lost writing a rabid rant or engaged in yet another meaningless — but oh so fulfilling — twitter fight. 

The Many Crimes of Wyatt Duvall is reflective of those constraints. It's a collection of news articles, office memos, scholastic essays, speeches, and random bits and pieces that in succession somehow manage to tell a funny story — or at least I hope it does — about the 21st Century's preeminent villain, who is more or less an amalgam of my three personal heroes — street artist Shepard Fairey, professional hoaxster Joey Skaggs, and author, con man, and cult leader L. Ron Hubbard.

And while I struggled for some time to take all of those bits and pieces and expand them out to more traditional novel lengths, I couldn't. It just wasn't the story I was trying to tell, a punchy tale that you could read here and there in bits and pieces and not have to worry about skipping back to figure out where you were in the story. There was just no way that a publisher would ever publish such a jittery jumble, despite whatever literary merits it might have, which are probably few and far between. So, for a time, I abandoned the project. 

But then I read the novella "Wool," the basis of what would become Howey's career-making work. It was a good read. Imaginative. Immersive. And featuring a twister of an ending that took me — the kind of guy who can spot the plot twist in the first 10 minutes of a movie — by surprise. At 99 cents, it was totally worth the money. 

Then I discovered that the "Wool" was just the beginning. The success of the novella inspired Howey to continue to write more about the silos and the people who inhabited them. Those were successful, and so he wrote even more. And each and every installment was nothing more than e-book.

It was then that I realized that the constraints of the novel no longer applied in the world of digital publishing. Each work could be as long as the author liked and it could be released however the author saw fit. And it didn't have to be a novel; it could be a short story, a short short, a play, a script, an essay. The possibilities were wide open.

That's when I knew that I could finally release the book I had been working on. And I could even call it exactly what I wanted to: The Many Crimes of Wyatt Duvall, Archmotherfucker — you know, because no mainstream publisher would ever allow a book with that title to be published. 

Two weeks ago, I finally released Wyatt Duvall, several years after I first began working on it. I like to think that it, much like Wool, is a commentary on the fear-driven world that we have lived in since 9/11, but then I remember that the book is little more than the literary equivalent of a cheap-seats standup routine, albeit one told by a comedian who just drop acid — or in the case of Wyatt Duvall, smoked a fat wad of dryer lint. 

Whether the book is a success or not is irrelevant — yay! somebody in Germany bought it! — the process itself has been rewarding, and the medium of digital publishing offers up many, many opportunities. And so I'd like to thank the man who introduced me to this world: Hugh Howey, you sir, are a true archmotherfucker.

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