A couple weeks ago, I was asked by Logan Thomas Snyder if I would be interested in joint interview. Snyder is the author of one of the latest WOOL fan fiction stories, titled The Disappeared: Part 1, a mystery which looks at the seedy underbelly of silo life. Since I released The Veil back in late July, I’ve been welcomed into the WOOL world and have been blessed in my journey. What follows is a back and forth between myself and Logan over the past few days where we talk about each other’s books, favorite authors and the writing process among other topics. It is a great conversation if I say so myself. With that said – enjoy!
WS: Tell me how you came to write a WOOL story:
LTS: For me, I think, it was the challenge. Obviously I love WOOL (the omnibus was the very first thing I downloaded to my Kindle when I got it last year), but it’s not like I finished and started right away on my story. In fact, I wasn’t even aware there were other Silo stories until I saw Hugh gushing about WJ Davies’ The Runner. So I read that, then Jason Gurley’s amazing Greatfall series, and that’s really when the gears started turning. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that before The Disappeared I had zero experience in quote-unquote fan fiction. I just never felt comfortable writing for other authors’ characters in their worlds. Because of the unique nature of the silo system, though, I realized I could take a silo and run with it. So that was appealing, the challenge of taking an established, closed setting and imbuing it with an original story and characters. Throw in Hugh’s blessing to attach our stories to his world, and it feels like what we’re doing is almost semi-canonical. Or maybe ‘canon lite’ is a better way of describing it. Either way, for better or for worse, we’re all connected now, and that’s exciting.
Same question for you, with a follow-up: What, if anything in particular, inspired your story, The Veil?
Well, obviously I can’t answer that without saying Hugh Howey and WOOL. Just like you and so many others, I fell in love with Howey’s futuristic world after I finished the WOOL Omnibus. But, it wasn’t until I looked him up and started following his blog that I really thought, “Hey…maybe I can do this, too…”
I had planned to write a novel forever, but it was Howey — a man just a little older than me — who really inspired me. I wanted to honor that and pay tribute to his world, especially when I saw WJ Davies’ The Runner and other Silo stories in the early part of this year, but I pledged to finish my novel first. Once I did, I worked on The Veil. But, what directly inspired the story of The Veil? It was my sister. She had written for a newspaper in Grand Rapids about her trouble conceiving and with miscarriages. A line just jumped out at me where she talked about her circle of friends leaving her behind and her being an outsider with no kids. If you’ve read The Veil, this is a part of Mary’s life about halfway through and I basically built a world around that small little scenario, except in a silo.
I will also say really quick, that I had never written fan fiction before, either. I had always dismissed it, but Hugh added a sense of legitimacy to it with his endorsement. Now that I’ve done it, I’ll say it is sometimes more difficult that penning your own work. Instead of framing your own world, you have to follow the guidelines set out by someone else. It isn’t easy and I believe it actually helped my writing by forcing me to be more disciplined.
Next question: The Disappeared is your first work, right? How’s the rest of the story coming and when can we expect them?
That’s incredible, although I think in retrospect I sensed there was something more personal lurking between the lines of that transition in Mary’s life. There was something very intimate about it that I think most people would be hard pressed to imagine cold, without the life experience underpinning it –- which, of course, is where the best stories often come from.
As for The Disappeared, it’s actually my first published work of fiction. Up until about five years ago, I was a dedicated biographer and all around nonfiction article writer. Then I just hit the wall and decided I wanted to tell my own stories instead of other peoples’. So, like you, I embarked on my first novel. Unlike you, I failed miserably. I hit a point where I just didn’t know what to do with it. So I scrapped it and started on another one. Same result. That was when I realized I needed to think smaller. The result of that was my first novella, This Mortal Coil. I viewed it as more of a personal project, so I didn’t publish it, but just seeing it through gave me the confidence to return to the novel form. It took a little more than a year, but I finished my first full-length novel, The Lazarus Particle, a few days before my thirty-first birthday.
About a week later I emailed Hugh with a very lengthy pitch for The Disappeared, and he quickly emailed back with his blessing. I started on Part I the next day. As for the progress, it’s going great. Part II is the better part of done, and I’m about halfway through Part III. Part II should be available in early October.
Next question: Let’s talk a little bit about characters. What do you think is the worst of the secrets Mary carries with her? Or, if not the worst, maybe the most potentially damaging? Feel free to interpret the question as you see fit. There’s so many, I can certainly think of a few, but I’m curious as to your view on the subject.
I don’t know that I succeeded where you failed. I had many starts and re-starts over the last 10-15 years, but I wasn’t able to have the endurance to finish until I saw Hugh’s story.
As for Mary (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR The Veil), I’d identify two as damaging. Obviously if you’ve read the story, you know that the entire tale is centered around all the secrets Mary keeps from her family and the rest of the silo. The first of which is certainly one I could lead with. When she decides to reject the lottery as a newlywed and then keep that fact from Jacob, it sends her on a downward spiral. Ultimately the argument could be made that each and every one of her mistakes from that point on were a direct result of the initial secret she kept from her husband.
On the other hand, the worst and longest-lasting secret would be when she indirectly sent her friend Chelsea to clean. By aiding Ari Green by betraying her best friend, she sided with IT over Chelsea, her mother and even her father’s legacy. But even then, it is really the secrets and the heritage of secrets passed down from her mother that led to it all in the first place. If Mary’s mother had told her earlier about her father, perhaps Mary might have made a different decision at the end of The Veil.
Next question: Was there something specific that led to the ideas behind The Disappeared? If we start wading into spoiler territory for the sequels, just say so.
I thought you might mention that first one and I have to agree. I remember reading her denial of the lottery and thinking it was almost a kind of reverse original sin. She’s presented with this unexpected gift, and instead of taking it, she refuses it, only to continue to come back to that moment, and how much different her life might have been if not for that rash decision and everything that follows. It’s a powerful statement, how people fool themselves into thinking secrets will eventually wither and die, when really it tends to be the exact opposite.
As for The Disappeared, sadly I didn’t have to look too far back into recent history for a real-world analogue. For those of us that don’t have a background in history (it would seem we’re pretty well steeped, you being a history teacher and me being a history major and biographer), Latin America experienced an incredible period of turmoil as a proxy battleground of the Cold War. During the late 1980’s, so many political dissidents went missing in Latin American countries that a new slang term was coined by necessity to refer to them: los desaparecidos, loosely translating into “those who were taken/went missing in the night” — also known more simply as the disappeared.
So to answer your question, my specific motivation for The Disappeared was examining crime and punishment in the silos, in particular what other options there are for someone who isn’t sent out to clean. The other side of the coin, so to speak. And from there it just fell into place, the combination of missing girls as part of a deeply disturbing conspiracy that overlaps our own modern-day concerns about government surveillance and overreach.
Next question: Tell me a little about [your first novel] Dead Sleep. I’ve got it on my Kindle and it’s a strong contender for my next read. Without giving too much away, what should I look forward to?
I think it’s great when we can harken back to a historical event or even to modern-day issues in our writing. The Latin American angle is clear when you explain it, but I can also see parallels to modern-day slavery, similar in some ways to the Liam Neeson movie “Taken.”
So…Dead Sleep. It was my first story, even though the short story Perfect Game was published about a month earlier. I started the book back in January of this year after I had been at a funeral for a friend’s mother. While I was in line to see the family, I kept thinking of a character waiting to see someone who had died. Then, the concept came to me — what if she wasn’t really dead?
As all stories do, it took a lot of different shapes early on, but within a month or so, I pretty much knew where I wanted to go with it. The trick was to finish it. Teaching high school at the time, I was able to work on it alot in the evenings, but I had to stop here and there, once for over three weeks. But…I kept on writing and that’s the trick.
I’ll tell you something… the blurb on Amazon references that the main character, Jackson, has the ability to see his future. While that sounds supernatural, there is so much science fiction in the story. Kristina, the girl he thinks is dead, has nanomachines running through her body and later they are pursued by a team of androids. While there are a lot of questions answered at the end of the book, I’ve got a lot planned for two sequels to complete a trilogy. In book 2, we’ll find out a lot more about Jackson and his abilities and book 3 will really showcase Kristina’s talents.
Right now, I’ve actually got a new cover in the works and it may be done by the time this interview goes live (it hasn’t — stay tuned). With it, I’ll also have a print edition for the first time.
Next question: Who are some of your favorite authors? Who do you think you write like?
I was wondering when someone was going to mention Taken in connection with The Disappeared. Not that I disagree with the comparison the way you made it. You’re absolutely right, there are definitely points of overlap. It was one of the first things I had to get past mentally. But, I mean, ultimately, Echo is no Liam Neeson. She can’t fight and for the most part she’s completely out of her element. I mean, as much as she doesn’t understand the word ‘quixotic’ by the end of the story, that’s sort of the irony. What could she ever really have done for Shim on her own, the way she set out about it? And yet, be that as it may, no one could have ever talked her out of her search — as we’ve seen — and so we come to Part II, with her… well, you’ll see.
As for favorite authors? Wow. I’m going to say right off the bat, A.C. Crispin, who sadly passed recently but also wrote the absolutely amazing Han Solo origin trilogy that I read waaay back in high school. I haven’t read it since, but I remember that being sort of a touchstone of science fiction for me, in love with Star Wars as I was at the time. More recently, though, William Gibson, Iain M. Banks (again, another recent passing, so sad), Lev Grossman, Erin Morgenstern, Carsten Jensen, so, so many more. Oh, and all my fellow Woolwrights, of course! We strive for excellence in all things. (Sorry, had to do it.)
Boy, that last one is a killer, though. I don’t think I write like anyone. Not to say that my style is especially unique; I’ve just never really thought about it, I guess. I’ve had such a weird, circuitous journey to fiction that I feel like I kind of had to work it out for myself in large part. Trust me, if you saw how bloody red some of my pages run after a good long editing session, you’d see what I mean.
Wow…just goes to show how many influential authors are out there. I’ve read some of Crispin (Star Wars geek myself back in the day) and a little of the others, but most of the writers you cite I haven’t really read. I’ll have to tap into some of them someday.
As for me, I really have to credit my dad. He is a huge science fiction and fantasy fan and had a lot of classics for me to read through the years. Overall, my main influence in childhood was Isaac Asimov. His robot stories and the Foundation novels really informed my writing a lot. He had a way of advancing the story in a very concise way. Not too flowery for the sake of inserting adjectives into the plot. Robert Heinlein as well…Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, and Frank Herbert for sci-fi. Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and J.K. Rowling for fantasy. Writers I like to read today include Hugh Howey, Lee Child, Vince Flynn (RIP), Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Clive Cussler.
I would love to think I write like Asimov. I did a lot of research into him when I was younger and he said he wouldn’t rewrite. He would write what he wrote and he rarely went back to re-do anything in his books. I think in many ways, I’m like that. But, I also have tried to pattern myself after modern-day writers like Dan Brown, Stephen King and Clive Cussler in terms of pacing and action.
Next question: What do you do for a living and when and where do you write the best? How do you find the time to write?
I’ve worked in the incredibly uninspired field of advertising and marketing for a little over three years now. It’s no coincidence that I started really writing in earnest again right around the time I took the job, mostly because it’s so lacking in creative stimulus that I needed some sort of outlet. The best thing about writing, unlike say something like painting or music, is that I can brainstorm and write in my head while I work. Even better, and really the best part about the work, is that I can more or less make my own hours, so if I have a sudden flash of inspiration, I can usually put it aside and get whatever just jumped into my head down on paper. As for where and when, I’ve got a nice little home office that’s pretty much my writer’s nest; I’ve never been one of those people who can peck away in a coffee shop or whatever, I definitely need to have control over my environment and that’s where I tend to find the most inspiration.
Speaking of occupations, one of the things I found most interesting about the world of Wool is how precious little the characters know about the world that came before the silos. As someone who also has a background in history, do you think your background as a history teacher gave you a different perspective or insight into the series as a whole, or possibly even the way you approached your own story?
That’s a fascinating question. Initially, that was one of the things I was really skeptical about in Hugh’s stories. How can a group of people so easily forget their own history? Obviously, he takes care of that with the medication dosed to the people of the silo, but it still has a ring of implausibility to it.
That is, until you look at history itself. The Middle Ages — sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages — was a period just like this. The Roman Empire existed and was the dominant force in the world. They ruled with an iron fist and provoked all their enemies in every direction, eventually suffering at the hands of the Visigoths and Vandals because of it. In WOOL and SHIFT, you can see a similar thing happening. The United States has so much power that it is very much like the Roman Empire in the latter stages. While the Romans had the Germanic tribes to worry about, the U.S. has foreign powers like Islamic extremists and Russians.
After Rome fell, the knowledge they had built up virtually vanished within a generation. All the Greek philosophers — Aristotle and Plato, Archimedes and Pythagoras — all the learning just went away. The world was “controlled” by the church and the bubble it established over the entirety of Europe, but eventually knowledge was re-discovered and Europe emerged stronger than ever. Obviously some stayed behind in the ignorance of the Catholic Church, but for the most part, Europe and the rest of the world were able to break free of the silos — I mean the “darkness” of the age. 😉
Next question: There is a lot of fanfiction out there now for WOOL. How much have you read and what is your favorite? Why?
I definitely see the parallels on the macro level when you put it like that. As a reader, my reaction came more at the micro level. At first I felt a bit of a thrill, realizing I knew considerably more than the characters. That’s an interesting position for me as a reader, because it sets up the internal question of “Well, what happens when the truth comes finally comes out? How will people react, what changes will it elicit?” etc etc. But the further I pushed into the series, the more I realized the gulf of knowledge separating reader and character was not nearly as wide as I initially thought. What more do we really know that they don’t? Granted, we have the benefit of several thousand years of recorded human history to study, but even with that knowledge at our fingertips we’re no more capable of answering the questions that define the human condition to this day: Why are we here? What else is out there? Are we alone? At the end of the day, we’re all basically Lukas, looking up at the stars and wondering what, if anything, lies beyond. That was a powerful realization for me, one that made it a lot easier to relate to the characters and their unique situation.
As for the wealth of Silo stories now available, I have to confess I’m fairly far behind. For a while I was keeping good pace, but it seems like there’s a new one just about every day now! Greatfall continues to be my frontrunner favorite, I think, purely because of how shocking the subject matter was. The Silo Archipelago series was also intriguing to me, primarily because of the parallels with other underground movements throughout human history. As for the rest, my Kindle cup overfloweth with Silo fiction, so those two will definitely have some competition in the weeks to come as I finish up The Disappeared and have more time to kick back and read for a bit before resuming work on The Lazarus Particle.
Aside from your own personal favorite Silo fanfic, one last question: Based purely on your own parameters, which of your works are you most proud of and why?
Greatfall is amazing. Jason Gurley really knocked that one out of the park. Boy, I’ve read so much of it, it really is difficult to say which is my favorite — they all have different flavors with each author bringing their own perspective on silo-life to the table. Bunker did great with the Archipelago, of course WJ Davies’ Submerged series (The Runner, The Diver and The Watcher) all have a great place, simply because they were really some of the first and Davies managed to end his just after DUST so they were really the first to incorporate facts learned in DUST into the narrative.
There are some great new authors coming up because of WOOL as well — Carol Davis, Brigid D’Souza, Ann Christy and Fred Shernoff to name a few. I’ll read just about anything they have to write, simply because of what I’ve already read from the WOOL universe.
As for my own books — that’s like asking which of my children I love the most!
Nah…not really. Right now, I have four published works (I just published Ant Apocalypse yesterday) with two short stories, a Silo novella and my novel. I think my best writing so far was in the Silo Saga novella, The Veil. I really worked hard at keeping the details clear and concise and fitting that into Hugh Howey’s universe.
However, which one am I most proud of? My novel, Dead Sleep. My writing (and finishing!) it, I proved to myself I could do it. Before I became a teacher, I’d worked for a newspaper and I could write 500-2,000 word articles all day long. But…a novel? I didn’t think I could. Once I learned about Hugh and his process…then found out that he endorsed “shorter” novels with as few as 60,000 words, I really decided to go for it. It wasn’t easy, but I persevered throughout a six-month time period to finish it. The book will always have a special place in my heart, in spite of some flaws in retrospect.