Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Hugs and Rainbows for South Carolina

The last conference I attended was held in my beloved adoptive home of Charleston, South Carolina. I love that city, and I love the Carolinas, where I grew up. It’s been a joy to watch the state slowly transform into a more welcoming and egalitarian place. Flags that once flew over the state capital, flags that brought people pain, have been taken down. And more and more flags of a colorful stripe have been going up. But the change is slower in some states than others. In some places, the gradual victory of love winning out over hate needs an extra push. And we see those who have not opened their minds and hearts working hard in the legislature to move us in the wrong direction.

The South Carolina House Ways and Means Committee has voted to decrease funding to schools (including my own College of Charleston) because of gay and lesbian friendly books being assigned to incoming freshmen. It’s difficult to discuss these issues without sliding into the negative, which can just entrench people in their positions. Writers Speaking Out Loud is doing a great job of amassing positive pressure to bring about change. The social mores of our country are altering, but they aren’t doing so evenly. The more outspoken we can be in support of our fellow human beings, the more pressure we can place on those who aren’t yet open to accepting people of all stripes. Our task is not to win over others. Our job is to win over others. We can achieve this through constant positive pressure and good example. It is happening. It will continue to happen.

One of my little attempts to apply positive pressure was to write a novel with a gay protagonist whose character arc isn’t defined by his sexual orientation. This is just the sort of work leading to $70,000 in funds being held back from higher learning institutions. Fiction challenges us and works its miracles by placing us in the skin of another human being and teaching us empathy. Some who read HALF WAY HOME are offended to find the main character is gay, because I don’t see the need to place this in the book’s description or to categorize the novel as anything other than science fiction. I might as well warn people that a brunette appears in the story. To help spread the love, I’m giving the book away for free over on NoiseTrade. College freshmen (and anyone else) can download the e-book for free. This isn’t the first of a series, so there’s no attempt to hook readers and profit later. It is one of my best selling novels, so there’s plenty to lose and not much to gain.

Not monetarily, anyway. But there’s plenty of other ways to gain. Because some people will read this book and start tilting on that fence of theirs. Then they’ll watch a TV show with a gay character and they’ll tilt even more. Next they’ll learn their cousin is gay and begin to lean precariously. They might find out one of their heroes is gay, and at some point they’ll fall right off that fence. And they’ll find an army with open arms waiting to catch them.

28 replies to “Hugs and Rainbows for South Carolina”

Seeing gay characters in speculative fiction (I’m thinking of Delany, Tanith Lee) was instrumental in my growth both as a gay man and an author.
I look forward to checking out “Half Way Home.”

It is unfortunate that legislature plays a role in the academic conduct of these institutions. Perhaps the schools will turn toward independence (financial & regulatory) when they consider the funds received from taxpayers as a cost (in terms of corollary interference) rather than free money.

I love what you’re doing here and I know this could be a potential loss of revenue for you so I decided to buy a copy to support this (and you!). I thoroughly enjoyed the Wool trilogy and have recommended it to several people so far; but it’s things like this that make me like the author as much as the works.

Thanks again.

I just discovered NoiseTrade right before you made your announcement about “Half Way Home”! I think it’s a fantastic site, and I was happy to see you taking advantage of it. But now reading your post about some of the inspiration of adding your book to NoiseTrade makes me even happier. We live in a very diverse world. It’s too bad that others don’t think that world belongs in fiction. Thanks for your thoughts!

I read Halfway Home when it was first published and was one of the first reviews on Amazon. It frankly didn’t occur to me that there was an issue with one of the leading characters being gay. I thought it was part of life… I was more concerned with explosive fruit and worms in the trees!

Always glad to hear your support! I picked up Half Way Home, but won’t get to it for while…I may have to bump it up the list now!

I’ve been reading there is a somewhat slight chance that it will die in the Senate, but I’d wager that’s less than 50%.

T minus 15 days till a 3 day trip to Charleston! Maybe I’ll sit on the IOP beach or Pitt Street Bridge for a while and read Half Way Home!

I will have a gay character in my novel. I based him upon someone I know. The guy is a big ray of sunshine who stands out in a crowd, especially if he flexes his pecs. I once saw him standing at the Prism Comics booth at a comic con, he was carrying a couch … wait, that was his shoulders.

As a straight guy, I think I might have trouble if I tried to write a gay character otherwise, especially if that character was the main protagonist. Would I be able to get deep enough into his head? I am always asking and listening for female ideas about my superheroine; women will see things I don’t see.

Hugh, did that kind of problem ever happen for you? Or is it going to happen now that I have pointed it out?

I am in California, and that Prop 8 crap years ago really irked me. It can happen here, in the land of, as Archie Bunker put it, the land of “duh fruits an’ nuts.”

This is wonderful and I love the notion, but I’d love to see a bigger push to get college aged adults to vote for this very reason.

Sure, they turn out in drives for the presidential elections, but in laughable numbers when it counts most– the midterm elections.

I love the reminder that the goal is not to WIN over others, but to WIN OVER others.

And you’re right – it comes from exposure. When I was in high school, I was terrible (as many are) and I was super-annoyed at gay people for existing. Then in College, I actually met and interacted with openly gay people. One of my friends (who was still in High School at the time) sued a local school district because they did NOTHING when a teacher repeatedly harassed him for being gay, often calling him out in front of the class. In short, I realized I was wrong and stopped being a douche toward people who were just trying to find some happiness and fulfillment in their lives, but happened to go about it in a different way than I did.

Yup. This is how it should happen. I worry that we are too quick to cast stones at those whose mores we find to be outside the ideal range. It can lead to entrenchment and more hatred. Much better to win people over with good examples, laughter, love, and the like.

The most disappointing sentence in this piece was “This isn’t the first of a series…” I really loved Half Way Home and wish there were more stories in that universe! Anyway, I WISH my school was as progressive as that. Sexual minority themed books or content of any kind were generally never talked about in mine.

Thanks for the awesome support, Mr. Howey. I read Half Way Home in one sitting I loved it so much. I don’t usually come across great books with gay characters, particularly sci fi (my favorite genre).

I hope you’ll continue including great LGBT characters in your work and I look forward to reading your other books!

The whole issue is appalling, and plenty of us are very unhappy. It’s bad enough that our legislature uses funding like a blunt instrument to get their way. Much worse is that they believe they have the right to censor any books at all. These are college students – they are adults, and intelligent enough to choose their reading material without interference from politicians. The book in question is not compulsory reading. It’s an option for a summer reading list. The college offers choices.

The whole thing is embarrassing. We do not elect officials for them to dictate our thinking for us.

Hugh, why is it hard for you to write male characters? Or do you mean stereotypical male characters?

I used to read a lot of genre fiction. Somewhere along the line I tired on not seeing myself as one of those characters. I can’t be a male and I’m not sure I want to. I realize a lot of that stuff was written in a different era, but oh well.

I tripped over Dougie Howser recently. I haven’t watched television in a long time. I saw Neil Patrick Harris all grown up and started watching some vids on him, singing and dancing and being charming. I think he and his husband are a real good influence on this issue. An issue that shouldn’t even exist, to be honest.

H

First time caller. Heather, agreeing with you about Neil Patrick Harris. He’s wonderful! I haven’t seen How I Met Your Mother, but I do remember the old Doogie show, and I saw Neil in one of the recent Muppets movies too. Currently he’s on Broadway in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, getting rave reviews as usual. I always think it’s great to see the rare breed of child actors who turn out successful in their adult life and don’t end up washed up or in rehab.

Also, Hugh, congratulations on your success, and kudos to you for taking up this issue. Much as I find the whole “banning books” tactic ludicrous (and believe that the whole process should be declared unconstitutional once and for all), I find it even MORE ridiculous that the “think of the children” argument is being applied to college students — as another poster wrote, these are ADULTS here. Some of them might be LGBT themselves, and I would think they’d object to some Powers That Be/Big Brother Anti-Sex League categorizing certain books as objectionable, books that feature characters or situations they undoubtedly can identify with. Watch out, Hugh: your stance on the issue might land you in Dutch with the Bradbury-esque book burners in the Palmetto State! Guilt by association and all that…

Hm, sorry to bother you. I came to get your email address to tell you about some pirating and got a robo-response, just now. Which is cool. But can you maybe check for that email as it might be something you’d wanna look into, though I realize pirating is nothing new to anyone who publishes.

Sorry to interrupt. I came here for your email address and then read your post and replied. Which, I guess, is also being vetted as I don’t see it, right now. Hope that’s right.

Have a good evening.

Heather

Hugh already knows about pirating. He has many blog posts saying he’s fine with it. It’s a way for people to find new things they like. Obviously he’d like to get paid, but he hopes it brings those people back for future purchases. He’s even asked before that if you’ve pirated his work and liked it, then consider a donation.

I must admit, that’s how I ended up here. I would never have heard of Hugh, until I ended up downloading the first Wool book. After that, I purchased all the rest of the books in that universe, and then Sand when it came out.

Heather if you look towards the top of the menu on the left-hand side of this page, you’ll see a little pirate symbol with the words “Already downloaded it? No problem!” Below that is a button saying “Pay for it here.”

Hugh doesn’t put DRM on his books and encourages people to share them. The ultimate goal is two-fold: to both get more people to embrace the love of reading, and to get his books in front of more (potential die-hard fan) eyes.

Unless someone’s completely ripping off one of his books and claiming it’s their own work, he doesn’t sweat it.

I couldn’t agree with you more on this post, Hugh. And, I am also finding it more and more difficult to write any male character compared to otherwise. It is far more challenging and satisfying to write atypical characters now. For instance I am working on a story (webfiction or novel I haven’t decided on yet) that has the protagonist as black, female, gay, and an amputee…. yet is also a soldier.

People who think that is wrong trouble me. Just as in life, we should accept differences. Everyone can be a hero. Kudos for being another writer who is not afraid to believe and write as such. Like you, fiction is the best way to convey the best of humankind, to win-over those who don’t see the best in all of us.

By the way, Hugh, what’s your take on the issue of other authors declaring their opposition to same-sex marriage (specifically Orson Scott Card), or declaring their stance on any other hot-button issue, and how their stance on this issue affects reception of their work? I myself was once a huge fan of Ender’s Game and OSC as a young’un, but find that I just can’t even bear to read the back matter now that I know how OSC feels about marriage equality. OSC claims it’s his Mormon religion that prevents him from lending support to “unnatural unions” (the obvious irony often pointed out is that the government criminalized polygamy too as an “unnatural union” — you’d think there’d be support for “non-traditional” definitions of marriage based on this common fact).

I don’t believe Stephanie Meyer (also Mormon) has weighed in on it (perhaps quite wisely). Yet J.K. Rowling, already taking heat from the 700 Club crowd for the supposition that Harry Potter was “satanic propaganda,” famously got an even bigger backlash from them when she said at a Q&A session that Dumbledore was gay. Does/should an author’s personal politics make a difference in how his/her work is received? OSC is undoubtedly a terrific writer, but his politics may have dealt him a huge blow. Should authors, like perhaps other public figures (movie stars, musicians, athletes, etc.) just keep quiet about these contentious issues and let their work speak for itself?

Applied to a different medium: let’s say some popular actor — George Clooney, for example — takes an unpopular stance on a controversial topic. Let’s say it’s the same topic, and he declares that he supports Prop 8 (which will never happen in the real world, of course, but hypothetically). Even though it might make Clooney a less likeable person (according to the majority enlightened opinion), does it take away from his chops as an actor? Would OSC still be lauded for his chops as a writer had he not opened his mouth about same-sex marriage? Are supporters of “traditional marriage” in S. Carolina, or anywhere else for that matter, less likely to buy a Hugh Howey book because of what he has just written here? Does/should it matter what the author thinks about XYZ if their work shows merit?

I’m also asking this especially with regard to this new “paradigm” of “author branding” and whatnot. Apparently it’s a requirement that budding authors engage with the merciless masses on the various social-media websites and talk about themselves in addition to their work. They’re supposed to be “human” online and offer a glimpse into their personal lives, their mindsets even. I don’t like this one bit. I kind of wish OSC hadn’t opened his mouth and put his foot in it, because then I’d still be a fan of Ender’s Game and everything else by OSC. I know that for myself, as a reader, I probably wouldn’t watch a Clooney movie ever again if he said he supported Prop 8. (I actually threw my copies of Lethal Weapon in the trash because of what Mel Gibson said. All my Woody Allen movies are now belong to the landfill too.) But as an aspiring writer, I’m extremely hesitant to reveal the slightest bit of “personality,” because of the possibility that I might put off some potential readers, thus costing me a chunk of potential livelihood. I’d much rather not offend anyone, and just let people infer whatever they want from the pages, without either confirming OR denying anything about what I, personally, believe. Is this a bad approach? I mean, you’ve seen the kind of horrible things people write on social media when they don’t like someone for whatever reason, haven’t you?

It seems silly to disregard someone like that simply because of their viewpoint on something. I don’t read OSC because of his political views. I read because I like the stories. My stance changes if the books push that agenda, but for just the story, I don’t care who the author is. I think the two shouldn’t be connected.

But just as an author is allowed their personal view, I suppose a reader is allowed to do what they want with that said information… even if I don’t understand it.

GC – It goes both ways. While some people (like yourself) will avoid an author (actor, singer) due to positions they have taken, others will be drawn to that person. Not necessarily because they agree with him/her(although they might), but just to check out that person’s work.

I recently read an article on Libertarians by L. Neil Smith. I saw in the byline that he’s written some fiction, which led to me looking up those books. I’m now reading The Probability Broach (and enjoying it, btw).

Before reading that article, I’d never heard of him and didn’t know his books existed.

Btw – you’ll never find a position where you won’t offend anyone. It’s just not possible. Even in your books, people will conclude that a certain character’s actions or words are reflective of your own views, and base their opinion of you off of that. They could be totally wrong, but without talking to them each one of them personally, you’ll never change their mind. No way to avoid it.

Just write what you like to write, be yourself, and if some folks don’t like it that’s their problem. No skin off your nose.

Downloaded and tipped. I was looking for an excuse to get it and read it, and you gave me one. The Wool world has changed my perspective on life and given me reasons to be hopeful through sadness.

As a librarian, I firmly believe that if you don’t like it, don’t read it, and don’t arrogate yourself to decide for everyone else in the community what is good and what isn’t. We all pay taxes.

“I might as well warn people that a brunette appears in the story”

I love you, man. You have such a grounded, clear way of seeing things, it’s a joy reading your blog. Not only are the nuts-and-bolts tips and insights useful and illuminating, your simple humanity is an inspiration. I wish more peeps were like you.

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