Part 2 of my 150km hike in Spain… this time, with Hugh Howey!

I was pretty intimidated to meet this guy!

I knew he was coming on the trip and, of course, I had heard about him previously since I’m kind of a sci-fi and fantasy geek. I had never read his books though! Hugh is most famous for “Wool” the sequel book from his the Silo series. My wife had read them and was begging me for years to do the same. My daughter, Isabella, was also reading the entire Silo series. And then, when Kevin Kelly told me Hugh Howey was going on this trip, I decided it was the perfect time to read them!

See Part 1 of the Story here with Kevin Kelly. As a bit of background, I was on this Camino hike organized by Kevin Kelly and Craig Mod. There were ten of us on the hike that stretched about 150 kilometers from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

So yeah, I was quite intimidated by Hugh Howey before I met him. I have this idea that authors are like these demigod intellectuals who have the motivational superpower to write an actual novel. I can hardly motivate myself to do a single blog post.

I was also intimidated because I met another sci-fi author I really admire, Neal Stephenson, and he made me cry! And not cry in a good way! But that’s a longer story that ends well, because now we are friends. But I was kinda thinking, “Oh god – I hope Hugh Howey doesn’t make me cry.”

And then, after I met him, I could immediately tell he was my kinda guy, the whole notion of being intimidated felt utterly ridiculous! He was one of the warmest and most gentle people I’ve ever met. I noticed his easy way and silky-smooth mannerisms with everyone he encountered.

Here’s a 360 video I took with Hugh one day during the hike where I asked him about World Building, which is the process fiction writers go through to create the fundamentals of the situation in which the story takes place. Unfortunately, this video takes place on a busy neighborhood road. Most of the trail was actually in forested areas on dirt paths. If you haven’t seen a 360 video before, you can grab the screen and look in whatever direction you want.

I can’t figure out exactly why Hugh and I got along so well. I mean, I get along with pretty much everyone, maybe because my mom and dad raised me to be an amiable and affable guy. Who knows? Hehe. Anyway, every now and then you meet a dude you REALLY hit it off with. And I don’t mean like those guys that are instant friends like in gay internet porn, but more like in the Bert and Ernie way.

Hugh has quite an interesting story that is not completely dissimilar to mine. He struggled with his craft forever until he finally found surprising success in an unexpected way. You’ll see in the video above more about how his books struck a nerve with people and he ended up backing into an enormously successful series of books. Now, at 43, he has stopped all writing, bought a yacht, and is sailing around the world by himself! He’s a modern day Nietzsche’s Übermensch!

I noticed how when we talked he would describe all this really manly stuff about building things. He even went into detail about how he built his own outdoor shower on his yacht. Like, he got really detailed. I was thinking, now this is a real manly dude that knows how to use all the tools and stuff. I can barely change a lightbulb, so I’m always impressed by these arts that have completely passed me by, mostly because of my extreme laziness. But then I started thinking about all the detail in his book “Wool,” especially, the craftiness of his female protagonist. And then it all started to make more sense! I’m not saying that Hugh is a female in a man’s body that’s really handy with tools, but maybe there’s a little element of that. He certainly knows how to write cool female characters, and it’s no surprise that a huge portion of his readership is females. He’s in touch with that stuff, you know? Very empathetic.

Also, I found out that most of his books (he has a lot!) have been optioned for TV shows. That’s exciting! One of them, Beacon 23, I think is going to be the first one out of the gate. I hope they don’t mess it up… It’s always a disappointment when an interesting sci-fi book turns into a dull movie or TV series. That happens a lot, for some reason. And that sucks for me, being a giant sci-fi fan. Why are there so many bad sci-fi movies and TV shows and so MANY good sci-fi novels? It doesn’t make sense! I suppose the real reason is that our imaginations are better than most cinematographers + directors + actors + scriptwriters can create.

And hey, Hugh and I have a mutual love of two shows: Rick & Morty and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. One night at the hotel, we drank a bunch of beers, stayed up extra late in Hugh’s room, and watched the latest episode of Sunny. We were laughing like two extremely immature people, which, of course, we are.

Let’s get a little dark.

On one of our morning walks, Hugh told me about how, as a young man in his 20’s, he decided to commit suicide at 40. Whoa. And he was totally serious. This ended up with him cranking out a ton of creative work in his thirties because he was running out of time. It was an incredible strategy to Do Something Meaningful before you die. I think almost everyone gets to this stage, especially when they are quite old and they only have a few years left. But, often, it’s sometimes too late then to create a lot of stuff because people are older and have less energy. Hugh was in his prime then, in his thirties. And, thank goodness he didn’t go through with the suicide, because he’s even more in his prime now in his 40’s!

I made another 360 video with Hugh about this suicide-thing. That’s being edited together right now so subscribe to my Youtube channel. That will complete that story.

So, you know, this was a deep conversation, obviously. And that led to other deep conversations. Naturally, this is another thing we have in common as neither of us can stand small talk. This has always angered my wife, who wonders why I can’t stand by the BBQ and talk to people about small matters of zero import. If I get stuck in dull conversations, I usually just go into the bathroom and read reddit or play on my Switch.

Let’s get to my Dog Trial of the Camino. The long hike is a spiritual journey and everyone has little challenges that crop up, unexpected. One of mine was the Dog Trial of the Camino, a challenge created by Hugh. Let me explain.

Along the way, I was reading another book by Paulo Coelho, whom you may know as the author of one of my favorite books, “The Alchemist” Anyway, Paulo also walked the Camino and he wrote a book called “The Pilgrimage” all about it. It seemed perfect for this trip! The book turned out to be pretty average and I would not necessarily recommend it. But, I did enjoy reading it because I was in the same setting and doing the same hike as Paulo. Anyway, the book has one thing in there that kind of happened to me: Paulo’s Trial of the Dog.

Okay, where am I going with this, and how does it relate to another well-known author, Hugh Howey?

In the book, Paulo is attacked by a dog that is possessed by a demon spirit or some shit. I didn’t really understand. Paulo goes off on these mystical flights of fancy. I think he had (honestly) just read Carlos Castaneda’s “The Teachings of Don Juan” (I do recommend those, but man, what a wild ride – they only make sense if you have experimented with psychedelics) and he was really trying to horseshoe in some similarly apocryphal fantastical stories into his Pilgrimage book. ANYHOO, this dog continued to make surprise appearances in the book in a menacing manner until the protagonist finally dealt with the situation.

One day, Hugh and I were talking about our dogs when we were younger. Let me tell you: when two dudes are talking about dogs they had when they were younger, the shit is gonna get real.

And this was only like day two of our hike! Guys don’t talk about previous dogs until many many years into a relationship. It’s kind of like asking a girl if she’s into extreme bondage on your first date right after the salad arrives. I mean, you can ask her that, and, depending on her answer, you may be skipping the next dish.

In this analogy, Hugh was the one asking me if I was into extreme bondage.

This is because he brought up the “dog topic” first. After he told me about his life-suicide plans, our conversation jumped this way and that. He mentioned his previous girlfriend, who was obviously not a fan of his upcoming death-plans. Relationships have enough tension anyway without the added complexity of a ticking time bomb. Anyway, Hugh and his girlfriend had a dog. Hugh is a very affectionate guy and a helpless romantic. These are often the best dog people.

Hugh named his dog Jolie.

He told me about how he would cuddle with Jolie. It was a perfect little cuddle puddle with two soft puzzle pieces that fit together like held hands. He would slowly pet Jolie and, slightly above a whisper, tell her how much he loved her. Then Hugh would tell her how much he would miss her when she was gone. He would say these things over and over again. His girlfriend found this quite sad and didn’t think it was appropriate to speak of such things.

A few years later, the dog suddenly had some serious trouble. Hugh and his girlfriend jumped in the car to rush to the vet. The dog was slowly dying in Hugh’s arms. He was doing everything he could, but everything was not enough as Jolie passed away.

After a little time passed, Hugh said his girlfriend eventually said she understood why he said those things to Jolie. She wished she had said the same things.

I was not really able to respond for quite a bit, as one might understand.

What happened to his girlfriend, many of you are wondering? Actually, I don’t know because this was a story about the dog. But I know she’s not his girlfriend anymore. Anyway, none of that matters as this is a dog story.

Now, Hugh and I are walking along in a brooding forest in a dark mood. There is a good amount of silence, and, of course, I’m thinking about my own sad dog story. Her name was Maty.

So I brought her up. But I brought her up in the right sort of manner, not in a, “Hey you think YOUR dog story was sad, wait till you hear this one!” Some people compare stories like that, and there is a subtle way to share stories where there is no competition. Most guys that tell stories to one another are dickheads and they are trying to kinda make themselves sound better by outdoing others. But this wasn’t like that if you know what I mean.

Yeah, so I tell Hugh that my wife and I had Maty before we had kids. And then we had Ethan and Isabella, so they were able to grow up with Maty. Maty loved everyone in the family so much. She was adorable. Black and white and soft and silly. Cuddles, lays on your feet so she knows when you get up, made our little kids giggle, all that good stuff. By the time my son Ethan was about 9 years old and Isabella was about 3, our dog Maty was approaching 12 and started having trouble.

She lived a full, spunky life but suddenly, she was having great difficulty breathing. We took her to the vet. I was in there while they were scanning her, trying to figure out the problem. There was a fluid buildup in her heart, and it was growing so big, she could not breathe anymore. There was nothing they could do and Maty passed away. I’d like to think her heart was so big because she loved us so much.

So then, I continued telling Hugh, I figured that I should bury Maty in our backyard. We lived in Austin in a somewhat remote area of the hill country. Our backyard was full of tall trees and shaped in a downward sloping hill that ended in a creek. There were many roots visible above the ground as rain would slowly wash the dirt away down into the creek.

I had Maty in a little cardboard box in one hand and a shovel in the other. I carried her down there with my wife and little kids. I was telling Hugh, after a strange pause, that I had never dug a grave before. And then I couldn’t say anything else and I started to cry. Hugh gave me a sweet hug.

And with that, Hugh Howey did indeed make me cry, but in the best way possible.

Trey Ratcliff - StuckInCustoms.com - Creative Commons Noncommercial contact licensing@stuckincustoms.com

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