Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Interview with novelist Olga Werby


Novelist Olga Werby joins me today and we’re chatting about her new hard sci-fi novel, Harvest.

During her virtual book tour, Olga will awarding 2 books to a randomly drawn commenter (Lizard Girl and Ghost, and Suddenly, Paris
. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Bio:
Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master's degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, "Suddenly Paris," which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, "The FATOFF Conspiracy," was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories -- homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals -- the social underdogs of our world. Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of "Alien Dimensions Magazine," "600 second saga," "Graveyard Girls," "Kyanite Press' Fables and Fairy Tales," "The Carmen Online Theater Group's Chronicles of Terror," with many more stories freely available on her blog.

Please share a little bit about your current release.
“Harvest” was published in May, 2019, after almost two years of writing and editing and illustration. It got three 5-star reviews from ReadersFavorite and has been entered into a few completions.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’m a scientist. I’m very interested in the development of life, consciousness, and civilization. Over the past several decades, we’ve learned a lot about human biology not only on the molecular level (DNA) but also the chemistry and physics of biology. We can see the range of possibilities for behavior and emotion programmed into us by our evolutionary development. We’ve also learned about other human species that didn’t survive to the present day but whose echoes we carry in our very genes—Heanderthals, Homo floresiensis, Homo denisovans, and the newly discovered Homo luzonesis. There are many more, of course, but it takes time and luck to find evidence.

Only the Homo sapiens are alive on our world today. And only a small percentage of those developed the capacity or desire to take over the world and impose their culture on the rest of the peoples. Why? Why did some Hominids made it and some didn’t? Why did some civilizations flourished and others fell? We can answer some of these questions with psychology, sociology, paleontology, anthropology, biology, and simple luck.

Luck seems to have played a huge role in human evolution and survival on our planet. Those who were lucky enough to live in fertile environments with species of plants and animals that were easy to domesticate won the life lottery, so to speak. The unlucky ones didn’t make it to the present day or ended up colonized…

We have some ideas about what it takes to survive and thrive on Earth. But what does it take to survive in the galaxy? Can we use the same principles and apply them on a larger scale? “Harvest” is a book that focuses on galaxy-wide civilizations and what it takes to become one.


Excerpt from Harvest:
(Please note this book is fully illustrated.)
Chapter Two
Vars slept on the plane…or tried to. She was too confused, too keyed up to really sleep. That coffee might have been a mistake. Ian said that he couldn’t tell her anything until they arrived at his EPSA office in Seattle, which was conveniently her own hometown where she lived with her dad. The man just smiled a lot and talked about how much he had enjoyed reading Vars’s new book.
There was a strange edge to their interaction. If Vars hadn’t believed Ian’s credentials, she would have bailed on him a long time ago. Even so, she felt like she was being kidnapped. And, in a way, she was. She’d had to cancel the last two lectures of her book tour and apologize to her agent over and over again. Ian had promised that EPSA would send an official excuse letter, but Vars still felt like she let her agent and publisher down.
They landed at a general aviation airport, and another black car whisked them to EPSA’s headquarters, just outside of Seattle’s city limits. She was taken to a conference room on the top floor of the EPSA science building, which Ian called the “tree house.” She immediately understood why—it was surrounded on all sides by a balcony planted with a row of trees and some shrubbery. It was quite nice, but Vars couldn’t enjoy it; she was simultaneously exhausted and adrenalized. It was just a matter of time before she crashed.
She must have looked it, too, because someone handed her a very big, very steamy cup of coffee. She sipped it gratefully, completely oblivious to how she came to be holding it. It was still very early in the morning, way before Vars even liked to get up, much less attend a meeting.
About a dozen EPSA people joined her and Ian around the conference table. Vars noticed that several paper copies of her book were laid out; some even looked read, with cracked spines and dog-eared pages.
“So,” she said to Ian. “Is now a good time and place for you to tell me what this is all about?”
“Now is perfect,” Ian said with a big smile. “We are very grateful to have you with us today, Dr. Volhard. This is my exobiology team.” He pointed one by one to the people on one side of the table. “Dr. Alice Bear. Dr. Greg Tungsten. Dr. Bob Shapiro. Dr. Saydi Obara. Dr. Evelyn Shar. And Dr. Izzy Rubka.”
Vars had heard of some of these people by reputation, of course, but never met any of them personally. EPSA people were a reclusive bunch, tending to mix with their own to the exclusion of others, even with the same research interests. It was one of the reasons Vars always wanted to join the organization—to get access to the best and the brightest minds and a chance to discuss the origins of life over coffee... But the introductions were happening so fast, there was no chance that she would remember how any of these names linked up with faces. Vars doubted she would even recognize these people walking down the street.


What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m currently finishing up “God of Small Affairs.” In some ways, this is the opposite story from “Harvest.” While “Harvest” focused on real science and extrapolated it as far as possible, “God of Small Affairs” is about mythology, about gods who walk the earth and help shape the human race into what it has become. It is a more intimate story. It focuses on a small town in Wisconsin and it’s aging population that is in the process of becoming irrelevant due the pressures of civilization and progress. During a murder investigation, a god tries to find the best path into the future for this community. It’s human drama with a mythical twist.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote my first full-sized fiction book in 2009, “Suddenly, Paris.” I wanted to write about a strong, smart girl who was up to the task of saving the world by herself, if necessary. In some way, it was a rebellion to “Twilight.” As a teacher, I saw lots of middle school girls reading that book. When asked, they tended to reply that what attracted them the most to “Twilight” was the idea of someone loving a girl like that and providing for her and protecting her. From the psychological standpoint, the relationship described in “Twilight” is not a healthy one. No girl/woman should feel like she is going to do die if her current romance doesn’t work out. I wanted to write a character that showed another example. In my story, the heroine is very much in love, but she is willing to fight and to save the world. She is willing to do what’s right. She doesn’t sulk…well, not much.


So that was my first book. Since then, I’ve focused on developing strong characters, interesting plots, and ideas that are heavily influenced by real science and current events. Humans learn best when information is wrapped in a compelling story. I also wanted to write about people that are not the usual heroes of books—homeless kids, misfits, grandmothers, mobility-impaired, autistic, the underclass of our society, the forgotten. Fiction is great at developing empathy. I wanted to turn the full power of fiction into empathy engine! Sounds a bit preachy, I know, but I think my stories are good and fun read in addition to being meaningful.


Do you write full-time? If so, what's your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I would love to write full-time. But I do have other work to do.

But even those lucky to devote their lives to creating fictional universes and amazing characters to populate them have to do more than just write. A modern writer has to do more. She has to promote and market her books. She has to talk about herself and hopefully inspire readers to pick up her book next. She has to be on social media and post and tweet and talk, talk, talk, talk… For a shy individual, this is a very hard thing to do. I try…

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Here’s something that blew me away. The fictional characters in stories I write have a lot more power over their fate than I thought they would (or should). I always knew that stories changed when they were written down in a tangible form. That’s true for paintings too. What’s in my head is not necessarily going to be what’s on paper. But it surprised me the extent to which characters take on a life of their own. Oh I can try to push them in the direction I thought I wanted them to evolve, but it never works out. When I push, the characters rebel. When a hero of the book is well-drawn, she doesn’t allow the writer to pull strings for her. And so the story tends to change…sometimes drastically. Is that just my writing quirk? I don’t know. Perhaps other writers fight with their characters too. Somehow I think it is a very common phenomenon.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I first thought I was going to be a children’s book illustrator. Then I was “taught” a thing or two. I freaked out and double majored in math and astrophysics, working at NASA while still in college. I decided that I wanted to be an astronaut. But I was a girl, and soon after graduation I was runover by a car and now have to use a cane to walk. I don’t think these should have been showstoppers. I still wanted to go into space. But then I get to do that by writing about it. I go farther in my books than I can in any of the latest rockets. So I’m living my dream, right?

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Read more. Review more books. As readers, we have an incredible power to shape the societal discourse. By shining light on ideas and characters, we can change the direction of the world. There are books that changed my life…again and again. It is incredible that a story can make such an impact. I feel grateful every time I find another amazing book. And as soon as I do, I tell everyone about it. Perhaps they will be just as taken and fall just as much in love with it as I did. It is an incredible power.

Thank you for being a guest on my blog!
Thank you! This was a very thoughtful interview. I loved your questions. I am grateful for the ability to talk about my stories. I hope my answers have been interesting enough to read some of my stories!

Links:

Thanks for being here today!



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9 comments:

Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Olga Werby said...

Thank you very much for showcasing my story!

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