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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