Today’s special guest is sci-fi author Olga Werby. She’s chatting with me about her newest novel, Becoming Animals.
During her virtual book tour, Olga will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card. 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!
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, Interfaces.com.
Welcome, Olga. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I write in the genres of sci-fi and magical realism. My background is in astrophysics and psychology. Granted, it’s not a very likely combination for a career…a regular career. But it is perfect for a writer!
I wrote Becoming Animals with my husband and partner, Christopher Werby. Our book deals with differences between animal and human cognition and emotional states. How are bird thoughts different from our own? How does it feel to be prey? How would a life of a whale be different from a human girl? And what does it feel like when you are dying? We use this setup to discuss not only the various physiological and cognitive differences between various animals and humans, but to also consider the ethics of using animals in research. I hope this book leaves people thinking about it for many years to come.
Please tell us a little bit about Becoming Animals.
Humans have always wanted to know what goes on inside the minds of other animals. But what if humans could become animals? Toby’s father leads a team of neuroscientists who are developing equipment to directly connect the brains of humans with those of animals. Toby is a prodigy at throwing her mind into the animal subjects in her dad’s lab—she’s the best there is.
But Toby suffers from cystic fibrosis and she’s not likely to live to adulthood. Could a radical plan to embed her consciousness into an animal allow Toby to survive? And what does it mean to live without a human body?
Can Toby and her father solve the problem of fully merging two beings before she takes her last breath? Will the government succeed in stopping their efforts before they are done? It’s a race against death and into the minds of animals.
Reviews for Becoming Animals:
“[A] must-read for every science fiction and animal lover.” — a 5 star review from Readers’ Favorite
“[A]s a concept for a novel I found the idea of melding with an animal’s mind, in Becoming Animals, to be utterly fascinating and was excited to see how this would develop for young Toby. I became very invested in the characters created by Olga and Christopher Werby and consequently enjoyed this children’s/young adult book even more than I thought I would. The amount of honest research that had clearly gone on before penning this novel lent real authenticity to the tale. I had heard much of what was discussed in broad details in various places, but had perhaps not realized the possible implications – this was especially true of the idea of neuroplasticity and our brain’s ability to reset and remake neural connections, at will or as required. The book was an incredibly easy read and although the science might be above the understanding of some of the authors’ intended audience, it in no way detracted from the understanding of the story. This story is unique, in my opinion, a rare quality in today’s book market. I commend the two authors for their ingenuity and creativity and can highly recommend this read. A great job!” — a 5 star review from Readers’ Favorite
“[T]he characters, both human and animal, are unforgettable, and the plot is high-tech fantasy at its finest. Becoming Animals is most highly recommended.” — a 5 star review from Readers’ Favorite
“[A] very interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read; a brilliant addition to the libraries of science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a good story.” — a 5 star review from Readers’ Favorite
“[T]his is a great novel for young and older sci-fi fans.” — a 5 star review from Readers’ Favorite
“[T]his a very interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read; a brilliant addition to the libraries of science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a good story.” — a 5 star review from Readers’ Favorite
What inspired you to write this book?
Becoming Animals allows its readers to get inside the minds of animals. How does it feel to fly? What does craving for dark, tight places and food feels like? Why does the weight of the sun through the cold waters of the Pacific taste so exquisite? When you can let go of feeling human, what experiential vistas open up? Animals might not have the tools we do to communicate their experiences and feelings, but if a human could embody an animal, that person can describe what they sense and the emotions that run through them.
While animals have very similar organs to humans, the way they use them is different. In particular, animal cognition is both familiar and radically dissimilar to ours. Just to give a few simple examples. Humans see in full color spectrum…at least that’s what we think. Dogs see in black in white, while birds see extra colors. Human sense of smell is rather weak, but a rat’s olfactory organs are amazingly well developed. People see the world from a height of several feet above the ground, rats from below an inch, birds from hundreds of feet up in the air. Just this change of perspective is a spectacular mind altering experience. In its essence, “Becoming Animals” is a story of mind-altering experiences and the desire of a child to survive a terminal illness by escaping into a mind of an animal.
What’s the next writing project?
I just finished 100,000 word novel on theme of fate – how far would people go to change their destiny? Are we “hardwired” to live the life we live? If it were possible to make changes, how high of a price would a person be willing to pay to make that change? The main protagonist in this story is a young man who was born with a congenital birth defect that set severe limitation to his life. Hig believed that as a boy he made a bargain with fate – his life for the life of his mother – that liberated him from a fate of a cripple and turned him into a popular, athletic young man, captain of his college soccer team. But a mother’s death is a heavy guilt load to grow up with.
The book is about untangling love from guilt from sacrifice. The book turned out well, I think, sort of a cross between “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Cloud Atlas.” I look forward to releasing my literary baby into the world soon.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
Stories usually start with just a tiny idea and then grow as I collect research around that topic. A few years down the line, the little clump of thoughts jells into an idea for a book. But I never know if the book will become a full-length novel or a novella or even a longish short story. I’m a “pantser” – I write without an outline, by the seat-of-my-pants. I just have a ton of research and random thoughts written down on little notes in my note-taking software. By the time I actually start writing a new novel, I’ve usually spent a year or so taking notes and doing research. I tend to have a general idea of what the book will be about, but I have to feel my way towards the resolution of a story. I write to find out what happens next! Once I know my characters and understand their predicament, the story is written by them. They decide what they want to do and how to proceed and how to solve problems that I throw at them. I know this sounds crazy, but it works well for me. Still, the more research I do, the better the outcome. But it is always a mystery how it all works out. I’m always surprised by the end of the story—the finished book is nothing like I’ve imaged it…but it does contain all of the elements of my research for the story.
If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
Becoming Animals was a difficult book to write. It is based on a lot science – all the scientific details described in this story are true, even if they are pushed to the limit of what’s possible. When you read about how a rat responds to danger or how a whale mourns the death of its baby or how a young piglet gets the zoomies, it’s all real. The fictional part is how a human girl responds to experiences that are unique to other animals.
One of the easiest ways to learn is through stories. Humans are wired to enjoy and remember them. Science fiction tells stories about the future or alternative history or some other “what if” scenarios that involve real science pushed to the limit. While entertainment is a perfectly valid goal in itself, sometimes a good story can do more than entertain. I hope this story has made a bit of neurology and animal cognition slightly more approachable for our readers.
What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I write at my desk, in a spare bedroom that we turned into an office. I’m surrounded by books and the surface of my desk is covered with loose papers and fiddly toys. But my computer monitor and what’s on it is just as important as what’s in a physical space around me. I work in a text editor – it’s simple text, no formatting at all, no distractions. I have a note-taking application running as well – I have years’ worth of research that I do before starting a story, so I need to have that at my fingertips. I have a web browser open on a dictionary page. And I have iTunes with a soundtrack for my book (each book has its own soundtrack).
What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
I read everything…well, not histories or biographies or horror. I usual discover an author I like, and then read everything they’ve ever written! It is so much easier to know that the book will be good than to be disappointed. I know this sounds crazy. But I read a lot. I have thousands of books at home. I have books shelves in my bathrooms, bedrooms, hallways, kitchen, living room… I have books stocked on most flat surfaces and up the stairs. I’m not allowed to buy physical books anymore…unless I really want to. I do most of my “fun” reading on my phone now—Kindle App. I have thousands of books on my phone as well. The good thing about that is that the phone is always in my pocket (I no longer buy clothes that don’t have pockets to accommodate my cell phone.). I can whip out a book while I wait in line, while I sit in a doctor’s office, while I exercise… It’s a perfect delivery mechanism for reading.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
There are hidden jokes in all my books. They are not “ha ha” jokes, just little things that would make someone in the know smile. Mostly, I hide things in the names of characters and places. Little Easter Eggs!
And I now have a site that allows students and parents to download free educational materials for elementary and secondary school kids to download and do offline. It is still under development, but keep an eye out if you have kids!
Thank you for being here today!
a Rafflecopter giveaway