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 also won a few awards and 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.
CONNECT WITH OLGA
Welcome to SPFM, Olga! Since we already have your bio, describe yourself in three words.
Stubborn. Smart. Curios.
Summarize your book, Mirror Shards, using one gif.
If you could recommend three self-published books, which would you choose and why?
I would do even better—I will recommend three indie authors!
I discovered self-published books almost at the very start of the opening of the Amazon indie floodgates. My first read was Hugh Howey’s fantasy series Molly Fyde about an “orphan” in space looking for her destiny. I read his other stories after that and even corresponded with him for a while and beta-read one of his books. Everyone is very excited about this Silo books now (they are being made into a TV show), but back then Hugh wasn’t well known. He was just a guy selling books in a bookstore in Florida and making money as a captain for hire (for boats). Hugh is a genuine talent, and he showed me a way forward as an indie writer.
I’ve “met” Richard Phillips the same way. I found his Rho Agenda books great. My son and I read it together. We corresponded back and forth; Richard shared his wisdom as an indie writer with me as well.
I’ve “met” Michael Grumley, too, along the way. His books are great fun—he wrote an adventure series about a team of scientists communicating with animals…and then the aliens got involved. Michael is a super nice guy, too.
There are many indie writers that are writing fantastically accomplished work. I wish there was a way to shine a light on all the overlooked talent out there. I’ve reached out to a few of these talents individuals. Everyone was super-generous and kind.
What is your favorite part, and your least favorite part of self-publishing?
Favorite part: Self-publishing gives me complete autonomy to tell the story that I want to tell. But there is a dark side to that. Self-publishing requires the author to wear many hats—editor, layout artist, technical support, marking executive, PR rep, sales rep, cover artist, accountant, lawyer, etc. No one is good at all of these jobs. And doing them all really cuts into the time you have to actually write—there are just so many hours in a day. And yet, all this work needs to be done in order to advance as a successful writer. I’m not interested in writing a diary (even if it is all narrative fiction); I want my stories to be read. I want them to be enjoyed by the readers. I’m writing to communicate, not to shout into a dark empty void. But finding an audience is very difficult, especially for an indie writer.
How do you approach worldbuilding? What’s your process for creating fully fleshed out characters?
For me, 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.
I like to write about people who live on the margins of our society. Hig, the main character in my newest fantasy “Mirror Shards”, was born with a spinal deformity that robed him of the ability to walk. As the story progresses, as this boy jumps from one fate to another, we get to watch him get sicker or better, depending on which time stream he lands in, and empathize with his suffering or rejoice for his triumphs. But each jump costs something. Hig continuously needs to balance his physical and emotional needs with the health and happiness of those around him—everything has a price. There is a lot of moral ambiguity in this book, but I hope the readers go along and see why the choices were made as they were. I think books teach empathy—we get to live another’s life through the words on the page. That’s very powerful. And that is what makes the characters in my stories feel so real.
You can read the first few chapters of “Mirror Shards” right here: https://interfaces.com/blog/mirror-shards/
When did you start writing?
While I’ve written fan-fiction as a kid (for stories I loved and couldn’t get enough of), there was one particular event that started me down this crazy road as an indie writer. I saw a kid at school I was teaching at—a girl who I’ve never seen reading a single thing ever—pick up “Twilight” and not put it down until the end. I wanted to know why? Why was this story so compelling to this kid? What gripped her? What made her read a thick book to the end? Interestingly, when I read that novel, I was angry at the abusive relationship described…and yet I still found it compelling. So I decided to write a compelling story where the heroine was not a wet blanket in an abusive relationship. The result was my first novel: “Suddenly, Paris.”
“Suddenly, Paris”: What if the world is not made out of atoms? Would it change your high school experience? Would it change how you love? This story focuses on a high school student, Julie Vorov, who suddenly learns something about herself and that turns her whole world upside down. “Suddenly, Paris” was placed on the Long List for The James Tiptree Jr. Award in 2016. You can read the first few chapters here: https://interfaces.com/blog/suddenly-paris/
“Coding Peter” is the sequel to “Suddenly, Paris.” It tells the story of Julie’s younger brother Peter. Peter has some very difficult choices to make. Would he be pressed to make the right ones? You can read the first few chapters here: https://interfaces.com/blog/coding-peter/
What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
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 is in a physical space around me. I work in a text—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).
How did you know you wanted to write this genre?
I write science fiction—basically fiction with a ton of science. I have written fiction that was more fantastical (less science-y), but I prefer to write about real science. 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’m a scientist by nature and training, so this is particularly appealing to me.
What’s your social media platform of choice, and why?
I’m not sure I have a social media platform that really works for me. I do read a lot of books and review them on Amazon, BookBub, and Goodreads. Leaving reviews is one of the best ways to help writers get discovered by readers. All writers and readers should make it a habit to leave reviews for books they like.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think a lot of people believe that they can write a book, that writing is easy. It is not. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done. It is really fun, though.
What’s the best way to market your books?
There is a best way to market books? Really? If so, I’ve never discovered it. I try to engage with readers wherever they are found: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, BookBub, etc. But it is always hit or miss. Selling is hard. It requires talent and deep understanding of the publishing marketplace. And luck.
About Mirror Shards
Trapped Between Infinite Possible Realities Hig is a disabled kid with a loving mom, a baby sister, a distant father, and a doting uncle, Charlie. On a trip to a county fair, the family encounters a mysterious “Mirror of Wishes” booth that leads to radical, unexplained life changes, including Hig’s uncle’s abrupt disappearance and his mother’s untimely death. One of the changes is Hig’s miraculous cure—his congenital spina bifida is gone and he no longer needs a wheelchair. As Hig grows up, he continuously frets about what really happened but is too scared to actually look for answers to the mystery. Years later, Hig takes his girlfriend Klaire to another county fair. They encounter the same booth and its proprietor, Mistress Kismet. A bizarre chain of events ensues, including Uncle Charlie’s return as a very different person. They discover that Mistress Kismet’s booth is a portal that has been altering people’s realities and fates for many decades. When Hig’s younger sister disappears, Hig, Klaire, the woman who raised him after his mother died, and a friend chase the girl to a music festival where the visitors are being promised a transformational experience with visions of possible alternate realities. During a performance, Hig and his companions are all physically thrown into one of the possible parallel universes. It’s a very different place where Kismet is a religion, The Beatles released a Black Album, and Hig is again bound to a wheelchair. Yet in this version of reality, Hig’s mother lives. As their time in a new reality lingers on, they risk becoming stuck there, unable to turn back, overwhelmed by cascading consequences of changing reality. Hig is desperate to return his own timestream or find a new one where they can all be together—before it’s too late. But can any place Hig ends up ever feel like home? Does love span multiple timestreams? Does the portal offer a permanent answer to the question “What if I could have the life of my choosing?” Or is it a nightmare of neverending change?