Interview with Olga Werby

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Author of The Black Queen

Scary Short Story Contest Winner

1) Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind your entry for this contest?

The Black Queen was about trying to understand minds that are different from our own. Humans are so good at anthropomorphizing everything we encounter. We look at an electrical plug with three holes and see a face. We watch a dog’s face after discovering a a half-eaten chicken on the floor of the kitchen and see remorse, guilt, and need for forgiveness. I watch our tortoise move purposely towards a shoe closet, and I try to attribute needs and desires for her actions. Of course, my tortoise has needs and desires — I strongly believe in expansive emotional lives of animals — but those needs and desires are alien to me. I can only see a reflection of what I feel, not the true feeling. The further away a particular intelligence is from us, the more incomprehensible it is. It is one of the reasons we in the Western World have such a hard time relating to people with different cognitive capabilities — autism, schizophrenia, babies even are all too alien to us to truly understand and relate. The problem is that we rarely recognize our own inability to cope with such differences. If or when at some future date we encounter an actual alien civilization, we have to remember our shortcomings or we might get into serious trouble. So I wanted to make the Black Queen unfathomable and alien, and all those coming in contact with her reacting to their own “reflections” rather than the reality of her. I think such deep inability to understand intelligences other than our own is very scary… terrifying, even. True horror is not knowing why...

2) What made you decide to enter this “Whatever You Do, Don’t Turn Around” contest?

I saw the “Whatever You Do, Don’t Turn Around” contest posted on Facebook. I liked the short fiction format — the challenge to say something meaningful in as few words as possible. I wanted to write a story that was not only scary but disturbing…  I am very happy I participated!

3) Who are some of your favourite authors and why?

I have many favorites. That’s partly because as I age I change; as I live through different experiences in my own life, what appeals to me evolves. But also because I like some authors for the charm in their writing (“Gentleman In Moscow” by Amor Towles), others for the shear scope of research that went into their stories (Neal Stephenson), yet some for the ideas (Orson Scott Card), others because they managed to do the impossible feat of getting their work where I can find it and fall in love with it (Hugh Howey), some because they made me cry and feel cleansed (“The Nightingale” by Kristen Hannah), and of course some for the turn of phrase (Oscar Wilde, of course!), and more for the things I’ve learned at the end (Robert Sapolsky and Oliver Sacks — Dr. Sacks is a jewel). For each author, each story, there is a time. The right book at the right time is a true joy.

4) What is your favourite book you read this year and why?

I’ve never read Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. So 2018 is the year I will get through most of those books. I can’t wait to get to the last several books in the series because they were co-writen by Brandon Sanderson, whom I love (and read everything he had ever written). I find that I learn a lot about how to structure a complex story by reading authors who do that well. Brandon Sanderson is a great teacher as well as writer. He learned his craft from Robert Jordan, and I’m learning from both of them. By reading, I get to glimpse the structure and engineering of writing fiction. I’m also enjoying the story — it’s a good escape from reality, at the moment. And for that, I’m grateful. Stories take us away from our real lives and give us a chance to vacation in other universes.

5) What is your best piece of advice for all the new independent authors out there?

Good writing takes time. You can’t became a good writer until you have written several books — it’s a catch twenty two. Writing for an audience is also very different than writing for oneself. It’s a solitary performance art — oxymoron, I know. And there is a need to please the audience as much as there is a need to satisfy oneself. So the best advice is to write. Write as much as you can. And with time, you’ll get better. Don’t get discouraged — while a spark of talent helps, it really is all about hard work. Good writers are the ones that write. It’s as simple as that.