Taya DeVere - Tech-based Dystopian Stories with Irresistible Characters and Intense Scenes
Taya is a Finnish-American author, writing contemporary fiction and dystopian sci-fi. After living and traveling in America for seven years, she now lives in Finland with her husband Chris, their dog Seamus, three bunny-boys (Ronin, Baby, Loki), and her horse of a lifetime, Arabella. Best things in life: friends & family, memories made, and mistakes to learn from. Taya also loves licorice ice cream, second-hand clothes and things, bunny sneezes, salmiakki, and sauna. Dislikes: clowns, the Muppets, Moomin trolls, dolls (especially porcelain dolls), human-size mascots, and celery. Taya's writing is inspired by authors such as Margaret Atwood, Peter Heller, Hugh Howey, and C.M. Martens. As our Author of the Day, Taya tells us all about her book, Unchipped: Kaarina
Please give us a short introduction to what Unchipped: Kaarina is about.
This book is the opening of a 20-book story where seemingly insignificant individuals fight the good fight against the new leaders of the world.
Kaarina is a young barn worker living outside "City of Finland," the seat of a powerful organization called The Solomon Foundation that controls the world through the “Happiness-Program”. She lives alone in the woods, her only companions being the forest animals—as well as William, an American outcast she's telepathically connected to. One day, one of the horses Kaarina takes care of falls ill. Her lack of antibiotics forces Kaarina to step inside the stone wall circling the AR-city. What starts as innocent curiosity ends triggering a war between the Chipped and the Unchipped.
What inspired you to write about humans getting "chipped" to live in a permanent augmented reality?
A lot of it has to do with social media and technology overall. What if the platforms and apps program their users and not the other way around? Someone much more intelligent than me could explain why this is and where it's leading us. How social media, online games, and the new realities of VR and AR will shape the human mind.
For this story, I focused on social impact. At least I did when I first created the Unchipped universe.
In my early twenties, I had many friends who were hooked on online games such as World of Warcraft. I've never played myself, but I witnessed how the players would get lost in this world of orcs, warlocks, and warriors. My friends would devour this reality for hours, sometimes days in a row. Anything outside the game wasn't real to them. As an outsider, it made me anxious, but at the same time, it was strangely fascinating. Here they sit, headphones on, speaking English to a stranger on the other side of the world, in an alternate reality where they are valued and respected. Not by the AI, but by the other players. Real people, but in a different form. A lot of the time, they didn't achieve this same respect in the real world. Who wouldn't choose to be a hero over being a nobody?
Here’s a funny example. One of my friends had a girlfriend who wasn't into playing at all. She asked her boyfriend about his plans for the weekend. "Oh, I'm going fishing," was his reply. His girlfriend got all excited and asked if she could tag along on the fishing trip. The boyfriend looked puzzled, then asked, "So now you do want to start playing?" Turns out, he had never fished in his life—unlike his WoW character.
To this day, I still haven't played any online games myself. But I experience something similar when it comes to social media and my Internet-based job. I find myself stuck in this world that doesn't really exist outside the screens. Most days, I spend more time talking to people I've never met in real life than those I'm actually close to. Too often, I find social media scrolling me instead of me scrolling the feed. My phone is connected to my mind through a smartwatch that scans my activity levels and sleep. The app notifications tell me when I should pay attention to my work, even if it's ten o'clock at night. Sometimes, instead of entertainment and joy, these aspects of my everyday life bring me anxiety and worry. It makes me realize I need more real human to human connection and less of the kind that travels from a server to a server.
But what if that human to human connection no longer exists sixty years from now?
Tell us more about Kaarina. What makes her so special?
Just like all the Unchipped people, Kaarina has an inexplicable capability to connect with others of her kind, solely through her mind. Most of the Unchipped individuals are afraid of this ability. They shy away from it. They live in small communities, only approving of people who think like them and look like them. Kaarina fits in nowhere. Not among the AR-obsessed Chipped, nor among the Unchipped, who hunt and sell the precious few animals that are left on the black market instead of protecting all beings with their own lives the way she does. But Kaarina has William. The two are nothing alike; a quirky African American gay man and a quiet Finnish loner girl. Despite their different backgrounds, they become inseparable allies. I think this is what makes Kaarina so special; she's stubborn and flawed yet open-minded and kind.
Why dystopian sci-fi? What drew you to this genre?
The three M's:
My ever-growing fascination with the human mind.
Marrying into a different culture from my own.
Back in the day, I studied psychology only to realize that being a psychologist would probably be my fast lane to burnout. So, I graduated to sales and marketing instead. Then, I decided I'd much rather become a dressage trainer, so I packed my bags and left Finland to shovel horse poo in the UK. From there, I moved to the states. And what do you know? I burned out in the equestrian world way faster than I probably would have as a psychologist.
Growing up in Finland and then "starting over" in America has shaped me as a person, probably more than anything else has in my life. I've seen and experienced so many places, communities, and people, and heard an endless stream of life stories; it's a wonder I waited so long to write them down.
And last but not least, Maggie. For many dystopian authors, "The Handmaid's Tale" is such an important story and true inspiration. But for me, Atwood's "The Heart Goes Last" got me writing dystopia. Her undeniable intelligence and humor simply blossom in this story.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I'm fluent in a language called Finnglish. I read, write, and speak it all day, every day. Probably not surprising, but my editors are becoming fluent in this secret language as well. A lot of my first and second drafts have entertainment value because of Finnglish, but not the kind any author should aim for.
You have traveled all over Finland, the UK, and North America. How has this influenced your writing?
In so, so many ways. I've always been a "busy bee" and an experience junky. There wasn’t much to do in the city I grew up in (this city is also called Kaarina, named after Saint Catherine). Still, I never failed to find some kind of tomfoolery to get into. When I turned twenty, my beloved dad suddenly passed away. Losing him changed my world, mostly because I was soon diagnosed with severe depression. Medication only made things worse, and I struggled for a few years before deciding I needed a fresh start somewhere new. That's when I moved to Hereford, then took off to Vermont to live and work at a remote equestrian facility up in the mountains.
During my years in the US, I faced a lot of struggles. Homesickness, toxic people, unpleasant jobs, and financial stress… it was chaotic more often than not. But at the same time, I've never felt so alive in my life. Not a day went by without a new experience, a new "first."
In the states, I moved eleven times in seven years but never achieved the feeling of fitting in. Now I’m back in Finland, I still haven't figured out where I belong, but I now have a thousand and one stories to write about.
Wait, did I just answer #4 better than in my answer to #4?
What it is to be "normal" is a theme in this book. Why did you find this important to write about?
Have you ever taken a personality test? Where you need to decide on a scale from one to ten if you are outspoken or quiet. Creative or analytical. Cheerful or sad. Introvert or extrovert. The list goes on. I was obsessed with these tests when growing up. Not because they were fun, but because I was never able to fill one out without feeling like I was lying my butt off.
I think this is probably quite common. Many of my friends tell me they act differently, depending on the situation and the people around them. "Just answer the test based on how you feel today," they'd tell me. Yet, I continued to struggle when trying to define myself. Because sometimes in the exact same situation, with the exact same people, I would act completely different than I did the day before.
After hundreds of tests, years of therapy, and reading about the mind and what we like to call "personality," I've come to think… What if there is no such thing as a personality? What if it's way more complicated than that? A sum of endless factors, from our childhood trauma to what we had for breakfast this morning?
If this is true, what does it even mean for a person to act, feel, or seem "normal?"
These ongoing thoughts of mine are the reason behind the themes in Unchipped: Kaarina.
How did you manage to make the technology in this series seem so realistic?
My partner-in-everything Chris is the reason. He's a major geek and loves anything science-related. After ten years of a shared life together, he knows me pretty well. He's able to find me documents and videos that he knows will hold my attention. The last ones we watched were about mind mapping and vertical farming. He also fact checks all my scientific scenes, so I don't have to stress about possibly having misunderstood what I've learned.
Which character was the most challenging to create?
Surprisingly enough, the first one: Kaarina. Against my usual practice, I didn't base her character on a specific, real-life person. Big mistake! All my characters tend to be inspired by people that I've met, especially those who have touched my heart in one way or another. Kaarina started out purely fictional. This made it harder to get to know her, though today, I do know her better than my own pockets, just like the rest of the Unchipped crew.
What is your favorite line from the book and why?
Right in the beginning, when Kaarina and Bill discuss Finland's history. Kaarina points out that the women who were once burned alive for witchcraft never benefited from national healthcare. And Bill replies (my favorite line):
"Neither did the United States of America. But you don't see me curled up on a moldy rock, sobbing and moping. Aren't you running out of daylight?"
His line and this conversation highlight my personal experiences when I compare my life in Finland with my American years. Things got quite hairy from time to time back in the states, but I also had more drive and motivation to fight for my future. I look up to and respect the American people and their go-getter attitude in life. Something I wish was more evident here in Finland.
This book is part of a series. How does it tie in with the other books in the series?
Each book has its own main character, theme, and plot. There's a beginning and an end, but also a story arc that'll develop over time as the series continues every 18 days. The first five books are called "Unchipped," the next five "Unchipped," then "Dechipped," and finally "Rechipped." You can read Kaarina as a standalone story, but in the bigger picture, it's only the opening scene of the Unchipped story.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Two thousand words a day is my average writing day, but life happens. Last week, I only had two evenings when I had the time to focus on writing. I also have two editors and two proofreaders, so I usually have at least one manuscript that needs revisions depending on where my team is at. I can't edit and write new text during the same day, so I usually focus on working through the edits and reward myself with writing the next day. First drafts are way more fun for me than fine-tuning the story.
Sometimes, I pack my laptop and headphones and head out to the city library. The last time I did this, I told Chris I'd be gone for three hours and then come home for supper. He said he'd start cooking once I got back (he cooks for us every day. I'm spoiled like that). I got to the library and lost track of time. Without checking the time, I rushed home to notice the food was ready. I asked Chris why he had started cooking so early. Turns out, I had been gone for five and a half hours instead of three.
What are you working on right now?
I'm writing the closing scene for book ten. I went a little crazy with that scene, and I keep changing the details because the story has grown its own legs at the moment. This happens a lot of times when my characters get out of hand; I never know what shenanigans they're up to until it's already happening!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can subscribe to my newsletter at www.tayadevere.com and get a free Unchipped short story every few weeks! I also love chitchatting about books, animals, and Finnish candy, or talking with my kindred spirits about my dislike of creepy dolls, masks, and mascots.