Vancouver scientist-turned-fantasy-author featured at writers festival

Kristi Charish was working on a PhD in zoology when she decided she wouldn't just read fantasy novels — she'd try writing them herself as well.

Kristi Charish began writing fiction while working on a PhD in zoology

'Owl and the Japanese Circus' is the debut novel from Kristi Charish. (

Kristi Charish was working on a doctorate degree in zoology at the University of B.C. — with a master's degree in molecular biology and biochemistry already under her belt — when she suddenly realized that the career she was heading towards might not be what she actually wanted.

"I ended up figuring out that the fun research stuff — working on the microscopes, playing with fruit flies — that's what you get to do in your PhD and as a student," Charish told host Sheryl MacKay on North by Northwest.

So, when a friend asked her what she would do if she could get paid for something that was fun and didn't feel like a job, she decided to start writing.

Now Charish has authored several books, including two in a series about female anti-hero Owl, an "archeologist turned international antiquities thief."

She is also featured at the Cuffed International Crime Writers Festival taking place at Granville Island on Vancouver March 11 to 13.

A PhD and a book

Charish said the decision to write came naturally — she devoured books when she was a child and would often read fantasy novels during long stints on the microscope in the lab.

"I was like all right, I'm going to take a year. I'm going to start writing while I'm doing my thesis and I'm going to see if I like it and if I'm any good at it," she said.

She began setting aside an hour for "fun writing", which eventually turned into more hours than she was spending on her dissertation.

Charish wrote her debut novel while completing a PhD in zoology. (

But she managed to pull it all off: "By the time I had finished my PhD and was ready to defend it I had a novel."

A female anti-hero

That book was Owl and the Japanese Circus, in which the protagonist Owl is thrown out of graduate school for "stumbling on something she probably shouldn't have."

She is a year into her new career as an antiquities thief — hotly pursued by a pack of vampires who want her dead — when she gets a job offer she can't turn down.

The owner of a Japanese circus casino in Las Vegas says he will get rid of the vampires if she can find him an artifact that went missing 3,000 years ago.

Charish said Owl is "definitely a rogue."

"A lot of female protagonists are expected to be a certain way … they're supposed to be somewhat likeable, they're supposed to have some kind of feminine characteristics, and Owl is very much in the opposite direction," she said.

"I like writing anti-heroes and I liked that about Indiana Jones and Han Solo and those types of characters as well. They're not really good guys, but you can understand why they are maybe being bad sometimes."

Charish presented at a workshop titled New Female Voices in Crime at the Cuffed festival on Saturday, March 12.

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Geneticist turned author featured at Cuffed International Crime Writers Festival


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