Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why I Became a Writer

Please welcome Kristen Elise.  She has an unusual story to tell about how she became a writer.  I'm happy she did because the outcome was a most exciting book.  Read on.
Author Kristen Elise
An Accident, a Dare, and a Massive Layoff

My “Why I Became a Writer” Story

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. Please visit her websites at and The Vesuvius Isotope is available in both print ( and and e-book formats ( for Kindle, for Nook, for Kobo reader.)

A few months ago, Lesley Diehl participated in an experiment. She and several other professional writers each wrote the same blog post: Why I Became a Writer. As I neither knew Lesley at that time nor was a professional writer, I missed the chance to join in. Today, Lesley has graciously given me a guest slot on her blog to let me catch up.


In short, I stumbled into writing bass-ackward. Three factors converged to spark my now full-time writing career: an accident, a dare, and a massive layoff. Three factors that turned out to be three unlikely strokes of luck.


My contribution to the “Why I Became a Writer” experiment begins with an experiment of an entirely different kindthe kind that takes place in a laboratory. A scientist since birth, I was working on anthrax at the time. My goal was to identify inhibitors of an anthrax protein. What I found instead was an activator—a molecule that made anthrax infection more efficient. It took very little creativity on my part to envision a scenario in which this discovery could be bad.


Around the same time, a friend of mine dared me to write a story. Having never previously written a story that wasn’t required by a teacher for a grade, I felt like a total imposter. But I wrote my anthrax activator story and brought it to my friend’s budding writers’ group. The group quickly went the way of the dodo, but the idea began to snowball.


The story grew into my first full-length manuscript, The Death Row Complex. The thing that amazed me the most during that time was how addicted to writing I would quickly become. I absolutely couldn’t put the manuscript down, and I also began looking ahead to the next one. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the lines, writing became a permanent fixture in my life. But it still hadn’t occurred to me that it would ever be more than a hobby.


While I was still working on The Death Row Complex, the idea for my next novel struck. I was in Italy on vacation and paid a visit to the Naples Archeological Museum. The more I learned of the lost city of Herculaneum, the more the idea began to develop. I came to realize that my Death Row protagonist belonged in both novels, and that the second story needed to be released first. So I finished the first draft of Death Row and then shelved it to write the manuscript that would become The Vesuvius Isotope.


I finished this manuscript in December. In January, I handed it to a professional editor. And in February, the pharmaceutical company I worked for cut my entire site, laying off every one if its more than 100 employees.


I had just become a professional novelist.


Mind you, I had become a professional novelist without an actual novel to speak of, let alone a dime ever earned from said non-existent novel. But what the hell. Truth be told, the pharmaceutical industry is a great place to be laid off from, and I say that with all sincerity. The severance package I received was enough. Not “lap of luxury” enough, but enough to take a hiatus and publish my book.


I had no idea how long my Extended Spring Break, as I like to call it, would turn out to be. I still don’t. But even then, I knew it would be finite. So it was clear that query letters followed by months of waiting were not going to be the best path for me. I buckled down and learned how to self-publish.


That was the day I realized that I had just become my own marketing department. So while the editing was ongoing and my sole prop was being established, I was also turbo-charging my platform. Publishers noticed me, and I was quickly offered a couple of contracts, unsolicited. I turned them down in order to get the book out faster, knowing that my Extended Spring Break, and with it the time I had for promoting the book, would eventually come to an end.

And so I became a full-time novelist without a publishing contract and before ever completing a novel. Now that The Vesuvius Isotope is a reality, I am returning to Death Row. And when my severance pay runs out, if the Pulitzer Committee still hasn’t come knocking, I’ll head back into the laboratory. I can only dare hope for another inspirational accident before the next massive lay-off.

About The Vesuvius Isotope

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.





  1. I'm thrilled that Kristen agreed to visit. She's a fellow PhD and proof that we can transition to writing mysteries and write them well. Welcome to the world of published writers, Kristen.

  2. Kristen, I'm a scientist turned writer too. Your novel sound interesting. Welcome to the club.
    JL Greger
    author of Coming Flu and Murder: A New way to Lose weight

  3. Thanks so much for having me Leslie! It's a pleasure to meet fellow bibliophile academics :) And Janet, I have seen your book around cyberspace and it caught my attention as well. Will definitely have to check it out!

  4. This was an excellent blog today :-) Thanks for sharing. I've been sharing this blog and I hope it helps promote both of you. I'm waiting for Amazon to send me The Vesuvius Isotope. I'll post a review on Amazon when I'm done reading it :)

    1. Thank you so much C.L.! We unemployed, self-pubbed authors definitely need all the (hopefully positive LOL) reviews we can get. So I REALLY appreciate not only the purchase but also the offer for an Amazon review!

  5. Kris, what a great way to break into publication. I hope there's light at the end of your Extended Spring Break but not before the second book is out. History, science and murder, sounds like a perfect trifecta!

    1. Thank you Michele,
      I agree with you that history, science and murder are a fun trifecta. My Extended Spring Break is turning into a summer vacation (tee hee hee....)

  6. Three cheers for scientists turned writers! Me too. I have spent a decade learning that I'm really terrible at writing thrillers, so my respect for you and all other thriller writers out there is HUGE. Bravo for jumping into the deep end of self-publishing. Your Murder Lab website is great!

    1. Oh, but Sara, you write the funnest cozy mysteries in history (pun intended). Can't wait for the general public to be able to enjoy them :)

  7. It sounds like an exciting book, and one I want to read. Good luck on your extended Spring Break until you at least get the 2nd book out.

    1. Thank you Gloria, I'm glad you're interested in the book. I hope you love it!

  8. That old saying, "Things fall apart so they can come together." seems to be in play here. Best of luck.