One of the things authors are frequently asked is if they’ve always wanted to be a writer. I feel a little guilty when I see people affirm that yes, as soon as they were able to hold a crayon, they were scribbling the toddler equivalent of Dostoyevsky. What I really wanted to be was either a nun or an NFL quarterback. For a host of reasons, those professions were sadly never in the cards for me, so my parents thought a lawyer would be the perfect career fit for me—it might have had something to do with my ability to argue my way out of being grounded. Yet that profession never resonated with me, and then several things happened within a couple years time.
I read the book Go Ask Alice about a troubled teen’s spiral through drug use and eventual (spoiler alert) death. I remember thinking that maybe she would have chosen a different path if she’d had some better help. I’d always been fascinated by why people make the choices they make and why they act in certain ways. When I got to high school and took an advanced psychology course, I was hooked. I went to college and majored in Psychology, followed by graduate school and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. One of my first jobs was as a therapist then manager of a locked adolescent girls’ unit, many of whom were committed there by youth corrections. I loved that job and knew that psychology was a perfect fit for me.
However, all that isn’t to say that I didn’t dabble in writing thought my life. My mom says I wrote my first picture book in Kindergarten and once hauled it out of storage to prove it. I began my first “novel” around age 9 on a cursive typewriter, yet instead of Dostoyevsky, it was Nancy Drew fan fiction. I started a school newspaper in elementary school and was “chief editor,” which primarily involved discussing whether pizza or chicken nuggets was the better lunch option. Then, aside from some angsty teenage poetry, I didn’t write much until a creative writing class in college. When my teacher asked if she could keep my short story and make copies to hand out to future classes, I was flattered but still never thought of writing as more than “fun.”
So I grew up became a psychologist and wrote hundreds of evaluations, reports, and papers over the years, but nothing creative. It wasn’t until I had children that the urge to write fiction hit, and hit hard. I found a critique group, joined SCBWI and had my first few picture books written within weeks. My group said my “voice” sounded older and suggested I try YA. I thought “sure, why not?” and wrote my first YA novel within a few months. It was so hard yet so much fun. I’m sure people don’t believe me when I say that writing a publishable novel was harder than getting my Ph.D. but it’s true. When my agent in New York called to say that Egmont bought my novel, along with an unwritten sequel (which is obviously written now since it releases in April), I had to pinch myself. I know I’ll never stop writing, and my psychology background helps inform the characterization and motivations in my novels. It’s been a great marriage of careers and I’ve made sure to tell my own children that just because something is “fun,” doesn’t mean you can’t make it a profession.
KRISTI HELVIG is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. Her first novel, Burn Out (Egmont USA), which Kirkus Reviews called “a scorching series opener not to be missed,” follows 17-year-old Tora Reynolds, one of Earth’s last survivors, when our sun burns out early. In the sequel, Strange Skies, released 4/28/2015, Tora makes it to a new planet only to discover a whole new host of problems—and the same people who still want her dead. Order Kristi’s books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local retailer. Kristi muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog and Twitter . You can also find her on Facebook. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.