My Superpower: Kristi Charish (Owl and the Japanese Circus)

24 Feb

My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Kristi Charish to talk about how the power of molecular biology relates to Owl and the Japanese Circus.


Don’t worry, I’ll save you! I’m a Molecular Biologist.

That’s right. Sit back and let me tell you about the highly underrated profession known as molecular biology. First and foremost, our degrees start with a modest BSc — note the B and S are capitalized (as Erik Williams pointed out while back, an expert ranking in BS is an essential skill set for becoming a writer).

Want to survive the imminent apocalypse burgeoning on the horizon? While everyone else is stockpiling weapons, ammo, and canned goods us molecular biologists have everyone beat. We’ll be figuring out how to purify water, grow food, and synthesize antibiotics…Heck, with our collective minds, we’ll have a fully functional biodome up and running in no time, distillery and all (we’re talking about molecular biologists after all). A collective of highly educated researchers and molecular engineers living in peace and harmony while the apocalypse rages on outside…Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

On second thought, I know how to make antibiotics…so does everyone in the biodome. In fact, if we really put our heads together (or if someone held a really big gun to our collective heads) we could probably come up with a way to synthesize a ton of pharmacological grade narcotics…

Wait a minute. The post-apocalyptic road warrior hordes are going to need antibiotics and they’ll sure as hell want drugs. Shit, They’re going to take one look at our collective biodome and hunt us down like weasels in a rabbit den! They’ll lock us up in some deep, dark basement with barely enough water to survive and force us to keep them inundated with antibiotics and drugs to sell in exchange for women, beer, and more ammo. Maybe even toss a few high grade explosives in…

OK, scratch the collective and incredibly vulnerable biodome. Instead, imagine a group of molecular biologists pretending to be extreme militants…

Wait. No, that won’t work. One look and no one is going to buy we’re dangerous, even the ones suffering from dehydration and malnutrition-based delusions.

OK, we’ll just have to make sure the post-apocalyptic road warrior hordes can’t get to us. How? I don’t know…we’ll genetically engineer some really nasty pathogen to keep us safe…anthrax or small pox…or wait! I know! We’ll engineer alpha-Amatin (the poison from Death cap mushrooms famous for killing a roman emperor) into delectable and innocent looking crops, and plant them all around the biodome. The nasty post-apocalyptic hordes stalking what’s left of the roads looking for hapless scientists and medical students won’t be able to resist.

OK, so our poisonous potatoes and carrot seeds, the only edible crop left that can grow in the apocalyptic wasteland, might get spread around the globe by apocalypse-surviving insects like mosquitoes, cockroaches. But we’ll be safe!

And so the apocalypse cycle goes round and round and round…

All right. So maybe I’m more supervillain than superhero, but still, supervillains need superpowers too. And you can see where we’re coming from; I mean, who would want the post-apocalyptic road warrior hordes to find them? Best defense is a fantastic biowarfare offense, I always say. Go with your strengths!

You know, on second thought, I think the real superpower I get from molecular biology is the need to see all sides of the story. Why would a collective of peace loving scientists mount an incredibly dangerous and volatile biological offense? Post-apocalyptic road warrior hordes. And why would the apocalypse survivors mount an offense against a small collective of hapless molecular biologists? The terror of what letting them continue in (possibly) misguided terror and fear of a group of supposed road warrior hordes (we are fond of our 80’s action movies) who really only need a decent square meal and a bath. And maybe countdown for all the radiation exposure…

On second thought…

The point is everyone lives is shades of grey. Some – like my character Owl, an antiquities thief – toe the dark grey side of the line more than the light grey side, but rarely are people bad because of pure evil tendencies. Any good rogue or villain in a novel is trying to do something good. It’s just the interpretation of the world around them through whatever filter they’ve got on the sunglasses today that colors their actions. The trick to making these characters believable in fiction is figuring out the why.

And that’s really the molecular biologist’s superpower:  observation and questions. Seeking out to know and understand why things happen – or, in my case, asking why good people sometimes do really bad and stupid things…

OK, that and making really awesome monsters. Molecular biology is killer for designing monsters…


Kristi Charish FB HS

Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.


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