From Ph.D. Student to YA Novelist

Posted by Hayley on November 8, 2017
Rosemarked.



Rate this book
Clear rating
I’ve always loved reading and writing. I remember writing a seven page “chapter book” in elementary school and starting at least one badly written novel in high school. Being a good Asian child, though, I majored in biochemistry at Harvard as an undergrad and continued on to neuroscience program at MIT. My life might have ended up very differently, if not for the cold Boston winters and Stephenie Meyer.

In the fall of my third year at MIT, I took a class on neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. As the weather got colder and colder, I started waiting for the bus at the Harvard bookstore. One day, I saw a table display featuring a popular series about a girl and her vampire boyfriend. With nothing else to do, I picked up the first book and started reading. The next day, I bought the rest of the series and devoured them in the course of a weekend. It was the first time I’d read for pleasure in years, and I started thinking about how I had always wanted to be a novelist. So I dug out an old manuscript from high school and started the long process of reworking it into something better.

Over the next few years, my days were filled with neuroscience while my evenings and weekends were dedicated to writing. Eventually it became clear that my novel was turning out much better than my research. I sold my first book Midnight Thief shortly before I defended my dissertation and haven't looked back since.

In retrospect, it's not surprising that I was interested in neuroscience and writing. Both fields are concerned with how people work: how they think and what goes on inside their heads. It just happens that one field uses brain scanners and the other uses observation, introspection, and a splash of imagination.

People often ask how my background in neuroscience affects my writing. My Ph.D. research was on reading in children, which sounds really useful for a YA author except that my research was on word and letter recognition rather than any high-level story research that might help a novelist. However, much of the social psychology I studied for my qualification exams turned out to be useful. A lot of what I learned about how different cultures and different personalities function make it into my world building.

I was also able to use my knowledge of memory in my most recent book Rosemarked. In Rosemarked, the hero Dineas suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is given a potion to remove his memory. While this potion is strictly in the fantasy realm, I used general principles to make its effects more realistic. For example, the potion took away Dineas’s personal memory and knowledge of the world while sparing his physical skills, which is a common pattern in amnesia. I was fortunate enough to have a colleague involved in groundbreaking PTSD drugs that attenuate traumatic memories. Chatting with her was very helpful for understanding real-world treatments and gave me something on which to model my potions.

In the end, everything is inspiration, whether I pick it up from a walk in the park, or a stint at world class research institution. I suppose that’s true for all writers.


Add Livia Blackburn's Rosemarked to your Want to Read shelf here.


Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Naseem (new)

Naseem I actually left my PhD program (also in neuroscience, although I didn't finish it) to write, too, so this gives me a lot of hope! Can't wait to read Livia's book :)


message 2: by Milli (last edited Nov 09, 2017 10:54PM) (new)

Milli ...and inspiration came from Twilight, wooow, so romantic...or so predicted. I was surprised that it wasn't Vampire diaries. But anyhow, well done!!


message 3: by Milli (new)

Milli Naseem wrote: "I actually left my PhD program (also in neuroscience, although I didn't finish it) to write, too, so this gives me a lot of hope! Can't wait to read Livia's book :)"
Left?! Why? So you abandoned all your previous work there and your pressure time, and on something really valuable like neuroscience. Hmmmm.


message 4: by Angrboda (new)

Angrboda Milli wrote: "Naseem wrote: "I actually left my PhD program (also in neuroscience, although I didn't finish it) to write, too, so this gives me a lot of hope! Can't wait to read Livia's book :)"
Left?! Why? So y..."

I know someone who dropped his PhD program without finishing. He did it because it was causing him unhealthy amounts of stress and making him generally unhappy, and he went on to do something which was much better for his physical and mental health. There are valid reasons to drop a PhD. Even if it is really vaulable like neuroscience.


message 5: by Milli (last edited Nov 12, 2017 06:41PM) (new)

Milli Angrboda wrote: "Milli wrote: "Naseem wrote: "I actually left my PhD program (also in neuroscience, although I didn't finish it) to write, too, so this gives me a lot of hope! Can't wait to read Livia's book :)"
Le..."

Milli
I also know a couple of people who give up of PhD, for many valuable professions, but that doesn't mean it's always right decision. Some of these people take break one-two years and continue. Some of them regret for giving up, some again not. It's up to person.
Anyway, sure, do what makes you happy. I hope, at least, that it's not her last year on her PhD.


message 6: by Naseem (new)

Naseem Milli wrote: "Angrboda wrote: "Milli wrote: "Naseem wrote: "I actually left my PhD program (also in neuroscience, although I didn't finish it) to write, too, so this gives me a lot of hope! Can't wait to read Li..."

It was after my first semester. It was not an easy choice for me, having spent seven years working in neuro, and I've agonized over it a lot. The truth is, I'm happier now than I ever was in my program, and I really don't need the guilt trip, thanks!


message 7: by Angela (new)

Angela Martin It's very interesting! I also like to write. Currently, I write for gradesfixer, a free essay platform. But I believe that this https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/racism/ is my first step toward the career of writer or journalist. I also like to write on social themes, such as racism and global warming, for example.


back to top