1 Bet + 1 Thesis = 3 Novels

Some authors have toiled away with degrees in creative writing or French literature. I am not that author.

I originally went to college (or “uni” for my friends across the pond) to become a science teacher. As one can imagine, the writing required was technical; however, there were creative outlets. I could design a new lab, create ridiculous scenarios for lab safety—you get the idea. Like many other careers, after ten years I wondered what other opportunities were out there.

I went back to school to become a scientist.

The Scientist and Serena

My first year of graduate school went mostly to plan. I took foundation courses, chose an advisor, and began my research. In the same year, my wife and I made a little bet over drink or two. Whoever wrote a novel that became a movie first won.

I took this bet very seriously.

While I enjoyed learning new science content and techniques, I missed my creative outlet. Soon I began to outline different book ideas and my imagination took off. In between studying protein biochemistry and pathogenic microbiology, I would write. I would write in the morning, between classes, between experiments, and at night. And about a year later, I finished it and gave The Evolution of BriEna to my wife to review.

At this point I realized if this story ever saw the light of day, I didn’t want my science writing and lesbian fiction getting mixed together. Therefore, I created my pen name, Serena J. Bishop.1

Beards is Born

I’ll state again that while I’ve always been an imaginative person, my creative writing up until this point had been writing wacky scenarios about biogeochemical cycles and dramatic tales about photosynthesis. So, it will probably come as no huge surprise that my wife’s initial feedback went like this:

  • “The title is even gayer than the book.”
  • “Your dialogue is great.”
  • “It needs more teeth.”

The last comment really stuck with me and I shared with her an idea I was tinkering with for a second book. It went something like this, “What if two women had to keep their relationship a secret for several years, but then as people became more accepting of homosexuality, one woman wanted to come out and the other wanted to remain closeted?” My wife’s response, “I would read that book! That has teeth.”2

So, while my wife finished reading The Evolution of BriEna, I outlined the novel Beards.3

Were you even trying to graduate?

This is a very reasonable question to ask. The answer is yes, I was. The reason I had so much time to write was unfortunate.

To keep this in layman’s terms, my graduate research was about how a specific type of cancer cell communicates. This required growing cancer cells in a controlled environment and analyzing their squishy insides with really expensive tools and reagents. Here’s a list of just a few hiccups that happened during my research:

  1. The incubator for mammalian cell culture broke
  2. The backup cells for #1 all died when the freezer broke
  3. A specific kit I needed was on back order in Germany for several months
  4. My cancer cell line stopped growing

It was #1 and 2 that really set me back, but I’m not one to sit and do nothing. So, I worked on my books.

“They’re too perfect…it’s annoying.”

BriEna was essentially a crash course in creative writing. I learned about conflict, character development, the importance of consistent tense, and did I mention conflict?

Once my wife finished reading BriEna, I put my newer projecton hold and edited BriEna. At this point, I wrote for my own amusement, but I did want honest feedback so I gave a revised version to my best friend (who reads constantly and is very educated in the ways of grammar, story arcs, etcetera). As my BFF read BriEna, I wrote the first draft of Beards.

My vision and outline for Beards were so precise, I wrote it in half the time. In fact, I finished writing Beards just about the same time my BFF finished editing BriEna. Her feedback:

  • “No one puts a cake in a trunk.”
  • “All conversation is about this coupling. It’s very one dimensional.”
  • “I agree with your wife. Even more teeth.”

While I still firmly disagree with my BFF about the first point, I took this advice and reworked perspectives, backgrounds, and added more conflict. Because of this, I renamed it Policy 75, an homage to the sexual harassment policy at the college I was working and studying.

Beards Pulls Ahead

At this point, I was completing science research, but was stuck as to what to do in my creative next step. I had two rounds of edits to Policy 75 and a completed draft of Beards. It was essentially a question of what the stronger story was. I was biased so gave Beards to my wife to read.

She loved it.

I had taken all of the advice from Policy 75 and the guidance of other authors on social media (I was lurking) and applied it to Beards. Unfortunately, I was a financially poor graduate student so I didn’t have the money for Beards’ next draft to be professionally edited. Plus, it’s a hobby, right? So, I give Beards to an English major friend who had begun to start a family and, therefore, had oodles of time to read. Then, a few months later I presented the third draft of Policy 75 to a different English major friend who also started family planning. Then, I waited.

Please, dear God, don’t tell me you wrote a third book?

While my two good friends were learning how to be first-time mothers, they also had my book babies. Was I pushy about getting my drafts back? No. Why? Because I had a thesis to write.

But a science thesis isn’t creative writing4, I started a third project, a science-fiction, fantasy novel, Dreams. One could probably make a solid argument I developed a writing addiction. Anyway, I finished my first draft of Dreams about the same time I received Beards from my friend and her adorable toddler. And just in case you’re wondering, a few months later I also received Policy 75 from my friend and adorable newborn.

Where Are They Now?

Two amazing life events happened to me in November 20175. One, I successfully defended my thesis. Two, I published Beards, which is why I consider it to be my first novel.

When I say people were surprised to learn that I wrote multiple books during the course of my thesis is an understatement. To say that I was stunned strangers from around the globe were buying my book and writing positive reviews doesn’t even begin to cover my feelings. My hobby had turned into something so much more. It allows people see new perspectives. It makes them smile. I actually feel like an author. It’s pretty cool.

Lastly, you may be wondering whatever happened to BriEna/Policy 75? Well, since Dreams is awaiting feedback from a publisher, I have returned to my lesfic dramedy. And I am thrilled about it. The changes Policy 756 has gone through are like the changes to a baby. It started small and messy, but now it’s maturing into a being that will someday talk to the world and pay taxes.

Oh, and I don’t mind that I haven’t won the bet yet.


  1. The creation of my pen name is a blog in and of itself.
  2. I’m paraphrasing. But, she was very excited about the idea.
  3. That’s always been the title to the book.
  4. Creative data is definitely frowned up in science.
  5. Wow! It’s almost been a year.
  6. Technically, now I’m calling it Phases, but I thought if I included that it would be even more confusing.

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Check out Claire Highton-Stevenson's blog piece and find out how she moved from unskilled writer to published author! Claire Highton-Stevenson is a romance writer at heart. She lives in the UK. She currently has 5 books published since her debut Novel OUT was released last August, with her 6th Novel, The Doll Maker due out in early December. www.itsclastevofficial.co.uk