“This is probably the biggest reading event I’ve ever attended,” says Kristi Charish, who’s coming from Canada to attend her first BookExpo. “I’m a little nervous and hugely excited,” she adds. Best known as the author of the Owl series, about an ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief who has a rule about not taking on supernatural jobs, Charish will be debuting the first book in her urban fantasy series, Voodoo Killings (Vintage Canada, June).

Set in the Seattle underworld, the new series features Kincaid Strange, a 27-year-old voodoo practitioner who lives with the ghost of a Seattle grunge rocker and has an addiction to contacting the dead. The books blend a strong female protagonist with zombies, ghosts, and a bit of magic.

Charish finds science fiction and fantasy particularly welcoming to strong female characters like Kincaid Strange and Owl. “Because you’re not writing about the woman who lives down the road, readers are able to think differently about them. People don’t think about a woman being more aggressive when she has a laser gun,” she says.

But there are still challenges when it comes to the way strong women are perceived. “Indiana Jones is a likable rogue, but put a woman in the same position who behaves the same way, and she often gets labeled as unlikable,” Charish says. “There’s still a stigma when you’re not that nurturing, caring feminine character, but one that breaks the mold.”

The other side of that coin, Charish continues, “is [that] people want a strong female protagonist, but she has to be nice, perfect, and vulnerable, but not too vulnerable. You end up with this character who’s not relatable to anyone—she doesn’t exist. It’s a very fine tightrope to walk as a writer.”

Before she began writing SFF, Charish studied science. She holds a BSc and MSc in molecular biology and biochemistry and has a PhD in zoology. “My specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which I draw upon in my books,” says Charish.

“Writing a book,” she adds, “really is a scientist’s dream. You get to do experiments with characters and plots, and figure out what their actions or reactions would be, but when you’re writing, all the elements cooperate and you can make up the results you want.”