Carnegie Mellon University
June 27, 2017

Alumna's Double Life is One for the Books

Alumna Khristina Chess works at a technical company during the day, and writes young adult novels in the wee hours of the morning.

Where are you at 3 a.m.? Carnegie Mellon University Department of English alumna Khristina Chess is in front of her computer, Mountain Dew-infused, writing her next young adult novel.
A technical director at Hexagon PPM, an international software company, Chess spends her days managing a diverse group of departments in user experience, documentation and development services. In the evenings, Chess meets her husband at their Alabama home, they eat dinner, and she sleeps for a few hours before waking up in what most people would consider the middle of the night. These are Chess’s most creative hours.
“I started writing in elementary school and reading the stories to my classmates,” said Chess, who has published four young adult novels, fulfilling her childhood dream. “In middle school and high school, I wrote for school papers and literary publications, and by my senior year I was writing a novella. I feel like I always knew I wanted to be an author.”
Chess’s novels cover serious topics facing teens, such as academic pressure, anorexia, drinking and teen pregnancy. She also tries to offer opportunities for reflection by including discussion questions at the conclusion of the novels.
“In all of them I try to address the issue in a thoughtful way with a strong character arc and resolution,” Chess said.
Chess’s skills in balancing her two career paths began in her time at CMU English.
Chess graduated from CMU English in 1992 with a double major in technical writing and communication and creative writing, a compromise between Chess and her parents.
“Even though I always wanted to be an author, my parents insisted that I should choose something ‘practical’ for a major,” Chess said. “This is why I chose my double major, and I’m grateful for this. My degree in technical writing opened doors for me professionally, and I enjoy the way my career has morphed from technical writing to user experience and management over the years.”
While at CMU, Chess took as many writing classes as possible. Professor Gerald Costanzo’s courses remain fond memories for Chess.
“I took three classes with Professor Costanzo and learned a lot from him about form, meter, and creating ‘picture postcards’ through language, which helps with writing fiction as well as poetry,” Chess said.
“At CMU I developed confidence and good time management habits for balancing my studies, my work/study job at the library, and my personal life so I could fit in everything I wanted to do,” Chess said. “I wanted to be a writer. I am.”


by Stefanie Johndrow