Kathy Reichs is the creator and producer of the Fox TV show Bones, based on her bestselling adult thriller series starring Temperance Brennan; the main character, like the author, is a forensic anthropologist. Reichs has teamed up with her son, Brendan, to create a YA spinoff series called Virals, about Temperance’s teenage grandniece Tory and her crime-solving friends. The series, which launched in 2010 with Virals, incorporates some supernatural elements but is grounded in science. The second installment, Seizure, was released in 2011. On March 12, Putnam published the third Virals novel, Code, with a 50,000-copy first printing. While on tour with Brendan to promote the new novel, Kathy Reichs spoke with Bookshelf from Salt Lake City about balancing her various professional paths and collaborating with her son.
How did you initially come to parlay your work as a forensic anthropologist into fiction?
I started my first book, Déjá Dead, in 1994, when I was a full professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I had written textbooks and scientific articles, and forensic science [was] in the air – there seemed to be more attention than ever being paid to it. And I also sensed an interest at the time for a strong fictional female character with a science background. I’d just worked on a serial murder case with some interesting elements to it, so I had an idea for a story. So all of that came together, and I saw an opportunity for me to do something new. But the novel took me two years to write, since I was teaching full time and also doing forensic work. It came out in 1997.
You’ve published 16 Temperance Brennan novels – are they all inspired by actual forensics cases you’ve worked on?
I’m not going to say exactly how many years I’ve been practicing forensic science, but I’ve worked on a lot of cases, and have a lot of experience to draw on. Not every book is based on a specific case, but they’re all related to something I’ve done, like disaster relief work or human rights work. I was lucky enough to be invited on a USO tour to Afghanistan last year, and Bones of the Lost, which is coming out in August, draws on that experience.
What compelled you to bring Temperance’s grandniece to life in a YA series?
Well, a lot of young people watch Bones, and many have come to my adult book signings. I knew that kids were jumping right into the adult books, [but] some of my adult books deal with subjects – like dismemberment – that might be a little strong for some young readers. So when Brendan came to me with the idea of doing a YA series, it seemed like a good idea.
Was he at that point a writer by trade?
No, he had been a litigation attorney for three years and was not enjoying it. So he came up with the thought that he and I would create a spinoff series for teens together, and we proposed the idea to Putnam, and they liked it. And I think Brendan quit his law job the very next day!
Was it a challenge to switch gears and write for a younger audience?
The Virals novels are equally complex as the Temperance Brennan novels, actually. They both contain multiple stories and involve cold cases that must be solved, with science-driven solutions. What is different is the dialogue – it has to be different, since Tory and her friends can’t talk like crusty old homicide detectives.
Was Tory’s 14-year-old voice easy to find?
That’s where Brendan is very helpful. He’s very good at knowing what kids say, and how they talk. And he knows a lot about social media and other technology. I’m very good with the science, with the plot twists, and with structuring storylines. Brendan and I complement each other – that’s “complement” with an “e,” not with an “i.” We don’t always compliment each other! But, really, we do work well together.
And how does that collaborative process work?
With each novel, we begin with a detailed outline that we write together, chapter by chapter. First we spend a couple of days brainstorming. We work out a central theme and storyline, and figure out what kind of science we’ll use in the novel. We bounce a lot of ideas off each other while we are also doing the research.
How do you tackle the actual writing?
Brendan writes some parts of the novel, and I write others. And then I take it section by section and do what Brendan would call heavy-handed editing and destroy his poetry! And then after that process, I edit the whole book again, and we finally get together for a major editorial meeting and hammer out our creative differences. That can be, shall we say, very spirited.
Do you find co-authoring a very different experience than writing on your own?
Yes. With the Temperance Brennan novels, I don’t do the same kind of detailed outline so much, but when working with another writer you have to know where you’re going. And with my adult books, I always write on my own. I’ll send the first chapters in to my publisher so they have a sense of where the book is going and can work on a cover and press materials. When I finish, I send in the complete book. The only people I interact with while I’m writing are my colleagues who can help me with certain forensics that are not my specialty.
So writing the Virals necessitates a departure from that solitary work routine.
Yes, though I’ve written episodes of Bones, and writing for the TV show is very collaborative – there will be six or seven people in the writer’s room – so through that I did have some training writing with others. Working with Brendan, when his opinion differs from mine, I want to say, “What do you mean? Of course what I’ve written is brilliant!” But we always work it out.
How to you manage to juggle all the areas of your professional life?
It takes organization. I’m still on the faculty at the University of North Carolina, but I haven’t been teaching for a few years. And I’m more selective about the forensics casework I do. And of course writing this series with my son cuts the workload in half.
Does the Bones TV show keep you busy?
In addition to writing some episodes, I read every script, and answer writers’ questions about the science and what clues could drive the solution. In fact I am writing a script now with my daughter Kerry Reichs, who has written novels of her own, most recently What You Wish For. She’s also an attorney who no longer practices law. I’m not sure how many other mother-son, mother-daughter writing trios there are out there!
Are there more adventures in store for Tory and her friends?
Yes, we’re under contract for five novels. Brendan and I are well into the fourth book, Exposure. What can I say about it without giving spoilers? Oh, the cover will be green!
And Brendan and I just did Shift, our first e-book short, which is actually more like a novella, since we got a bit carried away. In the story, Tory and the Virals go head-to-head with Temperance and try to beat her to the solution of the case.
You are obviously very familiar with the book-to-screen trajectory. Do you foresee the Virals series making its way to the screen?
We’re in discussion right now, still in the very early stages. We have both a TV agent and a feature film agent. Brendan would love to do a film, and I’ve had such great experience with TV that I’d like to see that happen.
Have you learned anything new about your son through your collaboration?
I knew that he hated being a lawyer, but I never before realized just how much he hated it. And I now know better than ever that he has a wicked – and very dry – sense of humor. We’re having a lot of fun.
Code: A Virals Novel by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs. Putnam, $17.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-59514-412-6