World renowned author, forensic anthropologist and the inspiration for television series ‘Bones’, Kathy Reichs chats to Linda McGee about falling in love with writing and her passion for science.
Linda McGee: When you first decided to put pen to paper what inspired you? Did you have an idea for an interesting character or did it just strike that the work you did as a forensic anthropologist might make for interesting stories?
Kathy Reichs: Well both. I don’t know, somehow I just thought the time was right for a strong female heroine and for forensic science. I think it was the mid-nineties. I started ‘Dejá Dead’ in 1994. I had made full professor at the university so I was free to do whatever I wanted to do and I had just worked on a serial murder case which had some pretty intriguing elements to it, so I thought I would give it a shot. I thought it might bring my science to a wider audience.
LM: It’s probably a hard balance to strike, keeping the story entertaining to the reader while still protecting the science? Because you’re coming at this from such an interesting perspective, was it always important to you that the science was properly represented at all times?
KR: Yeah. The bottom line is a good story. I wanted to write a good story. But I am fanatic about getting the science accurate, even if it’s not my science, if I’m using forensic ballistics analysis or blood spatter pattern or whatever, I do sit down with one of our expects at the lab and go through it so that I make sure I have it right. But you still have to, in writing fiction… people don’t want to read a textbook, they want to learn something but you have to keep it very brief, you have to keep it jargon-free and entertaining, which is not a pre-requisite for writing textbooks.
LM: Did you find toning down the science difficult then because it’s what you know best and what you deal with every day so what’s complicated to us must come as second-nature to you?
KR: I knew that you had to keep it short. I had a colleague who was also trying to write a popular book, a forensic dentist, and he asked me to read sections of it and there were long chunks, you know just taken from the sources, and I said ‘You’re gonna lose your readers’. So I was very aware of that from the beginning.
LM: Tell us how the TV series ‘Bones’ came about then? It’s based around your character, Dr Brennan, although the episodes don’t actually feature the stories from your books. How much input did you have into what it became?
KR: Right, each episode is an original story. We have a staff of full-time writers. The character, both in the books and in the TV series… partly that’s why there was an interest I think in this character – the books went global. This character, for some reason, appealed worldwide. It’s something like 35 languages now. And the show is now in 75 foreign territories. The character [in the TV show] is different. She’s younger. I think of it as a prequel, an earlier point in Tempe’s life. She’s not as sophisticated. She needs some work on her people skills and that sort of thing. But if you think about it as just an earlier point in her life then I think it works. And I like the idea that the TV show is different because then it doesn’t impact on me when I sit down to write a Temperance Brennan novel. I can just carry on with my 40-something Tempe and I’m not impacted by it.
LM: Did you feel protective of her as a character, as your creation, when the idea for a TV show came about?
KR: Well, I met many times with our executive producers and there were certain things that I was willing to yield on, like the age. I understood that Fox has a younger demographic of viewers. But there were some things that I was not willing to yield on. They were not going to make her a 20-something sidekick. So they didn’t surprise me with anything. I knew exactly what was going to happen when we went into it and I felt that our producers would be very good at characterisation and we both agreed that we wanted a character-based show. We didn’t want just another police procedural. And we wanted some humour in the show, which is important for me in the books as well, and that they could handle storylines and characterisation and that they would genuinely want my input on the science end of it. So I knew that going in and it has turned out to work that way.
LM: So you still have an input into each series in terms of the science and where the character is going?
KR: Yes, I work with the writers on every episode. I read every script. I think it’s more-so than most authors have and I’m lucky. You know, authors are always whining that they don’t like what’s been done. I’m been very happy with it and had a really good working relationship that I’m quite happy with.
LM: I think, like you mentioned, the show works because the characters are so strong and there’s great chemistry between Booth and Bones. It must have been nice to see that coming to life on screen, was it? Did you have any say when it came to casting?
KR: Yeah, the chemistry with them is great. I had input. I didn’t have control. Emily [Deschanel] is very good and David [Boreanaz]. They all are, TJ [Thyne] and Michaela [Conlin]. It works.
LM: From reading your website, it seems like you must have very little free time for yourself anymore. As well as writing and launching your latest novel ‘Mortal Remains’, you’re still working as an anthropologist and touring the world, aren’t you?
KR: This was a busy year. I was writing ‘Mortal Remains’ this year. I’m also launching a young adult series, which comes out on virals. I’m writing that with my son. The first of those comes out in November in the States so it will be a bit later here. And then I wrote my first screenplay for the show [Bones], so it was a very, very busy year. I’m not teaching but I still do case work. I do all the cases in Montreal but I’ve really cut back.
LM: So how much of your time would you spend doing case-work or working in the field now, as opposed to time spent writing?
KR: Yeah, I spend more of my time now writing and working on the show than I do on case work. It’s the nature of the business, it’s variable. Last trip to Montreal two weeks ago I thought I had one case and I ended up with four. So it’s unpredictable.
LM: Do you find juggling your time between your different career paths difficult? I imagine doing your case work often takes it toll on you?
KR: It does but that’s what keeps me fresh. Any time I go into the lab there are new ideas and new things going on. That’s what gives my books a certain authenticity I think.
LM: If you had to give up working as a forensic anthropologist on cases, would you really miss it?
KR: Yeah I think so. Yeah, I think I would. But I like to be able to pick and choose. Other than at the lab in Quebec, I only accept cases that appeal to me for some issue.
LM: When you penned ‘Dejá Dead’ back in 1994, did you have any idea that writing would become such a big part of your life?
KR: No, I just hoped I would be able to sell the book, that they would publish it and someone would read and like it and then maybe another book. I never, never envisioned this.
LM: But now does it feel like a compulsion, something you just have to do?
KR: Well, I do. I’m under contract right now! But I’ve written a total of 19 Temperance Brennan books and three Tory Brennan books.
LM: And you still now feel the same sense of achievement seeing each finished book?
KR: Yeah. That’s always fun, especially when you get the first cover art and see what it’s gonna look like.
LM: Do you enjoy the fact that your name is now known world-wide and the public recognition and feedback that comes with that?
KR: Aw I do. People are always phoning me and saying ‘I was in a hotel in Germany or Dubai or somewhere and there was Temperance Brennan with German coming out of her mouth. That’s fun. Or they’ll send me pictures of the book display on some remote island off Australia or something. So yeah, that’s fun.
LM: You mentioned working with your son earlier. How did you find that?
KR: It was good. I mean we had to work it out, sort out a dynamic. Some of our early editorial meetings were interesting but I think we’ve got it worked out now. It was fun working with him. And my daughter is also a writer now as well, Carrie Reichs. Her book came out here in the spring, ‘The Good Luck Girl’.
LM: Is writing something that you’ve always encouraged your children to do?
KR: Not really. The two of them first went to law school. They both became attorneys. So then they practised for a very short time and said ‘No, this is not what I want to do’ and switched over to being novelists.
LM: Have you been enjoying your visit to Ireland so far? You been here before, haven’t you?
KR: I have, many times. All my ancestors came from here.
LM: Have you traced them or researched your heritage?
KR: A little bit. Not as much as I should, a little bit. There were McCarthys and Walls and Tullys and Caseys.
LM: What’s next on the horizon for you Kathy?
KR: Well, when I leave the UK for this tour I’m going to be giving a couple of talks on a cruise ship so I’ll be on a cruise for a little bit and then I get back, I have one day at home and I go out on a tour.
LM: What about the screenplays, is that something that you’d like to do more of in the future?
KR: Yeah, I’d like to do another, now that I’ve learned how to do it. It’s very different. Yeah, I would like to do another one if I can.
Kathy Reichs’ latest novel ‘Mortal Remains’ is out now.