The bare ‘Bones’ of writing

By Janet Lundquist 
Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist who writes a bestselling book series that was turned into the TV show “Bones,” speaks Monday to seventh-graders about her newest book, “Virals,” at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Plainfield.  Now, New York Times best-selling author Kathy Reichs is embarking on a new challenge: young adult fiction.

The forensic anthropologist shared her passion for science and writing with seventh-graders at John F. Kennedy Middle School on Monday afternoon — and introduced them to the first book in her new young adult series, “Virals.” Reichs’ visit was part of an ongoing relationship between the Plainfield School District and Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. “One of my main reasons for writing young adult books is to show kids science is cool,” she said, adding that girls in particular should realize they can have a career in science.

“What you’re doing is you’re solving a puzzle, you’re solving a mystery,” she said. Reichs, a Chicago native who earned her master’s degree and doctorate in physical anthropology from Northwestern University, still works as a forensic anthropologist. Continuing her work apparently boosts her productivity as an author.

During a question and answer session after Reichs’ presentation, one student asked how Reichs handles writer’s block. “I don’t believe in writer’s block, because I don’t have the luxury of being a full-time writer,” she said. “So when I have a free day, I have to write.”

From job to page

She began her career teaching at Northern Illinois University in 1974, while also teaching college courses to convicts at Stateville prison in Crest Hill. “I had excellent attendance,” she said of her inmate students. Her first novel, “Deja Dead,” was published in 1997 and became a New York Times bestseller. The idea for that first book came from a serial murder case she had just wrapped up, where the killer was identified by the distinctive knife cut marks left on the victims’ bones, she said. “I start with something I’ve done, some experience I’ve had. Then I ask the question, ‘What if?’” she said. “Then I spin it off into a story.”

She first tried her hand at writing because she “thought it would be fun,” she said. Her fiction has led to a writer’s dream come true. She now produces the television show, “Bones,” in its sixth season on Fox, which is based on her books and her anthropology career. She recently published her 14th adult novel, “Spider Bones.”

The new young adult book, “Virals,” features a main character named Tory Brennan, the 14-year-old niece of her novels’ star, Temperance Brennan. Her biggest challenge with the series? Dialogue, she said. Her son, Brendan Reichs, who is her co-author on the young adult books, helped add a youthful touch to her writing, she said. Both Brendan and her daughter, Kerry Reichs, were lawyers who quit their practices to write.

The mother-son team is working on the second book in the series, “Seizure.”

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