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Kathy Reichs on 'Code,' writing for teens, and arguing with her son

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Forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs is best known for her Temperance Brennan books, which inspired the television series Bones, but these days she’s writing for a new generation of budding scientists. If you haven’t already, meet Tory Brennan, the great niece of Tempe and the 14-year-old star of the Virals series. After Tory and her friends are infected with a mutated form of canine parvovirus, they develop heightened senses and wolf-quick reflexes. Together, the super-powered Virals solve murder mysteries, hunt for lost treasure, and try to get back in time for their curfew.

In their third and latest outing, Code, the Virals take up geocaching, only to fall in with the enigmatic “Gamemaster.” Suddenly what was just a treasure hunt becomes a race against the clock — literally. We spoke to Reichs about her new book, a potential movie, and creative differences with her son (who co-authors the Virals series).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to get into YA?

KATHY REICHS: Well, we have a lot of kids who come to my readings for Temperance Brennan books, kids that watch the show Bones. We thought they might enjoy seeing kids use forensic science and we thought the bridge over that the main character is Temperance Brennan’s 14-year-old great niece would be something that would appeal to younger readers.

How does writing for kids compare to writing for adults?

The stories are just as complex. What’s different is that the voice is younger. Kids don’t talk like craggy old homicide detectives. Their social concerns are younger. They’re interested in things that are very different than something a 40- or 50-year-old might be interested in. So we knew that had to be different, the language had to be different. I write these with my son. It was actually his idea — the whole series was his idea. So he’s very good at that, at knowing social media and the things that kids are into and the new jargon for kids. [Laughs] I’m good at plotting and the science, and he’s good at those kinds of things. The authenticity of the voice, a lot of that is attributable to him.

I wouldn’t expect anything less from you, but I especially appreciate the scientific detail. Even though this series is for kids, you don’t skimp on the specifics.

We put a lot of time into researching the explanation of what happens to them, the alteration in the DNA. We researched parvovirus and all the other clues that solve the stories. Like my adult books, they’re mysteries that are science-driven.

Was that challenging?

It’s always difficult because readers, whether they’re young adults or middle-aged, are quite demanding. They read it because they want to try to help solve the puzzle. So you better be good at doing that. It’s fair to throw in red herrings and false leads, but you better tie every single one of those off and they better make sense. You better not rely on coincidence. You better have logical, sensical leads that link from clue to clue. That’s always challenging.

Yet, as important as the mystery is, Tory also has regular teen issues to deal with as well, like being a debutante.

Exactly. Like the adult books and the show, we wanted to have humor in these books as well. We tried to put that in, juxtaposing these radically different things. While she’s pursuing this murder mystery, she’s dealing with these superpowers that they don’t understand, she’s dealing with her father’s bimbo girlfriend, and having to make her debut — which is very far from her personality.

NEXT: Reichs shares the title of the of the fourth Virals book and her hopes for the possible screen adaptation.

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