Kathy Reichs on 'Code,' writing for teens, and arguing with her son
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.
Speaking of the adult books, did you ever think it would be strange to tie a somewhat supernatural story into the Temperance Brennan universe?
Yeah. Initially when that was proposed to us — we were thinking a straight forensic science series at a younger level — we had to think about that for a while. Then we thought, well wait a minute, if we use some scientific fluke… And we didn’t want vampires and we didn’t want zombies, we didn’t want any of those. But we had a puppy that we had adopted from the Turks and Caicos. He immediately got here and got very, very sick with parvovirus. That was still in the back of our minds a little bit. We thought, well what if we play around with this? They have these unique abilities, but we’ll explain how they’re triggered and they’re in the limbic system and still keep it in that genre of this is a crazy, freaky thing, but wow, just maybe it’s scientifically plausible.
Tell us a little bit about the new book, which is the third in the series.
The new book is Code. They get into geocaching. I don’t know if you know what that is. If you go on geocaching.com and put in your zipcode, you will be stunned to see how many of these secret little caches that people hide. The game is to use GPS and go find them. The GPS will bring you to within six yards or something like that. You locate them and then you put them back. Then you go onto the website and you record it. There are categories by level of difficulty and you get points. We thought geocaching was the sort of thing [the Virals] might like. It starts out with Hi with the metal detector and he’s geocaching, there’s supposed to be one hidden, but then it turns very sinister, into something that’s far from what geocaching ought to be.
I read something in the official description about a “Gamemaster.” That made me think of The Hunger Games.
[Laughs] Except there’s no children killing children.
Is the Virals series heading to TV with Bones anytime soon?
We’re considering feature film or TV. We haven’t settled on anything, but we’re at the discussion level.
Do you have a preference?
Well I like TV. I’ve had a great experience with TV. Bones has just been picked up for a ninth season. And our ratings keep growing, which never happens when you’ve been around that long. But my son would very much like to do feature film, which is a real different arena for me. I have mixed feelings about it, but I’m open to either possibility.
What’s in store for the Virals series?
We’re under contract for five. [Right now], I’m editing the fourth in the Virals series, which will be called Exposure. That one will be out next year at this time. Then we’re under contract for a fifth, so we’ll see!
Would you ever write another YA series?
If we continue with Virals, which I would like to do — there’s still an appetite for that — I don’t think I’ll be doing another one in addition to Virals. Doing an adult series and working as a producer on the show and co-writing the Virals series is probably enough on my plate right now. [Laughs] Brendan does a lot of the writing, then I edit everything section by section. Then he accuses me of destroying his work.
I was about to ask if it’s difficult to work with your son.
We have our moments. We will periodically have editorial meetings where we discuss our creative differences. [Laughs] We work it out. It can get a little loud.
But it hasn’t come to blows.
No, not yet. We’ve gone on tour twice. We’ll be heading out on tour Monday for Code, so we travel pretty well together.
Are you looking forward to it?
Once you’re there, it’s fun. We do school presentations as well as public events and book signings. That’s fun, to meet the kids. We do a Powerpoint presentation for them. I talk a little bit about forensic science and show some bones. Brendan talks more specifically about the books. The kids, they’re incredible audiences.
Reichs and her son Brendan head out on tour for Code from March 11-22. Code doesn’t hit shelves until next Tuesday, but in the meantime you can check out the Virals novella Shift, which features none other than Temperance Brennan herself!