Monday, September 25, 2006 12:00 PM
Forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs is the inspiration behind Fox's drama "Bones," but is best known in the literary world for her best-selling thrillers involving her fictional counterpart, Temperance Brennan. The Brennan series includes such titles as "Break No Bones: A Novel," "Fatal Voyage," "Cross Bones" and "Death Du Jour."
A professor of anthropology at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Dr. Reichs is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. at Northwestern. She now divides her time between Charlotte and Montreal and is a frequent expert witness in criminal trials.
Kathy Reichs was online Monday, Sept. 25, at noon ET to field comments and questions about her books and participation in the National Book Festival .
St. Louis, Mo.: Are you still involved with the series "Bones" as a consultant? Do you do much consulting for movies and television on top of your writing?
Kathy Reichs: I work as a producer on Bones. I work with the writers as they develop ideas. I read every script. My main role is the science. We are trying to keep that honest.
Frederick, Md.: So great to see you are going to be at the National Book Festival. Could you tell me if there are future plans for more books in the Brennan series?
Kathy Reichs: I have signed for five more Temperance Brennan novels. I am currently working on number ten in the series.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: Hello, Kathy. What drove you to be a writer? Did you know as you pursued your science career that writing was always in your future?
Kathy Reichs: I had no plans to write fiction. Did so as a lark. Had made full professor at the univ, decided fiction might be more fun than another scientific tome.
Harrisburg, Pa.: You work and write about a fascinating field. As a teacher in forensics, I know you keep up with the latest technology. What are some of the things being researched and developed that we may soon added to make forensics yield even more information?
Kathy Reichs: That is such a broad question. I try to bring many fields into my novels,not just forensic anthropology. To keep up, I read the JFS, and attend meetings of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. I have to. This year I am Vice President!
Washington, D.C.: Been a fan for a long time, Ms. Reichs -- I love your books and your ability to stay true to your characters. I am a forensic psychology master's student and have a question for you regarding the "CSI Effect" -- the phenomenon that juries, through TV and media exposure -- now fancy themselves forensic experts and require increasingly scientific evidence to render a conviction in most cases. Are you ever concerned about inaccurate portrayal of the available science on the show "Bones"? For instance, the hologram-recreation of the crime? And what is your role to the show -- obviously you provided the inspiration, but do you also consult or have script input? Thanks!!
Kathy Reichs: Yes. I work hard to keep the science as honest as possible. That is my primary role.
And the 'Angelator" does exist. Would your average crime lab have it? Not likely.
As to the CSI effect. I am unsure. There are, as yet, no statistics showing an increase in acquittal rates.
Knoxville, Tenn.: When it comes to forensics and forensic anthropology, everyone here in Tennessee is proud of our "Body Farm" located at the University of Tennessee.
Have you ever traveled to Knoxville to do any research? If so, can you describe what the body farm is like?
Kathy Reichs: I have been to the research facility known as the Body Farm. It is as you would expect. What surprised me was its proximity to the hospital. I found that a jarring juxtaposition.
Richmond, Va.: Do you still actively work as a forensic anthropologist? Or are you now more of an observer of the field?
Kathy Reichs: I still work regularly in my field. I do all of the cases for Quebec. And some private cases. Have had to give up work for military, some other facilities. I need to keep my hand in. I love the work. And it keeps my books fresh and authentic.
Alexandria, Va.: After missing the last few National Book Festivals, I am very excited that I will be able to attend this year. Have you spoken at the festival before? Do you interact much with other authors when you are there? What authors are you excited to see?
Kathy Reichs: This is my first time. A bit nervous, as I will actually be speaking at the White House. Yes, I will interact with other writers. I hope to make new friends, Harlan Coben, Alexander McCall Smith. And see some old ones, like Michael Connelly, Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Bethesda, Md.: You mentioned that you read all the scripts for "Bones." Are you ever permitted to suggest changes that go outside the realm of your science expertise? Like, "I don't think this character would actually say 'X'"? As a writer yourself, I would guess it's hard not to want to contribute in both areas.
Kathy Reichs: Yes, indeed. And I do so with regularity!
Arlington, Va.: Dr. Reichs,
Just writing to say thank you for a lecture you gave in fall 1987 as visiting professor on Semester at Sea. In that lecture you suggested the idea that race is a myth from a scientific perspective. I recall that you explained that it was impossible to create easily distinguishable physical categories for people based on bone structure, skin color, etc. Although there are countless examples where real people continue to act as though race exists and (as a result) real people suffer unacceptable consequences through genocide, discrimination, etc., I've always felt that the argument you made, which seemed revolutionary to me at the time, offers us hope for moving toward peaceful coexistence by causing us to question the very powerful assumptions that we often make about others based on physical appearance. So thank you for helping to make me a more enlightened human being.
Fellow Traveler on the S.S. Universe
P.S. Didn't know until today that you have become a successful novelist. I'll be sure to read one of your books!
Kathy Reichs: Thanks!
In that lecture, I was speaking from a population geneticist point of view. Still hold to it!
Jacksonville, Fla.: Any hints of what we might see next from Temperance Brennan? What a fascinating character. I'd love to know some of your future plans for her.
Kathy Reichs: The next book will take Tempe to a remote area of New Brunswick and will touch on the subject of the Acadian expulsion. In the eighteenth century, many French speakers were forced, by the British, to leave Canada. They ended up in Louisiane, our Cajuns. The term comes from the word Acadian.
Reston, Va.: First, thanks for many hours of intelligent and entertaining reading. Do you feel that the TV series follows your characters and environment as closely as you would like? What would you change in the show - e.g., have it call your protagonist "Tempe," as she is in your books, instead of "Bones"?
Kathy Reichs: I am pleased that the TV series does not exactly follow my books. I think of Bones as a pre-quel to my books. Tempe's early years. She is thirty, not forty. She is in Washington, DC, not Quebec and North Carolina. She has not married or had a child. She is less polished, so passionate about her work she is a bit of a social nerd. And her people skill have some developing to do.
Bones is a character based series. Like my books, each episode tries to bring humor to an otherwise black field.
Chicago, Ill.: I had no idea you were a Chicago native. So, Cubs or White Sox?
Kathy Reichs: What a question. White Sox, of course. What's happening to them?
I was a goddess for about a week last year. Scored tickets to the World Series opener for my son and nephews.
Boston, Mass.: With several Brennan books already under your belt -- and more to to -- what do you find are the challenges of writing a recurring lead character? As a writer, what are the best parts about spending so much time with Temperence Brennan?
Kathy Reichs: Having to repeat, for first time readers, what returning readers already know. Need to inform the former, without boring the latter. Challenging.
Lexington, Ky.: I'm familiar with your Brennan series of novels, but do you publish other fiction? Who are some of your favorite writers in the same genre?
Kathy Reichs: I am focused on Tempe right now. Between the case work, the TV series, the book-a-year pace, and the travel, I have no time for writing other fiction.
I enjoy Ian Rankin, Harlan Coben, Dennis Lehane, PD James, Michael Connelly. To name a few.
Annapolis, Md.: My husband and I are big fans of "Bones." I think the characters are far more richly drawn than "CSI" and its spinoffs. Do you watch any of these other shows? If so, what do you think?
Kathy Reichs: That was our goal from the outset. To create a show with characters one can grow to know and understand. Complex characters, not stereotypes. With lives outside the lab.
Centreville, Va.: Ms. Reichs, I've read every one of your books and am a big Bones fan. In the books, Tempe is a recovering alcoholic but on Bones, Temperence has been shown drinking without issue. It seemed like a big part of Tempe's life in the books so I was wondering why that story element would not carry over to Bones.
Kathy Reichs: Again, I think of "books" Tempe, and "TV" Tempe. TV Tempe is younger, at an earlier place in her life. In my books, there are hints that Tempe went through a very difficult and somewhat "colorful" phase inher past, the result of which caused her to give up alcohol. TV Tempe i sonly in her early thirties, and has not yet hit that rough patch.
Centreville, Va.: Do you think Bones should hook up with Seely?
Kathy Reichs: No way! It's the chemistry that makes things simmer. And their relationship is complicated. One of the main premises for Bones is that cops and scientists think differently. Boothe approaches crime-solving with gut instinct, leg work. From the heart. Tempe and the squints go at it with the head, logical, objective. It is the clash of those two problem-solving views that makes for good television.
Arlington, Va.: Are there particular writers you look to for inspiration? Who do you read in your spare time?
Kathy Reichs: I like any writer that writes well. I like different authors for different things.
Some, like James Lee Burke, I admire for setting.
Some, like PD James I admire for their plotting.
Some, like Boston Teran, I admire for their characters.
Some, like Robert Parker, I admire for humor and dialogue.
Some, like Jasper Fforde I admire for their incredible creativity.
Frederick, Md.: I like the science part of the TV show, but am worried the show will veer off toward soap operadom. I don't really want or need tension between Brennan and her new boss, or know if somebody had a history of sleeping with someone else. Will the show keep science and case-solving as the star? Or are all TV shows destined to move to the lazy cliche stuff after a while?
Kathy Reichs: We are trying to keep a balanced blend of story line, science, and character back story.
Morristown, Tenn.: Is it true you have been invited to speak at the White House today?
Kathy Reichs: I will be speaking at the White House on Saturday morning. Some sixty plus authors and their guests are invited. Two of us have to get up and talk while the rest enjoy eggs.
Pittsburgh, Penn.: What do you see as the Next Big Thing in the use of forensic science for crime solving?
Kathy Reichs: DNA. Contrary to suggestions of crime fiction TV, DNA cannot answer every question or solve every crime. It is irrelevant in many situations, unavailable in others. But DNA is an incredibly powerful tool.
Also, optics. Powerful microscopes, like the SEM.
Any wannabe forensic scientists out there, I have one piece of advice. Study hard science. Learn an actual area of expertise. Biology. Chemistry. Microbiology. Do not major in a broad spectrum forensics degree. It will teach you about the field, but give you no saleable skill.
Virginia: Which is harder, writing the book or getting it published?
Kathy Reichs: I am not a good one to ask. I submitted my first book, prepared to take up to fifty rejects before giving up. The first publisher to whom I sent Deja Dead, bought it.
But this is not typical. My one piece of advice would be to work with an agent. An agent will know to whom to submit your work, and how much the expect for it.
Washington, D.C.: Dr. Reichs:
I want to thank you for giving us another strong, intelligent female character in popular fiction. I have a 14-year-old daughter and try to lead her to stories where the "good guys in white hats" are actually women. Being 56, I remember when we were told to be a teacher or a nurse and then find a husband. Do you feel the pressure of being a role model for young women?
Kathy Reichs: I hear regularly from young women wanting to write, or wanting to go into forensics. It is gratifying to have inspired them. It is also frightening. Who am I to give advice?
Writing Process: Don't you find it difficult after a few books not to have them start to all sound alike? I know other crime scene writers have fallen into that trap - what do you to try to make things originial? I think having Tempe live in two cities is a stroke of brilliance - a great way to mix things up.
Kathy Reichs: And don't forget Guatemala, Israel, and South Carolina (another foreign country).
I try to keep a few steps ahead of what will be in the news a year or two down the road. Stem cell research. Human rights issues. Trafficking in organs. I don't ever want to serial killer after serial killer. Sometimes I come a bit too close. One month after Fatal Voyage was released, we experienced 9/11.
Centreville Va.: I read that Bones is moving to Friday nights starting in January. Most believe that Friday is not the best time slot for a show. Should we be worried about Bones future?
Kathy Reichs: Frankly, I am not thrilled about the move. Let FOX know you disapprove!
Olney, Md.: Dr. Reichs,
Clearly your training and ongoing career in forensic anthropology contributes a great deal to the novels you write. I'm curious, however. Do you ever get frustrated being lumped into a genre where many of the authors have no training or experience in forensics, law enforcement, or other related fields?
Also, I'm curious about the similarities between your life and that of Tempe. How much of her character and experiences follow those in your own life?
Kathy Reichs: I understand that most writers are not scientists or law enforcement officials. What I find frustrating, are those who try to pass themselves off as experts, when they have no training in science or forensics.
Professionally, Tempe does exactly what I do. Works in North Carolina for the ME, works in Montreal for the medico-legal lab, does some human rights work, etc. Personally, her life is all her.
Each of my books is based, loosely, on a case I have worked or an experience I have had. Changing all details, of course.
Bethesda, Md.: I don't have a question - just wanted to say how much I enjoy the show Bones and your books. Glad you like Harlan Coben too! He is one of my favorites.
Kathy Reichs: Thanks. I am looking forward to meeting. Harlan.
Kathy Reichs: Thanks to all of you who logged on. This was a lot of fun. I do hope to see some of you at the Book Festival on Saturday. Have a great week!
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.