Answers from The Bones Lady

With Kathy Reichs

With Kathy Reichs at the Athenaeum. Photo: Jessica Fichera

I had the pleasure of interviewing American forensic anthropologist and bestselling crime novelist Kathy Reichs twice during the Melbourne leg of the tour to promote her new Temperance Brennan novel, Bones of the Lost. A number of people suggested questions for The Bones Lady via this blog and Facebook and, as promised, I am reporting back with Kathy’s responses.

Ellie Marney wanted to know how Kathy Reichs manages to write a book each year — ‘two books a year,’ she corrected me: she writes not only a Temperance Brennan novel but also a novel in the Virals series for young adults each year. At the same time, Dr Reichs continues to consult as a forensic anthropologist in the US and Canada. And as if that wasn’t enough, she is also a producer on the TV show Bones, based on her life and novels. I asked Kathy straight out at the end of one interview if she was using performance-enhancing drugs. She had the good grace to laugh, but off the record, she told me she ‘works her ass off.’

Indeed, Kathy’s pathway to publication might read like a fairytale — her daughter’s boyfriend’s friend’s friend’s mother worked at Scribner, read the manuscript of Déjà Dead, made an offer straight away, and the book went on to become a bestseller and Ellis Award winner — but she doesn’t take her success for granted. She works for it. She doesn’t need to do book tours, but knowing how many authors would give their eye teeth for such opportunities (hell, yeah), she rises to the occasion, maintaining poise and professionalism in the face of a gruelling travel and events schedule. It was quite something to witness Kathy Reichs at work.

Interviewing Kathy Reichs in Melbourne. Photo: Jessica Fichera

Interviewing Kathy Reichs in Melbourne. Photo: Jessica Fichera

Kathy spoke at length about how she draws on ‘the nugget of an idea’ from her casework and fictionalises it for her novels. On the question proposed by Kathy D of how hi-tech forensics has changed writing about mysterious deaths and even our concept of mysterious deaths, Kathy Reichs suggested that it has led on the one hand, to unrealistic assumptions that all crimes will be solved by science — ‘that we will find the grain of sand in the field of grass that will hold all the clues’, as she put it. On the other hand, she said increased awareness of the power of science to solve crimes acts as a deterrent to criminals. I suggested her books and the TV show also give astute criminals tips on how to destroy DNA and other forensic evidence. Kathy agreed, but noted that with the vast majority of crimes being those of passion, those involved ‘seldom think to snap on latex gloves’.

Ellie Marney also wanted to know how long a body has to be dead before it qualifies for forensic anthropology treatment — as opposed to say, the attention of a forensic pathologist, those responsible for autopsies. Kathy explained that it’s not a question of age so much as condition, i.e. if a body is burned, decomposed or otherwise mutilated beyond the reach of a pathologist. As Kathy put it, ‘They [the bodies] are usually not in great shape by the time they come to me.’

Deb Bodinnar wanted to know whether Temperance Brennan — or at least, the character Kathy Reichs calls ‘TV Tempe’ — has Aspergers Syndrome. Funnily enough, someone in the audience asked that very question. Kathy says no, Tempe is simply a ‘squint’: someone who believes in scientific reason above all else, socially awkward, not interested in popular culture and unapologetic about that.

Not this Harrison...

Not this Harrison…

Stephen Russell put his proposed question directly to Kathy Reichs at Tuesday evening’s event, which was: Prior to the casting of the TV series, which actors most closely resemble the characters in her head as she was originally writing them? This question prompted Kathy to tell a funny story about being asked many years ago in a telephone interview — she thinks it was with a journalist in Australia — which actor she would like to see play Detective Andrew Ryan in the movie version of her novels. She replied, ‘Rex Harrison.’ There was an awkward silence, before the interviewer changed tack. It was only after she’d hung up that Kathy had the facepalm moment of realising she meant Harrison Ford.

...This Harrison!

This Harrison!

Thanks to all those who weighed in with questions and of course to Kathy Reichs for answering them with such good grace.

For anyone who attended the Sisters in Crime/Athenaeum Library event or the Melbourne Library Service one at the Town Hall, here’s the link to vote for Kathy Reichs to have a morgue named after her. I can think of no better tribute for The Bones Lady.

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel, Mother of Pearl, is published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing and currently works as CEO of Writers Victoria.
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12 Responses to Answers from The Bones Lady

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Angela – Thanks for sharing those questions and answers. It sounds like a wonderful evening, and Reichs had a lot of wisdom to offer. I have to say I chuckled at her use of ‘maggot of an idea’ given her (and Temperance Brennan’s) professional background..


    • angelasavage says:

      Did you really read ‘maggot of an idea’, Margot?! I double-checked that I had actually written ‘nugget of an idea’ — the actual terms Kathy Reichs used 😉

      Funny thing is, maggots did come up in our conversation. I told Kathy that reading the scene in Fatal Voyage where a research scientist briefs Tempe on maggot migration and volatile fatty acids strengthened my resolve to donate my organs and then have my remains cremated. I asked if that was a deliberate agenda on her part.


      • Margot Kinberg says:

        Angela – That was my own not-very alert brain reading something into your post that wasn’t there. Apologies!!! You were right.


  2. Jaime de Loma-Osorio says:

    It sounds like it was a great night Angela, keep up the fantastic work!


  3. Ellie Marney says:

    Thanks for asking those questions on my behalf, Angela! How I would have loved to be there… Kathy Reichs has such a unique perspective on the whole ‘crime scene’ aspect of crime writing – I have to google/pick other people’s brains long and hard to get the answers to some of the thornier questions that come up in research 🙂 Great post, and I reckon you would have done your usual impeccable job on the scene. xx


    • angelasavage says:

      Kathy did say she has the advantage of being able to ‘fact check’ by walking across the hall and dropping in on the pathologists, forensic dental specialists, DNA specialists, etc. who she works with. Interestingly, the only parts of her works in progress that other people get to read are the extracts she gives them to vet for scientific accuracy.


  4. Thank you Angela. A great summary for those of us who would have liked to, but couldn’t be there.


  5. kathy d. says:

    Thanks for asking my question and all of the answers Kathy Reichs so graciously answered. Very illuminating.
    I should have asked how she got over queasiness in dealing with dead bodies, especially those in bad shape, and moved on to be scientifically objective. But obviously she has done that.
    And now I will ponder your own suggestion as to what to do with one’s own body after death. A creepy thought but one that will haunt us all, I’m afraid.


    • angelasavage says:

      I did actually ask Kathy about the strong stomach required for her work. She suggested it was, in large part, a question of acclimatisation. I guess anything can become ‘normal’ once you are exposed to it often enough.


  6. Pingback: My year of reading 2013 | Angela Savage

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