IRA FLATOW, HOST:
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY; I'm Ira Flatow. Is Temperance Brennan passing the torch? You fans of "Bones," the TV show, know that name. Brennan is the fictional crime fighter created by the real-life forensic anthropologist and bestselling author Kathy Reichs. She has a new novel out now, and it's co-written with her son Brendan.
The book features a younger version of Tempe, a budding scientist and crime solver, Tory Brennan. And the book is called "Code," and it's the third in the Viral series aimed at a younger crowd of readers. Kathy Reichs joins us to talk more about it. She is a forensic anthropologist, a producer of the "Bones" television series and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
KATHY REICHS: Well, thank you for having me back. It's always fun.
FLATOW: So what is the motivation for this new kind of book, so to speak?
REICHS: Well, it - the book is really similar to the adult books. It's equally as long. It's equally as complicated in the story. But we noticed that there are a lot of young people coming to my signings and public events and a lot of young viewers of the show, of "Bones."
So we had the idea that kids might like to see books in which kids are using science and solving mysteries and cold cases.
FLATOW: And so did you have to twist your arm, the arm of your son, or...
REICHS: It kind of went the other way, Ira. My son is a lawyer, and he really didn't enjoy being a lawyer. He put in three whole years at that, and...
FLATOW: Well, there's hope for all of us.
REICHS: Yeah, so he was looking for - yeah, he calls himself a recovering attorney.
REICHS: So he was looking for an excuse to change career paths, and he came to me with the idea of a young adult series. And we proposed it to a publisher, and they liked the idea.
FLATOW: Our number is 1-800-989-8255. You can also tweet us @scifri, if you'd like to talk to Kathy Reichs. I know there is an element of the supernatural in this book. The Virals have a kind of werewolf superpower.
REICHS: Yeah, in the first story they rescue a dog because it's being held. Their parents work for this veterinary research institute, and they find this dog that's the subject of medical experiments, and that's illegal. You're never supposed to do that at Loggerhead Island Research Institute.
So they rescue the dog. What they don't know is it was the subject of parvovirus experiments. And normally parvo can only be transmitted from dog to dog or canine to canine, but - and our puppy got it. That's what made us start thinking about parvovirus. And we started thinking, well, what if there was some form of weaponized version of it or mutant version that could jump to humans.
And that's what happens to these kids. It's Torey Brennan, who's 14 years old. She's Temperance Brennan's great-niece, and her four best friends are boys. So they are infected with this mutant form of parvovirus, and it changes their DNA. It kind of scrambles it with some of the wolf DNA.
And so they have supersensory perception, ears that are like canine ears, and they can smell fear, or they can smell deception. So that's kind of the basis. So they combine those special abilities with science to solve puzzles and mysteries and cold cases.
FLATOW: It's good to see you did not go overboard with it.
REICHS: No vampires.
REICHS: No zombies, no vampires.
FLATOW: You know, because that's the trend in so many things. I think that's actually at the end of a trend now. But, you know, when you write a science fiction book or a book like yours, you don't want to make it too unbelievable, right? You don't want to put too many tricks into it.
REICHS: Exactly, and this doesn't - this happens to them, and they realize something's happened to them, but they don't understand it. And they're afraid of being - because they're the only four people on the planet that have these abilities. But we give pretty good explanations, because I think the kids like the science.
So we give pretty good explanations of the DNA and how that might have happened to the virus and what it might have done to their limbic systems because they're stimulated under situations of fear and, you know, flight or fright, and then they flare and have these super-perception capabilities.
So we're having a lot of fun with the science at anywhere from a middle school to a high school level. My French publisher actually suggested that they put on the book instead of like 10 and up or 12 and up, put 92 and down because a lot of adults are reading these books and enjoying them.
FLATOW: Yeah, you know, you find out a lot about stuff that you aim at kids or students. I know we do, we have a lot of different listeners and people who follow us, and even though you're aiming at a certain crowd, the adults always are coming along with them anyhow.
REICHS: Absolutely. Thank you, Harry Potter, you know.
FLATOW: What's it like writing with your son? I mean, you know, things are bad enough sometimes when you get into a family fight. Does that happen when you're writing a book too?
REICHS: Well, we have - he has strengths and I have strengths. He's very good - I'm good at the science, I'm good at the plot twisting. He's really good with what kids are into now, what the social concerns would be, the jargon, the dialogue, the social media. He's really good with that kind of thing. So we kind of - we very well complement each other in writing the stories.
Now, our editorial meetings can be very spirited, as you say, but we're pretty good at taking off the mother-son hat and putting on the co-writers hat.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Can kids - was it your intention that kids will actually learn some science in these books?
REICHS: Oh, I think so, and we're on tour right now, going to schools. We're talking to a lot of middle schools and high schools, and the kids are really into it. They're really excited. The new book, "Code," starts out with geocaching. The kids are out, you know, they hide - there's a whole game out there.
If you put in your zip code in the geocache site, there will probably be 10 or 20 of these hidden caches in your zip code. So the kids are out trying to find one, and they stumble into this rather sinister situation. And when we go to the schools and talk about it, they're so excited.
They know about geocaching, they know about the chemical formulas that we've used to help solve the puzzles, and that's really gratifying to see them excited about that.
FLATOW: Talking with Kathy Reichs, author of "Code" along with Brendan Reichs, her son. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Interesting tweet for you. I'm sure you must have thought about this, Kathy, from David Olai(ph), who says: Will Kathy be using current Web-oriented social media references to help solve her cases?
REICHS: Absolutely. You can't write about kids who are in middle school or high school without using social media. And the Virals very much do rely on that. It's a big part of the first book particularly. There are three books right now. "Virals" was the first. "Seizure" was the second, and "Code" is the brand new one.
FLATOW: OK, let's go to the phones. Let's go to Westville, Ohio. Lily(ph), hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
LILY: Hi, how are you?
FLATOW: Fine, go ahead.
LILY: I'm calling to ask how - what you think about the distinction between science fiction and science fantasy and how your work falls into that.
REICHS: Yeah, you know, my son could answer that better because he really enjoys fantasy literature. I'm not sure I write either one of those. I use science in fiction more so than writing science fiction is the way I think about my work. I write - and the Virals, it's true of this, as well, are murder mysteries or - but they're driven by science. The solution is science rather than, you know, gut instinct or legwork or good old-fashioned cop work.
FLATOW: All right, Lily, thanks for calling.
LILY: Thank you.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Rita in Moab, Utah, hi Rita.
RITA: Hey, hey, I wanted to ask if it's intended that Dr. Brennan is an autistic woman? And I identify with her, and I know that that's something I deal with. I've never seen a character that was as odd as I think I am.
REICHS: Yeah, we don't think of her as autistic. She's just really - on television, and she's a little bit different on television than she is in the books. She's younger, and she's just really socially awkward. She is tactlessly honest, and she's not very good with people. But we really hadn't written the character to be autistic, although she might, you know, show some of those tendencies.
By the way, we're on book tour right now, and we're heading out to Utah. So hopefully we'll see you there.
RITA: Thank you.
FLATOW: Great, thanks for calling, Rita. 1-800-989-8255. Will Temperance Brennan be back in one of your books?
REICHS: You know, we - yes, she will. Number 16 of the Temperance Brennan books is called "Bones of the Lost," and that'll be out in August. I was fortunate to go on a USO tour this past year to Afghanistan to thank our troops. And it was really a moving experience. So our heroine will be going to Afghanistan in the upcoming book.
And we also just did an interesting thing, my son and I wrote the first e-short story, an electronic story; you have to download it on your Nook or your Kindle, or there are ways to put it down on your PC as well. That's called "Shift," and that one just came out a week ago.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. What about this new heroine, Tony - Tory Brennan? Any plans for a TV show or a movie of her?
REICHS: Well, we're in discussions. My son would really like to go feature film. I've had a lot of fun, a lot of success with television. So we're in discussions right now, but our - you have separate agents for television versus feature films, and they both think it would make a wonderful entertainment piece.
FLATOW: Yeah. You know, it sounds like a great idea, but...
REICHS: And in the story "Shift," we brought together Temperance Brennan and her great niece, Tory Brennan. So maybe we can do that sort of thing on air as well.
FLATOW: Let me talk to you a little bit about something that I know is right up your alley, and that's the bones of Richard III. Have you been following that, you know, they found under a parking lot?
REICHS: Yeah. I know. I think everybody has been following that. That's so much fun. I wish I could have gotten my hands on those bones. And it certainly looks like him. I mean, he was known to have some orthopedic issues, and these bones certainly exhibit orthopedic issues. And I attended some of the scientific presentations on that, at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences a couple of weeks ago.
I was indirectly involved, oh, gosh, 10 or 15 years ago. I was sent X-rays, and I was asked to look at these dental X-rays taken of two little skeletons found in the Tower of London and thought to be the murdered nephews. And so that was my, sort of, indirect involvement in Richard III.
FLATOW: King Richard died in 1485. Is it unusual that you would be able to get DNA from a body...
REICHS: Well, you know, you can get - it varies. It depends on the preservation circumstances of the burial. It's probably mitochondrial DNA. When you have dry bone...
REICHS: ...or old bone or very degraded bone, that's usually what you're able to get, because, unlike nuclear DNA, where the only copy is in the nucleus of the cell, there are multiple copies of mitochondrial DNA throughout the cell, out in the mitochondria. So that's probably what they used.
And the drawback to that is you can only trace it through maternal relatives, and I believe that's where they got their comparative sample - someone who had descended from Richard III through the female line.
FLATOW: Could we do a facial reconstruction, given the skull that was seen mostly intact?
REICHS: It looked like it was in pretty good condition. They can. And you can do pretty remarkable reconstruction of the skull itself, through computer programs, and most facial reconstruction is now also done through computer program.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255, talking with Kathy Reichs about her new book, "Code," author - co-authored with her son, Brendan Reichs. Our number - 1-800-989-8255 is our number.
Here's a tweet from Tony Lima(ph), who says: Huge fan of Ms. Reichs, since her first novel. How does she feel about Emily Deschanel's portrayal of her?
REICHS: Oh, I love Emily. She is - first of all, she is the most genuinely kind, gentle, sweet person you would ever want to meet. And I love the way she's made the character on television very unique. We didn't want to just do another police procedural. It's a character-based show, and I think Emily has done a wonderful job with Temperance Brennan.
I think of TV Tempe and book Tempe, and book Tempe's a little bit older. She is more sophisticated, more polished, whereas TV Tempe - I think of it as like a prequel. It's like...
REICHS: ...Tempe, the early years, and she's working in Washington, D.C., which I find appropriate because the very first skeleton I ever handled was at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
REICHS: So I'm very happy with Emily's portrayal.
FLATOW: Talking about how mysteries work in Washington. 1-800-989-8255 is our number, talking with Kathy Reichs, author of "Code" on SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.
Let's go to the phones, to Sarah(ph) in San Francisco. Hi, Sarah.
FLATOW: Hi there.
REICHS: Hi, Sarah.
SARAH: I had a question for Kathy.
FLATOW: Go ahead. Sure.
SARAH: Hi, Kathy. I had a question about writing process. I'm also a recovering lawyer, aspiring writer, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts or comments about differences that you had noticed in your writing process, versus your son's writing process, and in the process of writing as a solo author and co-author...
SARAH: ...whether that gives you any words of advice.
REICHS: He finds it very useful to do a very detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. So for the Tory Brennan books we do that, chapter by chapter, maybe a paragraph on each one. I'm not quite as structured when I write a Temperance Brennan novel. But it's similar to writing for television, as well, because there you go in...
One of the fun things about writing for television is you do it collectively. You go into the writer's room and you break the story together. It's big brainstorming sessions. And so there you do the same thing: act by act, scene by scene, beat by beat. You structure your story, your A story, your B story, your C story. And if it's your first novel, that's probably a good way to go about it. And if you're a lawyer, you probably think that way anyway.
SARAH: Thank you very much, Kathy.
FLATOW: Why - what kind - Sarah, what kind of writing do you want to write?
SARAH: I actually am interested in writing fictional novels as well. So - but not - for adults, not for children.
FLATOW: Any - with a science theme also or...
SARAH: No. I think that using my law background will probably end up being more helpful. But I certainly find science novels interesting, and I really appreciate Kathy's work.
FLATOW: All right. Thanks for calling.
SARAH: Thank you.
REICHS: Here's a funny fact. My oldest daughter, Kerry - you started to call me Kerry a couple of times, Ira - is also a lawyer who does not practice law and is also a writer. She just released her third book.
REICHS: Yeah. I don't know what it is about lawyers.
FLATOW: Let's not go there, OK?
FLATOW: Let's go to Kevin(ph) from Cincinnati. Hi, Kevin.
KEVIN: Hi. How are you guys?
FLATOW: Hi there.
KEVIN: I had a question for the author. When I was a kid, I really enjoyed mystery novels like "The Hardy Boys" and "Encyclopedia Brown," and I was really - I felt really connected to those main characters because they were young adults, like me, solving mysteries.
And I was just kind of curious. As an author, I can appreciate your fiction based in science, since I'm a scientist as well, but I wondered if you thought maybe you are alienating some of your audience by giving them supernatural powers and thus making it harder to connect to your readers.
REICHS: Well, the stories are, as I said earlier, just as complicated as the Temperence Brennan stories. You got a lot going on. We just think kids right now are interested - somehow they like that theme that you're special, that something makes you special - and yet you have to use that specialness, those special abilities, to accomplish something. So we like the idea of them having these special abilities and having to deal with that. We like the idea of the scientific basis of what those abilities are and how they're trying to figure out that mystery as well what happened to us and is it evolving what's going to continue to happen to us at the same time, that they're using those abilities and science to pursue some problem or solve some mystery.
FLATOW: Thanks for calling, Kevin.
FLATOW: We've run out of time on it. Thank you very much for taking...
REICHS: Well, thank you. it's always fun.
FLATOW: Great book. Kathy Reichs, author of "Code." She's a co-author with her son, Brendan Reichs. "Code." And if you like - it says on the book, if you like the TV show "Bones" or "Maximum Ride" you'll love "Virals" - James Patterson, on front of the book. Thanks for taking time to be with us today and good luck on your book tour.
REICHS: Here in Chicago. Come out and see us in Winnetka.
FLATOW: There you go. Kathy Reichs, author of "Code." We're going to take a break. When we come back, we've got finalists - we've got a winner in our contest. Our - well, photo contest. The judge is going to be here and talk about what photo won our winter photo contest so stay with us, we'll be right back after this break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.