questions for Kathryn Reiss Kathryn Reiss


Kathryn Reiss at book signing

Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. I write the sorts of things I like to read. I always keep a little notebook with me, and pull it out to jot down ideas as they come. The entire plot of a book rarely springs into my head; instead there will be little things that interest me, that seem worth writing down. They percolate in the back of my mind for a while until a story starts to unfold. Snatches of overhead conversation can be a starting point. Or an article in a magazine or newspaper. Or a curious tidbit I hear on the radio. When I’m driving to or from work, I often play the “what if?” game with myself--as in, “what if the car in front of me went through that toll plaza and VANISHED? What would I do? What would the other people sitting in traffic do? What are the people in the car that vanished thinking? Saying? Where have they gone??? These sorts of questions keep me entertained on my drive, and can also lead to a story. For instance, I have not yet written about a car that vanishes, but I’m working on a novel now in which my main character’s parents have suddenly VANISHED. The little notes in my notebook keep me asking questions until I get enough of a story to start writing!

Q. Which is your favorite of your own books?
A. It’s a hard question in one sense, because whichever book I’ve newly started seems to be the best book ever--and yet later, when the writing hits a snag, it seems the book is perfectly terrible. In the end, when it’s all worked out, I like it again! I really have to like the story I’m writing in order to write 300 pages. If it can’t hold MY interest, how can I expect it to hold my readers’ interest?

But if I had to choose ONE of my books, I would pick Time Windows, simply because it was the very first novel I ever wrote, and the process of writing it taught me how to write a whole book. It was also the first book I had accepted for publication--and made my dream of being a writer come true!

Q. How long does it take you to write a whole book?
A. The process of writing a book actually begins before I sit down to write the first chapter.. and the planning stage can be short or long. But the amount of time from when I sit down to write the first words until the time I type “the end” of a first draft usually takes me about nine months. Then I spend another two or three months revising the book; I do at least 3 or 4 drafts of a novel before it is ready to send to my publisher!

Q. Which books did you love as a kid?
A. I loved reading Trixie Belden mysteries, and also the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books by Maud Hart Lovelace. I also adored any of Lois Duncan’s scary novels…

As a teen I enjoyed gothic mysteries by Victoria Holt, Velda Johnston and others, and also discovered the amazing novels of Vladimir Nabokov and Jane Austen.

Q. What do you like to read now?
A. I am still an avid mystery fan, especially enjoying murder mysteries set in England. I also read historical fiction, vintage housekeeping manuals, and all the new YA books I can get my hands on!

Q. Did any of your stories happen in real life?
A. No--and that’s probably a good thing! Although I live in a historic house, I’ve never seen even the smallest hint of a ghost. Although I was the kind of kid who was always hoping to discover a time portal, none ever opened up before me--and so I have to travel in time vicariously with my characters. And although I have always been on the lookout for suspicious circumstances, I’ve rarely found any, and have been lucky to live a life fairly free of trauma, drama or spooky occurrences--so far!

Q. Are any of the characters in your books based on real people?
A. No, although I sometimes will use a characteristic or personality trait from someone I’ve met, or give one my characters the same talent--or name--as a family member.

Q. What are your hobbies?
A. I enjoy reading (of course!), dancing with my husband, hanging out with my kids, working on our 140+ year-old house, drinking tea on the porch with friends, traveling (especially to Europe) with my family…

Q. Do you have any pets?
A. Yes! We have a sweet border collie dog, a friendly, fat white cat, and a funny tabby cat who thinks he is a dog (likes to play fetch!) … also four very long-lived fish.

Q. How do you have time to write if you also teach and have a husband and 7 kids?
A. This is probably a question I get more from teachers and librarians and other adults than from my readers… but I do hear it a lot! The answer is that I compartmentalize. I teach college part-time, and am there two days a week. On the other three weekdays, I write from about 10 a.m. until it’s time to drive the school carpool at 3:00. On my writing days, I make myself sit with my laptop and work; and I try not to let myself do other things (like laundry, housecleaning, email, or phone calls…). When my kids get him from school, I stop work for the day and have time to hang out with them, or run errands or have a cup of tea with friends. In the evenings I grade papers or read or chat with my husband. We don’t watch TV, and usually rent films only on weekends… I don’t work on weekends unless I’m close to a deadline. Somehow it all works out!


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