Temperance Brennan, the heroine of 15 international best-selling novels and a prime-time American-network-TV police drama, is a smart, complicated, accomplished forensic anthropologist whose cases have captivated the imaginations of millions in the United States and around the world.
Her fictional feats pale, however, next to the real-life accomplishments of Kathy Reichs, who, after establishing an international reputation as a scholar, teacher and forensic anthropologist, went on to write the Temperance Brennan novels and produce "Bones," the Fox Television show inspired by Reichs' writing.
Reichs, who was on a tightly scheduled book tour, answered a list of emailed questions from her hotel in Prague, tapping out her responses on the MacBook Air she opens every morning to write fresh installments on her latest novel, when she's traveling.
It's a globe-zipping life the Chicago native never imagined as a student drawn first to archaeology and then physical anthropology, then forensic anthropology.
"Not even in my wildest dreams. I never plotted a course that would lead to writing popular fiction or, even more crazily, producing a hit TV show," she wrote. "I like to think that this career found me, instead."
Reichs, born in 1950, has a doctorate in physical anthropology and is certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. When not traveling, she divides her time between Charlotte, N.C., where she has been on sabbatical for 10 years as a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, and Montreal, where she is a consultant at the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Medecine Legale.
She has testified at U.N. genocide hearings in Rwanda, helped uncover mass graves in Guatemala and helped identify remains of those killed in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Sept. 11 attacks.
And she's a wife, mother and grandmother.
Reichs doesn't remember when she decided to try fiction, but "I'd always suspected that my line of work would be an interesting vehicle for a thriller," she wrote. "Then, in the early 1990s, I was asked to consult on the case of a serial killer operating in Montreal. By studying the bones of the victim, I was able to help the authorities develop a profile of the murderer, who was later caught.
"I thought the case would make a great story, and that experience formed the basis for my first novel, 'Deja Dead.' "
Reichs decided to put the manuscript out for publication, hoping to earn some money to help put her three children through college. If she got 50 rejections, she'd forget about fiction writing.
Not only did "Deja Dead" receive no rejections, it went on to win the 1997 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and become one of the most successful crime-novel debuts ever.
Since then, Reichs has written 14 more Temperance Brennan novels, incorporating information from cases and experiences from her work in Canada, the U.S. and forensic anthropology consultations around the world. The latest book is "Bones Are Forever."
Her eighth novel, "Cross Bones," involving a skeleton believed by some to be the remains of Jesus Christ, was translated into 30 languages.
For "Flash and Bones," just out in paperback, Reichs combined her own science with research into NASCAR racing in Charlotte. The book follows Temperance Brennan's investigation into the identity of a body found in a barrel of asphalt next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway during NASCAR Race Week.
For her 16th Temperance Brennan novel, which she has been working on daily during her book tour, she'll draw on her own travels abroad.
Colleagues in academia and in the forensics labs have applauded her literary success and celebrity. Their response "has been overwhelmingly positive," she wrote. "In my experience, many scientists seem to secretly have an aspiration to write fiction, themselves. I often receive suggestions for ideas or references from forensic cases that might make a good story. Some have gone so far as to pitch whole book ideas, complete with prepared materials."
Some material is too sensitive to exploit in a novel, however, wrote Reichs. "I don't like using crimes against children. To me that crosses the line from selecting subject matter that may be shocking or macabre, but could serve an interesting function, to exploiting situations that are too painful to mine for storylines."
Reichs already has begun simplifying a schedule that makes seeing her family "a little hectic," she said.
"I've already stopped teaching and I will be scaling back my forensic work fairly soon. As to writing, I plan to keep on going until I lose interest or can't come up with anything more to say. So far, that hasn't been a problem."