Reiss, Kathryn 1957–
Reiss, Kathryn 1957–
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "reese"; born December 4, 1957, in Cambridge, MA; daughter of Edmund Alan Reiss and Dorothy Ann Molnar; married Thomas Strychacz (a professor), October 2, 1981; children: five. Education: Duke University, B.A., 1980; attended Rheinische-Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (Bonn, Germany), 1980–81; University of Michigan, M.F.A., 1988. Hobbies and other interests: Traveling, reading, collecting old series books.
ADDRESSES: Home—CA. Office—Mills College, English Department, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, CA 94613. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator and writer. Stuart Country Day School, Princeton, NJ, director of foreign exchange, 1981–82; Europa at Princeton (a bookshop), Princeton, manager, 1983–85; Princeton Public Library, Princeton, assistant to children's librarian, 1983–85; Princeton Language Group, Princeton, instructor, 1984–86; Princeton Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Princeton, instructor, 1984–86; Trenton State College, Ewing, NJ, instructor, 1984–86; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, instructor, 1986–88; Mills College, Oakland, CA, lecturer in English, 1989–95, 1997–. Princeton Arts Council, writer-in-residence, 1986.
MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, League of University Women.
AWARDS, HONORS: Scholarship, American Field Service, 1975; Fulbright-Hayes Scholar, 1980–81, to study contemporary German short fiction; grant, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, 1983–84; Cowden Memorial Prize for fiction, University of Michigan, 1987; Best Books for Young Adults citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1993, for Time Windows, and for The Glass House People; Black-Eyed Susan Young Reader Medal, state of Maryland; nominations for Edgar Allan Poe award, Mystery Writers of America, for Pale Phoenix and PaperQuake: A Puzzle; award from International School Librarians Association, 2003, for Paint by Magic: A Time Travel Mystery; best teen paperback mystery selection, Young Adult Library Services Association of the ALA, 2004, for Paper-Quake.
Time Windows, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.
The Glass House People, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1992.
Dreadful Sorry, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Pale Phoenix (sequel to Time Windows), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.
PaperQuake: A Puzzle, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.
Riddle of the Prairie Bride ("History Mysteries" series), Pleasant Company Publications (Middleton, WI), 2001.
The Strange Case of Baby H ("History Mysteries" series), Pleasant Company Publications (Middleton, WI), 2002.
Paint by Magic: A Time Travel Mystery, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge: A Ghost Story, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2004.
Blackthorn Winter, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2006.
Stone Cold Summer: A Murder Mystery, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2007.
Contributor of short stories and articles to periodicals, including The Archive, HipMama, Parents, and Baby magazine. Associate editor, The Archive, 1979–80.
"GHOST IN THE DOLLHOUSE" SERIES
The Dollhouse of the Dead, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.
The Headless Bride, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.
Rest in Peace, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.
ADAPTATIONS: The Strange Case of Baby H was adapted to audio recording by Recorded Books, 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Writing young-adult mystery novels and teaching creative writing at Mills College, in California, Kathryn Reiss has earned a reputation as an appealing author for adolescents. In the last decade of the past millennium, she published a handful of suspense novels, including her debut Time Windows and its sequel Pale Phoenix, "The Ghost in the Dollhouse" trio, and several stand-alone novels. A hallmark of these novels is the time-slip element, a premise that has long interested Reiss. "I have a special interest in our various notions of time—memory, perception, history, time travel (as a child I was always looking for ways to travel in time; perhaps my writing is my own version of a time machine!)," she once told CA. "I have a special interest in writing for middle-grade and young-adult audiences, and write the sort of books now that I liked when I was the age of my readers—especially favoring books about magic or mystery."
Although as a young girl Reiss wrote "novels," her actual career began in a roundabout way. As a student in high school and college, she took creative writing classes whenever she could, and in 1980, she graduated with a dual degree in English and German. The following year, on a Fulbright-Hayes Scholarship, she attended university in Bonn, Germany, where she began to write her first novel, in English. She once recalled to CA, "At one point I was up to my ears in [the German poet Johann Wolfgang] Goethe's works, analyzing them, writing about them, preparing to give an oral report in class (a scary thought!)—and I decided to take a day off from work just to read something light, preferably in English—despite my promise to myself to avoid the English language as much as I possibly could. I had read all of my English novels already, and it was pouring rain outside, so a trip to the bookstore didn't seem so good. I thought to myself: 'This is your chance. You've been saying for years that you want to write a book, right? So, why not start now?' I got a pad of paper and my pen, and sat down and started writing a story. When the rain stopped, I was still engaged in my new story, and I went out to sit on my little balcony (I rented a room in a big, drafty house) and kept on writing far into the night. I continued to write in my free time until I had an entire first draft of a novel. I revised it over several years (taking breaks to get married, to go to graduate school, and to have two children) and so produced my first novel, Time Windows."
Time Windows and its sequel, Pale Phoenix, each feature Miranda Brown, who has recently moved to an old house in a small Massachusetts town. In the attic she discovers an old dollhouse, a replica of the larger house, that acts as a time machine, allowing her to see events of the past. This novel garnered good reviews from several critics, including Kliatt contributor Gerrie Human, who described it as "a fine mystery, full of suspense." A Publishers Weekly contributor also praised Time Windows for being "deft, entertaining, and inventive." A slightly older Miranda deals with the adoption of the mysterious Abby into her family in Pale Phoenix. As Miranda discovers, Abby is an unfortunate time traveler from 1680, and Miranda and neighbor Dan try to return her to her own time. Horn Book Guide contributor Karen E. Walsh thought the book's premise was "clever" but the denouement "contrived." New Advocate contributor M. Jean Greenlaw likened the work to Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting and predicted that readers would find Reiss's novel "fascinating." Booklist critic Jeanne Triner described the sequel as "a thoughtful and enjoyable book."
With their titles reflecting axioms and song lyrics, Reiss's early books The Glass House People and Dreadful Sorry deal with almost-ruined lives. The first is a family saga featuring a teenaged brother and sister, who try to unearth the details surrounding the family's present difficult circumstances, in what Kliatt contributor Claire Rosser described as "entertaining throughout." The "page-turner" Dreadful Sorry, as described by Kliatt contributor Barbara Jo McKee, will appeal to teen readers as its protagonist must overcome her fear of the water and a reincarnated girl suggestively named Clementine.
From 1998 to 2002, Reiss published, among other books, another pair of winning titles, PaperQuake: A Puzzle and Paint by Magic: A Time Travel Mystery. As with several of her other works, these titles use the time-slip element, the first dealing with San Francisco earthquakes in the present and 1906, and the latter a mystery in the present harking to 1924 with a tie to the 1400s. In PaperQuake, main character Violet, the third and non-identical sister of triplets, is haunted by a fear of earthquakes and a vision of children fleeing an earthquake. When she, her sisters, and parents go to San Francisco in the aftermath of tremors to clean up a building they own, a letter addressed to Baby V falls from the wall. As similar letters arrive mysteriously, Violet learns of a girl named Verity whom she believes is sending her letters from the past to avert a future disaster. PaperQuake caught the attention of reviewers, among them Horn Book contributor Ann A. Flowers, who dubbed the work "clever and skillfully written." Moreover, Hungry Mind Review critic Mary Logue maintained that the novel "is a much richer story" than the typical mystery for this age level, with "the most fascinating aspect of this novel … [being] the relationship between Violet and her two sisters." Yet the work was not without critics. Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan faulted Reiss for relying heavily on coincidence to drive the plot, though she praised the "well-drawn relationships" between Violet and other characters. While "the plot might be overly complicated," Logue conceded, "the twists and turns are a good ride." PaperQuake is "an adroit fusion of magic, romance, and adventure," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.
With her 2002 offering Paint by Magic, Reiss explores the creative process and "paints an intriguing mystery," punned a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The plot revolves around eleven-year-old Connor, who wonders why his mother begins to act strangely all of a sudden. When he finds himself transported back in time, he discovers the truth. While Lisa Prolman, writing in School Library Journal, found some of the comparisons of pre-technological times with the present heavy-handed, she also found the plot "unusual and compelling," predicting that readers would hold on until the conclusion. Also noting Reiss's social criticism was Booklist contributor Sally Estes, who deemed the novel both "a compelling mystery" and "a telling look" at modern family life.
Pleasant Company, known for its historical fiction geared to girls in the early and middle grades, included two of Reiss's novels in its "History Mysteries" series, Riddle of the Prairie Bride and The Strange Case of Baby H. In the former, twelve-year-old Kate investigates the mystery surrounding her father's mail-order bride who arrives at their Kansas prairie home in 1878. Horn Book Guide contributor Frieda F. Bostain found Riddle of the Prairie Bride to be "well-narrated" and full of "accurate" period details. Denise Wilms, writing in Booklist, called the novel "formulaic but engrossing."
According to critics, Reiss hit her stride with her next novel in the series, The Strange Case of Baby H, which harkens back in subject matter to PaperQuake. When an abandoned child appears on her family's doorstep, twelve-year-old Clara Curfman thinks the baby has been kidnapped and decides to find the child's parents. However, being the year 1906, an earthquake of historic proportions rocks Clara's home city of San Francisco, making her job even more dangerous. In a review for School Library Journal, Kristen Oravec praised the novel, calling it well plotted and "full of suspense and action." Oravec also commented on how the author "seamlessly" employed historical details in her tale. Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson called the novel "entertaining recreational reading."
Supernatural creatures again surface in Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge: A Ghost Story, the story of Zibby, who is strangely compelled to buy a dollhouse instead of the skates she really wants for her twelfth birthday. Soon, Zibby finds that the old dollhouse includes an evil doll that is the ghost of Miss Honeywell. It is up to Zibby and her friends to thwart the malicious Miss Honeywell as she sets out to destroy Zibby's family. Interwoven with Zibby's story is the tale of Primrose Parson, the first owner of the dollhouse in 1919. Though expressing some disappointment with the "dramatic but contrived" ending, Eva Mitnick, writing in the School Library Journal, noted favorably "the easy flow of the writing and the likable characters." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy contributor June Harris wrote: "This is a gripping and well-constructed ghost story, one that should keep the interest of the readers for whom it is intended."
In her mystery novel Blackthorn Winter, Reiss tells the story of Juliana Martin-Drake, who longs for America and her father while staying in London with her siblings and her mother, who is on a trial separation from her husband. Juliana, who is adopted, ends up investigating the murder of one of her mother's English friends after coming to the conclusion that the person arrested for it is innocent. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "well-plotted," adding that Reiss "melds the various elements of her plot skillfully." Another reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly noted that the author "peppers the narrative with colorful British vocabulary and details of claustrophobic village life."
Reflecting on the writing process, Reiss once told CA, "There are certain stories that simply beg to be told. I feel a kind of urgency to write when I have a good plot in mind. But if I tell the tale verbally, much of the urgency disappears. It has become important for me to keep my plot to myself until I get it down at least in a rough form. If I share a story before it's written, the writing becomes a sort of re-run. Some of the energy is lost."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1992, Randy Meyer, review of The Glass House People, p. 1350; July, 1993, Candace Smith, review of Dreadful Sorry, p. 1959; March 15, 1994, Jeanne Triner, review of Pale Phoenix, p. 1344; May 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of PaperQuake: A Puzzle, p. 1627; April 1, 2001, Denise Wilms, review of Riddle of the Prairie Bride, p. 1484; April 15, 2002, Sally Estes, review of Paint by Magic: A Time Travel Mystery, p. 1418; December 1, 2002, Lauren Peterson, review of The Strange Case of Baby H, pp. 666-667.
Book Report, November-December, 1992, Melissa Bibbey, review of The Glass House People, pp. 44-45; September-October, 1993, Sylvia Feicht, review of Dreadful Sorry, p. 48; September-October, 1994, Rebecca Neuhedel, review of Pale Phoenix, p. 44.
Horn Book, July-August, 1998, Ann A. Flowers, review of PaperQuake, p. 497.
Horn Book Guide, fall, 1994, Karen E. Walsh, review of Pale Phoenix, p. 323; spring, 2002, Frieda F. Bostian, review of Riddle of the Prairie Bride, p. 82.
Hungry Mind Review, summer, 1998, Mary Logue, "Far from Clueless: Young Adult Mysteries," review of PaperQuake, p. 51.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, November, 2004, June Harris, review of Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge: A Ghost Story, p. 266.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1993, review of Dreadful Sorry; April 15, 1994, review of Pale Phoenix; May 1, 2002, review of Paint by Magic, p. 666; December 15, 2005, review of Blackthorn Winter, p. 1326.
Kliatt, July, 1994, Gerrie Human, review of Time Windows, p. 11; July, 1996, Claire Rosser, review of The Glass House People, p. 15; March, 1997, Barbara Jo McKee, review of Dreadful Sorry, p. 20.
New Advocate, fall, 1994, M. Jean Greenlaw, review of Pale Phoenix, p. 298.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1991, review of Time Windows, p. 80; February 24, 1992, review of The Glass House People, p. 56; May 10, 1993, review of Dreadful Sorry, p. 73; January 26, 1998, review of PaperQuake, p. 92; January 30, 2006, review of Blackthorn Winter, p. 71.
School Library Journal, October, 1991, Margaret A. Chang, review of Time Windows, p. 126; May, 1992, Kathy Fritts, review of The Glass House People, p. 134; June, 1993, Sharon Korbeck, review of Dreadful Sorry, p. 132; May, 1994, Ruth S. Vose, review of Pale Phoenix, p. 132; June, 1998, Steven Engelfried, review of PaperQuake, p. 152; May, 2001, Carol A. Edwards, review of Riddle of the Prairie Bride, pp. 158-159; May, 2002, Lisa Prolman, review of Paint by Magic, pp. 158, 160; November, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of The Strange Case of Baby H, p. 174; August, 2004, Eva Mitnick, review of Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge, p. 128.
Science Fiction Chronicle, May, 2002, review of Paint by Magic, p. 37.
Mills College Web site, http://www.mills.edu/ (October 8, 2006), "Kathryn Reiss," faculty profile of author.