PUBLISHED:October 30, 2012

5 Questions for Kerry Reichs '99

Kerry Reichs '99

Kerry Reichs is the author of three books. She will read from her latest book, What You Wish For, on Nov. 1 at Respite Cafe in Durham. Her other books include, The Best Day of Someone Else’s Life and Leaving Unknown. She is currently working on her fourth book.

Quick Bio (hometown, current town, education, etc.): 

I am a native of Charlotte, N.C., a graduate of Oberlin College, Duke University School of Law and Sanford Institute of Public Policy. I practiced law in Washington, D.C. for over six years prior to taking a sabbatical to write a novel. After discovering that sabbaticals agree with me, I focused on writing full time. I am the mother to an active two-year old, so I have become adept at typing with one hand, or working so intently I will jump a mile if you sneak up behind me. I live in Washington, D.C., though I spend as much time as possible burying my toes in the sand near Charleston, S.C., and revisiting my old haunts of Los Angeles and London.

1. What prompted you to write your latest book, What You Wish For?

As a single mother (pregnant through a sperm donor), I believe we do a disservice to our children to suggest that there is an “ideal” family. The majority no longer equates to a male-female heterosexual couple having children without medical assistance. People adopt. People rely on IVF, donor eggs, and surrogates. Single parents are raising children. Same-sex couples are raising children. The modern family is changing. I hope that through my characters’ stories, I can help shake loose some of the rigid judgments on what makes a family healthy. The less kids mourn the phantom family, or “real parents” they don’t have, the more they can thrive in an environment that may be as nurturing as it is unconventional. I wish that as my son grows, these strictures are loosened, and “different” families such as ours will be accepted as part of the norm. I also love the challenge of writing about complicated personal challenges in a humorous way. If I can’t make you laugh and cry within ten pages, I haven’t done my job.

2. How has your legal background influenced your writing?

As a lawyer, I’m fascinated by issues of medical-legal ethics. I’m also inspired by real life stories. I started writing What You Wish For in 2009, after reading an article about a London cancer survivor suing her ex-boyfriend for the right to use their frozen embryos. The woman lost her challenge and the story faded, but I didn’t stop thinking about it. I started researching the legal status of embryos, particularly the ability to adopt in utero, the right to use or destroy contested embryos, and the legal status of the embryo itself. What I discovered was a murky grey. Simultaneously, the Proposition 8 controversy had just ripped California in two, so I started wondering how people would make highly personal decisions about fertility under the umbrella of a similarly controversial proposition awarding rights to embryos.

I like to say, I don’t draw from the headlines. I draw from the stories buried on page eight. I’m fascinated by situations where science outpaces law, and individual situations ferment into future headlines. My musings in What You Wish For were prescient. When I started writing the book, only Georgia had barely made page eight with an initiative such as I imagined. At the time of publication, multiple states have hotly contested “personhood” ballot initiatives that would grant embryos the full rights of humans from the moment of conception. This type of legislation is part of the national conversation of a presidential election.

3. Was there a particular class or professor that influenced your writing?

Doriane Coleman taught a seminar on Genetics and the Law at a time when Duke was on the cusp of unraveling the mysteries of the genome. I was fascinated, an absorption that has carried into my writing. What happens when people find themselves in uncharted waters because suddenly we are capable of manipulations our predecessors never dreamed possible? Eugenics, disease treatment, life extension – numerous advances in science force redefinition of our legal and social mores. There are rich stories in how people respond to a shift in their world order.

4. What is your favorite law school memory?

Nothing to do with academics, I confess (hanging my head abashedly). Some of my best memories revolve around basketball campout, and buzzer beater victories against UNC. We had a pretty good law prom, and Hurricane Bertha quarantine party too.

5. When you are not writing, what do you enjoy?

Writing is an interior pursuit – those happy people tapping away at keyboards in outdoor cafes are ACTORS, because no amount of screen manipulation eliminates enough glare to allow you to write anything of substance. So when I’m not at the computer, I prefer to be outdoors. I’m passionate about hiking, wandering, traveling, and natural light photography. Plus, my son is a toddler, which is sort of like a wild animal, and he does best outside when he can run frenetically about. Whether it’s a day in the Shenandoahs, a week in Charleston, or a few months backpacking through China, I prefer remote to civilized and don’t mind a little grit under my nails.