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Pursuing Publication

Two '90s alumni discuss their recent books.

By
Katherine Reynolds Lewis ’90 and Joe Reid ’91
July 30, 2018
Pursuing Publication

If you’ve ever thought about writing a book — and surveys suggest upward of 80 percent of the public has — but didn’t know exactly where to start, how to finish or what would happen next if you did, you are certainly not alone. Katherine “Kakki” Reynolds Lewis ’90 and Joseph Reid ’91 have stared down such questions, and both had books published this year. 

Lewis is an award-winning independent journalist author, and speaker based in the Washington, D.C., area, where she and her husband, Brian, have three children. Her book, The Good News about Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined than Ever — and What to Do about It, explain why children today are often so undisciplined and tells the story of innovators who are working to change that. It was published by PublicAffairs in April.

Reid is a partner at the international law firm Perkins Coie, where he practices intellectual property law. Based in San Diego, he’s married with two children, and his debut novel, a thriller titled Takeoff, was published by Thomas & Mercer in July.

In the following conversation, they discuss how they each approached this new frontier, and what they found when they got there.

Reid: How did you get started? Did you always want to be a writer?

Lewis: I think Exeter shaped me as a writer in a lot of ways. Not only did I fall in love with books and literature through the classes and teachers, I also wrote so regularly that I couldn’t help but get good at it. I actually majored in physics at Harvard, but when I graduated, I drifted back to writing via business journalism, covering Wall Street for the Bond Buyer and then moving to Washington, D.C., to write about financial and media policy for Bloomberg News. Those in-class blue ok essays really prepared me for a career in daily journalism and the hustle of freelance writing.

Reid: I totally agree with you about Exeter’s influence: I just taught a writing seminar to young orneys a few weeks ago, and I mentioned the kind of daily writing exercises we had to do at the Academy, and how that really pushed us to understand how to formulate an argument.

Lewis: That’s persuasive writing. Did you always secretly want to be a novelist?

Reid: I guess I did subconsciously. I took the demy’s creative writing class and really enjoyed it. But I never really pursued it past that until recently. And even then, it seemed like an incredibly tumultuous time to dive into publishing. Given the waves of changes that have rolled through journal- ism since you started, what’s been your experience at ground zero?

Lewis: Well, I thought I had the perfect career trajectory when I landed my dream job as a national correspondent writing about money, work and family for the Newhouse News Service. That only lasted a few years until the company closed the D.C. bureau in 2008. Then I took the leap and became an independent journalist. I figured it was more stable getting paid by multiple journalism organizations than just a single one.

Reid: That sounds a lot like my experience in science.

Lewis: That’s right, you were a science major, too. How did you go from biology to writing?

Reid: After starting my Ph.D., I realized the dearth of jobs in marine biology, so I ended up becoming a lawyer. But then two things happened. First, one of my classmates mentioned that another one had written a novel — a torrid romance. For some reason, that really struck me. And then when my wife and I were on a trip just before my first child was born, I had the idea for my first novel.

Lewis: Is that the one that’s being published?

Reid: Absolutely not! They say everyone has at least 100,000 words of bad fiction in them, and it’s totally true, so that book may never see the light of day. I just wasn’t ready. So, I came up with another, simpler idea, and I wrote that one for “practice.” Then I wrote the international book. And then most recently I wrote a third novel— it’s that third one that’s getting published.

Lewis: Is this one also a thriller?

Reid: Yes. I aim to keep the pages turning. Takeoff opens with a young pop star getting attacked in a huge firefight at the Los Angeles airport. The hero, an air marshal who’s been assigned to protect her, then has to take her on the run, trying to keep her safe while attempting to determine who’s trying to kill her.

Lewis: Where do you get your ideas?

Reid: My books typically include a mix of technology and travel, both of which I’m exposed to extensively in my day job. So, it’s really a process of creative extrapolation — I read an article or see something weird and then start asking what if that thing happened to a particular character. Have you ever wanted to write fiction?

Lewis: When I was at Exeter, I thought I would love being a fiction writer. It was my favorite genre to read. But I find that I prefer telling true stories, to try to make sense of the world and explain it to readers.

Reid: That’s so interesting to me. While I purposely try to make the details in my books as true to life as possible, I do find the creative license liberating — especially compared to my day job, where everything has to be 100 percent correct. How much research goes into one of your articles?

Lewis: A quick feature story might take just a day or two. But a longer-form, narrative piece could require hundreds of hours of reporting and writing.

Reid: And your book started as an article, right? Isn’t it the most read article ever published by Mother Jones magazine?

Lewis: That’s right. I wrote about the pioneering work of Ross Greene, a Maine psychologist whose collaborative model of disciplining children cut juvenile justice recidivism in half, eliminated need for restraints in the psychiatric wards and reduced school discipline issues by 80 percent or more. The article clearly struck a chord, given the millions of times it was read and shared on social media. I started reporting further and discovered that out-of-control, dysregulated children weren’t just an anomaly: 1 in 2 kids will have a mood or behavioral disorder or a substance addiction by age 18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

Reid: How do you manage to juggle the time commitments of being a mom with your business?

Lewis: I’m rigorous about planning and tracking my time and I hold myself accountable to my goals. I couldn’t do it without the support of my husband and my parents, who live with us and handle a lot of the driving and child care. How do you balance writing with your full-time job as a lawyer?

Reid: Something else the Academy taught us — I just don’t sleep all that much. I wake up around 4 every morning and then do my fiction writing until the kids have to get ready for school.

Lewis: Is your book self-published?

Reid: No, pursuing traditional publication seemed like something I needed to see all the way through. So, I kept banging on the door until eventually I managed to get an agent in New York and a deal with Thomas & Mercer. How did you find securing an agent? I know the considerations are a lot different on the nonfiction side — you have to demonstrate an existing platform, for example.

Lewis: Well, once my Mother Jones story went viral, every agent I approached was willing to meet with me. I feel very fortunate to have been able to sit with so many smart publishing industry experts and talk through my book ideas with them. I relied on advice and help from Exeter classmates as well!

Reid: Where does this all take you from here?

Lewis: It will depend on what the reception to the book is like. I hope to have a “long tail” where I get to share the compelling research and personal stories I uncovered with many people for many years, to help them raise and educate children who will thrive. What’s next on your end?

Reid: I have a two-book deal, so I’m already hard at work on the next entry in my Seth Walker series. Hopefully, people will love the first one and then be on the lookout for the sequel.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis and Joseph Reid can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and at their websites, http://www.katherinerlewis.com and http://josephreidbooks.com.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the summer 2018 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.