The house remains still as Kathryn Reiss takes a seat in the armchair by the window of her nineteenth century parlor. In this position each week on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Reiss sits quietly writing her favorite forms of creative writing: mystery and historical fiction.
It is this focus and discipline that has allowed Mills Associate Professor of English Kathryn Reiss to produce 18 novels over her two decades of teaching at Mills and raise a family of seven.
“I have been a published writer for 23 years,” Reiss said. “I wrote my first book in Germany while I was studying as a Fulbright Scholar. It underwent 25 revisions.”
Although Reiss has written 18 books of young adult mystery and historical fiction, she has recently expanded her writing to new platforms. Within the past five years, Reiss has written five novels for the American Girl Book Historical Series.
“This is a different kind of writing,” Reiss said. “American Girl Historical Mysteries are based on one character. I am writing about a character that already exists so I have to read all that has been written on that character before. It has been fun for me.”
According to the American Girl Company, their mission is to “provide inspiring products for each stage of a young girl’s development.” Today, the American Girl Company is comprised of young adult fiction novels, young adult historical fiction novels, a magazine and a line of 18 inch dolls.
Reiss’ most recent novel for American Girl Historical Series, Intruders at Rivermead Manor, is the fifth of five books and is about American Girl character Kit.
“Kit is a Depression Era girl living in Cincinnati in 1935,” Reiss said. “In the story Kit discovers that the House [Rivermead Manor] that she’s working in has a secret tunnel that was used by slaves during the Underground Railroad. I want [the] reader to get a new understanding of the challenges and social issues of the Depression Era.”
With the online and in-store release of Reiss’ newest novel Intruders at Rivermead Manor on Feb. 25, many of her readers, including her daughter, are thrilled.
“I read all of the American Girl books including the ones that she wrote,” said Isabel Strychacz, Reiss’ daughter. “Sometimes she will let me read the manuscript and ask me if I can figure out the mystery.”
Reiss’ success also helps her daughter with her own writing.
“I am a writer,” Strychacz said. “I like reading mysteries and the young adult section in general. I always know that I can go to her with my writing, and she loves to talk with me about it. Her success is really amazing and exciting for everyone.”
Reiss’ literary success not only inspires through novels, but in the classroom as well.
“I have worked with Professor Reiss for 20 years,” said Elmaz Abinader, a colleague of Reiss’ at Mills College. “Reiss’ work is appealing with her supernatural approaches. She writes diligently and prolifically turns out more writing than anyone else in the department. She is an admirable scholar.”
Reiss has served Mills College’s English department for over 20 years as a full-time and part-time creative writing professor. All of her classes have focuses in young adult fiction and creative writing workshops. Many of her students are writers themselves and use her insight as a published writer to guide their own works.
Sophomore Joana Brito is currently taking Reiss’ class for a second consecutive semester.
“I have taken writing fiction for children and young adults and this semester I am taking advanced fiction for young adult novels,” Brito said. “She has taught me how to hook the reader in that age group. She tells us about her novels and lets us know the process of working on and publishing a novel.”
Junior Melanie Vega, a creative writing major who has also studied under Reiss, has also benefited from Reiss’ insight in her own career.
“She has experience as a writer and teaches us the tools she uses within her own writing,” Vega said. “Her advice is useful because I am trying to become a writer myself. She gives constructive feedback and helps us develop our skills as writers.”
Aside from writing and teaching, Reiss’ literary skills bring an inspirational spirit to her family and home. Reiss’ husband, Professor Thomas Strychacz, who is also an English professor at Mills, notes that she is steadfast in her work.
“She spends concentrated time writing her books,” Strychacz said. “She goes through several drafts before she can get the final product. Occasionally she gets stuck, but we hash it out.”
As Reiss enters her third decade as both a writer and a teacher, the biggest mystery is what new platforms of expression she will excel in next. However, one thing is certain: she will be writing about it.
“Press on and finish the first draft even when it’s difficult; then, you have something to revise,” Reiss said.
Reiss’ new novel Intruders at Rivermead Manor is available for purchase online or in store at any major bookstore, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.