Q&A with Ana Reyes, Author of The House in the Pines
By John ValeriFebruary 7, 2023
It may only be January, but Ana Reyes is having an epic year. Her debut suspense novel, The House in the Pines, became an instant New York Times bestseller upon publication and was selected by Reese Witherspoon—who called it “an absolute, can’t-put-down thriller”—as a Reese’s Book Club Pick. That’s an auspicious start for the Los Angeles-based writer, whose byline has appeared in publications such as Bodega, Pear Noir!, and New Delta Review. Reyes holds an MFA from Louisiana State University and teaches creative writing to older adults at Santa Monica College.
Despite plentiful demands on her time, she recently indulged a few curiosities pertaining to her book, its reception, and what the future holds. Read on as she reminisces about writing a “master manipulator” villain, her protagonist’s struggles with self-identity, and how Klonopin withdrawal informed her storytelling.
John Valeri: The House in the Pines has a unique premise: one person’s suspicion of murder(s) despite the lack of any outward signs of violence. What was the origin of this idea and how did it evolve as the story progressed?
Ana Reyes: Frank has always been a master manipulator in my mind, always capable of getting away with murder. But as the story evolved, so did he. The details surrounding the murder he may have committed have grown increasingly mysterious and inexplicable over the course of several drafts until it began to feel like a dark magic trick (as it seems to Maya). He appears to have supernatural powers, yet she’s convinced there’s a rational explanation, some nefarious sleight-of-hand only he could pull off.
Valeri: Your protagonist, Maya, struggles with issues of identity/sense of self and also carries the trauma of her best friend’s tragic, inexplicable death. How does this background inform her character–and in what ways does it motivate/legitimize her actions?
Ana Reyes: Maya struggles with a sense of self after years of having her sanity questioned by the police, her psychiatrist, and her mother. This lack of confidence in her own perception leads her to hide her present-day investigation from the very people who could comfort and support her. Growing up, she’d always been open with her mom and her best friend, but the trauma cut Maya off from both of them, and from everyone else. Part of her journey is remembering who she was before Frank.
Valeri: Maya travels back home in her search for answers, using a partially completed manuscript written by her deceased Guatemalan father (who she never knew) as a guide of sorts. Tell us about the necessity of this, both literally and figuratively–and of the book’s role in her journey of discovery.
Ana Reyes: The manuscript contains an important truth relevant to Maya’s situation. Her father had based his novel upon an ancient folktale in verse known as “The Hymn of the Pearl,” updating its timeless story by setting it in Guatemala and weaving in magical realism.
The ancient hymn (and her father’s adaptation of it) is about a child separated from his true home. The story it tells is highly symbolic and contains a clue to the mystery of Frank’s house. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that the nature of the child’s lost home points to the true nature of the one Frank built.
Valeri: You also explore the nature of addiction and mental illness, which are topics of critical importance. What was your process like to capture them authentically–and how did you endeavor to balance a nuanced, sensitive portrayal of such conditions with the entertainment value of a novel?
Ana Reyes: Like Maya, I was going through Klonopin withdrawal when I started writing The House in the Pines. My pills had been prescribed by a doctor while she bought hers from a friend, but the outcome was the same—we were both abruptly cut off—and her withdrawal symptoms are based upon my own. Writing about it helped me through it.
Valeri: The House in the Pines was just selected as the January read for Reese’s Book Club. Congratulations! What does this honor mean for you, both personally and professionally?
Ana Reyes: This was my first book, it took me seven years to write, and I almost gave up on it more than once. So selling it was huge for me, but to then have it selected for Reese’s Book Club was jaw-dropping. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but mostly I’m just incredibly grateful.
Valeri: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?
Ana Reyes: Book two is in the works! I’m not quite ready to share what it’s about but will say that it’s even creepier than The House in the Pines.
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