Zibby interviews New York Times bestselling author Ana Reyes about her debut, The House in the Pines, a chilling, atmospheric, and unputdownable psychological thriller that involves two inexplicable deaths, an unreliable narrator, hazy memories, and a desire to unlock old secrets. Ana describes her protagonist’s drug abuse, revealing that it paralleled her own struggle with Klonopin withdrawal. She also talks about her lifelong love of thrillers and learning to write one. Finally, she reveals what she is working on next and shares what it was like to be chosen as Reese’s Book Club pick for January!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ana. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Ana Reyes: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: I’m so excited you’re here too. Start by telling listeners, please, what your book is about.

Ana: The House in the Pines is my debut novel. It’s a psychological thriller. It’s about a young woman named Maya who lives in Boston. She’s trying to move on with her life after a difficult past. She comes across this viral video on YouTube of her ex-boyfriend, Frank, sitting across from a young woman at a diner who drops dead inexplicably. He never touches her. She just drops dead. This is chilling, but what makes it even scarier is that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Seven years ago, Maya’s best friend, Aubrey, was also talking to Frank when she dropped dead. Maya saw this happen. She’s convinced that he somehow killed both of these women even though there’s no evidence. He never touched them. It’s not clear what killed them. There’s no weapon. There’s no marks on their bodies. She has to somehow figure out how he did it and prove that he did it. That entails going back to her hometown in the Berkshires and more specifically, returning to his house in the pines, a mysterious house that he built himself out in the woods.

Zibby: Wow. I know in the book, there are all these theories. Could it be spontaneous death syndrome or something like that? What could it possibly be? They were in conversation at the same time, and they just dropped dead. It’s so scary, haunting. Don’t even want to know about the research, of having to do research on all of that. I also thought it was so funny how she’s watching the YouTube video because she’s too distracted to be able to read, and here we are reading the book.

Ana: She’s an insomniac when we meet her. I felt like watching videos is probably what you can do when you don’t have the attention to read a book.

Zibby: Totally. You also go into the effects of medication and how she was medicated early on for one thing that changed into another. Then getting off meds is so difficult. Talk a little bit about the pharmacological experience she’s gone through and what it did to her, really.

Ana: She started off taking this medication to help her sleep. That was actually based on an experience in my own life that I was dealing with when I started writing the book. In my book, Maya is buying her Klonopin from a friend. In my life, I was actually prescribed it by a doctor in Los Angeles. When I moved out of state — I moved to Louisiana. I got a new doctor who said, “You can’t be taking this every night.” I’d been taking it for years. My original doctor hadn’t told me that I couldn’t. He kept refilling my prescription every single month. Didn’t warn me at all, actually, that it would be very difficult to quit. When my new doctor said, “I’m cutting you off,” I was like, okay, I guess that’s probably for the best. I don’t want to take it for the rest of my life anyway. I had no idea what I was in store for. I stopped sleeping completely. I had a lot of anxiety. It was really the most difficult thing I had ever been through.

Zibby: Did you stop cold?

Ana: I did.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh.

Ana: I stopped cold turkey. The new doctor that I had didn’t really seem to think that — she was like, “You might have a couple difficult weeks sleeping, but this is the best. You need to get off it.” I do agree that it was good for me to stop, but I shouldn’t have stopped that abruptly. I was plunged into this situation where I thought maybe I was going crazy because the new doctor didn’t seem to think this was a real phenomenon. My old doctor hadn’t said it was a possibility. I felt like maybe I was losing my mind. Maybe it really was not the medication, but me. I went through a very difficult time. At that time, I was also writing my book. It was grad school. I was teaching a class. I was writing my book. I found myself writing about what I was going through through the lens of my character. Somehow, that really helped me deal with it. I think writing is very therapeutic for all of us.

Especially for me at that time, I was able to have some distance from the situation because it was happening to Maya, my character, rather than to me. I was also able to have more compassion for her than I was for myself. It really helped me immensely through that process. In addition to that, it turned out to be the perfect dilemma for an unreliable narrator. When you’re not sleeping and when you’re confused, you think you might be going crazy, it turns out that’s also a great setup for this mystery where we don’t know if she is going crazy. What Frank has done, these killings that she believes he’s committed, seems completely impossible. As a reader, I tried to make it so that we’re questioning her along with everyone around her. We’re like, how could you believe this? Is it you? Are you actually psychotic? It turned out to be the perfect tool for a thriller writer to be going through that. At the time, it wasn’t fun. It was a complete nightmare. Writing the book really helped me through it. Maya helped me through it.

Zibby: Wow. It’s the ultimate self-talk. They literally say that in therapy. Imagine this was a friend of yours who was going through this. Would you be so hard on her? You’re like, no. I would be like, are you okay? Not, you’re so pathetic. It’s the ultimate therapeutic payoff. You have to thank a doctor or something for the massive success of the book and all of that. Did you read a book called May Cause Side Effects by Brooke Siem?

Ana: No, I haven’t even heard of it.

Zibby: It just came out. It’s a memoir. It came out — well, not just — within the last year. She lives in Las Vegas. It’s about her experience going off meds. You should just read it. The two of you could have a nice conversation about it. She’s really cool. I can put you in touch or whatever. I did not even know just how almost pseudo-psychosis — not psychosis, but just all of the mental health implications of going off meds and not doing it in a tapered, careful way under medical supervision. I learned a lot of that from her book. Now I feel like I can come to your book fully in the know about it all.

Ana: Psychosis is right. That is a potential side effect. There have been people who have just completely had psychotic breaks. The research that I’ve done as well about this was that when people started to recognize benzodiazepine withdrawal as an actual syndrome, prior to that, there were people having psychotic breaks, winding up in hospitals. It took them a while to realize this person’s not psychotic. They’re going through a very specific syndrome. It does cause psychosis in extreme cases.

Zibby: Then people worry, wait, maybe I am psychotic while not on a medicine, so then they go back on the medicine. Then it’s this whole vicious cycle. It’s actually very smart for these pharmaceutical manufacturers. Not that they planned it. I’m just saying it would be a very smart repeat-customer tool. I’ll just leave it at that. That’s my thoughts on mood-altering drugs. How did you know you were a thriller writer?

Ana: I actually didn’t start out writing a thriller. I started out writing a book that I wasn’t really sure what genre it fit into. I grew up reading thrillers. My favorite writers were Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. All the Goosebumps and Fear Street books were what I read throughout my entire childhood. Then I moved on to Stephen King. That was always my preferred genre. To this day, some of my favorite writers are Shirley Jackson, Gillian Flynn. It felt very natural to move in that direction, but it took, actually, some goading by my agent, who was really supportive of the first draft but said, “I feel like you’ve written this very creepy story.” about the house, that was always there, but I hadn’t really built up to it in a thriller fashion. It took her encouraging me to try to make it more of a thriller.

What that entailed was reading the books that I would be reading anyway, but taking copious notes and sort of charting the way that they worked. I would note if there was a red herring. I would note when a chapter had a cliffhanger or just the various tools that the writers were all using that are available to anyone, but I had to identify them in order to put them into my own work. That process. This story didn’t change much, but the delivery changed over the course of my editing it with the help of my agent. That took almost two years. That was a real learning curve, but I’m so glad that I did it because I think everything I write from here on out is going to be a thriller, have some horror elements. I’m so glad that I took the time to learn those things because those tools are just invaluable.

Zibby: You should write a little thing about, “What I learned in how to write a thriller,” or something. Not like you want to give away all your secrets, but they’re not truly secrets. It’s just, you’ve done the work. I think it would be a really interesting article for aspiring authors.

Ana: Absolutely. I would love to teach a class on it someday when I get back to teaching because it’s so much fun. Those tools are for everyone.

Zibby: We have these online Zibby Classes. You could even just do a one-time workshop on it if you wanted.

Ana: I would love that.

Zibby: Do you want to do it?

Ana: Yeah, I do.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that would be so fun.

Ana: I would love that.

Zibby: I’m going to put you in touch with Darcy, who runs our classes.

Ana: Thank you.

Zibby: I would take your class on that. That sounds great.

Ana: I would love that.

Zibby: Start from when you were little. When did you first write? When did you first know you liked it? When did you get into these Stephen King books? Could you sleep at night? Did you crawl into bed with your parents?

Ana: A lot of that. I did a lot of crawling into bed with my parents. They had to really stop me from doing that because that was my default. I think it started with R.L. Stine and the Goosebumps books.

Zibby: The writing piece too.

Ana: The writing piece, yeah. I started as a major reader. That was the biggest thing. The first story that I wrote, I was living in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the setting of my book. Their public library had a children’s writing contest. The winner of the contest won a gift certificate to a local bookstore. My first story that I wrote, it wasn’t because I wanted to be a writer. It was because I wanted to win more books. That’s actually what got me into writing. The first story that I wrote, it was also about a creepy house in the woods and a little girl who gets lost in the forest. I think I was inspired not just by the Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine books that I was reading, but also by all the fairy tales that I grew up loving, Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood where you have children lost in the woods. Those really haunted me, running through the forest and pursued by some kind of creature or monster.

That was the type of thing that I first wrote. I didn’t win the contest. Years went by. I always had that impulse to write. I would write poems. I would write short stories. They were not very good at first. I kept at it when the inspiration struck. I never stopped being an avid reader. Years passed. After college, I actually got a job being a professional script reader. I was, again, a reader before a professional writer. That job was really great because I learned so much about story structure from screenplays, which are really the masters at structure. When I got laid off from that job, that was when I decided, okay, I really want to take my writing seriously now. I’m going to apply to MFA programs and find one that’s fully funded so that I don’t have to work while I’m in the program. I can just really devote myself to reading and writing. That’s what I did. I got into the Louisiana State University program, which is three years and fully funded. You just have to teach one class. You have a ton of time to write. That’s how I wrote my first draft of this book.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s a total dream success story. You go get an MFA. There’s your book. You get the agent. Here you go. Now it’s a book club pick. It’s amazing.

Ana: I got very lucky.

Zibby: It’s not luck. It’s just great. It’s talent too. I have to say, I listened to your book. The narrator, I think her name’s Marisol, she’s been keeping me company lately.

Ana: She’s phenomenal.

Zibby: It was really great. I also couldn’t figure out how to speed it up on, which is better because I try to listen as fast as I possibly can all the time, but my auditory processing is not — I don’t know how you feel about this. I can read really quickly, but I can’t listen half as quickly. This was the perfect tempo. I was so immersed. It was great, really wonderful. What was it like knowing your book was hitting it big? What did that feel like to you? What was that like? Tell me about how you found out and the whole thing.

Ana: I first found out from my editor about the Reese’s Book Club several months before it came out. She just called me. She said, “Hey, can you hop on a Zoom with your agent? We’re here if you could just hop on.” I had no idea. I didn’t know if it was good or bad. I hop on. They’re like, “You’re going to be the Reese’s Book Club pick.” I was just so shocked because it was my first novel. I was so excited that it was being published by Dutton, that I had this incredible editor. To me, that was the height of the success that I expected for my first book. When they told me that, I was just so overwhelmed. I was so grateful, so excited. I wanted to immediately tell everybody, but they were like, “Here’s the catch. You can’t tell anybody until the day. She’s going to make the announcement. Then you can tell everybody.” That was the hardest part. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I couldn’t tell anybody. First, there was that. Then the book comes out. A little bit more than a week later, I guess it was the following Wednesday, again, I get a call from my editor. Again, we jump on Zoom. This time, she’s there along with my publicist. The head of marketing and publicity are there. They have cups. Maya, my editor, is holding a bottle of champagne. I was like, this is going to be good. Then they told me, “You’re number two on The New York Times best-seller list.” Again, I just felt completely overwhelmed and so excited. They actually captured the moment on video. Then Reese’s Book Club showed it as a reel on Instagram, so that moment was kind of memorialized. I just like to look at it sometimes to remember, wow, that really happened.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that gave me chills. I have to go back and find that video. That’s awesome. So inspiring. So exciting. It’s so great. Where are you with writing now? What are you working on? How are you dividing your time between all of the publicity for the book and writing and reading and all of that?

Ana: I’m working on my second book. I’ve got a good start on it, maybe a little less than a third of the way into it. It’s coming a lot easier because I feel like I did that work to learn the genre, learn how to write a book by writing a book. This is hopefully going to come a lot quicker. My first book, start to finish, took almost seven years. This, I’m hoping to have done much quicker. It’s coming a lot faster. I think it’s even creepier. I’m really excited for The House in the Pines. If they liked that, I think they’re really going to like this too.

Zibby: What do you think appeals to you about creepy, terrifying things?

Ana: I think I like the mystery of it. I tend to like mysterious stories more than I like, let’s say, slasher books or slasher movies. What I think I like is the questions of, how did this person disappear? Is that house really haunted? It’s the mystery-box nature of those type of books where you have to keep going to find out what happens. I’ve always been drawn to mystery. I think that’s why.

Zibby: Awesome. What has opened up to you as a result of this early success of the book? What opportunities did you just never think you would have? Something specific that you’re just like, this is the coolest.

Ana: This podcast is one thing. I think all of the publicity is just amazing. When I think about the many opportunities that I’ve had to reach people all over the country — people in Australia are reading the book, people in Canada. That’s the biggest opportunity, is that I’m reaching people I never would’ve imagined reading my book. That’s just been incredibly exciting.

Zibby: That’s really great. Very nice answer, by the way. Thank you. Awesome. What do you like to do when you’re not reading and writing?

Ana: I love hiking. I live in Los Angeles, so there’s some really great places to hike near me at Griffith Park. I like cooking. I love dancing. I used to go out dancing a lot when I was younger. Now I mostly do it in my living room, but I still totally enjoy it. I do a lot of YouTube dance videos for exercise.

Zibby: That’s a good idea. Does that count? It must count.

Ana: Oh, yeah. There’s Zumba. There’s the Bollywood. Pop Sugar Fitness has some great dance videos.

Zibby: That sounds like a lot more fun. I used to do this DanceBody class, which I feel like is a hybrid. You should check it out. They have a whole app and everything. I feel like the music distracted me enough that I didn’t realize I was totally working out. Then I was drenched.

Ana: Trick.

Zibby: Trick, yeah. Tricking the body. What else are you reading? I know you mentioned a lot of heroes in the past. What’s on your nightstand now? What are you looking forward to reading?

Ana: Actually, tonight, I’ll be in conversation with Jenny Herrera, who wrote The Hunter. That was just such a fun book.

Zibby: At a little bookstore in Santa Monia.

Ana: I’m so excited. Zibby’s bookstore. My first time checking out the bookstore will also be my first time meeting Jennifer. We’ve been communicating over email and Instagram. I just really loved her book. She read my book. We’ve talked a little bit about how they both share this theme of a character who has to go home again to some secret from their past and how that’s a very common trope. We’ve been talking about, what’s behind that trope? Why is it that people feel compelled to tell stories about returning to where they come from? We’ve talked about where that might come from and why that keeps appealing to people, both the writers and the readers. We’re really excited to talk about that. I also just had the amazing privilege of reading Mister Magic by Kiersten — what’s her name? Kiersten White. She wrote Hide. It was so good. It was about a children’s show from the nineties. Children who watch it, they all remember watching it, but there’s no trace of the show ever being online. Nobody can prove that it was ever really on the air, but all these children have memories of watching it.

Zibby: This is fiction, right?

Ana: This is fiction.

Zibby: I was about to tell you all the shows I watched in case. Keep going.

Ana: It’s like a show that we might have all watched, like Barney or something. It was led by this strange, charismatic man named Mister Magic. The mystery of the book is, who was Mister Magic? What was up with this show? Something horrible happened on its last episode. How did that come about? I don’t want to give too much away, but mystery surrounding the show.

Zibby: That does sound good.

Ana: I flew through it. It comes out in August. I got to read it a little bit early. That’s the most recent book that I read. I highly recommend it.

Zibby: Mister Magic, okay. Amazing. All right, I’m excited for that. Awesome. I hope you have a great time at the bookstore. I know we’re trying to stream it tonight, so we’ll see if that works because I really want to watch. I hope to see you in LA sometime. I’m there a lot. Hopefully, our paths will cross.

Ana: I hope so too.

Zibby: I’ll be in touch about the class.

Ana: Excellent. Really excited about that.

Zibby: Awesome. Thanks, Ana.

Ana: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



Purchase your copy on Zibby’s bookshop and Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts