Where did the characters in your book come from? Are they real people?

Young readers often ask me this. One eighth grade boy even had a crush on Catalina, and wanted to know where he could find her! I had to tell him, as I tell everyone, that these are made-up people ... sorry!

But that doesn't always satisfy kids, who are really curious about fictional characters—especially ones they like. Often they want to know, where did you get the ideas for these characters?

You know, I'm not always sure! But here are my best answers to this question, for each of the key characters in The Revealers.

Russell

Russell-RevealersAs you can read in The story behind The Revealers, Russell's first experience with the bully Richie is based on something that happened to me, when I was in seventh grade. In some ways, Russell is like I was, then. He's bright but he says awkward things that can be funny but definitely are not cool. He means well but doesn't fit in, and he doesn't have many friends. I was like that.

But Russell is not like me in other ways — mainly in how he reaches out to two other seventh graders, Elliot and Catalina, who are also isolated and friendless. I didn't do that. I wish I had.

When kids today ask me how they can deal with being bullied, I often encourage them to find a friend. Find someone you can hang out with, and talk with. The most vulnerable kids, I think, are the ones who — like Russell, at first — are the most alone.



Elliot

Elliot-Revealers
Elliot is also like I was, in some ways. He's also bright, yet he's someone whom it's okay for anyone else in his school to pick on and humiliate. He gets lost in an interest — in his case, dinosaurs — that sort of replaces reality for him. I was somewhat like that, especially with reading. In middle school, I read all the time. I probably exaggerated this in thinking up Elliot.

Elliot is not like I was in that he's small, quick, and birdlike, while I was tall, skinny, and awkward. I'm sure other people I've known influenced my ideas about Elliot, but I'm not sure who they were!


Catalina

Cat-RevealersCatalina is not based on any specific person, but she has a quality of quiet strength that I have seen and admired in many women I have known. When things get really hard, and the boys are ready to give up, Catalina doesn't let them. She's shy and aloof, in this new school where some people are treating her in a confusing way — but inside, behind that, she's very strong.

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Richie

Richie-RevealersI have been surprised to find that for many young readers, Richie is their favorite character in The Revealers. He's certainly the most complicated! People ask me why Richie acts the way he does. I can only say: read the story carefully, and draw your own conclusions. I think that, as a reader, you deserve to have your own relationship with a book, and your own understanding of each character. Richie is in some ways based on my own middle-school struggles with bullying, but like all the others in my book he's really a fictional character.

Bethany

Bethany-RevealersAs the ruler of the clique of cool girls who torment Catalina, Bethany is based on a number of powerful middle school girls I have observed. I try to watch the way middle schoolers act, the way they establish themselves. Some are powerful, and it's interesting to watch the ways they try to keep and use and protect that power. So Bethany is a character based on my observations.

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The Jock Rots

Everyone has known boys in school who are great at sports, or otherwise cool and popular, and who seem to enjoy making life miserable for less popular kids. They seem to do it for fun. I think Jon Blanchette, in the group that Elliot calls the Jock Rots, is like that. I definitely knew real boys like Jon!

As for Burke Brown, he's darker, more angry. Who knows why some people are angry? They may have their reasons, in their lives, but we don't always know what those reasons are. That's how Burke is to me. Basically, I think these boys are cruel to certain kids, like Elliot, not because they're mean by nature but because their kind of cruelty is tolerated in "Darkland" Middle School. They think it's cool.

Big Chris, who is with the Jock Rots at first but then turns against them, grew as a character in the rewriting of the story. At first he was more someone in the background—but my editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux thought he was interesting and should be developed more. As I worked to do that, Big Chris became more interesting to me, too. Along with a couple of other "supporting characters" in the book — Jake and Allison — I really came to like Big Chris. To me, he's a follower who discovers his conscience and decides to stand up for what he feels is right. I think that decision probably changes Big Chris's life.

What do you think?