As a writer of fiction, my characters have to come from somewhere. A writer always writes best when he writes what he knows. So, I am in a unique position for writing the stories that my body and soul ache to push out into the wide, wide world. Most of my characters have to be little people… students, kids, and other denizens of the monkey house where I spent the majority of my real life. (It helps to be told that the monkey house I refer to is a composite of all the middle schools I ever taught in.) Of course, the students I taught were, over time, dancing in front of me metaphorically naked most of their days in my classes. They told me everything about themselves in both conversations and their writing. I know even their most embarrassing secrets. Their identities have to be protected (not because they were innocent, Joe Friday, they were certainly never that, but because they have a sacred right to privacy). So I rename them in my writing with fake names. I take some of the incidents and eccentricities of their lives and splice them together with those of other kids. And I transport them to imaginary worlds. Some of my former students, reading my novels and other writing, actually don’t recognize themselves. The picture above from the planet Dionysus in the 36th Century contains three of my former students. Do you suppose they will recognize themselves if the story ever gets told? The sauroid boy, a native Dion from the jungle world in the story, is modeled after Sparky, a boy I taught in my fourth year of teaching. His real name was not Clay Snarkley, but that’s how I refer to him in my writing (when I talk about the real boy, not the alien dinosaur-child). Sparky was one of those kids who lives his entire life on center stage. He was the class clown who was always making a wisecrack any time the lesson involved a question that I asked students to answer. And his wisecracks were actually funny. He didn’t read well, but he was highly intelligent and creative. He’s the one who fed re-fried beans to his three best friends before school and organized the Great Fart-Gas Attack in the middle of Sustained Silent Reading Time. (That terroristic attack failed, of course, because with my lifetime of clogged sinuses, I had no sense of smell to offend. I was perfectly comfortable. It was the girls in class that were so enraged that Sparky narrowly escaped having a serious behind-ectomy and being the subject of ritual sacrificial revenge after school…with knives and fingernails.) Sparky was one of my favorite students… of course, you probably know by now they were all my favorites, and he not only makes a good sauroid-alien, but he is a character in my on-going series of home-town novels, where he has to be transformed into an Iowa boy rather than a Texan. It all means then, that I am writing humorous fiction for middle-school kids that is full of real people, people who are mostly still walking around out there living their real lives. And if I draw them and write about them and use the details of their lives in my stories, they don’t have to be embarrassed by any of it. As an artist, I transform the world as I perceive it through my artifice. Their monkey-house secrets are safe.