Readers often ask where I get my characters. The truth is, I don't know. While I may steal a visual from life once in a while--a nice head of a hair, a good jaw line--I don't use real people when it comes to personality. Nor are they all some version of me. If I made a list of what my character Dan Sharp and I have in common, it wouldn't be long. I am not a single dad, a private eye, or a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Nor did I ever sell my body for sex, though I have slept on a park bench.

Growing up in Sudbury, as Dan I and did, there was no small share of potential characters: boys whose fathers were alcoholics; a girl named Shirley who had a boy's haircut and wore dungarees and came to school looking alternately frightened and angry; another girl named Pelka, whose father emigrated from Yugoslavia and who drank battery acid to try to kill himself. I knew that world and mingled with it every day at school. I never thought any of them odd--merely interesting or dull, dangerous or friendly. Nor did I ever look down on any of them.

On the other hand, like Dan, there is a little of the sleuth in me. I recall Miss Kristakos, my grade three teacher, who had polio and limped, and who I secretly followed home one day to find out where she lived so I could surprise her with a drawing of Daisy Duck the next day. Or Rex, my best friend of two months, who had no father and whose mother was so poor all she could afford to serve when I came to lunch was Kraft Dinner, which I refused as politely as I could. Rex vanished as suddenly as he appeared. The adult me still wonders how I could trace him to learn how his life turned out, as would Dan.

While I'm not Dan, I admire him and like to spend time in his company. That's why I write about him. I've had an easier life than he has, and that's one of the reasons I admire him, because he upholds principles despite the difficulties they sometimes cause him. If I knew him, I would be proud to call him my friend. I hope he would say the same of me.


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