When people know an author, they often try to guess who his characters “really are.” Chain Gang Elementary is no exception. I hear it all the time from people around DeKalb County and Atlanta, who figured I plucked the characters for my troubled school from my troubled community. Well, not so much, really. (Although I did include a quote from a PTA leader just about everyone around here knows.)
I just wrote this, responding to a friend on facebook, who was trying to figure out who was who:
“So many people have tried … and failed! In truth, Malliford Elementary School is everywhere and nowhere. There have been sightings of “Chain Gang” characters in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama, as well.
I write plot-based fiction; that means I’m writing about things that happen–in the book, at least. That means certain things have to happen. Therefore I build (I jokingly say “hire”) my characters to make those things happen. They END up being a certain way, rather than START OUT a certain way, but some of them mature in five minutes of thinking. There is an exception: Miz Rutherford. I decided from the beginning she’d be a cross between Nurse Ratched from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEXT and Milburn Drysdale’s wife from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES.
There is nothing new under the sun.”