August 20

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Why I Wrote The Real Us by Tommy Greenwald

WE ALL HAVE BLEMISHES

 

A beautiful girl with a giant pimple in the middle of her nose.

 

That’s the first thing that popped into my head — no pun intended, I swear! — when I embarked on the story that became THE REAL US.

 

This was a few years ago, and up to that point, all the middle-grade novels I written – the Charlie Joe Jackson series and its spinoffs, the Crimebiters! series – had a broadly comic bent to them. So naturally, as I dove in to this new story, I assumed that I would go down a similarly humorous path. But interestingly, I soon enough found myself writing a (slightly) more serious book about friendship, self-identity and the limits and labels we put on ourselves, and others, throughout our middle school years.

 

These are issues that I’ve always been fascinated by: it traces back to when I was a kid myself, trying to straddle the worlds between music (I was a pianist and percussionist) and sports (I played soccer). It wasn’t easy, because each of those pursuits was so self-contained, and all-consuming. And then I saw it in my three boys, Charlie, Joe and Jack, who each found a world to belong to in school, and then found it difficult when they were interested in exploring beyond the boundaries of that world.

 

Add the extra complication of looks into it – how the “attractive” kids are expected to act a certain way and hang around with a certain kind of person (namely, each other), and how the “less attractive” kids are supposed to stay in their lane and know their place – and you’ve suddenly got the makings of a story that could go in a lot of different directions. And I was interesting in following those directions and seeing where they took me.

 

I loved creating Calista, Damian and Laura – the heroes of THE REAL US. My goal was to make them funny, confused, complicated and real, or at least as real as fictional people can be.

 

But don’t worry. Calista – the beautiful one – still gets the giant pimple in the middle of her nose.

 

You didn’t think I was gonna let that one go, did you?

 

Tommy Greenwald has enjoyed reading all his life, which is why he’s appalled that his kids Charlie, Joe and Jack, would prefer getting a dental check-up to checking out a book. After years of pleading, threatening, and bribing, Tommy finally decided the only way to get his kids to read was to write a book about how to get out of reading. The result was Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. And they read it! (So they say.) The Executive Creative Director at SPOTCO, an entertainment advertising agency in New York City, Tommy lives in Connecticut with his wife, Cathy; his non-reading sons, Charlie, Joe and Jack; and his dogs, Moose and Coco.