Interview: Secrets of Characters
Explorer Academy header image


Part One of a Four-Part Interview


Trudi Trueit is the author of Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret, her first book in Nat Geo’s new fiction series for kids. She sat down with Nat Geo Kids to spill some secrets about developing the characters, coming up with cool technology, and writing the book … as well as spilling some secrets about herself.


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NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS: How did you come up with the characters for Explorer Academy?


TRUDI TRUEIT: I came up with four or five main characters and gave them something that made them special, but I also wanted a really diverse group of kids.


So the main character, Cruz, is a surfer from Hawaii and has Mexican heritage. Emmett, Cruz’s best friend at the Academy, is Chinese-Canadian and invented these emoto-glasses that change shape and color depending on his mood. Lani is Cruz’s best friend from home and a tech whiz—she invented this micro air vehicle, a honeybee-shaped drone named Mell. And another classmate, Sailor, is from New Zealand and has Maori heritage.


Clockwise from top left: Cruz, Emmett, Lani, and Sailor



NAT GEO KIDS: Do you have a secret to developing characters?


TRUDI: I like to doodle. It helps me visualize who these people are and the places they’ll interact with. Even the ship Orion, which the students board at the end of The Nebula Secret, is almost like a character. I needed to figure out where the cabins would be in relation to the dining hall, how the kids would get around, things like that. The doodles are stuck all over my desk.



Trudi's doodle of the ship Orion, which was named Polaris in an early version of the book



NAT GEO KIDS: Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret has a lot of cool pictures. Are these doodles things you share with the illustrator to develop how the characters look?


TRUDI (laughs): No! I am definitely not an artist. But more importantly, I don’t want the illustrator to think that my vision of the characters is the only vision, just like the illustrator’s vision doesn’t have to match the reader’s vision. We all get to use our imaginations when we read—that’s half the fun!



Trudi's doodles of the main characters in Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret




NAT GEO KIDS: Which character was easiest to visualize?


TRUDI: I think Emmett. His emoto-glasses are a part of him, but they’re also like a separate character. They have a voice all their own.


Explorer Academy Thermochromic material

Emmett's emoto-glasses change color depending on the mood of the wearer.

NAT GEO KIDS: And the most difficult?


TRUDI: Probably Lani. She doesn’t play a big part of the main plot in The Nebula Secret, so I didn’t know her that well. Now that I’m writing book four, she’d look very different if I were to sketch her today.


NAT GEO KIDS: Is there a character in The Nebula Secret you most identify with?


TRUDI: I’m probably most like Lani, because the more people tell her she can’t do something, the more she’ll keep going. And she never lets things get her down. Although she is more daring than I am!



NAT GEO KIDS: Which character are you least like?


TRUDI: I think there are parts of me in every character, even the villains. It’s the only way you can make characters seem like real people. Real people are kind and considerate and polite, and at the same time they can be mean and angry and destructive. I want every character to be like that too. Otherwise they won’t seem real. You have to let the characters be who they are, just like real people.




—Interview by Rachel Buchholz
—Illustrations by Scott Plumbe



The mysterious "Man in the Snakeskin Boots" appears to be up
to no good.

Enter the world.

Play now!

Figure out the secret codes.

Meet Cruz and his friends.

Explorer Quiz

Who are you most like?

science that inspired the book

Learn about Trudi Trueit.

Explorer Academy book cover

You could win a trip!

The winner heads to Alaska.