Continuing this short series on character interviews . . . If you’re just joining us, I’m exploring the use of imaginary “interviews” as a way for authors to get to know their characters better. Somebody on this Bus Is Going to Be Famous is a great example of the benefits of this technique, because with nine (count ’em! Nine!) main characters I needed an effective way to get to know them better. Earlier this week I visited with kids at Montessori Magnet School in Kankakee, and asked them which interview they’d like to see. The winner:
SHELLY GUADALUPE ALVAREZ!
(She’s not surprised at all. Just wait until she’s famous–everybody will want to read her interviews!)
What’s your favorite color?
Silver! That’s my brand.
What do you consider to be your strongest quality?
My strongest quality is determination and focus. Is that two qualities? How about focused determination? Or determined focus? You know Roger Foulkes, on American Star Search? He says not having a focus is like playing darts with a balloon. He means you have to be sharp. And I guess kind of hard, too. I can’t think of anybody in my whole school like that except me. Focus means you have to think about something all the time and set goals for yourself and figure out ways to reach those goals. The only people I know like that are in the All-City Glee Club. I’m the youngest member, did you know that? Luke Springer, our coach, says that I—
What? Go on to the next question? Okay . . .
In what area of your life would you most like to improve?
Well, I believe that you don’t focus on your weaknesses; you build on your strengths. So sure, I want to improve on everything there: voice, volume, breath control, musicality, body stamina, flexibility. Grades? Okay, I want to improve on those enough to get into some good performance schools. Even though, like, how is it going to help me to know when the Civic War was or how to find the area of a circle? But whatever it takes, I guess.
Who had or has the most influence on you? How and/or why?
Claire, definitely. Did you know she was the youngest of six kids, and their dad ran off and their mother had to work all the time and she grew up in Arkansas? And she made it big singing country and western? Yeah. You can find her old clips on YouTube, age 15 or something like that, singing “Wildwood Flower” on an acoustic guitar. Wearing white cowgirl boots and a shirt with a fringe! What I admire about her is that she wasn’t afraid to change or, you know, evolve. She kept the white boots but that’s it. And now she’s so . . . so . . . just dazzly. She lights up the whole stage. She’s going to be in St. Louis in January and I’m dying to go. But Dad says it’s either that or save the money for camp, so . . . Nobody should have to make a choice like that!
What three words would your friends use to describe you?
Sparkly. Exciting. Focused.
What do others not understand about you?
Well, I think everybody understands my goals, and that’s all I care about!
But . . . I don’t think they understand what performing does to me. I guess maybe they might think I’m just a showoff. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Really, a lot more. Like music. Music takes me places, you know? When the music gets inside and starts swirling around it kind of lifts me up and swirls me around, too. And then I’m exactly who I want to be, not a little Mexican beanpot like Uncle Mike says. (I guess I used to fart a lot, though I don’t remember.) He still calls me that, even though my ears fit my face a lot better and my hair got long and thick enough to cover them. It’s like a big hilarious joke that nobody thinks is funny except him. He’s a loser, anyway. But the music, that’s what people don’t get. The talent show really showed me that. I know, it was just a little dinky elementary-school show, and when the sound went off I would have freaked, totally, except for the music. It was inside me—no, it was me, and it made me so much bigger and stronger I could pick up that whole cafeteria full of kids and take them anywhere I wanted to go. Talk about focused! I was so there, I never want to be anywhere else.
That’s what I wish people understood about me.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years I’ll be 22. Claire did her first concert tour when she was 19, her first platinum album at 20, her first Super Bowl halftime at 21. Does that give you an idea?
What was the happiest moment of your life?
Well, I was going to say the talent show—duh! But then I thought a little more about this question, and I remembered this funny thing from way back when I was only 7. M6y grandpa on my mom’s side, Papa Early, he gave me my first showbiz break. Really. He was the entertainment chairman of this old-folks group he belonged to, the Golden Gang, and he came up with this bright idea to have a grandkids’ talent show. He called it Bragging Rights Night, because he told us he got tired of all the old duffers bragging on their grandkids and wanted to see all these wonderkids strut their stuff (he actually talked like that). He’s the one who talked my parents into letting me sing, because I used to sing for him on the back porch on barbecue nights. He picked two songs and even coached me a little. I didn’t think too much about it. I always liked to sing but never thought about performing. I didn’t get too nervous, or not too anything until I was halfway through “The Good Ship Lollipop” and noticed all these old people smiling at me. Really smiling, not like Aw Isn’t She Cute, but like I was making them happy. And that made me happy.
At the end of the show, Papa Early picked me up and walked around with me like I was, like, three years old. “Here’s my little star,” he kept saying, like he wanted all his friends to know me. And all the time they were smiling like they were still in that happy place.
Papa Early died a few months after that. Heart attack, really sudden. I wish I could remember him better.
What’s your greatest fear?
Well, if you want to stay focused you can’t think about fear! So I’ll pass on this one.
If you died tomorrow, what should your epitaph be?
What kind of question is that?! And what’s an epitaph? Like, what you put on your gravestone? Okay, if you want to know how I’d like people to remember me, how about Shelly Alvarez: a Real Shooting Star.
But really, it’s a stupid question.
To see how other characters answered these same questions, here’s Bender and Igor.