The other day I had the weirdest experience: a newspaper reporter interviewed me. No mistake: he interviewed me, and not the other way ’round.
For years, I was the reporter at the “great suburban newspaper.” And I had interviewed all sorts: old timers, rock stars, museum curators, historians, gold miners, artists and even writers like me, who’d just had their first novel published.
In “News Writing I” at Kent State University’s School of Journalism, the professor tried to teach us how to interview. We were given an assignment to interview each other. Most of us felt intrusive asking questions of someone we barely knew, even if it was as innocuous as, “Where’d you grow up?”
When presented with such a question, the interviewee often replied without elaboration, as if answering a question on an admissions form. The “share all” mindset of the 21st century was still decades away.
Evidently, there was more to this interviewing business than just questions and answers.
I can’t say that class assignment did me much good. Interviewing is a technique I developed over time, as I conducted interview after interview, learning what kinds of questions touched people where they lived, allowing me to draw from them the quotable quotes.
The interviewer has to be a listener. At one time, journalists excelled at listening. I don’t know if that’s still true, in this age of navel-gazing and blogging (irony duly noted).
In the midst of listening, you discern a path through the interviewee’s psyche and follow it, formulating new questions along the way, based on what he says – and not asking everything you had prepared in advance. All this has to be done while scribbling (or typing) frantically (which is why I recommend recording interviews, so you can worry about that later).
Throughout the conversation, the interviewer must hone in on the one thing the interviewee is most passionate about. That thing might not have anything to do with the music she just released, or the tour she is doing, or the exhibit she curated.
It might be totally unrelated – but no less important. Whatever that topic is, the interviewer must shift directions, and push forward into that strange land that had not been mapped via website or biography, nor researched ahead of time.
For it is from that wilderness place the best quotes are mined. The gold of the interview is found in the cache held dearest to the interviewee’s heart.
That is also when it becomes a true conversation between two people, a spontaneous human interaction, a meeting of the minds, memorable for both participants. And when the article based on this interview is written, the authenticity of that miraculous communication shines through.
The young reporter who interviewed me by phone is writing his article for that same college newspaper I wrote for so many years ago.
It was a very educational 20 minutes – for both of us. He had never interviewed an author before, and I had never been interviewed (in “real time,” not via email) as an author before.
The reporter had very well-thought-out questions – about me, about my writing process, about “Rings of Passage” and its main character, Richard III – an unlikely romantic hero.
After all the preparation I had done over the years to interview people – now that same thing had been done for me. It was not unpleasant. It felt like admiration, in a way. My background as a reporter helped me not to be nervous beforehand. Regardless, it was still a heady experience, exhilarating, yet daunting.
And so unexpected – to be suddenly the person on this side of the phone interview.
To answer the begging question – yes, the college reporter followed where I inadvertently led, excavating at least one golden topic held close to my heart. I’m sure he could hear the excitement in my voice when we talked about it. I look forward to seeing it in print.
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“Rings of Passage” is a time travel romance set during the reign of Richard III, who is the romantic hero. It is available in e-formats at the following links:
For Nook (ePub and PDF):