Behind the Interview

Most of the time, when I talk about my life as a writer, I talk about the writing.  This week, here’s a behind the scenes glimpse at what goes into another aspect of my life: doing interviews.

There are many sorts of interviews.  By now I think I’ve done them all, most often as the one being interviewed, but sometimes as the interviewer.  Print interviews, especially these days, are often done, not with give and take, but with the “interviewed” being sent a list of questions and being asked to answer some or all.

Print interviews done this way definitely have pros and cons.  On the positive side, the “interviewed” has a great deal of control of the finished interview.  On the negative side, the “interviewer” often uses the same very generic questions over and over. This tends to lead to interviews with a flat sameness.  This sameness is probably useful if someone wants to do an article on “Twenty Authors Answer ‘Where Do You Get Your Ideas?’” but isn’t my idea of fun to either do or to read.

When I interview someone, especially if via e-mail, I only send a few questions in the first round, so that I can then respond to the answers and ask new questions that are direct responses to what the person being interviewed has said.  In this way, we avoid falling into rote.

Another sort of interview is the in-person interview.  With the growing popularity of podcasts, these are becoming more common.  There are two forms of this interview: the live and the pre-recorded.  Each has advantages.

Live interviews are a bit like roller coaster rides.  You get the pauses, the ums and ahs.  The unexpected laughter.  The occasional blooper.  If the speakers are good, live interviews are terrific.  If the speakers are inarticulate or under-prepared, then they’re deadly.

Pre-recorded interviews tend to be smoother because the dead air time has been taken out. Rambling answers can be trimmed, complete disasters removed entirely.  What pre-recorded interviews lack in unpredictability, they gain in polish.  If the editor (who is often the same person who does the interview) is good, a pre-recorded interview still maintains the sense of spontaneity.

As with print interviews, a great deal rests on the interviewer.  Some simply ask the same questions.  I’ve done interviews where I quickly become aware that not only hasn’t the interviewer read any more of the book in question than the jacket copy (interviews are frequently tied to new releases), but also the interviewer hasn’t read anything of mine at all.  In those cases, I’ll speak at greater length, filling in the elements that the interviewer should have covered.

Usually, I prefer not to see the questions for in-person interviews in advance, because then my responses won’t be as from the heart.  However, this doesn’t mean I don’t prepare.  I try to anticipate general questions, and think of examples.  For example, “Where do you get your ideas?” can be tightened to become “Where did you get the idea for The Firekeeper Saga or the Overwhere books?” by how I answer it. 

Tomorrow (Thursday), I’ll be recording an interview for the podcast “The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” with David Barr Kirtley, which appears on Wired.com.  He’s picked an interesting topic: my short story collection Curiosities, as well as my book on writing, Wanderings on Writing.  I haven’t dealt with these very often in interviews, so it should be fresh and exciting.

I’ll let you know when the interview airs.  In the meantime, there are links to some older interviews I’ve done at my website: www.janelindskold.com.  You might enjoy.

Any questions?

6 Responses to “Behind the Interview”

  1. HelixRook Says:

    I know one of the biggest problems with questions are the yes/no ones. Having detailed or open-ended questions are absolutely vital. But being totally unprepared, or doing the minimum, especially when interviewing an author about their book, to me, seems incredibly disrespectful. I realize that reading takes time and that when someone is interviewing for books they may have a lot of books they are discussing over their day. But I think having at least some basis other than a book jacket is absolutely vital. Even if it’s knowledge of a previous book in a series or other works the author has written, it’s important to have some knowledge and expertise to speak upon and ask questions about. But hey, who am I to say? I turned away from journalism a long time ago when I realized they wanted to limit what I wrote.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I’m happy to say yesterday’s interviewer, David Barr Kirtley was one of the better I’ve worked with, and if the interview doesn’t work, it’s my fault, not his for being underprepared.

  2. Alan Allinger Says:

    I’m going to go back and look at some of your interviews, Jane. My editor has threatened to put me into some sort of Q & A author/readers chatroom and I’m interested to see how you responded to some of your questions.
    Thanks for putting these things out there-
    Best,
    Alan

    • janelindskold Says:

      You’re welcome, Alan. My short advice would be to remember that in the current age anything you say will be there for a long time, so be ready to be asked ten years later why your answer isn’t the same as ten years ago.

  3. Jane Says:

    Looking forward to the interview!

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