While reviewing the list of interviewees remaining for the final chapter of my manuscript, I was again wrestling with my conscience. I came across names, asking the all too important questions, “What spin will this interview put on my book? Will it harm or help my cause? Will it add anything to the manuscript?” Each question resulted in the same answer, “It depends on what twist I, the writer, give it.”
As an interviewer and a writer, I have the control to do whatever I please with respects to my manuscript. I can choose to ask any questions and omit questions. When it comes to the interview, I am the supreme beginning and I am the end. What will determine the overall quality of the interview are the questions asked.
Back in my journalism days, I had the honor of interviewing a best-selling renowned and critically acclaimed author. Like most aggressive journalist I arrived early, in fact, I was the first to arrive, long before the other half-dozen journalists. By the time I finished my interview, the author became frustrated at the late arriving journalists asking the same questions he previously covered with me and his frustration was quite noticeable. In fact, each time he was re-queried about something we previously covered he would look at me and sigh.
The other embarrassing thing that took place was the so-called experienced journalists asking foolish and irrelevant questions. In this case, the author was there to discuss his book written about the war efforts in Afghanistan, one journalist, wanted to know which the author favored, “Do you like Crest toothpaste or Colgate?” It seems the college journalist and his dorm pals were having a typical college debate regarding toothpaste. At this point, the author gracefully excused himself. A sensible warning, keep your questions directed at the subject matter!
Then there is the responsibility of the writer. I give you an example, the interview –
The scene – a kitchen, the person – Mr. Crowley, the prop – a bowl of oatmeal.
It was a cold winter’s morn, frost covered the walls, even in the kitchen near the wood burning stove, there was a bone chilling icy air. Mr. Crowley lurked to the kitchen table, he was wearing a black overcoat. He sat across from me and bowed his head low over the steaming hot bowl of oatmeal. His eyes would roll up into his head as I asked him a question, his crouched over posture never veered from its vulture-like countenance. He grasped the edge of the table with one boney hand as the other, in a rapid masturbatory motion; delve from the bowl of oatmeal to his grin-forsaken beak. I dreaded asking Mr. Crowley the next question…
A bright airy kitchen on a cool winter’s morn. The aroma of fresh cooked oatmeal hung about the air. The chipper Mr. Crowley, still in his PJ’s, came prancing in like a doe frolicking in fresh snow. He sat across me at the table and began telling jokes, as he prepared his oatmeal. I wondered what made old Crowley so very happy. Was it the oatmeal, or was it the interview? Either way, I was sitting across the table from him and he was spilling out his life’s story; I was getting the interview of a lifetime, the interview no other person was given an opportunity to have. “Mr. Crowley. Do you mind if I ask you…”
Both these scenarios take place in the same room, with the same person, and the same props. The difference; the twist the writer (me) has put on them. In example one, it has a very odd macabre feel. Mr. Crowley is depicted with words like, “wearing a black overcoat, lurked, bowed his head low, crouched over posture, vulture-like countenance, one boney hand, grin-forsaken beak”, and even his physical motions, “rapid masturbatory motion”, all lead to a very dark Mr. Crowley. In example two, good Mr. Crowley is defined as, “chipper, still in his PJ’s, prancing in like a doe frolicking in fresh snow, telling jokes, very happy, spilling out his life’s story.” Even the way the interviewer is portrayed by saying, “I dreaded asking the next question…” compared to, “Do you mind if I ask you…” sets the tone of your work.
In examples one and two, the place, the props, even the environment (winters morn) all remained the same. The words simply changed the tone, which changed everything about the interview. How we put the words together will determine how they will affect our manuscript. There is no set rule for the arrangement of how an interview must be laid out. You can intersperse interviewees answers within a paragraph; that’s the beauty of writing. You can also omit material if it is not conducive to your manuscript. In my Author Release Form Agreement, which I have every person I interview sign off on before an interview, it points out that I have the right to omit any information I feel is not pertinent or conducive to my manuscript. You should ALWAYS have an Author’s Release Form Agreement signed prior to an interview.
Lastly, do not be afraid to be creative. Many writers are too caught up in the question and answer process of the interview, and they tend to treat their interviewees as subjects rather than people. Remember, everyone from the Pope to the President to the neighbor down the street all have a story, it is your job to LISTEN and make it work for your manuscript – if you so choose. In addition, whether they have sold ten million best-sellers, flown to the moon, or teach in a public school, they are all people of equal importance and value.
This has been a…View From My Loft