Saturday, September 4, 2010

[The Interview Feature] Motivation, Prep Work, Expectations

Introduction: The Interview Feature will run for four installments every Saturday throughout September. I’ve not named it a Guide to Interviewing or How to Interview or any other presumptuous title implying I’m an authority on interviewing. There are plenty of reviewers I know, who provide epic and in-depth interviews: Larry Nolen and Aidan Moher. Through this feature, modeled as an interview itself, I share my experience and opinions on interviewing.

It’s my experience and I don’t consider myself at the top of the game. My co-conspirer and aid is Amanda Rutter [Floor to Ceiling Books], who wanted to know more about interviewing authors and helped me set this one up. Can’t deny there’s not an egocentric moment involved, but it’s done entirely to help people, who want information on the subject. I hope it does that. In this first installment, Amanda asks me questions about my dabbling with interviews, my motivation, prep work and expectations. Enjoy [as it is written to be funny].

Amanda: So....You're, like, really great at this interviewing lark - I dig the interrogation techniques you use. I always imagine you shining a light in your victim's eyes and demanding they answer just one more question! I had the pleasure of answering some of your rather dreamy questions a couple of months back, and it got me wondering whether you would be willing to spill some of your closely-guarded secrets as to how you achieve the BEST interview?

Go on, Harry! Tell all!

Harry: What? Me? You sure you have the right guy? *looks around* Thank you for the compliment, lovely interviewer, whom I have interviewed before. It would be a pleasure to answer your questions with the utmost care. For starters, I'd like to stress how the standard interrogation techniques have become outdated and are no longer applicable, when dealing with today's modern human psyche [which may or may not be under the influence of squirrel overlords]. I don't bother with lights and harsh voice. One must become nefarious in order to extract the right amount of quantity and what is more nefarious than chocolate pudding. My main technique involves a tied to a chair victim... eh, interviewee, a bowl of the homemade [vital detail] chocolate pudding and time. Sooner or later the interviewee's digestive tract becomes your ally.

But then again, these small tricks and techniques are in a perpetual state of modification as I am never truly satisfied with my interrogations.

Amanda: First of all, I wanted to ask you how you choose your candidates. I mean, do you just have a wall of author / publisher / editor photos and throw a dart to decide the next one? Is it thanks to a new book being published, or do you interview more randomly?

Harry: No... No, darts I'm afraid. My aim is disastrous. I have commissioned a small Wheel of Fortune to be mounted on my living room wall, though. I will fit the slots with pictures and will have a random interviewee generator.

While that is in the works, I revert to a simpler approach. I read through my never-ending bookstacks and when a book becomes an extraordinary experience, I know I would love to hear the story behind it and get to know the mind, which wrote it. I work best, when I am fully involved with the concept of interviewing someone. As I am quite emotional and impressionable, I need an emotional connection with the work [applicable only to novels] in order to produce better questions. Something I am working on to change at the moment.

Amanda: And what gives with interviewing more than just authors? Really, what do those other folk have to say that your adoring public would find interesting?

Harry: Adoring is a strong word. [I hope that it's true, public.] While I do try keep content restricted to literature, because, hey, I run a book blog, I am interested in a lot more than reading. I imagine that most people are multi-dimensional as far as their interests and hobbies are concerned. Who knows, maybe I can engage new readers or perhaps new readers will discover something new.

I experimented a lot with interviewing artists, but since all forms of drawing are alien to me that experiment did not last for long as I grew repetitive in my questioning patterns. However, I enjoyed interviewing industry people. I have interviewed Lee Harris from Angry Robot Books and Dave from Abaddon Books, both topping my personal charts as funny and insightful. Reviewers and the industry are building bridges and I think that bit by bit our interactions with people inside the industry leaks out on the blogs. So why not show more of the industry to the reader. After all, we are all bookaholics.

Amanda: I'm doing this in such a roundabout fashion, but maybe you could also explain why you go to such lengths in your interviews?

Harry: For one, it is in my nature to ask more. The likeliest sentence to come out of my mouth is a question, which translates to longer interviews. But more often than not I try to surpass other interviews with the same people. I imagine it being daunting to be contacted, cut out a slot for a person you don't know in your schedule [which in some cases is a real challenge] and find that you have to answer the ten or so questions, you have been answering for the past six or seven interviews.

Sure, the author receives promotion and the readers [let's suppose] have not read previous interviews with the said author, so it is a win-win situation. But I think that it's better for everybody, when the interviewer aims for the best possible and most informative interview. The readers diversify their information diet and authors are more often than not grateful for the fresh questions.

Though to be honest, sometimes it's hard to bring something new to the table. It depends on the interviewee and the tone of the interview.

Amanda: What do you enjoy about interviewing? What are the benefits?

Harry: I enjoy it, because I get to talk to people I admire and like, creatively and professionally. This is as much for my readers and traffic as it is personal. One cannot talk about benefits as if this is a business transaction, but of unexpected surprises. I have had the pleasure of developing friendly e-mail exchanges with various authors I have interviewed and it has been enriching.

Amanda: What should people consider before they take the plunge for the first time?

Harry: Tough one. Have a clear idea I guess. If you want a fun, quirky interview, then you should aim for the right author and the right questions to get that effect. A rookie should think about whether he would feel comfortable asking fewer or more questions, whether to use default questions or segment the process by using the first round of answers to inspire the second round of questions. It's not vital to get it right at first or stick with one model over time. The interviewer just needs to actively think about it with every sequential interview.

Amanda: Then, I guess, maybe you could tell us how best to approach the person in question - do you contact authors through their publishers, or can you just send them an email asking for interview time?

Harry: I do it directly. However, I do think that while you can reach a considerable amount of authors [debut authors, small press authors, midlisters and even some bestselling ones] with a direct e-mail, you do need to contact publishers and agents for the big guns. I am talking Gaiman, Kay, King, Le Guin...

Amanda: How does it feel having the tables turned? *evil grin* Are you sweating under my unique interrogation skillz? I shall let you off the hook - for now - but next time I want to ask you about the types of interviews that can be conducted. Prepare yourself!

Harry: My inner attention whore has been activated and is starved for attention. Bring it on. I am quite fond of talking about myself, so handling you and your hellish nosiness should not be an issue.


SusiSunshine said...

"which may or may not be under the influence of squirrel overlords" LMAO that made me giggle so hard that no my netbook is a coffeenated.

Wonderful interview and realize again that I still have much to learn interview-wise.

Harry Markov said...

Thank you for the comment. I was told by Larry Nolen that mentioning our Squirrel Overlords will bring prosperity to my blog. Since I have a small superstitious streak, I am abiding. :)

SusiSunshine said...

I will try to remember that. ;) How often can I mention those in a review? We will see...

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