Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Author Interviews

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Terry Gross and Stephen King

Several months ago, I decided I didn’t want to interview solely musicians. I wanted to also focus on other creative types like authors and comedians as well as scientists, policy makers and entrepreneurs. And it’s funny … sometimes, when you ask for something (and work toward it), you get it. In the last several months, I’ve talked with all of those, but I’ve especially noticed my shift recently.  In the last few days, I’ve done two interviews – one was with an author, and the other was with a comedian and humorist turned author. And I’ve realized something about interviewing authors. They want to read from their book. I talked w/Jonathan Schuppe, author of “A Chance to Win.” It’s a story of a man who was made wheelchair bound by a drive by shooting ten years earlier, and realized that he needed to be more than he was, so he started a baseball team for inner city New Jersey youth. It was Mr. Schuppe’s first book, and I knew how proud and excited he was to be talking about it. But only after we said goodbye did I realize it would’ve been great to have him read from it.

I didn’t make that same mistake during the next interview. Jonathan Goldstein is the host of a CBC program called, “Wiretap.” Wikipedia describes it as “a program which does not fit easily into the comedy category. The show has been described as “a weekly half-hour of conversation, storytelling and introspection, culled from equal parts real-world experience and the warp of Goldstein’s imagination.” And when talking to comedians and humorists, I always expect them to be “on.” But Mr. Goldstein was quite pleasant, cogent and enthused about his book, and in no way felt any need to play any role while we talked. Fortunately, I remembered to ask him to read from his book, and the selection dovetailed perfectly into a path we were following about aging and family.

Authors are, at the same time, proud and full of eqo, and wanting to feel like people care about what they have to say.  In those respects, they aren’t much different from the rest of us. But how they are different is they have done something incredibly difficult. Sitting alone, and sticking to the job of creating something, with only yourself as company can be both empowering and torturous. You lay all of your opinions of yourself bare while you see if you are actually worthy of them, since writing a book is only you. If you don’t follow through, all of the big talk you have for yourself is shown to be pretty worthless pretty quick.

The other thing about book interviews is the author has to kind of go through a song and dance to get people to pay attention to his or her Herculean effort. It’s how the industry is geared, and it’s kind of unavoidable, but it must get kind of grueling too. Most agents are just as concerned about how you will promote your book and what resources you will bring to the table to promote it as they are about how good the writing is or how compelling is the story you’re telling. The author, having just finished this massive task, now has to put on their seersucker suit and pork pie hat and start shaking hands.

I’ve talked about it before that media and authors are in this promotional dance. And I don’t envy them for it. Hell, at some point, I hope to be one of them. But every now and then, it’s nice to be reminded that no matter who you are, you have to do it.

And that brings me to an interview I recently heard between NPR’s “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross and novelist Stephen King.  Those two are definitely at the top of their respective games – Terry Gross is the reigning Queen of the interview.  And Stephen King is everywhere, has been everywhere, and judging from his newest releases and TV adaptations, will be everywhere for the near future.  So when these two A-listers talk about what I’ve just spent several paragraphs talking about, it shows that authors and interviewers are feeling it.  Here is an excerpt beginning from about 34:30 in their conversation.

“You know, the whole thing is a little bit like carny, isn’t it?”  King asked. “The whole book promotion deal, the whole movie promotion deal.  You do this thing, and it’s inside the tent.  So then you have to kind of come out and do a little cooche dance to get people to come inside.”

“I know you must feel that way,” Terry replied.  “From my point of view on the other side of the mic, it’s like, this is my chance to talk to you about things I love to talk with you about.  And I know the reason why you’re here is that you’ve got a book to promote.  But to me it’s like, what a wonderful opportunity to have this conversation.”

“I don’t mind,” King answered.  People generally go in a barber shop or in a diner and get a cup of coffee and start talking about these things.  And it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, see you later.  I’ve got a job to do.’  But this is your job and my job and I get to talk about these things.  It’s kind of cool.”

To hear this whole, great interview, follow this link –

Written by Interviewer

May 31, 2013 at 05:29

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