|Ann Leckie - Ancillary Justice|
Let me make it clear before we go any further, I'm not trying to paint myself as the all-perfect, all-knowing, bard-king of interviewers. Far from it. I've certainly submitted some interviews for publication of the 'dental tug-o-war' variety. The interviews I'm least proud of are the ones in which I've obviously struggled for either continuity, or content. These were - without exception - interviews for which the interviewee had a declined a face-to-face, in favour of an emailed sheet of static questions. Hence:
Lesson 1. An Emailed Interview is Your Last Resort
|John Scalzi - Lock In|
But it was amazing. We nattered for maybe ninety minutes and I loved every second of it. What I didn't realise at time the (but John understood all too well), is that the difference between a written, and a spoken-word answer to a question is the true difference between a very good interview and a very average one. When an author sits down to answer a bunch of emailed questions from all sorts of interviewers who think they're asking cool and interesting questions, but are actually just asking the same questions as everyone else, they do so with a stiff drink and a heavy heart.
When an author talks to an actual person, however - like, face-to-face and shit - even if they've answered a similar question before, you never really know what's going to come out of their mouth. It could be rehearsed, or it might just be spur-of-the-moment gold.
Lesson 2. People Say More Interesting Stuff When They Can See Your Ugly Mug
|Jennifer Fallon - The Lyre Thief|
What you can do is ask the author to participate in a Skype interview. They can only say no, right? Actually - not true. They can also say yes, and most often do. When they say yes it's awesome because it provides you with the chance to get a really good interview. People (authors are people) interact with human faces much more readily than they do with computer screens full of words, or a tinny voice emanating from a small telephonic device covered in earwax. Authors hear enough voices as it is!
If the interviewee can see you smiling at something they've said, or nodding in agreement, or simply making a gesture of acknowledgement of some kind, they will take that as a cue to provide more information of that type. Sometimes you don't even need to ask a question because you've guided your subject to the topic simply by offering visual encouragement. You're not being tricky, or deceitful. You're employing the tools you would subconsciously use in normal conversation with anyone you might encounter in your day-to-day life.
Lesson 3. Don't Ask Dumb-Ass Questions
Should be a no-brainer, right? Remind yourself before the discussion begins that you're unlikely to be the first person ever to interview this particular author. If you Google their name with the word "interview" after it, and get two or more pertinent hits, it's probable questions like, "When did you first start writing?" or "What inspired you to write?" aren't going to generate original answers.
|John Flanagan - The Ranger's Apprentice|
Aim to repay that investment by at least attempting to avoid the dumbest of dumb-assed questions, while at the same time asking yourself what it is your audience would really like to know about this awesome person. Leave the brain-dead questions to others. Ask your author about the things that set their work apart. What was it about their writing that inspired you? What made you feel whatever it was you felt while reading their work?
Don't be confrontational but try to push them for the story behind each answer. Don't pause after each answer to read out your next question. Keep the momentum of the conversation going by being as fluid as you can. If an author shoots off on a tangent, taking the discussion in a completely different direction than you envisaged, let them go. Follow them into that deep, dark forest. Authors can be pretty messed-up individuals. Chances are they're about to launch into a topic they're passionate about, which will be fantastic for your interview, and your likelihood of selling it to a publisher.
In short, keep cool, try not to fanboy, and don't be a dick. While you may be giving the author an opportunity to promote their work, they're giving you their time, and the potential to sell your interview for money. Be respectful of their work, even if you didn't enjoy it. Remember that your opinion might not be shared by your readership so examine as many angles as you can. Most of all, try to have fun! It will shine through if you can.