This is it, family and friends—Lions in Winter is coming to Charleston. The literary event promises to be the cultural extravaganza of south-of-Chicago Illinois, and we at Bluestem could not be more excited.
I will be interviewing our featured speaker, the horrifyingly talented Stephen Graham Jones, for the magazine. In preparation, I’ve been watching Charlie Rose spar with some of the best writers out there, and I’ve also listened to the BBC’s interviews with Zadie Smith and Kazuo Ishiguro. In my younger days, I wrote for some small Pacific Northwest newspapers, so I’m fairly comfortable asking strangers a series of questions.
Below, I have written my interview battle tactics.
This should go without saying, but after watching one painful interview, it needs to be said. When interviewing an author, you’re going to want to read the author’s work. Or, if you work for a really important company, you’re going to want an intern to thoroughly brief you on the author’s work. You should also read other interviews with the author, in order to avoid asking repetitive questions. How many times was David Foster Wallace asked about the footnotes? Does that number justify the bone-marrow level annoyance of having to use two bookmarks when reading Infinite Jest?
Don’t Ask “Craft” Questions:
You know what Charlie Rose rarely does? He rarely asks authors questions about how they write. He asks questions about what they write, and who they are, and how what they write and who they are converge in ways concordant and not.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but hearing writers talk about the specifics of their craft has some strange, pornographic pull to it. For young writers especially, there is a mindset of “If I just read enough about how other authors write, I will suddenly become an actual, living and breathing writer.” Which isn’t true. You have to develop your own process, and becoming a writer has nothing to do with whether you write in the morning or in the afternoon, in a Moleskine journal or on a manual typewriter. You become a writer by writing. A lot.
So let’s stop asking authors about their personal craft during interviews. Send the author an email. Or tear out a page from the back of your Moleskine, write down your craft question, and mail it to her.
Keep it Corralled:
Here’s what you don’t want—three hours of an awesome conversation between you and one of your favorite authors that you then have to transcribe, word by one-thousandth word. You’re going to sit down at your computer and think, “Man, for how nervous I was, I was really pretty articulate.” And by the second page you’re going to think, “HOW DID THAT PERSON NOT SLAP ME FOR SOUNDING SO STUPID?”
As the interviewer, say enough to keep the conversation interesting, and that’s it. Don’t be the guy at a Lit-Studies Conference who uses the Q/A period to explain his thesis to a room of strangers. Allow the author enough space to work out intriguing responses to your well-prepared questions, but don’t let the author ramble. An interview is a ramble-free sort of situation.
And there we have it. Make sure to register for Lions in Winter. And, of course, please keep submitting your fabulous fiction/nonfiction/poetry to Bluestem. We can’t wait to read it.