Monday, June 11, 2012

Writing Nonfiction Worthy of the Literary Magazine, Part 2:

Meet Someone, Learn Something and Pass it on: The Interview

I know nothing about interviews. Sure, I've had to interview for jobs before. Those interviews have yielded the desired results at key times of my life. At times, I've had to be the employer interviewing others. Again, those occasions have yielded results. Aside from that I've got only a few other experiences with the interview.
Gio and me, GI Joe Film Fest 2009

In September 2009 at the second annual GI Joe Film Festival in Denver, Colorado, I was asked to interview audience members for a promotional video. In the early afternoon of screening day, I met with Gio Toninelo, the festival curator and Adam Savage, the cameraman/filmmaker of the promotional video. The process was explained to me at the bar of an Italian Restaurant in North Denver. I wrote out several questions, and I wrote out several key terms. I was coached the entire time. I was the mouthpiece. I had a great deal of fun, and the event for me, was how I got involved in Rocket House Studios.

The second interview was interesting too. At the onset of Umbrella Factory Magazine, Mark Dragotta and I got interviewed by a writer at Associated Content. This interview was good publicity for us, and I daresay, good content for Mark's friend at Associated Content. In short, this is what a good interview should be, right? This writer sent us a list of questions via email. Mark and I sat at the bar and discussed our responses. I typed the responses up and Mark sent them along. The writer on the other end shaped the material to a workable form, and ran the interview on his site. Again, this was a good experience, but hardly one to make me think too heavily about the interview.

Of course, UFM ran Alex Park's interview with Richard Rodriguez in Issue Three back in September 2010. And as far as newer interviews, Jim Harrington's Six Questions for... Amanda Bales is playful banter between these two. Jim Harrington's concept is great. For writers who want to understand how editors of literary magazines think, work, and behave, his site Six Questions for... should be on your weekly reading list.

It is because of this interview between Jim and Amanda that got the workers of Umbrella Factory to talking around the water cooler. Amanda and I posed this theory: “Interviews with writers of nonfiction will attract more nonfiction submissions.” When we furthered it, Amanda started to put into perspective how important it is for us to meet, and cultivate relationships with other writers, other magazines, and other editors. And, at least in the short run, interviews make great content, and interviews will help to solve our lack of nonfiction content in the magazine.

Great. So, where do we begin? As I've said, I have no experience with the interview. Yet I believe that we all come with the tools and all we have to do is tax our current skills to get these things accomplished. After the interview conversation with Amanda, I began the process.

I started with the internet. I may lament the current course of human existence, I may even claim that we have lost all civility. But I will never condemn the internet. Within just a few minutes, I found half a dozen sites that helped me form my interview ideas and skills. Each site recommended the same things, and similar processes. So, here's the ten step process I came up with:

1 The Prospect: who do we want to interview, why and how is this relevant to the publication. So, the who: writers we admire. Why? Because we want to promote both the writer and our magazine. This interview must be mutually beneficial. And how is this relevant? We want to gain an insight into the relationships between writers and editors, magazines and readers.

2 The Research: What can we gather beforehand. This research follows the prospect because we want to know, or read everything we can written by our prospect. We're also gathering other information. If our prospect is a young writer, how can we help them with their career? And what has this writer done that can help us with the further development of our publication. As I said, this needs to be a mutual relationship. If the writer has a large presence like a blog, and a social media platform, we know that we're going to get heavily promoted. If the writer is a recluse, we probably won't get much. If the latter is the case, return to stage one: The Prospect.

3 The Focal: Once we finished the research, we're going to find a very specific focus. We may choose a recent publication, something that's still fresh in the writer's mind. If we find that the writer attended a certain school, or a certain conference, or studied under some infamous figure, we may want to make that our interview's focal. Whatever we choose at this stage, it must be pertinent to everyone involved: the interviewer, the interviewee and the publication.

4 The Questions: It should be easy at this step of the process to come up with 10 to 15 questions. It is important to remain professional, succinct and respectful with the questions we ask. Ask open ended questions. Whatever happens after the first question gets asked and answered will probably be unexpected. An interview may take a very different course than the interviewer had intended. Be flexible. After all, we're in it to learn something. Be prepared with questions and have fun with it.

5 Logistics: Now, how does this interview get executed? What happens if this interview is between me (in Portland, Oregon) and a writer living in Auckland New Zealand? Unless one or the other of the parties involved are traveling, a face to face interview is not going to happen. Consider the alternatives: phone, Skype, email, snail mail, or the good old fashioned sit down. Whatever we choose, we'll have the logistical plan in place before contacting the interviewee.

6 The Ask: Now, it's time to approach the subject. All we need is this: who we are, what we want to achieve and a suggestion of how we're going to do it. Wait for the answer. Hopefully, if we've done our research in a faithful and thorough way, our subject will accept. In this ask, we must be ready to commit to a date or a time-line.

7 The Interview: This should be the easiest and most enjoyable part of the process. No matter how this interview is conducted this is the reason for the exercise.

8 The Thanks: Say thank you. Say it again. Thank our subject for the time, for the consideration and for the interview. Doing this at the time of the interview is important, but we'll take some time later on to follow up. A quick note will do this, and it will be an ideal time to tell the subject when and where the interview will be published.

9 The Edit: Hopefully the interview lasted long enough to get every question asked and answered. Now, it's time to mold the raw into the product. If this interview happened face to face, perhaps it's appropriate to add in the details that a reader will not see: the room, what everyone was drinking, the time of day, etc. If this interview happened via a virtual means, perhaps a little back story between questions is in order. Make this interview readable, sensible and worth a reader's time. Remember what the focal was, and mold the interview into that focal. Once this interview is in a readable state, we'll submit it to our favorite literary magazine's nonfiction editor.

10 Your Piece of the Pie: At the end of all of this, what did was gained? The best thing we can gain from a published interview is the experience. Hopefully it's a resume enhancer, a CV builder or a great barroom story.

Next time: my experiment and the results.

No comments:

Post a Comment