A couple of weeks ago, in a post about interviewing, I invited readers to post their own questions to me about interviewing, and promised to answer them. We got a few, and this is a good time to address them, so let's begin, shall we?
Robin Minnick asked: Okay, Jeff, you said you don't like to lob softball questions, and I agree, those are boring to answer. You've interviewed several celebrated people. What question, or perhaps type of question, do you consider the hardest for you to ask an interviewee? What question is either difficult to get past your lips or has you fretting about the answer in advance?
Good question (or questions), Robin. I don't like to ask personal questions; when I pitch an interview to a publication, it is generally of a person whose work I admire and respect, and the interview will be about the work. When I interviewed Phoebe Snow, for example, I wanted to talk about music. The magazine I was writing for (which I ended up suing for other reasons) wanted me to ask about her life. I was not comfortable asking about her daughter, who was born with a severe brain injury, and when I started to say, "I wish I didn't have to ask this," the late Ms. Snow replied gently, "Just say, fine."
Cindy Smith asked: You say you don't like to ask the ho-hum typical questions when doing an interview, but do you have a favorite question that you always ask because you figure it will generate an interesting answer?
I've already sort of addressed this in comments to you, Cindy, but let me elaborate. No, I don't have one question I'll always ask, because I think the interview should be specific to the subject. I can't think of two people I'd interview whose questions would be exactly the same. But having said that, I do have a few that I'll ask of more than one person if I think it applies to their work. For example, I like to finish an interview by asking, "What do you know now that you wish you'd known then?" I've gotten some interesting answers, and if I could remember one, I'd tell it to you.
Elaine Charton asked: Is there anything you absolutely refuse to ask in an interview?
Again, Elaine, I try to stay away from personal questions, because I don't think they're relevant and I don't find them interesting. But when the publication that's paying me insists on some things being covered, I'll cover those things. I don't remember ever flat-out refusing to ask a question, but that's because I don't remember being asked to use a question I found absolutely inappropriate or offensive.
After I mentioned that the favorite interview for which I was the subject was conducted by famed journalist Linda Ellerbee, Donald A. Coffin asked: What did she do that leads you to list her as the best interviewer you've encountered? Was it her prepared questions? Her ability to follow-up on your answers? Some combination of things that are difficult to disentangle?
First, I was flattered Linda accepted the invitation to conduct the interview. But I found her questions to be insightful, she had obviously read my books, which is a refreshing change of pace, and her questions were about process but were also fun and interesting to the reader. They were not so "inside baseball" that someone who wasn't a crime fiction writer wouldn't care. She had obviously put thought into the interview, and that was what made it a good experience. Another really good interviewer who talked to me was David Skibbins, a fellow author and life coach, and we did a half-hour telephone interview that was a ton of fun.
Brenda asked: Is there anything on your bucket list that (a) your readers can't imagine that you'd care to share or (b) that you are anxious to share?
My bucket list? I'm not sure I have one, but one thing is to have a novel published outside the crime fiction category, just to see if I can. Working on that. Something my readers (both of them) can't imagine I'd care to share? Read on to the bottom of this post.
ROCCO asked: What made you decide to switch gears and go from a trilogy about a guy who ran a 'comedy-only' theatre to writing about a woman who owns a Jersey Shore home? Did your love of classic movies (ala TOPPER) figure into it, or were other factors involved?
Thanks for asking, Rocco. I was persuaded to "switch gears" when my publisher informed me that Elliot Freed's services at the comedy movie theater Comedy Tonight would no longer be desired, and then asked if I'd like to do something else, using a name other than the one on my birth certificate. I was glad they asked, and from that came the Haunted Guesthouse series, and yes, the TOPPER films and TV show were an inspiration.
Any more questions? It's an easy post for me, and maybe a chance for you to hone your interview skills...?
P.S. I'll be at the Malice Domestic conference this coming weekend, and on the panel "Dirty Little Secrets: An Inside Look at the Writer’s Life” with Laura Bradford (Elizabeth Lynn Casey), Kate Gallison, Robin Hathaway and Toni L.P. Kelner. Sunday April 29 at 9:45. PLEASE drop on by, and if you see me roaming the halls, walk up and say hello--it's why we authors show up! (That, and the free tote bag.)
P.P.S. There is a woman out there (or in here, depending on how you look at it) who is among the most understanding and patient on the planet, who has inspired pretty much every novel I've ever written and maybe a few more things, who never fails to get my jokes, even if she doesn't find them funny all the time, and who once was in fact, an interview subject for this blog. And when Thursday comes around this week--the very day before I will hop into a car and drive to Bethesda for Malice Domestic--she and I will be married for exactly 25 years. I don't believe in miracles, but that comes close.
Happy anniversary, honey. Let's hope 25 years is just the warm-up.