Leslie Halpern is a journalist and the author of several pop-culture non-fiction books. Her specialty is the “artful” interview. I’m looking forward to your program at the Ancient City Chapter of the Florida Writers Association meeting later this month. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to be my guest today.
How did you get involved in teaching interview applications and do you have a story about a memorable interview or two?
I’ve been interviewing celebrities and artists for nearly 25 years. One day, I noticed the anxiety I used to feel before interviews had been replaced by excitement. I gave lots of thought to how and why this shift occurred. This analysis resulted in a booklet and a presentation on the subject – both titled “Fearless Interviews.” Last year, I combined some of the best quotes about creativity from these many interviews and published them in a book titled, “Passionate About Their Work. 151 Celebrities, Artists, and Experts on Creativity.”
Although I have interviewed many famous people over the years, one of my most memorable interviews took place early in my journalism career when I was assigned by a newspaper editor to interview a funeral director. The funeral home was located on “Gore Street” in Orlando, which I thought was extremely funny. Even so, I had a fair amount of discomfort about this interview and wanted to get in and out of the place as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the funeral director had other plans. He insisted on giving me a painstakingly slow tour of the entire facility, pointing out many morbid details that were irrelevant to the article.
Have you ever done an interview where the subject just wouldn’t open up? What do you do then?
I once interviewed a moderately famous movie director who let his publicist do most of the talking for him. I am not particularly interested in what the PR folks have to say because it tends to be polished prose not fit for publication. After using several different approaches, I was finally able to pry a few quotes from the director. I remember going back to my editor afterward and telling him about the problem. In this case, we just reduced the word count and ran a shorter article than originally planned.
Why is it important to learn good interview techniques? What skills are needed?
To get interview subjects to open up and trust you with stories that go beneath the surface, you need good techniques, such as being honest, prepared, and accurate. I’ll be discussing these techniques in detail during my presentation at the St. Johns County Public Library on June 18 at 10:15 a.m.
Interviewing is obviously a skill that a successful journalist would need to master, and maybe even the non-fiction writer. How would it be valuable to a common, every day, garden-variety novel or short story writer?
Sometimes fiction writers also need to interview sources to gain information. For example, let’s say you are writing a murder mystery. You might need to interview a policeman, private detective, forensics specialist, or some other professional related to the scene of the crime or the murder weapon or a character’s occupation in order to make the story ring true. If the story takes place in a foreign country or different region within your own country, you might need to interview someone from that area to learn about the language, dialect, mannerisms, and customs. Insightful interviews will help the writer gain valuable information to make the story more authentic. Of course, it’s also important for writers of every genre to learn how to be interviewed when marketing their own work.
We all need to be ready to take advantage of publicity opportunities that may come our way and I tell people all the time to get their media kits up and running, even get a few printed, right away. I think a 5 to 10 short Suggested Interview Questions document should be part of that. What questions, as an interviewing expert, do you think would be keepers for the media kit?
As an author who has been interviewed by many different print, online, and broadcast media over the years, I often provide Suggested Interview Questions. I find that reporters usually ignore my suggestions. That won’t stop me from continuing to provide them, however. Some of my favorite Q&A press kit essentials: Where did the idea for this project originate? What’s the most interesting thing you learned while conducting your research? Who or what inspires you most? What’s next?
Thank you, Leslie for some great information and taking the time to “chat” with us. I know personally, I learned a great deal from reading and working with my copy of “Fearless Interviews.” I’m looking forward to hearing you speak at the Ancient City Chapter FWA meeting on June 18. See you there!