Putting the spotlight on being IN the spotlight

While I’ve done a number of old-school media interviews to date, I have never done a web interview before. Until now, that is. The chat I had with E.J. Stevens a few weeks ago appeared today on her site, From The Shadows. I encourage you to check it out – I tried to keep things fun as well as informative, so it should be worth your click. After reading that, be sure to wander around EJ’s site, as she has a number of other cool interviews and articles there to feed your literary curiosities.

If you’ve been following my postings here for long, though, you’ll have come to realize that I like to take just about every aspect of the writing process (not to mention the being-a-writer process) and pull it apart to see what makes it tick, and since we’re on the topic of interviews, I thought I’d eviscerate that beast today.

On the surface, you might think that giving an interview is more or less the same, no matter what form it takes, but there are some key differences between the live-to-air television or radio interview and the longer, more drawn out process of doing a web interview. In the final analysis, I think it just might be the web interview that comes out the winner when the subject is a writer. Come on in past the fold and see why…

Writing is a very lonely endeavour. Most of us who do it sit for hours upon hours, locked away in a tiny space, trapped inside our own skulls – sometimes for weeks on end. But as dreary as that might sound, I can assure you that no tears need be shed for us – we’re having a blast. While our bodies may be trapped in an isolated condition, our minds are far freer than the bodies of most other people we know. We are way, way out there, chasing Tayna through the forests of Methilien, skulking down alleyways on the heels of Jack the Ripper, or climbing the mountains of Barsoom with John Carter and Deejah Thoris. The lonely bodies you see before you are little more than an empty husk, sitting at the desk, waiting patiently for the return of the conscious occupant.

And when we come back, what do we bring with us? Words. We bring them in sentences, scenes, chapters and paragraphs. We bring them with colors, shapes, weights and smells. Words are our food-stuffs, our bodily fluids, our air, and even our waste. We spew them out as though through a hose. But not willy-nilly. No. Not spontaneously. Quite the contrary. Every word is crafted. Shaped. For import, style, and effect. We are very particular about our words and the manner in which they leave us.

Unfortunately, having honed our abilities and our instincts for exploration and communication in this form, as soon as we achieve even a modicum of success, we tend to be trotted out under the hot lights of the voracious media content monster and asked to tell people all about our trip.

Live. On air. In real time.

Are you getting the image of a fish, gasping on the deck of some entertainment TV fishing trawler? Gills flapping, mouth gaping, eyes bugged while we struggle to appear even passingly familiar with our beloved mother language, fending off sneak attack questions from the crew of the good ship “Live at Lunch with Brett and Amy?”

I can think of fewer scenarios in which an interview is more likely to be catastrophically traumatic for the interviewee – until perhaps professional wrestlers start getting nominated to fill Supreme Court vacancies.

The point is that writers are very good with words, but as rule, only if given the time to think about them first. If we were good with improvised answers, you’d be more likely to find us working as stand-up comedians or game show hosts. So traditional media interviews tend to be a gruelling and intimidating process. We get used to them eventually, and some of us even become good at them, but there’s not escaping the fact that by their very nature, they are antithetically opposed to getting our best out of us.

And that’s where the web interview comes in. What could be more appealing to an author? You get a request by email. You take your time, consider the request, and then accept – again, by email. The questions then arrive – either all at one time, or spread out in a more interactive series of exchanges. All by email. All at your own time. All with the benefit of being able to think, and compose an answer without looking like a drooling idiot while you do so. (I have this secret fear that one day, on a live television interview, I will pause too long while considering my answer and the frustrated director will drop a caption text under my pensive face that actually says “Jefferson Smith, Drooling Idiot.”)

It work for the interviewer, as well. Get a lame answer? Drop it. Spend too long following a particular side issue? Cut it. Subject blathered on and on and on? Trim it. Since live media cannot shape and refine the material, and even if it’s a recorded interview, most studios are on such tight budgets and timelines that even if they could edit the show, they probably won’t.

So when it comes to playing to the subject’s strengths, it’s pretty clear to me that written interviews are the ne plus ultra of author interview formats, and in today’s game, with everything that is going on in print journalism, that pretty much means the web interview is King.

There are a couple of other tangents I’d like to explore in this area: namely the benefits of persistence and of knee-jerk marketing, but I’ll leave those for follow-up postings.


Anatomy of the e-book blurb: who ya gonna call?
Why showing is both more and less than telling

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.