Recently I had the honor of being interviewed by Sandy Carlson, host of the Woodbury Writes podcast. We talked about Samuel Smedley, transcendentalist utopias, and the real-life inspiration behind my gothic (or is it eco-gothic?) novel, A Season of Whispers.
I’ve been interviewed before but this was the first time for a podcast. Sandy asked great questions and, being a history enthusiast herself, clearly enjoyed discussing the particulars of privateering during the American Revolution and the tenets of the transcendentalist movement. It wound up being a recorded conversation rather than an examination, which to my ear always makes for the best podcasts.
Around the same time when I recorded the podcast, I was interviewed separately by another person for a different venue. That interview didn’t go as well. The interviewer was disinterested in my work and instead asked me a number of personal questions which made me uncomfortable, questions about my wife and sons and other census tabulations — I was surprised she didn’t ask me for my social-security number and mother’s maiden name. I stayed polite but it was irritating at best, icky at worst. I don’t think the interview has run publicly and fingers crossed it never does.
Yet the contrast of the two experiences gave me insight. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews throughout my career and I’d never before realized what constitutes a good interview. It’s simply this: professionals — artists and creatives in particular — will wax rhapsodic for hours about their work, but they hate to talk about themselves. They want to talk about what they do, not about who they are.
I had, unknowingly, been practicing this methodology for years. It never occurred to me while interviewing any of the dozens of archaeologists I’ve spoken to, to ask them about their home lives or frankly anything not germane to their research. What business is it of mine to nose around, asking questions about their spouses or partners or how they spend their downtime? Nobody cares, or at least they shouldn’t. What matters is what they’ve discovered or learned, what their theories and ideas are.
Being on the other end of the microphone made me realize that, as an author, I crave to be asked questions about the stories and inspirations, both historical and personal, that go into my books. That’s what excites me and that’s what made the Woodbury Writes podcast so great. What I don’t want is to be interrogated about how old my kids are or what time I wake up in the morning.
Suddenly I feel sympathy toward celebrities who always seem a bit disgruntled or surly in interviews. Now I understand how eagerly they want to discuss their latest performance yet instead they’re bombarded with questions about who they’re schtupping and what kind of sandwich they ate after the schtupping. I get it.