Q. It’s obvious why a nonfiction writer would need to know how to conduct interviews, but why should a writer of fiction develop this skill?
Janice Gable Bashman: When writing fiction, writers often need to interview people to obtain source material that cannot be found through normal research channels. The information gleaned from these interviews can provide background material or information directly relevant to a plot. For example, I’ve interviewed geneticists, bank personnel, police officers, archeologists and many others for my fiction. The information they provided has proved invaluable, and it’s information I could not have found any other way. The information added realism and detail to my work and also ensured the accuracy of the hard science/fact behind the fiction.
Q. Do you recommend recording an interview? Why or why not?
Bashman: Do what works for you. In the beginning, I recorded interviews if they were conducted by phone. However, over time my typing skills improved and I was able to type while interviewing. At this time, I mainly interview via e-mail. It gives the interviewee an opportunity to consider his response before replying and to also consider what additional material might be helpful to my project. It also saves me the trouble of typing everything or fixing tons of typos (when typing and interviewing simultaneously), which can take considerable time.
Q. How do you prepare for your interviews?
Bashman: Interviewing for fiction and nonfiction are a bit different in this respect, so let’s start with nonfiction. Before I interview someone, I research his background and read through any old interviews I can find on the Internet. I then use the interview responses I found on the Internet to help me compose more in-depth questions that pertain to the subject matter in which I am interested. For fiction, this step is not necessary, but I do need to ensure I am not asking an expert questions that can easily be found elsewhere; otherwise, I am wasting his time, and that’s no way to gain someone’s respect or obtain his help.
For both types of interviews, I prepare. I don’t go into an interview without a set of questions, although those questions may change as the interview progresses. I may also add other questions based on the interview responses.
Q. Whom have you found particularly challenging to interview? Why?
Bashman: I don’t want to name names but one person comes to mind. She is an executive at a well-known company, and it took me nine months to arrange an interview with her. The day I got her on the phone, she asked if we could make it quick because she was having a bad day. I knew that if I rescheduled it could be a long, long time before I talked to her again. I also knew that I wasn’t going to get the interview I wanted if she was already feeling like it needed to end. So, I was left with quite a challenge.
Q. How did you overcome the challenge?
Bashman: Instead of starting the interview, I decided to ask her why she was having such a bad day. I listened, made it clear that I heard her, and let her know I appreciated the difficulties she was having. I suggested she do something special for herself after work, and she mentioned a treat that she had planned to buy a few hours later. Once we finished talking about her day, she was quite willing to give me the interview, and it was a long one at that.
When the interview was over, I thanked her for her time, as I usually do, but I went one step further. I went to my local store, purchased that special treat she mentioned, and mailed it to her the next day with a short note thanking her again for the interview. About a week later, I received a letter thanking me for making her day better and for caring so much. The lesson learned here is that it’s important to listen to the needs of the person you are interviewing. After all, they are giving you their precious time, and they must feel
the cause is worthwhile.