The Interview: Its Function and Dangers

Nothing speaks of success like the good old fashioned interview.  The author worked hard on his piece of writing.  It was accepted and published.  He began the rounds.  Book tour, here I come, he thinks.  These are the exciting times.  People purchase the book, read it, and discuss it with others.  This smells like success in the author’s mind.  He now switches from author mode to advocate, publicist, and salesman, while retaining his persona as an author–great times.  There are things the author should do to ensure everyone who would want to read it knows about its existence.  Thus, the author does book tours and anything else he can to make that a reality.  Adding to this excitement, the publicist or agent calls him to inform him about an interview.  Immediately, he says yes and then asks who wants to interview him.

True, an interview does mean that your work has garnered enough notice that it is worthy of an interview.  This is one sign of a successful book.  The impending interview does not give him pause.  All that needs to be done, in his mind and the publisher’s, is to ensure that the interview is conducted by a business conducive and relevant to the author’s work.  Home and Garden should not be allowed to interview Franz Kafka nor should Bozo the Clown be interviewed by The Economist.  There may also be some legwork involved in obtaining the best interviewer.  Famous is better than obscure.  Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to be interviewed by Johnny Carson?  However, both the author and the publisher need to be mindful of what institution is hosting the interview.  They need to also take into account the personality of the person doing the interview.  If the wrong institution or person does the interview, then disaster strikes.  When all things are proper, the interview still poses serious problems.

What is the function of the interview of an author of a novel?  It is hosted to provide insight into both the author and his work.  It also provides another point of contact for the author and the novel to interface with the reading public.  (I wrote about interface in another post.  Click Here to go to it.)  The reading public desires to know, more intimately, the author and the book.  It wants to learn answers to its burning questions posed by the novel.  The interview satiates, in part, this desire to know more.  It seems that making a connection to the author through this method creates a personal bond between him and his audience.  This holds true for the novel as well.  They (the readers) want a connection to the story or the characters in it so they can understand them on a deeper level, whatever that means.  Society understands this need and so it has created the interview platform.  What the author does not realize is that the interview format (written, oral, or visual) is the most potentially dangerous thing that can be undertaken.

Interviews have several methods they use to pull out information from the author.  They can ask relevant questions about the book.  They can ask what led the the creation of something.  They can ask what made the character the way he is or do what he did.  Alternatively, they can ask the author questions about the book.  They can ask him what made him construct a portion of the novel the way he did.  They can ask him what was the thing that made him think of the story in the first place.  They can ask him why he crafted a situation to conclude or begin as it did.  Much more dangerous are the questions to the author about himself.  Questions about his childhood cause damage to the author.  Even worse are the questions about who he is.  The most devastating questions ask the author to define himself in relation to a philosophical concept or a social moment or trend.

These questions and their power to alter perception have lasting effects upon the author and the reader.  They ask for a thinking about something in such a way that it irrevocably changes that thing or person, be it the character, a portion of the book, the whole novel, or even the author.  The question, once posited, must be answered.  Even if it is a well-formed question that is beneficial, it still causes change.  It is not about properly answering the question, although the answer can have the desired result.  It is about the nature of questions.  They have lasting effects.  The author may have never introspectively analyzed the thing about which the question is.  This can be good or bad.  An off-the-cuff answer is no better for he will unconsciously still truthfully answer it during the small hours.  The author cannot escape this threat by simply interviewing himself first.  It will still have the same effect.  On the other hand, not asking these probing questions can be equally disastrous.  It could avoid causing a needful change.  Likewise, limiting the questions to specific ones still is dangerous.  This avoids organic/natural changes.  The audience, the publisher, the agent, and the author all need to understand the dangerous, permanently altering effect interviews have on all aspects related to the novel.

So, interviews are dangerous, but they need to both occur and not occur.  They need to be  unfettered/not-scripted interviews.  If interviews are conducted in this method, they can provide a way for the author to become different, thus not stilted.  They provide a way for the audience to see the novel and the author in a new light.  They can generate new works and allow old ones to resurface.  They create the potential for the author to become a different person. What is the right question?  It depends upon how the author wants to change.  It depends upon how the reader wants to understand the book.  It depends upon what type of change is desired and needed for the novel, author, audience, publisher, agent, and editor.  In other words, for all parties involved.  What does this work mean in and of itself and to me, and who is the author and where is he taking us?  That is the question, and introspection will provide the answer–change.

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About Kevin Pajak

Of the many, many things I have done, nothing compares to the excitement I feel when writing and playing with both language and theory. Although challenging at times, wordplay brings a special flavor to the universe and allows all of us to see in unique and magic ways. Playing with language--that beast that can never be tamed--gives me an unfettered, ever new vision of the world around. I want to share this love of the written word through the stories I write and the language I craft.
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