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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Interface

Recently, I had a discussion with an author about a particular facet of writing that a lot of us dread, the book signing event.  He resisted the whole pomp and circumstance involved, including the arduous tasks travel and setting up his table.  Mainly, his criticism of it resulted from his feeling that book signings are contrived to make the author seem superior to the reader, and thus to be adored.  Indeed, many of us also hate self promotion, but for some of us our aversion, instead, stems from feeling inadequate.  We wonder why someone would want to talk to us.  More so, we cannot imagine that someone would want to meet us.  Unsure of our worth, we face the moment with trepidation.  Sometimes, this feeling comes from a writer’s relentless desire to avoid anything that would distract him from the important bit, writing.  We all can attest to feeling this on occasion.  There is the writer who selfishly refuses to modernize, believing it to be the job of the publishing houses to get the novel or book into the hands of the reader.  This author feels burdened by having to present himself to the throng.  All these issues are relevant concerns.  This small paragraph presents several topics which need to be addressed separately.

What is a book signing event and what is its function?  First and foremost, it is a celebration of the author, the reader, and of writing.  Positive emotions generally fill the bookstore during one of these events.  It is a type of party held by the bookstore, arranged by the publisher, and hosted by the author.  Likewise, it also serves as meeting place that fills the gap left by the loss of front porch meetings and other bygone social gatherings.  Unlike typical parties that allow people to abandon themselves in a maelstrom of joy, it also has a specific function.  Partly, that function is about creating potentials.  The potential for: increased sales, creating a new reader, gaining notoriety, and to make the public feel connected to the author.  Mostly, however, it is about interface.  A properly publicized event provides a platform for the author to interface with the public.  This interface, though controlled, makes the author visible to the public.  The low intensity festive nature of the moment and the setting, a place filled with books, brings out the best in readers.  In order to be able to do this, the event needs to accomplish the creation of a distancing between the reader and author.  The scene must be set.  We have books galore in a bookstore.  Surrounding the author with books gives credibility to him as an author.  The other bit of staging required is a table piled with the author’s novels.  Because he is sitting behind the table, he will be perceived as separated from the attendees.  We now have what we sought, critical distance. This may seem odd, especially since this event is held so that the author can meet the public.  My friend Chris Philbrook (thechrisphilbrook.com) and I discussed this very thing.

I contended that it is this slight distancing between them that elevates the author to the superior status.  This is important.  Readers need an author to be superior so that it is worth expending their time reading his work.  Thus, it is elevated status that makes the author readable.  We need our authors to stand above the crowd and to be excellent.  It is this excellence that helps to make them established authors.  Granted, when the author is unknown,  he will likely be perceived as some guy sitting at a table in a bookstore during the book signing event; but, as he gains notoriety, they will begin viewing him as an author at a book signing event.  The author needs to accept his role in the relationship forged between author and reader.  In order to attain this status, he must interface with the public in engineered and accepted ways that are designed to make him seem superior.  The book signing event is one such way.

If instead, one’s aversion to the book signing event stems from a feeling of inadequacy, we must look to its cause and address this problem.  Someone who feels unworthy or insecure about his standing as an author has a problem that results from a distrust of his abilities or he does not see the value he has as an author.  People who are shy or feel inadequate typically shrink from presenting themselves to public display.  Public scrutiny, they fear, causes exposure.  But, this is exactly what the book signing event is designed to accomplish.  The wordsmith compears to his readers in naked form; however, it is only through interfacing with him that they can accurately pass judgement.  This type of measuring can be unsettling.  It is a violence that strips the author of everything save data.  Properly used, interfacing can ameliorate some if not most of this violence, soften it.  A revealing of himself, more fully than less, allows him to retain some if not most of who he is in their eyes.  This is why the author needs to be more than the reserved, distant writer when at a book signing event.  It is a place of violence and he must, without fear or reservation, fling himself into that darkness.  The shy person cannot do this.  He shrinks from view and hesitantly reveals small portions of himself to his audience.  Even worse, the terribly shy person virtually removes himself from life and society.  He does not want any attention,  only desiring to slide past life without grasping it.  Thus, he does not want to interface with people or society.  Quietly, he moves, ghost-like, through life, unable to truly experience living.  This type of person shudders at the mere thought of interfacing, and thus exposing himself.

On the other hand, if this distaste comes from a belief that writing is king, then we have forgotten that there are two thrones.  On one throne sits the author, and, upon the other, the publisher sits.  These two kings work jointly to oversee the kingdom of words.  The publisher is the inveterate risk taker, companion, and kinsman to the author.  The four ring circus he creates with book tours, book signings, conferences, and workshops, along with advertising in all its various forms, serves the sole function of providing platforms where the author can interface with the reading public.  If we desire to sit on the throne reserved for authors, then full advantage should be taken of the well-crafted moments created by the publisher king.  After all, the author, if he is to be a good king, knows that he serves best by assisting the publisher in securing his reign.

Part II

The small man began to wander from his hearth.  The thousand-stepped journey brought him to Experience.  She was a mighty woman, full and new.  Excitement was her husband.  They welcomed him to this new land, finding such a small man amusing and cute, if not quaint.  He drank of their tea and was changed with every sip, somehow causing him to grow in stature and ability.  After tea, the couple conducted him around their fine palace.  The many rooms and passages it contained would have stunned most, but fortified by the tea as he was, he could contain their essence.  Then, the three approached a door gilded with stars, reliefs of children at play, and friends.  “May I enter?” he asked.  “As you are, you cannot.  You wear the raiment of structure and confinement.  Come, we will release you with garments of color,” they spoke.  So, they undressed and dressed him.  Thus adorned, he approached the fabulous portal.  Pausing, he asked, “But how do I open it?  It has no handle.”  Smiling with joy, Excitement and Experience said as one, “You need only interface with the gateway to continue your journey.”  He approached the door placed both hands on it and pressed his face into it.  “May your path find you well and your hearth open,” the couple said as he withdrew from their dwelling to enter the new realm.  With each step, man grows.

I would like now to turn to the concept of interfacing with the public.  Authors most often interface with the public through events designed to bring them notoriety.  As previously mentioned, this occurs through a critical distancing of the author from the reader.  [For more information on critical distance read Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment.]  This allows the reader to view the author as an author.  More so, it creates potentialities.  (More about potentialities in another post.) This system of promotion works for all types of writers, both unknown and well known.  Controlled interfacing with the public is both necessary and desirable.  Since the spectacle is structured, the author cannot, by design, interface closely with the reader.  There are others waiting in line or the superiority of the author distances the person so that insightful questions about the author’s personal information are not asked.  Thus, intimacy is denied.  As a result, unknown authors and authors who are writing outside their accepted genre will have difficulty in increasing readership outside of those who either already read him or read that genre.

What then to do, since the book signing event is one of the accepted ways of interfacing with the public?  Again, we return to our friend Chris Philbrook and his method for interfacing with the public. I must thank him for making it possible for me to see this subject about which I am writing.  Chris’ genre deals with horror or fantasy.  As such, he is a prime candidate for interacting with the public in a different manner.  He attends, on occasion, tabletop gaming conventions.  These events have board gamers, role players, and miniature wargamers attending them for the sole purpose of playing games and having an enjoyable time.  The attendees are also there to meet new people and to learn new games.  Also at these events, are vendors who sell merchandise that the gamers need and want.  The author who writes in a genre that blends well with gaming should also be considered a proper vendor.  Examples of these types of genres include zombies, vampires, cyberpunk, steampunk, or fantasy.  These players also read.  So, the vendor booth or table for the author functions as a book signing event at these conventions.  If all the author does is stay at his table to discuss his books and writing, then there is minimal gain for the author, except for the potential to gain readers who do not go to bookstore events.

What then should the author do to take advantage of the table top gaming convention?  Before we can answer that question, we need to understand why he is here in the first place.  If properly aimed, the author attends these events so that he can interface with the reader in a more intimate way.  He needs to reduce the critical distance, but still maintain it.  This is done by having his booth while also hosting games during the convention.  The attendees can now view him both as an author and as someone who is approachable (i.e. knowable).  Because the author gains this dual status he can retain most of his author nature as he opens up to the players.  This depends upon the type of game he runs.  He needs to game master games that have light to medium strategy involved in the game play.  This makes it possible for there to be moments where all players but one have nothing to do.  When there is an extended delay between a player’s turn, and there are multiple players, conversation naturally follows.  If the game is too simple or too complex, then there is either no down time or no conversation because the players are having to plan too much to be able to chat.  If it is the right sort of game, the author, now turned game master, becomes someone who is fun.  The players, already in a good mood, discover the person side of the author and begin, hopefully, to like him for who he is.  After the convention, if all goes well, they will return to their social groups and talk favorably about the author.  They may have even purchased a work from him during the convention and are discussing it.

Both aspiring and freshman authors should look for events where they can interface with the public in unique ways than formal book signing events.  Attending these non-traditional ways of interfacing increases the author’s potential to become established.  So, whether it is the gaming convention, the coffee shop, the art show, or any other moment that seems applicable, authors should seek these alternative avenues as they, too, will find them personally rewarding, insightful, and enriching.  The magic created through them may even be inspiring.  Interfacing with the public may seem a daunting task, but done correctly it will prove a boon to both the author and his readers.

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The Ingenious John Banvard

The Ingenious John Banvard01

This is a wonderful tale full of imagery and imagination.  A must read for any young adult.  It is a timeless classic about the Mississippi River.  This is a true tale about a real artist’s struggles.

Join the artist as he struggles to overcome obstacles on his journey to discover the natural beauty that is the Mississippi River.  He begins by forming a plan of action.  He will paint the river.  First he needs a boat, funding, and supplies.  With determination and an unflagging will, he accomplishes his goal and conquers a river.  Now, he must take his sketches and bring them to life.  He does this by painting them on a 3 mile long canvas.  He then puts it on rollers to create the first motion picture.  The Mississippi comes to life as the painting scrolls across the stage.  He fills the room with images by narrating his adventure.  Audiences are spell bound.

Both nature lovers and Eco enthusiasts will love having their children discover the splendor of the mighty Mississippi.

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Weeding the Garden Analogus to Editing

I have been weeding the garden all day today.  This is a chore that I usually put off until my backyard looks like a jungle.  With gloves in hand, I grabbed my cup and thermos and opened the door to head outback.  Unlike most gardeners who like a beautiful yard, I am reticent to put the work in that makes it a sculpted masterpiece that will land on the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.  This happens to work for me as I prefer a wild British avian friendly zone.  When I hear the trumpets of elephants and the roar of lions coming from the lush greenery, I know I must grab the garden sheers and begin the task, the long put off task, of making my jungle more tame.  Will I have to ask the indigenous population that has settled there to move?, I wonder.

Editing is a lot like weeding the garden.  Often, writers bang on the keyboard, typing as quickly as possible.  This process continues day after day as they watch, in elation, the word count soar.  What to do with all this stuff that grew out of your fingers?  Ah yes, this is a major question.

If one pauses to edit too often, then one is over editing.  This is problematic as this actually harms writing.  The over editor is the person who desires to have each sentence perfect in tone and word.  What truly is happening is fear.  This type of writer fears to be seen making a mistake.  He wants to be the Nobel Prize winner for the very first novel he writes.  Fear must be left in the dustbin along with one’s belief that one’s writing is great.  Let your audience tell you it is great.  This over editing would be the same as setting out to weed a garden where there is only grass and one works diligently to ensure there is only dirt in one’s garden.

What if it is only done, as my garden suggests, infrequently or very infrequently.  This is also a problem.  Why? you ask.  The editing process is not just about cleaning up the language.  Discovery and idea invention also play an enormous part in the editing process.  This stems from language play.  Often, a person rephrases clauses or phrases in multiple ways before settling on one that seems to be desired.  The key is language play.  Playing with language allows a sentence room to breath.  It lets a little bit of sunlight into the concrete sentence.  The multiple potentialities for a sentence become possible through editing.  Here, in the realm of potential, resides various forms of a sentence.  Any writer who has written for a while knows that one sentence leads, like a path, to new sentences.  These new sentences send sparks of thought into the dark realms of the unexplored.  Here is the missing element that has not been thought about much.

The unexplored, uncharted realm of potentialities opens up to the mind while editing.  The unthought becomes thought.  We can reach out and grab those fine threads and begin spinning a new path for our story to take.    This is why the garden must be tended.  The strikethrough, the rending of the sentence, the violence that we do to each word, phrase, clause, or sentence frees it from the bondage of being and allows it to start becoming once again.  We must edit, though it is a painful process.  I am reminded of my garden once again.  The hidden thorn from a bramble pricks me and I yelp in pain.  So too should the editing process be painful.  We are tearing the sentence apart.  It is a sentence that grew in the ground of our mind.  It formed deep roots and has become enmeshed in the living being that is our work.  But all growth is painful.  “Seek not safety” is the motto to live by.  Safety is the place we have been.  It is a well kept garden with no nooks nor crannies, no hidden paths made by cute scampering creatures.  It is a sterile landscape that has no new growth.  When was the last time an author reworked a published novel just to improve its language?  Oh, I am sure it happens, but is that the norm or exception?  So, we must play with language, and to do that, we must edit.

My garden is looking wonderful after a hard days effort.  I have watered the secret places and said hello to the gnomes and garden sprites.  I have bled and sworn a naughty word or two.  It is still a wild, unkempt garden after a days work, but now it is beautiful.

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What Readers Want

I just ran across a post from Michael J. Martinez [Link] that discusses the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.  This lead me to Hugh Howey’s post [Link].  Mr. Howey’s post caused me to write this post.  However, I want to thank both Mr. Martinez and Mr. Howey for their insightful and timely information.  I myself am about to enter into the next stage of writing, publishing.  As I read Mr. Howey’s post, I began to get a real sense of the difference between the two methods of publishing.  Amazingly, Mr. Howey has a friend who can collect data from the web using a compiled web crawler, and this tech guru is a writer as well.  That is amazing for someone to have both skills especially to someone as old as I.  We will leave the discussion about age and society for another day.  For now, I would like to discuss something that seems heavy and sort of sad or at least telling. Mr. Howey writes,

“The bestseller lists used were Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. All of the subcategories within these three main genres were also included. Why choose these genres? Because they are the most popular with readers. Our data guru ran a spider through overall bestseller lists and found that these three genres accounted for 70% of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon and well over half of the top 1,000 bestsellers.3 Future earnings reports will look at all of fiction4, but for now, we started with a simpler data set that captured the vast majority of what readers purchase.”

This is the heavy part that struck me as telling about society.  I myself would love to see fiction e.g. John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” as one of the major sales figures.  I see this information and it tells me that readers want to be scared or tense (Mystery/Thriller), exist not in our society (Science Fiction/Fantasy), or have relationships/ love or someone who cares for them deeply (Romance).  There are also more reasons why they read these things, but this post is not about that topic.  What do writers need to write?  This is the major question.  The answer is direct and simple.  Writers must write what they need to write with no concern for statistics or data.

A writer who attempts to write out of his genre so that he can grab some of that seventy percent market share will most probably do a poor job of writing.  He may, after much effort and time, be able to move outside of his normal genre and be able to begin writing works that do capture some of that market share.  Will he be happy?  This depends upon why he is writing in the first place.  If the main goal is to make money, then happiness will follow.  If the attempt to write came from a desire to tell a tale in a genre outside that seventy percent, then it is more likely that he will not be as happy.  All writers are forced at some point in their lives to ask themselves why they are writing and only they can answer that question.  I would hope that they are able to remain true to themselves and write wonderful pieces that are enjoyed by whatever market share enjoys that genre.  A writer, fresh or seasoned, should always do a bit of self examination and write from the place to the place that is dictated by his internal self and not by the data of market shares.  

 

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On My Way to Notoriety

What are fame and popularity?  How do I reach Notoriety?” I asked myself.  No one responded.  What did I expect?  Here was I standing on an unused, overgrown dirt road with only myself to discuss such matters.  I stood in the hall of Nature, with her court arrayed around me.  The Wind King spoke through the branches. “Have you begun?” he asked.  “Yes, your Majesty, I have begun the journey to Notoriety.  Even though the city is so very far,” I said.

I have never been one to seek popularity, fame, or even fortune.  I have been too busy for that.  Now, however, it is time to slow down, time to change gears.  If I am to be heard over the multitude of voices that is both symphony and cacophony, I must seek to be known, at least by some.  Part of this entails exposure.  I guess that is one of the hard things to do.  Expose oneself to the others and all that entails.  I will be brave, as I have always tried to be, and set myself firmly on the road to Notoriety.

Towards this end, I opened this WordPress account.  I paid my dues and set about the attempt to make a space, if ever so small, for my voice to be heard through my writings.  First! I thought, my page needs a theme.  Unlike my fellow writer in our writing group, I took an eternity to chose a theme.  It must be important after all to have a look and feel that speaks about the writer to the readers who stop to read a thought or two.

“How to chose a theme,” this seems like a good topic that should be easily researched.  I looked but there was no substantial, concrete help.  So, I did it the hard way.  I analyzed each theme one by one.  Finally, I found one that would speak of me to those who stopped by my page.  Should it be colorful, but not too bright? I wondered.  Yes, was the reply.

“You can change it later,” came the cry from the other end of the writing table. A member of our writing group spoke, knowing how I take so long.  But it is important, to me at least, that it look good enough and that it match who I am.  After picking a theme, some multiple hours later, I see now that his is the most important lesson of the day.  You can change it.  So be brave, be bold, and realize that any theme will do, for now.

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