Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Self-Interview - Talking To Myself

I was going to do this first interview as a part of this ongoing series I'm doing about characters and money and power and all that, but I decided that it would be better to put that off until the end of the series.

Instead, I'm going to be totally circular here and talk to myself about talking to myself....

Q: What's this self-interview thing about?

A:  I'm a self-publisher.   I like to do everything myself.  I do my own covers, and formatting, and taxes, and make my own bread....

Q: Seriously though, why is it going to be a regular feature?

A: Three reasons, mainly.

One is just that it's a really easy way to organize a topic, especially for a dialog person.  And for a teacher. I spent 25 years answering every question that came my way.  Q and A is a natural fit.

It's also fun.  I remember when Lawrence Block used to do that column for Writer's Digest, and he often wrote it in the form of a dialog between himself and an imaginary class of students.  I loved that as an essay form.

The biggest reason, though, is research for a book.  Over the years I've been collecting interview questions, just for my own use and amusement.

Then I noticed that a lot of bloggers and book sites were handing writers a list of standard questions to be filled out like a form.  It's a great way to generate a lot of content, but after you've read one or two of them, not so much fun to read.  I think a lot of that has gone by the wayside, in favor of guest posting, where the guest writers still do all the work, but it's more varied.

And a good deal of the time, writers are interviewing themselves for these appearances.

So I figured I might as well turn my collection of questions into a book for both the bloggers and the writers to help come up more variation in what they do.  But first I want to do research.

Q: Where did you get these questions?

A: Some of them I steal.  I'll read one of those long interviews in the Paris Review or something and the questions will strike my fancy.  Other times I will just sit and brainstorm.

Q: That sounds like a really easy book to put together.

A: Yeah, I thought so too, but there's a problem.

Q: ... and that is?

A: Follow up questions.  The very best questions of all are not generic.  They are specific to what the person just said, or they are specific to something about the person's work.

I'm not sure how I'm going to handle that.  I might have a section on "digging" questions -- the questions that elicit the info that you want to ask about, but that you DON'T include in the interview.  (A lot of those form questionaires on the internet actually ask those questions, instead of the next question deeper.)

On the bright side, when you are being interviewed by yourself, at least you know the interviewer has read your books.

Q: So you really hate those form questions, don't you?

A:  No, I really don't.... it's just that they are often clumsily used.  Or lazily used.  I've seen it done well. It works in two instances, I think. One is where all the questions are very practical, and designed to elicit specific information. In that case, they actually are a form. The answers form a kind of database where the readers can comb through a whole lot of such posts for specific information.

The other is that Inside the Actor's Studio technique.  At the end of the show, Lipton asks ten questions that are kind of like one of those internet memes. (What your favorite sound? What sound do you hate?) I have mixed feelings about those for the very reason there are interesting -- they're provocative.  They're like a touchy-feely psycoanalysis game, but they can pull out something unexpectedly interesting.

Q: We gonna do this every week?

A: Probably not.

Q: What about opening this up to guest posters?

A: I am thinking about it.  Most likely if I do, it will not be just any kind of self-interviews.  I'll want a smart interview where a writer talks about the nature of their genre, or some literary topic like that.  I'll expect them to talk about their books in the course of the interview, but the subject will be something like defining a paranormal mystery, or how much romance belongs in a thriller, or even their favorite kinds of secondary characters.  I expect it to be personal, informal, and yes, the writers can talk about their books -- and especially their characters -- but it's not supposed to be an "about the book" or "about the author" interview.

Q: Speaking of characters....

A: Yes, I am thinking of having characters interview each other.  I don't know if I will interview any of them myself.  It might be interesting to have one interview me... but that might be weird for both of us.

Q: Okay, final question: why do you always sign off with "See you in the funny papers?"

A:  I've always felt like a blog is like a newspaper column, or even more like a broadcast column. And when I get to the end of a post, I always feel like I should sign off.  "Good night, and good luck," or "And that's the way it is," or "Th-th-th-th- That's all folks!"

(Hmmmm, I could have gone with Porky, couldn't I have?)

I grew up with that as how commentary ends, with a sign off line.  I feel like I'm not finished if I don't have one.

Q: Is the funny papers line a reference to anything specific?

A: No, not exactly.  It's a reference to forties movies and pulp, in that it's a line that smart guys and street punks and sassy kids tend to say.  It's an insult, actually.  It was originally meant to say that "you're a cartoon" or "you're a joke."  It was something a grinning, sassy crook might say as he walks away from the cop who gave him a stern warning.

But it became less of an insult and more of just a swaggering way to say good-bye.  "See you later, alligator!"

And I thought it was an extremely appropriate thing for a fiction writer, and also someone who talks about movies and books and tv and comics.  Writers and readers spend a lot of time on "the other side" in dreamland, or the imaginary world.  We're very often headed for the inside of a story when we leave this little coffee klatsch I call a blog.

So since that's where we're all going, it just seems right to say it....

See you in the funny papers!

No comments: