Thursday, April 5, 2012

On interviews

 Every so often, I make the mistake of taking a step back and trying to think of all the things that make up a truly amazing book. Plot, characters, and idea are just one thing. Then there's pacing, setting, dialogue, believability, authenticity, prose, marketability… it's sort of like a juggling act with every object in your kitchen, including the kitchen sink, except your blindfolded and all the objects are imaginary and you're never even sure whether you caught them…

Or something.

Good advice in any of those areas is like precious gold. This week, I came across an article at one of my favorite book review sites, Dear Author. The article, written by bestselling contemporary romance author Julie James. In the article, Julie discusses the way in which she conducted research for her latest book.

It's a short read, and a lot of fun. Julie has a good list of interview questions that she asks that go beyond the obvious.

The best part of the article for me is not necessarily the tips, but the encouragement to be brave. I'm not normally a shy person, but the thought of calling a stranger out of the blue and asking for such a big favor terrifies me. But Julie reminds us of a couple of important things at the end of the article:

1. People like talking to authors, and it's very flattering in general to be interviewed.  
2. No one will criticize you for getting things too "right."
3. Really, the worst they can do is say no.

I still hate calling strangers on the phone, but it's nice to remember that most other people are happy to help if you ask nicely.  

Of course, here's where being a fantasy author has its disadvantages. I can't exactly go visit a magic school to learn what classes are really like, or interview dragons on what's really so fascinating about gold (copper is shiny too! And a prettier color).

If, like me, you're not yet bold enough to cold call the FBI, remember that a lot of the people around you also probably don't mind being interviewed by authors. We each have our own unique repository of experiences and information.  For example, if you need to know pretty much anything about ecology, or North American birds, I'm a good one to ask.

And because I haven't had a picture in this post yet, here's one of my favorite birds, a cedar waxwing.

You could also interview me on life working for the federal government, or what it's actually like to be the poor kid at a rich high school.

So on which subjects could you offer expertise?


  1. That article was fascinating. I never even considered interviewing people before, and I don't know if I have the courage. But, I bet even for fantasy or sci-fi, a quick email to a historian or a scientist might really add some depth to the WIP.
    Thanks for putting this idea in my head.

  2. This is great advice. I never thought the FBI would give someone a tour of their offices. That was pretty awesome.

    I think most professionals would be more than willing to share their expertise, but I still think making a cold call would be tough. I guess I'd feel better about asking if I had at least one publication to prove I really was a writer.

    I have used the Research forum on the Absolute Write for research. They have a ton of members, and really you can find experts in almost any area. You have to be careful to double check the information though. There is always the risk that someone isn't quite the expert they think they are.

  3. I am an expert at living in Maine, and on being "from away." For example, once I told someone I was from Utah, and they said, "Really? My cousin lives near there. She's in Ohio. I wonder if you ever met her." I'm also an expert at what it's like to be a Mormon, both in Utah and in an area where my kids are the only Mormons in their school. I know a lot about piano playing and about special education and about being a mom. I also know about writing, but so do you all, so that wouldn't be helpful. I think that about covers my areas of expertise, although I have some trivial knowledge that might come in handy--like what it's like to work at Bryce Canyon National Park and stuff like that.

    Awesome post Sabrina. Thanks!


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