Prepared Yet Flexible
When I drive down the street, I occasionally turn on my radio and manage to catch Terry Gross, the host of the National Public Radio program, Fresh Air. If you’ve never heard Fresh Air, I highly recommend it because Gross has handled over 5,000 interviews with a wide variety of personalities. Last year, I read her excellent book, All I did Was Ask, Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists, which gathers about three dozen of these radio interviews into a printed book. I learned a lot about the different personalities such as Nicolas Cage, John Updike or Mario Puzo.
I love to listen to a prepared, skilled interviewer like Terry Gross. I recommend it any chance you have because of what can be gained and built into your own writing life.
Yesterday, Terry had much interviewed actor Tommy Lee Jones. She was talking with him about his new movie, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. The movie marks Jones’ directorial debut and he’s also acting in this film. The movie has a western setting and Gross was asking Jones about his own work with cattle. You could hear the amusement in his voice as he answered some basic questions about cattle ranching.
Then the interview took a fascinating turn. Terry Gross said that her favorite Tommy Lee Jones film was a thriller from 1978 called the Eyes of Laura Mars. It was where Jones made his first starring role. Gross had prepared a short audio clip from a climatic scene in the movie between Jones and Faye Dunaway. As she almost hit the play button, Jones revealed something unexpected for Gross. He said, “I wrote this scene.” It was the perfect interviewer’s clue—and Terry picked up on it immediately. She paused and asked him for more details. It turns out the motivation for the characters wasn’t real clear in the original script and Jones reworked a number of elements in his role—but particularly rewrote this climax scene. I loved how Terry Gross through this process showed she was prepared (had her questions and even an audio clip to play) yet when she discovered something unexpected, she was flexible enough to go with it and dig deeper.
Through the years, I’ve interviewed many different people. I love the magic when you discover something unexpected. For example, once when talking with marriage expert Gary Smalley, he told me about a point in his marriage where his snoring had become a problem. He and his wife, Norma, were sleeping in separate bedrooms. It was a pure disconnect for me. Here’s an author who has staked his reputation on being a marriage expert and he wasn’t sleeping in the same bedroom with his wife? Now before I spread rumors, Gary had a sleep apnea problem which he corrected and returned to the same bedroom. His story from this interview made a fascinating discovery and the eventual magazine article was called Sleepless in Branson.
If you are reading this entry about the writing life and haven’t done many interviews, I want to encourage you to begin to interview others. Practice makes perfect when it comes to interviewing. It’s a great source of fresh stories and information and allows you to gain new resources for your writing—whatever type of writing. I’ve got a lot of information about interviewing on this blog so make sure you search for other entries (using the search engine on the side of the blog). If you’ve never done a phone interview, make sure you have this little gadget from Radio Shack called a Smart Phone Recorder. It’s a valuable investment for anyone who does phone interviews. Plus follow the valuable tips in these two articles on Right-Writing.com. One article is here and here is the other article. Finally I’d encourage you to take every opportunity to watch others interview such as on Fresh Air. Like me, you can be watching for the unexpected.