I’ve been conducting video interviews for Author magazine since 2008, and hosting Author2Author, a weekly conversation on blogtalk radio, since 2012. I always learn something in every conversation, but one the most instructive interviews was the one I was least interested in conducting.
I wasn’t even supposed to do it. Jeff, my associate editor, had booked the author and was very excited about getting to interview this guy, Lee Child. I’d never heard of him. I didn’t read suspense, you see. It wasn’t my thing. Jeff did, though, and he kept telling me how lucky we were to have him for our fledgling magazine.
But the night before the interview Jeff told me he couldn’t do it. Something about a kid’s baseball game he couldn’t miss. I groused. Jeff had read everything the guy had ever written, but I hadn’t even seen a book cover. How was I going to do the interview? Jeff told me not to worry. He’d write up some questions for me. I’d be fine.
I brought the questions to the bookstore for the interview, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to use them. They weren’t my sorts of questions. While I was waiting for Child to arrive, one of the booksellers asked me excitedly if I were going to be interviewing the Lee Child. “You bet,” I said. “Hey, do you read him?”
“So what are his books like? What’s the premise usually?”
He explained about Jack Reacher and how in every book he arrived in a new town and faced off against new villains and slept with a new beautiful woman. “Got it,” I said. Child arrived. He was very tall and very charming and very British. I liked him right away. When I like someone, I want to get to know him, and the best way to get to know someone is to ask him questions. I never looked at Jeff’s questions that night, and it was perhaps the best interview I’d done to that point. It was the last time I ever bothered to bring questions with me to an interview.
The questions I used to write before my interviews were always based on my concept of who the author was before I met him or her. As soon as that author said, “Hello,” however, I immediately understood they were not who I thought they were. Every time I think I know who the author is based on the combination of their book and my imagination, I am wrong. They are always more than I can imagine. It is why they are both so interesting and mysterious.
The same is true of the ideas from which stories are born. Every time I think I know what kind of a story an idea will turn into before I write it, I am wrong. I never really know what a story will be until I meet it on the blank page. That first page never ceases to humble me. I must remember it is not my job to know, but to be curious. Knowledge can certainly seem safer than curiosity, but it’s an illusion. What I call knowledge is stored in the past, but curiosity lives in the present, where everything is written and lived.
**(Author’s note: No real passwords were shared in the writing of this essay).
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com