It's my pleasure to welcome author Darlene Arden. Those of you who know Darlene's work will be surprised to see that she's not here to talk about cats or dogs, but rather about the all-important (for many freelance writers and for authors and other people who want to be interviewed!) -- the art of the interview. - Sheila
by Darlene Arden
I’ve been interviewing almost as long as I’ve been writing and I never started out to be a writer. I was a Voice Major, an actress/singer/dancer occasional choreographer and occasional writer but that writing was mostly script doctoring. And I did precious little of that. However, that career became the basis of a new career. How I got here is another story for another time.
I began writing interviews for various magazines, mainly celebrity profiles, long before I began writing about dogs and cats. Because of my background, talking to actors came easily. It also gave me a clear insight into my interview subjects. Been there, done that, just not at that particular level. More than one actor blurted out, “You don’t ask the same questions everyone else asks!” I finally asked what they had been asking. My curiosity was definitely piqued. “What’s your favorite color?” seemed to be an evergreen. How utterly boring.
One thing I recommend for anyone who is doing an interview is to do your homework. You’ll probably receive (and you should) a bio from their publicist. Even people in other fields have publicists. If they don’t then do as much background research as you can. It’s much easier today with the internet providing much more information than pre-internet days.
Ask questions that interest you. If they interest you, chances are good that they will interest your readers. If you’re doing the interview in person, you may want to set the scene. You can certainly add some color to the interview by, for example, adding that the person shrugged, or rolled her eyes, etc.
Be an active listener. Don’t just think about your next question. Really listen to the response to the question you just asked. It may lead naturally to another question and the interview might go in a direction you never planned that might be even more interesting than your original idea.
Think about the type of writer you want to be. Do you want to be positive or spread dirt? Seriously. There is ample opportunity for either, and the choice is yours. Here’s a real-life example. I was interviewing a television actor. This was not in person, but by telephone, which can happen as a result of logistics. His voice sounded a tiny bit slurred and then I heard the clinking of ice cubes in a glass. When he began running down his show and the network I saw a red flag. The guy was drunk. I could have used that in the article. And, as a result, he probably would have been fired. I didn’t want that on my conscience. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he had a lousy day at work. Maybe he didn’t like the way his character was going at that point. Maybe he thought he didn’t have enough lines. Who knows? But his indiscretion that day could have led to a very different sort of article. I didn’t want him to lose his job because of me so I very deliberately chose to omit that from the article. I also gave his publicist a heads-up in case the next writer wasn’t inclined to be generous, or even thoughtful of anything but splashy headlines that might have made his career at the actor’s expense. The publicist was grateful and always gave me his best clients. I wasn’t looking to build my career on someone else’s bad day.
There were other incidents. A couple of people were downright nasty. I didn’t run them down in print but I didn’t interview them a second time.
It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing actors, doctors, or family members for a memoir, because the basics are the same. Often there are some wonderful surprises. I’ve always thought of interviewing as fun and educational. I enjoy serving as a bridge between the interview subject and the reader. And I’ve nearly always learned something new and interesting.
Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer and author. Arden, a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, lectures widely on wellness for pets including, behavior, training, and nutrition She is also an experienced television producer/host, and a lively guest expert on various radio and television programs and a popular and much acclaimed speaker.
A founding member of The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a founding member and former director of the Cat Writers’ Association, former member and director of Dog Writers Association of America, a member of the World Dog Press Association as well as Boston Authors, she is one of the few layperson members of The American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and a member of Boston Authors, among her numerous awards are the CWA Muse Medallion, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/American Humane Education Society’s Media Award for veterinary writing and animal welfare. In her “spare time,” Arden is a volunteer Cat Behavior Consultant for Pets for Life, NY.