Author Interviews

I love reading author interviews.  I particularly like to know whether a writer uses a pen or pencil and what kind of notebook she writes in.  So, it occurred to me the other day when an author I like sent me a copy of her new book that I should do some author interviews.  There are tons of writers who come over to BlogLily — I should hit them up, don’t you think?  It could be fun.  You don’t even have to have published something.  Writers in progress are fair game too! 

The thing is, though, that beyond nosy questions about what kinds of writing utensils a writer employs, I’d have to think of some other questions — more literate questions.  So, I did what we all do when we have no idea what we’re doing, which is I googled “author interview questions.” 

Wow.  I found some very bad stuff (not bad, really, but not that interesting), and then the Paris Review’s author interviews which pretty much scared me because they were so smart, and then some other interviews which I loved because writers would draw stuff to illustrate their answers, or at least give the answers in their own handwriting, which I like, because I enjoy seeing how people write.  Literally.

Anyway, I realized that you can do two kinds of interviews (obviously you can do many more than this, but I’m going to just keep it to two because — right! — this is a blog.  We don’t have to be complicated.)  The first kind is more like a questionnaire — you ask everybody the same thing.  (And no, I will not be asking things like if you were a color, what color would you be?  although, in case you are wondering, the answer is orange.)  And then there is the second kind of interview in which the interviewer reads the book and asks questions that are quite book-specific, like “why did you give Harry a scar on his forehead?  Do you have any interesting scars you’d like to tell us about?  Also, what on earth are you doing with all that money?  Are you giving a lot of it away?”  That kind of thing. 

Okay, so say I decide to exploit the people I know who’re writers and force them to answer questions — what kinds of things would you like to hear them talk about?   Another way to ask that question is “when you read author interviews, what are your favorite questions?” 

See?  I’m interviewing you, dear readers.  You’re my warm up to a summer of impersonating Terry Gross.


32 thoughts on “Author Interviews

  1. Daniel, Great! But now you have to come up with a couple of questions — how about the ones you wished people asked, and they haven’t yet? If you want, you can always e-mail them to me — it’s bloglily at yahoo dot com.

  2. I also use a fountain pen (with ink that can be washed up with water because I have young children), but mostly I write with a MacIntosh because I cannot read my own handwriting.

    I like to find out which books and authors are loved by writers. For example, I was thrilled to learn that John Irving is a fan of Robertson Davies and of Fredrick Buechner, two authors I have loved since my college days.


  3. You could ask about their best & worst rejections, because that’s always interesting. “If you could be any Harry Potter character, which one would you be?”

    For the record, I think you’d be Hermione.

  4. Have you ever honestly answered the question–to your own satisfaction, no bullshit, at the deepest level–a real explanation, not a justification, not a rationalization–why you write?

  5. If at a book signing, a reader told you that your book had confirmed their most cherished beliefs. Would you:

    A. Be so thrilled you’d buy a bottle of champaign and get drunk?

    B. Be so discouraged that you’d buy a bottle of JohnnyWalker and get drunk?

    C. Give up writing and become a claims adjuster for an insurance company?

    What do you think is the most subversive quality of your writing?

  6. If someone told you they thought you were on the same level, or maybe better, than a highly regarded writer, an author you greatly admired, would you:

    A. Be embarrassed and dismiss the comparison?

    B. Act embarrassed, but secretly qvell?

    C. Tell the person it’s about time someone noticed?

  7. Jacob Russell! You are the KING of interview questions. I mean, really — these are such fun questions. They are by themselves things of beauty, without any answers at all, which is what makes them so terrific.

    Marie, Oh no. She’s so BOSSY! (Okay, okay. It’s true. I am very bossy.) Anyway, can’t I be Hedwig? I think I’d like all that screeching into Hogwarts at light speed and then the delivery of news. But I do see a new game in the making. Everyone writes down the character they’re most like and everyone else secretly writes down the character THEY THINK that person is most like and then the person who gets the most matches wins. Self knowledge a plus. Having read Harry Potter pretty key here.

    Ben — of course you use a fountain pen! And a mac. That makes sense to me. I also think asking about favorite books is a great question because it allows you to get two things at once: some insight into the writer and, if you’re lucky, a book recommendation that might actually be worthwhile.

  8. This is a great idea!

    I like to hear about other writers’ tough times because it’s so nice to know I’m not the only one who fizzles and spurts. Like, for example, what strategies other writers have for a stalled plot or how they get themselves to write on days where it seems impossible (or do they get themselves to write at all?

    Worst rejections is also good.

    Also, if some of the writers have gone the non-traditional route (i.e. print-on-demand or independent small presses and so on): how’s that going? what are the pros and cons (honestly!)? how do you self-promote?

    The how-tos of self-promotion is always a good topic.

    Looking forward to your interviews! And, you know what? Kudos to you for including writers-in-progress!

    Have a great Fourth, Lisa

  9. These are sort of tongue in cheek.. but kind of questions I ask myself, questions that would make me perk up ears if I heard them from Terry Gross…

    Ya know… I remember T.G. when she was just Philly… an interview program, low budget… she’d go out and find the weirdest people–I mean, really strange… and put together a great interview.

    I count those as some of the best radio ever… then she went mainstream…

    She’s best with musicians. She really knows her stuff… gets into the music, what makes the music–when it’s personal, it’s still about the music.

    With books… give her credit; she reads the book before she does the interview. But she’s so much stronger with American music… ( a nice way of saying, she’s over her head when it comes to literature).

    Over the years, she’s weakened into the personal crap… People Magazine… la la la.

    There’s still this residual appreciation of strangeness–of the contribution of the outsider.I guess we shoud be grateful.

    I can’t help wishing somewhere along the line… she’d married John Waters… even if it was only a marriage of convenience.

    How come I don’t see my blog on your links?

  10. How many rejections did you get? Did you have any business connections, claim to fame, or work qualifications that helped you get published? How did your publisher help you promote the book, or did you have to take on much of the promotion yourself? How long did it take to write the book? What inspired you to write the book? What character do you relate to most and why? What was the most difficult aspect of writing the book? Did you take any classes or have a literary background that helped you in your writing? What is your best advice to wannabe authors?

  11. I’d like to hear if there is someone they are writing to when they write (stephen king names this other the Ideal Reader).

    I’m also taken with S.King’s comment that there are only a few themes in his life that have been important enough to power a novel (he then lists his life themes and matches them to the novels — more than one each — they powered.) I’d ask “what themes have recurred in your life and has your writing help develop them?”

    And maybe…what have you discovered by writing that you wouldn’t have known otherwise.

    (Hedwig…lovely…except for the drop from the sidecar…boo)

  12. “How do you structure your writing around young children and work? And do you have a timetable you could recommend?”

    Rather more technically, how exactly do you differentiate between your drafts, re-drafts and revisions? I’ve always wondered about writers who say “I wrote 38 drafts of that chapter before I got it right” whether they were 38 completely different drafts or just five or six and a lot of tweaking.

  13. I like reading about what writers have done other than write. You know, what kind of a childhood they had and what kinds of terrible jobs they had to take to get through college, and so forth.

    The worst question ever, I think, is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Every time I see this in a magazine interview, it cracks me up.

  14. Start with “where do you get your ideas?” and keep pressing the question, resisting any attempts to change the subject, until they hang up…

    Seriously though, as Ben says, I think you can get a lot by talking about the author’s influences.

  15. Great fun, Bloglily. I write with my Dell Inspiron laptop. Have you seen Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union show on Showtime? Her sketches as Arianna Huffington when Arianna goes to bed hugging her laptop. I’m not that bad, but I do love my laptop. It’s my friend and I’m lost without it.

    That said, there’s something wonderful about putting pen to paper and just letting the words flow out. I haven’t done it for a while, but sometimes if I’m stuck, I’ll pull out a good ballpoint and a notebook.

    Interview questions? One of my favorite things I’ve read was in Stephen King’s On Writing book, when he said that he would put his rejection letters on a 3-inch nail in his basement and it was completely full before he sold his first one. So, questions about authors’ perseverence are great. Most people don’t sell a novel their first time out.

    Also, where do you find your characters? What’s the backstory on particular books, characters? And then there’s always the standby: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

  16. I don’t really like reading author interviews, or only rarely. They make me anxious: I don’t like seeing the interviewer probing for goods, and I don’t like the writer either defending her privacy or going into marketing mode. Once in a while there’s a good one — Lydia Davis gave one several years back for “Mothers Who Think” (as opposed to…?).

    Worse, though, is giving them. Never again! And I mean it. So horrible to have one’s un-thought-out words floating back…

  17. I like reading interviews with artists, because they tend to contain the interviewee’s perspective on what art is, what it means to make it, etc, etc. Maybe you could check some of those out for interview questions?

  18. I like the peripheral stuff like Ms Box of Books (although as ever, I am stunned by Jacob’s range of questions). I want to know whatever put the idea into their heads that sitting writing and rewriting the same paragraph for days on end, and getting stuck in literary cul-de-sacs, and not knowing ever how to end anything, would be a fun thing to do. And although I wouldn’t ever limit a reading of a novel to its author’s intentions, I’m always intrigued as to what they were supposed to be.

  19. Well, good heavens. I turn my back to barbeque for a moment (okay, for a whole weekend, and I didn’t do the meat, I did the gin & tonics and sangria and lunch food). What a lot of great ideas!

    Litlove (how did you sneak that comment in there without me seeing it?) — I agree, peripheral is most interesting, because that kind of thing tends to be about stuff that’s everyone wants to know about. How do you perservere being first among those questions.

    Mollie, That is a fine idea. Thank you. And welcome by the way!

    Rhian, Like you, I have always wondered what committee came up with Mothers Who Think. Someone once gave me a subscription to it, and it was just fine — no, in fact, it was quite good. Me, though, I want to read the magazine called “Mothers Who are Just So Damned Tired and Irritable That They Yell at People all the Time and Feed Their Children a Steady Diet of Take-Out Food and Haven’t Bought a New Bra in About Six Years” As for interviews, aww! Are you sure? I mean, don’t you ever fantasize about chatting away with someone about writing — maybe not specifics about your writing, but about general stuff?

    Stories about perserverence are wonderful, DBD Writer, I agree. I love hearing things like, I stabbed all those rejections onto a three inch nail and it felt good.

    W,R — OOOOO. That’s one of those questions that Rhian finds sort of scary. Still, it’s an interesting one to ponder, as a writer and a reader, the issue of how much biography informs fiction and whether and why a reader needs to know more about that kind of thing. I like writer biographies, which is why I enjoy interviews. Mostly, I am interested in process –the work itself I prefer to think over on my own.

    Rob, And after I ask “where do you get your ideas”, like, 500 times, I’ll ask “how did you get published” and “can you give me the name of your agent.” That should do it, don’t you think?

    Ella, Like you, I love hearing about what else people do. The only place I don’t like knowing about that is the movie theater where, at the one we go to anyway, if you get there too early, you have to watch the same “legends of the silver screen” loop where you learn that George Clooney’s nickname as Handsome George and he tried out for the Cincinnati Reds and didn’t make it, before he turned — dejectedly, I’m sure — to acting.

    U-Dad, Good question! I’ve always wondered that myself. I don’t know how many drafts I write, because everything I write I change some at some point.

    OP — It’s quite clear that I need to read Steven King’s book. It sounds like it’s really got you (and a lot of other people) thinking.

    LINDA! You and Jacob, you are unstoppable interviewing machines. Thank you! (And welcome, if I haven’t already formally done so.)

    Jacob, I know zip about music, but I do like hearing her talking about it because she’s clearly happiest in that environment. How can you not be on my links, dude? It is a matter of incompetence rather than intention, that is for sure. I’ll rectify that pronto.

    Hi Lisa, Hope you had an inspiring and restful fourth. Like you, and many others, the whole question of what keeps a person moving forward in what is a really tough business interests me very much. I’ll be sure to include stuff like that.

  20. First, I applaud your affinity for author interviews. When they’re well done, I adore them. When they’re not, I still adore them, just not quite as much.

    Second, I applaud your choice to do author interviews with both published authors and the aspiring. All too often people forget that while lessons learned can only really be imparted after reflection, those ephemeral insights gleamed during the time spent in the trenches before any recognition are often the most poignant.

    Finally, I applaud your color choice. Orange is a wonderful color, all too often abused, then derided because of (or judged according to) those abuses.

  21. Hi, again, just had a thought. I’ve mentioned the following debuting novelist on my blog because I’ve found her author interviews illuminating. Just today, she posed questions to her readers about how to improve her interviews. Just FYI for your research:

    (She might actually be a good one to interview at some point, since the debut perspective is always interesting.)

    Hope all is well, cheers, Lisa

  22. Oy, could you please edit out that dopey smirk-face? Didn’t mean for it appear (annoying that did it automatically) and it implies that I was using the word “interesting” in ironic fashion, which I wasn’t. Thanks! Lisa

  23. Lisa, I get those smiley faces too, and yes, I’ll get rid of that one! Thanks for the tip about deanna cameron, by the way — I’ll be sure to go over there and check it out.

    Hey Gnorb — How nice to see you here! I was so busy stamping out that inappropriate smiley face I didn’t see you’d been by. I’m looking forward to these interviews, which, once I digest all these amazing comments, I’ll start sending around for responses. Fun!

  24. When I quit my old blog and started the one I’m writing now, I had plans for all sorts of interviews with interesting people, including writers and artists. It’s a lot of work! I didn’t get lazy, but because I write about those people for other publications I realized that doing it for my blog was additional work…the idea almost exhausted me. I don’t want to discourage you, but here are a few suggestions: keep it light, keep it fun, keep it really focused. A question I always ask fiction writers is whether they started with the idea for the story or started with a character around whom they built a story. When I write fiction, it’s always the latter.

    I look forward to reading your interviews!

  25. Mari — I see what you mean! I’m just writing up a little questionnaire, which I’m going to send out to five writers I know and then we’ll see. I think that sort of thing is easier than what you might have been up to — I like every one of these writers, but I’m after more general perspectives on writing than an interviewer of substance might be up to. Light, fun, focused. Thank you for those tips!

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