Tips for Effective Interviews

Photo of reporter's notebook by grafixtek on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
Photo of reporter’s notebook by grafixtek on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I’m working with the local newspaper on some articles. I’ve been doing several interviews because of that. In the process, I’ve learned — or rediscovered — some things.

  • Have at least 10 questions ready.
    I have discovered that if I go in with fewer than 10 questions, I don’t get enough usable material. I struggled to pull articles together. Once I figured out that I needed to ask more to get more, it became easier. One thing, though: If you ask a closed question, one that can be answered with a simple yes or no answer, ask another open question where they have to elaborate. Or ask why.
  • Treat the interview more like a conversation.
    If you go in acting like this is a formal interview, your source will be stiff and uncomfortable. They won’t open up the way you need them to. If they don;t open up, you get short answers. Getting them to open up is key to getting them to talk more about the subject at hand. Don’t be afraid to let them go on a tangent. You might be surprised at how relevant it turns out to be later on.
  • Take notes.
    Taking notes is important. It shows your source that you take them seriously and believe they will have something good to say that you will want to remember. I advocate taking notes even if you are recording your interview because batteries die and — particularly with digital recorders — recordings can be deleted or become corrupted.
  • When possible, record the interview.
    When you take notes, you use abbreviations. Sometimes you don’t remember what those abbreviations mean when you go to transcribe your notes. It is also possible that there will be too much information to take adequate notes and you risk losing a good quote if you’re not recording. There will be times when your source won’t want to be recorded, though, and you have to respect that.
  • Be gracious.
    People are busy. Be sure and thank them for taking the time to meet with you. If possible, follow up with a thank-you note, especially if it was a “big” interview.

There you have it. These are just a few of the things I’ve learned/rediscovered while doing interviews over the past month. Hopefully you get some benefit from it.

Weekend Schedule

Creative Commons via catchingcourage.com
Creative Commons via catchingcourage.com

Earlier, someone on Facebook asked what people’s plans are for the weekend. After I posted, I realized this weekend is fuller than most. It looks to be a good one, though.

As of today, I’m behind on my NaNoWriMo project since I haven’t done any work on it today. I’ll use tomorrow to catch up on today’s words and also add tomorrow’s. I have a writers’ group meeting I’m going to and then an interview with a doctor in the emergency department at the hospital for an article I’m working on for the paper.

What about Sunday?

I’ll do more NaNo writing, go to a baby shower, and go take pictures at a Lego Town building party. It should be fun. Monday will be back to work on more paper stuff, so I’m not going to have any down-time from the weekend. Sometimes that’s not necessary though. Here’s hoping this will be one of those times.

WIP Exerpt

When I’m occupied with thinking about current projects, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a blog post. So today, I’m cheating. Here’s the opening of my NaNo novel. (I’m currently calling it Eureka Steam, but that will likely change.)

—–

Shelly Parks reapplied her maroon lipstick and studied her reflection in the restroom mirror. I should be the one babysitting for Paige and Ricky instead of the other way around, she thought as she pushed the door open. She almost ran into someone before her eyes adjusted to the dim light in the bar.

“Sorry.” She backed up a step and stumbled.

“Careful.” He caught her elbow and held her upright until she felt stable. His deep voice since shivers down her spine.

“Thanks.” She smiled in spite of herself and straightened her hat. Who knew a few gears could be so heavy? “I…I knew I should have stayed home. I’m no good at places like this.”

He laughed and gestured to the rest of the room with his left arm, wrapped in armor. “Who is? But that’s the fun of it.”

“Maybe.”

He let go of her elbow.

You didn’t have to do that.

“How about a dance before they do last call?”

“I…”

“Don’t dance? Me neither.”

“Okay.”

He tipped his hat to her, adjusted his monocle, and offered his unarmored arm.

She accepted and walked with him to the dance floor, hoping her skirts wouldn’t trip her up. One song ended as they got to the edge of the dance floor. After a short pause, another started. “What is this?”

Her companion laughed. “It’s steampunk music.”

“It sounds…weird.”

“Some people think so.”

“How do you dance to it?”

He pointed to a couple nearby, moving with exaggerated stiffness. “Like them.”

She shrugged. “I can do that.”

They danced to that song and the next one before he led her off the dance floor. “I’ve got to go. Early morning tomorrow.” He glanced at a clock above the bar. “Today.” He grimaced.

“Me too.”

“Thanks for making tonight more enjoyable.” He paused.

“Shelly.”

“Shelly,” he repeated and smiled. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Mitch.” He saluted her and left.

The next morning, Shelly poured herself a cup of coffee and wished she hadn’t stayed out quite so late. She took a sip as her phone rang.

“Parks residence.”

“Shelly, you need to come to the store,” her shop manager Meagan said. She sounded frantic. “I’ve already called the police. They’re sending someone over too. Someone broke in overnight.”

“You’re sure?” She put the coffee mug down. The ceramic clunked on the formica.

“Uh-huh.”

Oh, hell! Most of her inventory was in the shop. She had hoped to spend the day in her clay studio, but it didn’t look like that would happen.

“Are you coming?”

“Yeah. Give me about 10 minutes and I’ll be there.”

“OK.”

She hung up, hurried to the bathroom, and looked at her reflection. “Nice wash job, Shel,” she muttered. Maroon lipstick was smeared around her mouth and she had raccoon eyes from the dark eye makeup. She washed her face, put her hair in a ponytail, and dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

In front of the shop, she turned her flashers on and put the car in park. The “Shelly’s Shack” sign on the open door framed a hole. She shook her head and walked in.

“There she is,” Meagan said.

“I’m sorry I’m late.”

“It wouldn’t be late if someone hadn’t busted in your door, now would it?” a familiar voice asked.

She felt the same tremors down her spine as she had the night before. Mitch? She rounded the corner.

“Good morning, Ms.—Shelly?” Mitch looked up from his notepad.

Funny. Last night I never noticed he was bald. “That’s me.”

“You two know each other?” Meagan asked.

“We met last night,” Shelly explained. “I’ll tell you later.” She turned her attention to the police officer. “We went to the bank last night at closing, so there wasn’t much cash for anyone to take.”

He nodded. “Whoever it was… Well…. I think it was personal.” He moved away from the display case in front of the cash register. The pottery there had been shattered. “I need you to go over your inventory and see what else was damaged or taken.”

“I will.” Shelly blinked. Who? Why?

“Okay. I just need your contact number and I’ll be done here.”

She gave him her home and cell phone numbers. She watched him write them down and leave.

“Shel?”

“What?”

“You okay?”

No. “Call Paige. I think I need her help.”

Soundtracks for Writing

What do you have going in the background when you’re writing? Do you prefer silence or do you have the TV or radio/other music source on?

I can write in silence, but more often than not, I prefer to have something on in the background. If it’s not something that annoys me, I actually find that it helps me to focus better.

Why?

When I was growing up and doing homework, my mom was a babysitter. There was always something going on. I got used to working with background noise. That has actually served me well in various jobs. With writing, I tend to have to create my own background noise.

Often, I’ll have the TV on in the background. Sometimes I’ll pay attention to it, but usually it’s just there as white noise.

When I’m writing fiction, though, I will usually turn some music on. My musical preferences are dictated by the current project. For example, with my NaNoWriMo story, I’m listening to a lot of modern rock (especially Shinedown) and some classic country.

I know. Odd combination, right?

But it works for my characters. The heroine listens to modern rock. The hero listens to classic country. (And a couple days ago, I actually found his theme song when it comes to her. “Shameless” by Garth Brooks.)

Feel free to leave a comment. How do you prefer to work? In silence or something in the background? Why or why not?

Grinding Gears

Image used courtesy of The Public Speaking Project under a Creative Commons license.
Image used courtesy of The Public Speaking Project under a Creative Commons license.

There’s a saying about people who are new to driving a standard and have trouble finding their gears.

“If you can’t find ’em, grind ’em.”

I feel like that’s happening to my mind today.

Earlier I said I’m stretching my skill set. My grandpa said, “You’re expanding your skill set.”

He’s right.

It’s a matter of perspective.

Stretching a skill set implies that it’s temporary and that I would forget it soon after I no longer need it.

Expanding a skill set, on the other hand, implies that I am learning things that will be beneficial to me in the long run and it won’t be something I would soon forget.

Since I have often said that I am a perpetual student, I much prefer the latter.

In the meantime, I’ll be grinding gears until it becomes second nature. Much like driving a stick-shift.

Welcome to November

Today is more than just the beginning of a new month. It’s also National Author’s Day.

And it’s the beginning of National Novel Writing Month.

In case you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo (as it’s more commonly called), the idea is to write a rough draft of a novel totaling 50,000 words in 30 days. It started as motivation for those people who say they will write a book “someday.”

Well…

“Someday” is here.

It’s also encouragement for those of us who do write and who do have novels written to dust off the idea for the next book and get going on that.

That’s where it’s relevant to me.

A couple years ago, I wrote Navajo Rose (under the pen name of Kat O’Reilly). My sister-in-law asked where the next book was. I said there wasn’t a next book because it’s a stand-alone. She insisted that another character needed her own book.

I thought about it and decided she was right. A couple days ago, I finally found the inspiration for the hero. So I started it last night/this morning at midnight.

I’ll update about my NaNoWriMo progress every Saturday through the month. In the meantime, are you participating in NaNo? What are you working on?