The last meeting of the season was a busy one for the Pensters. There were several exciting announcements including upcoming releases by Glenda Slater and Joy Sterling. After regular business had been concluded and contest winners announced, author T. Jensen Lacey kicked off the summer project with her presentation on interviewing skills.
During a career that has included over 800 articles and 14 books, Lacey has conducted more than her fair share of interviews. Her first point of advice was to do ample research ahead of time: “Busy people don’t want to waste their time.” Study the interviewee’s website and other materials to get the basics down in advance. This will not only show professionalism but may turn up some lesser known points for discussion.
Avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask who, what, when, where and why to get them talking. When only one-word answers are required, an interviewee may come off as “dry as unbuttered toast” to borrow a phrase from Lacey. Engaging their passion or connecting with their experiences can bring out the most interesting aspects of a person’s life.
Allow for silence. When asking open-ended questions, the interviewee may need time to gather their thoughts or form answers. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence. As they tell of their experiences, offer prompts such as “That must have been difficult for you.” These type of responses show that the interviewer is engaged and interested in what is being said, not thinking about their next question.
Lacey suggested bringing along a microcassette recorder and a notepad. Having both ensures that even if one fails the information will still be safe. If the interview must take place over the phone, ask the person to describe themselves and the setting. Take note of the sounds of pets or animals. Lacey described one interview where the woman was in her solarium with pet birds singing in the background. This vivid detail added additional texture to the final story.
To close an interview, thank the person and assure them you will be in touch. It is wise to ask for a favorite photo or take new pictures to accompany the story. Make sure to follow up later with a thank you card or email.
After a brief question and answer session, members who signed up to participate drew names to determine who they would be interviewing during the next three months. The project serves a dual purpose: to encourage deeper relationships within the group while developing skills useful for many writers. All interviews must be submitted in a Word file to president Mavis Jarrell by August 31, 2016. They should include one photo of the person being interviewed.
To conclude the season, attendees were offered the opportunity to present a short selection of their work. The readings offered a variety of genres and perspectives from poetry to recollections taken from a dream journal.
Submitted by: Jessica Trippe
Photos by: Cleveland Brown