I’ve always thought that my husband gets away with a lot. He manages to ask questions in conversation that most people would generally find impertinent, if not rude. But he has a way about him. In puzzling it out, what I’ve come to is that he’s sincere in his curiosity and that’s how he ends up charming people when most of us would be brushed off with a cold stare. There’s more to it than that because he’s also quite funny, but this is one key component.
Lately, my writing work has been really exciting. I’m interviewing really dynamic, creative, intelligent, successful people. I’m starting to see some patterns in how I’m going about doing these interviews. Preparation is key. It’s not always possible, but researching ahead of time puts me more at ease. I have to think that helps the person I’m interviewing feel more relaxed. I’m developing a rule for myself which is to have more questions on hand than I think we’ll have time for. You can get quite a lot of material to work with after just 15 minutes of conversation. I’d really like to do an in-depth piece on someone. The kind where you follow the person around for days, weeks and write it up for a magazine like The New Yorker as more of a study or story than interview. Someday…
The other thing I’m thinking about tonight as I prepare for two interviews tomorrow (yay!) is surprisingly similar to the editing process with other writing. I’m writing out my questions and yeah, yeah–they’re fine questions. But I have to keep going until I find the question. The key question. What has drawn me to talking with this specific person? What do I really want to know? Maybe I’m self-centered, but I figure if there’s something I want to know, other people probably do too.
Trying to trace this initial impulse that has drawn me to the person I’m interviewing is not all that different from trying to stay true to the original impulse I have when I work on a poem. What compelled me to write this poem? What was the original energy? If I’ve gone in to edit and gotten too cerebral and mucked it all up, I have to crouch down inside myself and get still enough that the lost impulse comes back in.
Tomorrow I get to talk with Constance Marks, the director of the soon to be released film, Being Elmo. I can’t wait. I met Constance over the summer and have since seen the documentary. It’s wonderful and you should go see it when it comes out next month. Constance spent 7 years filming Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who brings Elmo to life. The film tells Clash’s story of pursuing his dream to become a puppeteer. The film isn’t for small children, but for school age kids and older, it’s a great story and Clash is a good guy who worked hard to get where he is. Without being sappy or sentimental, the film is inspiring. It’s already won major prizes, including Sundance.
So I’ve found my hook for talking with Constance. I’m not going to tell you what it is. You’ll have to wait for the article to come out. I think I’ve written this post for myself as much as for anyone else. I want to remember how to work at finding good questions and also channel Scott a little, without being too cheeky.
Here’s the trailer for the film: (Enjoy!)
For some reason I can only add the link. But click here for the trailer.