After breaking the ice with my first question, you may still be in the “throat clearing” stage of the interview. We’ve begun, but you haven’t gotten comfortable enough to open up yet. Question two should help you with this. That’s because question two is personal by nature. It is:
“When—and why—did you begin writing?”
This one digs right to the story behind the story. It makes it easy to give an interesting, genuine response. However, I think a lot of people read this question and realize they don’t have an interesting story. They wrote ever since they could walk. Or, they always loved books, and wanted to create their own. Or, they used to write as a teenager, gave up, waited twenty years, and rediscovered their dream. Etc.
But from the reader’s point of view, that is an interesting story. It’s the one place they will probably connect to you most: your shared love of books. You don’t need a life-changing reason why you began writing. Your personal love of books, stories, and all things fiction will be enough. It’s an open invitation for them to put themselves in your shoes. Everyone reading the interview will probably relate to your experience. It’s like magic.
From the viewpoint of an industry insider, this is their chance to connect to you on a professional basis. (Remember, “industry insider” is just a blanket term for any readers who are also involved in the publishing industry in some manner. This includes writers, editors, publishers, agents, journalists, book bloggers. You get the idea.)
Writers are the only people who actually get writers. The industry insider is looking for a professional—you—to recognize their dreams and goals in a personal way. They can compare their journey to yours and say, “if she started out with a passion for books, and I started out with a passion for books, we’re the same. I have a chance of being published too.” It gives you, the author, a new level of realism.
There are some people who do have incredibly unique reasons why they began writing. For those people, the rules are still the same: Connect. Share. Tell the story behind the story.
As I write this, I realize there’s something about this question that really makes me open up to the interviewee. There’s an element of faith involved. I’m preparing to let you in, to feel like I’m understood, and that I understand you. It’s one of those moments when you can really connect with a person. If I fail to connect with you through this answer, the feeling I get is almost a kind of hurt. I knew this would happen. But I can’t help being disappointed. You’re still a distant figure to me, when I hoped I could get to know you better. The rest of the interview will be tinged with this sensation.
As for good answers to this question, here are two I really liked. The first is by Carol Ayer who I interviewed on her novella “Storybook Love”:
I'm one of those people who ate up books as a child. I learned to read at age 4; my favorite presents were always books. I loved going to the library. As soon as I grasped that it was possible to create these wonderful objects, I started "making" my own. I wrote a "novel" when I was ten or eleven and submitted it to a publisher my grandmother worked with (she's an artist). It was, of course, rejected. I was no prodigy. I also submitted short stories to places like "Cricket." I was rejected time after time, but was completely unfazed. I just loved to write. I wasn't published until I was well into adulthood (that's when the rejections began to bother me, too!)
I have added the bold here for emphasis. It’s my favorite part of the answer. Carol Ayer hits on the dreams we foster as beginning writers, the rejection we undoubtedly receive, and the original passion that keeps us writing for no reason other than there’s a story we need to tell. I was reliving my own memories, which is one of the best ways to make people connect with your writing.
Another good example is by Jennifer Ziegler who I interviewed on her book “How NOT to be Popular”:
I was making up stories by the time I was verbal. So as soon as I learned to write, I was forever coming up with stories, essays, poems, cartoons, etc., and stashing them under my bed. As to why? I truly don't know. I just have to. I come from a family of born storytellers so it's in my blood. Whenever we have reunions we talk incessantly -- reliving past anecdotes and exaggerating slightly (or a lot). I see the world in stories. It's how I understand life.
Again, I have added the bold for emphasis. This also struck a personal chord with me. I loved visiting my grandfather’s because the whole family would be there telling stories—no matter which room you went in, someone was telling about when they were kids and the world was different. I often moved from room to room as if in a delightful dream. And I, too, see the world in stories. Most people can probably connect with the rest of this answer in their own ways.
Go ahead and try answering question 2 in the comments. Like I said last time, you don’t have to be published or talk about a published work; this is just your chance to take a whack at the question and practice your interviewing skills. Think about the question. Who could relate to your experience? Why did you love books/reading/writing, and how did that inspire the writing you do today? If I get some comments, I’ll post my own answer as well.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving, everyone!
Enjoy your Thanksgiving, everyone!