Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Great Answers to Interviewer Questions

by Hannah

I've been ruminating, not unlike a cow. I read a great interview with Robert B. Parker in the Sunday magazine, and three points he made keep returning to me, all on topics that have come up within these posts as well as within the Writers Group on the side. I thought I'd share to see how you feel about them. If nothing else, he offers great examples of how to answer interviewer questions when doing the promotional dance.

First, asked whether he ever gets bored with his character, Spenser (remember Robert Urich as Spenser for Hire twenty years ago?), Parker says yes and no. He says he doesn't get bored with Spenser, but with writing five days a week, 50 weeks a year. (Only two weeks' vacation?) My favorite part: "Writers love distraction. All that crap about going off into the woods and writing all day? I don't buy it. I can't wait for the mailman to come. Your phone call has made my morning." That he feels that way makes me smile; at the same time, his answer highlights how success does come when you push beyond that awful urge to be distracted, day in and day out, year after year.

His second interesting point was his answer to a question on the art of writing suspense. "The art of writing a mystery is just the art of writing fiction... you create interesting characters and put them into interesting circumstances and figure out how to get them out of them. No one is usually surprised at the outcome of my books." Interesting characters, interesting situations, get them out. Bingo. And to look at Parker's last point from the opposite angle, what does it mean to be totally surprised at the end of a book? Do we really want the end to be a surprise, or do we want to be pleasantly surprised at how we got to the end?

Finally, the interviewer asks Parker why he doesn't read anything written about him or his books. "I don't think it's good for me. I'm doing the best I can... The material that's written about me is useful for biographers, and reviews are useful for readers. They're not useful for me. I like the Hemingway line: If you believe the good stuff they write about you, you have to believe the bad. Also, the bad stuff hurts my feelings."

Words of wisdom. It is important to have readers you trust, and to trust the readers you choose, which are not necessarily the same things. Once it's out in the wide world, if you truly have done the best you can, all you can do is to continue to trust your readers. Then get back to that desk, push away those distractions, and write about interesting characters in interesting situations. So let's get writing!


Lisa said...

This is such great advice your point: "it's important to have readers you trust, and to trust the readers you choose, which are not necessarily the same things" is a good one. I've finally got one reader I trust completely and it's such a relief to know I can talk through problems about my work and she can do the same with me and I believe we trust and respect each other enough to do that.

It's not easy to get to this point and to find such a person or people, but it makes the journey much less lonely.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks for posting this, Hannah. I especially like #3 and intend to follow it. What a useful lesson.


Therese Fowler said...

Wise writers and good questions. :)

As to the reviews, "they" are too diffuse and unknown/unpredictable to credit most of the time. I'm with Parker. And Amy.

In prepping to do a how-to presentation for aspiring writers, I'm stressing the subjectivity of agents and editors--and should add reviewers as well.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I prep people for corporate interviews, and only with reading this did I think about laying out questions an author might get so that it's possible to do advance thinking and sound wise, funny and to be useful to other writers, if at all possible!