What Kind of Tree Are You?

As it happened, the guest I was to have interviewed today became very busy with synopses and proposals that she really underestimated the time and would have had to rush her answers to me. I would not let her stress-out, so we’ll have her visit next month. However, without the planned post, I was at a loss until I decided to talk about interviewing in general.

I never expected to do interviews, but I found that I truly enjoy them. I enjoy doing research on the interviewee, I enjoy reading new works, I enjoy coming up with the questions and learning more about people whom I know and those whom I do not know well.

I do enjoy reaching out to those I have met through this blog or my fellow bloggers here at 4F,1H. Often I will ask someone I have met through other writers’ blogs, especially if I have won their books through contests. Or, I find it’s someone whose work seems interesting and I will read their books so I can interview them. Once I met someone through The Hound and she asked online for a beta reader; I jumped at the chance. Then I asked her to come here as our guest.

I hope that I do interesting interviews. I tailor-make each one to fit the writer and their work. There are other interviewers who ask each of their guests the same questions. There is something to be said for that tactic; it not only saves time but the interviewers’ regular readers/listeners can compare the different answers and different personalities of the varying guests. The problem starts when return guests have to answer the same questions again about their pets, their first date, if they are vegetarians and when they first knew when they wanted to write Believe me, it gets old for the reader and interviewee.

Often, especially with formula interviews, the questions and/or answers are redundant; what the interviewee added in previous responses sometimes answers questions that come afterward. Most interviewees don’t dare mess with the questions and many interviewers would not stand for it. I, on the other hand, always ask my guests to please feel free to omit or combine questions if their answers are covered by other replies. I will not let my ego get in the way of a better read for those who are kind enough to drop in to read my posts. I know that for the most part they come to read the guest anyway. It is obvious that the interviewer has not paid much attention to his/her guest or the job if they insist that their questions be re-answered in the course of one interview.

Many years ago Barbara Walters interviewed Katherine Hepburn, who said that she was like an old tree. Barbara asked her, “What kind of a tree?” Everyone thought that was the most clever question ever asked and for several years many, many interviewers asked many, many interviewees what kind of tree they were. It was taken completely out of context and it was just ridiculous. Barbara Walters begged and begged for it to stop, since she never started out to ask Kate what kind of tree she was. I find that many interviewers find certain questions ‘clever’ or ‘in’ when they see a question or answer from another celebrity and ask the same of many guest; it’s boring for all concerned and just plain lazy of the interviewer.

I have never done a ‘live’ interview, not as the interviewer. As a guest and listening to others who have had the same problem, I would advise anyone who is going to be interviewed or who is going to interview to Be Prepared. If you are going to interview, know the guests’ works, learn something about them beforehand and make sure that you have enough questions or comments to fill the time. Have more than you think you need, because not every guest is scintillating and they just may be having an ‘off’ day. Make a list of ‘have-to-ask’ questions and then secondary ones. If you are going to be interviewed, be prepared to fill in with information, material or excerpts from your work. Be ready with background of yourself or your story, or even with personal anecdotes, because not every interviewer can be a Tavis Smiley or Charlie Rose, and there can be very awkward silences if you don’t take the initiative. With such pauses you can come across as boring to your readers, who won’t be your readers for long. That is a real no-no:

Don’t be boring!

Do you have any observations from interviews? Is there anything that you particularly like or don’t like that you have seen and heard? Is there any way you think that I can improve when I interview for here? Please feel free to comment. I appreciate it.

About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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13 Responses to What Kind of Tree Are You?

  1. Helen Pollard says:

    Really interesting post, Tonette. I do have a set half-dozen questions I ask my writer guests, but I make a point of telling them they can choose which to answer or tailor them as they see fit. One guest just sent her own ‘interview’ and I was perfectly happy with that. And if I had a returning guest, I certainly would NOT be asking them the same questions again! Now I’ve had guests on my blog for a few months, I’m considering altering the querstions altogether because, as you say, using the same format can get pretty tired pretty quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You sound like you have a good balance, Helen. It is interesting to see how different people answer like questions but…
      I need to get over to you more often.(You have no idea how I have had to neglect my cooking/easy entertaining blog and friendly food bloggers.)
      Thank you for coming by today!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jeff7salter says:

    excellent perspective on interviews and interview questions.
    When I was a photo-journalist — in both civilian & military newspapers — I did a lot of interviewing. Usually I had to go in ‘cold’ since we were on deadline and I might not have been given the assignment until minutes before I was there with the subject.
    Some were big name performers (like Glen Yarborough). Some were full colonels (when I had one or two stripes). In most of them, I had little or no prep time, so everything I learned had to come from the subject. So I had to be on my toes.
    I remember with Glen that he made a special point of mentioning a school he was funding in some undeveloped country. That was important to him, so I included it in the article even though it had nothing to do with his performance that night or his music in general.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks , Jeff and you must have had some wonderful articles, since you were bright enough to pick up on what your interviewees said and use them!
      One of the Foxes was interviewed on the radio, (I listened online). Although there were TWO interviewers, they were ill-prepared, shuffling through papers, asking each other if they had written down any more questions and simply was not listening to what she said. There was quite a bit of ‘dead air’ where no one was speaking as our Fox was waiting to be asked questions. Right them I realized that sometimes one has to take the initiative and be prepared to lead your own interview.I contacted her right away. None of it was her fault; the interviewers have no business with a show, but one needs to be prepared.


      • jeff7salter says:

        some were pretty good, if I say so myself. Others were only so-so… often because I simply didn’t know enough and/or wasn’t mature enough (I was 17, working on a university paper, when I interviewed Yarborough).
        I remember one particular assignment at a city daily (Hammond LA) when the editor sent me to interview a family whose house had burned down. The only possessions they had salvaged was the family Bible and the kid’s trumpet.
        Frankly, I didn’t see much to write about (I was 18), so I asked the editor what he wanted. He grinned and said, “Schmalz”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jeff7salter says:

        And, being only 18 and somewhat sheltered, I had to look up the word.
        This is roughly what I learned (and how I wrote the story):
        “In American English, via Yiddish, schmaltz (adj. schmaltzy) has also an informal meaning of “excessively sentimental or florid music or art” or “maudlin sentimentality”, similar to one of the uses of the words “corn” or “corny”. Its earliest usage in this sense dates to the mid-1930s.”


      • I was just going for interviewing,you have taken us into ‘reporting’, Jeff, where , (to be good), you have to think fast on your feet! I may be fairly smart, but I don’t think that kind of pressure would appeal to me at all! My hat is off to you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jeff7salter says:

        yes, I suppose it was reporting in a broader sense. But in feature writing, it was more about what you learned from the subject of the profile than it was an assessment of the circumstances/events themselves.


  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I have to admit I have a set of questions that I send out – but there are far more questions than I would want to include, so I ask the interviewee to choose two or three questions about themselves and two or three about their writing. If they’re a return guest then I ask if they’d like to write a post about their book or a character interview. And sometimes, like when I interviewed Lora Lee, I just chat, because I already knew so much about her. You are so much more thorough than I am, though. I’ll have to bookmark this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, that last line is quite a compliment, Patty, thank you!
      As I said, a ‘set’ set of q’s are interesting in many was to see the real difference between people, but kike Helen answered, you also seem flexible. Plus, I doubt that you would ask the same q’s of the same guest a year later.
      You made my day!


  4. I like your interviews. I do not really do a lot of interviews but I think that asking questions specific to the person being interviewed is a good way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Publishing thoughts tumbling around in my mind      | Write on the World

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