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How to conduct an Author Interview

This via picklemethis:

"Along the way, during the editing process, or at least before the interview finally goes to press, the writer who has been interviewed is given the text to review and revise. This collaborative approach to the final product is unapologetically at odds with journalistic practice, where it is presumed that the reporter’s accuracy depends on strict independence from the subject’s influence. The Paris Review‘s purpose is not to catch writers off guard, but to elicit from them the fullest possible reckoning of what interests them most– their lives and work as writers, who they are and what they do all day. A few Paris Review interviews were accomplished in a single sitting, but it is far more common for them to be conducted over several seasons, even several years, with multiple sessions in person and many rounds of written correspondence as well." –Philip Gourevitch, "Introduction", The Paris Review Interviews, I

While I don’t provide edited versions of my interviews for review before broadcasting/posting, I do very much agree with Gourevitch’s approach. Invariably, the author or book expert I am talking to has something of significance to impart. My job, as I see it, is to try my very best to help him or her to clearly communicate these valuable ideas to my audience. Or, as I put it on my business card: to articulate, capture, present and share great conversation and ideas.

re: Jim’s comment below. From The Economist Style Guide (my bible): COMMA IN LISTS: American English puts a comma before the and. Thus in American English, eggs, bacon, potatoes, and cheese; in British English eggs, bacon, potatoes and cheese.

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6 Responses to “How to conduct an Author Interview”

  1. Jim H. Says:

    On your card, shouldn’t there be a comma after the word ‘presenting’?

    Rule 2 of Strunk & White: “In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

    Thus write,

    red, white, and blue…”

    Believe me, Nigel, I’ve fought a lifelong losing battle with commas. Semicolons? I’m pretty good with them. Colons? Likewise. Commas, however, drive me up the wall.

    Jim H.

    P.S. Drop in at Wisdom of the West for a good read and a chat sometime. Happy Holidays!

  2. Nigel Beale Says:

    Thanks Jim will do.

  3. ed Says:

    So Philip Gourevitch is basically confessing that he’s not a journalist. What balderdash! An author may not be interested most in talking about matters that are quite pivotal to the process of writing.

  4. Margaret Says:

    Interesting this is attributed to Americans, as the nuns always ran these down as “Oxford commas” and discouraged their use. Naturally, once a seventh-grader is presented with punctuation that is all at once exotic, technically acceptable, and a sure-fire way to annoy a nun…

  5. Nigel Beale Says:


    An interview can focus on the process of writing, or on content, or on larger issues of literary criticism. I must say that of the three, process is the topic which wobbles most on the precipice of the otiose… I’ve sat through too many talks during which authors explain in wretched detail how computers have affected their production, or why writing by hand stimulates better thoughts…

    so when I read: “the fullest possible reckoning of what interests them most: their lives and work as writers, who they are and what they do all day.”

    I shudder a bit, and submit that it’s the text that interests me most, not what its author had for breakfast, or who they’re having an affair with.

    But, as mentioned, I do agree with Gourevitch’s collaborative approach… virtually everyone I have interviewed has had something interesting to say, and if I can help them do this better, I think I’ve done my job.

  6. Ian Brown Says:

    The Paris Review Writers at Work interviews are fantastic, and they are designed to display writers at work. But the subjects are always established writers. I am not sure an interview with a first time writer, or a writer establishing his or her reputation, always benefits from collaboration between writer and interviewer. Each interview is different. But certainly multiple rounds of interviewing can work deep wonders. The Believer Magazine does many takes and edits them down to great effect.

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