EVENT DISPLAYS

This year has begun with new technical and artistic challenges…ranging from that computer I mentioned in my last post to creating visual elements for events. My latest project is refining my displays for book fairs and other opportunities to visit with current and prospective readers. This has led to revisiting several artistic standards. One would think these issues had been solved at the onset of my event planning long ago…

WHERE TO BEGIN
 Images of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries are my starting point for most visual projects these days. Even when I’ m introducing other projects, the center of my public interaction is this series.

EVENT DISPLAY ISSUES
Most of the events in which I participate feature displays on at least one half of a rectangular luncheon size table, approximately six to eight feet in length and two feet in width. In the past, that has meant utilizing small posters, about 11 x 17 inches presented on tri-legged frames of wood, metal, and/or acrylic. These images have centered on a single book or project, which has meant an ever-growing number of items over the last few years. Even when I diligently refresh my tablescape during an event, by the end of a day there has been an accumulation of clutter.

With the current trio of titles within my mysteries, I decided that 2020 would be the year to introduce a fresh look. One that could be maintained easily throughout a day I have the opportunity to greet current and potential readers—or even organizations that might like me to present a motivational talk or seminar. With increasing emphasis on personal marketing, this seems especially prudent!

I began this undertaking by examining the books and other materials I want to present, as well as the decorative touches that visually present the Hawaiian Islands. The books themselves are offered in both hardcover and softcover editions. Accompanying signage is needed to highlight eBook and audible editions that are available at various online and brick-and-mortar locations.

FINDING DISPLAY MATERIALS
A visit to a local store fixture outlet fulfilled several of my desires.

~ Acrylic stands for over-sized postcards, bookmarks, and business cards

~ Clear plastic sales bags that display my book covers

~ Colorful bags for customers wishing to present gifts

~ A three-tier acrylic stand to hold three or more books per shelf

This last item is proving especially useful. While I am concerned about the stand’s fragile material, I find it preferable to the heavy weight of metal and wood alternatives I have been using. Properly wrapped, the stand will be easily transported to distant locales, such as the Hawai`i Book and Music Festival. Best of all, regardless of the surface on which the stand sits, my award-winning book covers shines brightly upon it!

SIGNAGE
I found myself staring at signs in every direction of the showroom. From the front door to the walls and counters, display cases and bins, text and images alerted me to the joys of an array of “toys” for introducing my products…and myself. Hmm. In the past I’ve simply enlarged book covers, matted them on gold cardstock, and laminated them.

But this is 2020. Something sturdier and more elegant is desirable. With a trio of primary products, a triangle seemed most appropriate for the 18×24 poster I was planning. My next question was sequencing. Should I place the books in chronological order? Or, should I emphasize the last publication.  Because that book, Murders of Conveyance, recently won First Place of Fiction Adventure-Drama in the 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, I opted for the latter option.

Murders of Conveyance

FINALIZING THE POSTERS
Now we turn to the details that took several days to finalize. I considered colors and textures for a background. Eventually, I realized that the jewel tones of my book jackets scream out for the classic jewelry store option of simple black. The issue of fonts also arose. In short order, my wonderful artist, Yasamine June, sent me the necessary information to present promo text in the same font as that on the book jackets.

Initially, I was delighted with my creation. The image of each book sat on a black background with harmonizing text in gold. But somehow the overall image was incomplete. Then, as I stared at each volume in the series, I experienced an ah-ha moment. What was missing was the lovely gold framing I had had Yasamine design for me. It is based on Hawaiian heirloom jewelry, and features a hibiscus flower in each corner!

After a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, I remembered there might be events for which a larger poster [22×36 inches] might be appropriate. So, I increased the size of my images and text and added book reviews!   

INTRODUCING MY NEW DISPLAY
On March  14-15, 2020, I had planned to unveil my new look at the Tucson Sisters in Crime Booth at the Tucson Festival of Books. I envisioned the larger poster mounted on a grid at the back of the tent, with the smaller one being positioned on the top tier of my acrylic stand, with the series’ books framing it. I would complete the new tablescape with a few battery-operated lights, shell leis, and a gold palm tree! Unfortunately, due to the cancellation by leading authors facing travel challenges caused by the Coronavirus, the Festival was cancelled…

Fortunately, on Sunday, March 22, I’ll be introducing myself at a Meet & Greet at the front of the Tucson East-side Barnes & Noble Store [5130 E. Broadway Boulevard] from Noon – 4:00 p.m., WHICH SHOULD BE RELATIVELY SAFE, AS IT’S NEAR FRESH AIR. I’d love to meet you if you’re in the area…otherwise you will find pictures on my Facebook personal and professional pages, as well as my next blog…

FYI CAROL BLONDER, the lively host of NETWORKING ARIZONA recently interviewed me.  CLICK HERE to catch the podcast on the KFNX 1100 website…or below to hear it directly. To learn more about Carol’s continuing connections with Arizona business professionals, visit her website https://networkingarizona.net/.

Interview with Carol Blonder of Networking Arizona, March 6, 2020

Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, design consultant, and motivational speaker

~ For other tips on branding elements, you might want to check out some of the items mentioned in this blog on book promotion and evolving art.

To learn samples and reviews of my work [including Murders of Conveyance and the other Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries] please drop in at my author’s website JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com. You’ll even find Island Recipes that might inspire your own creativity!

 For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my marketing tip website: ImaginingsWordpower.com

FOLLOW ME ON:
~ Facebook
~ Amazon

~ Apple Books
~ Audible
~ Authors Den
~ Barnes and Noble
~ Blogarama
~ Book Bub
~ Cozy Mysteries-Unlimited
~ Good Reads
~ Hometown Reads
~ Midpoint
~ Smashwords

AN ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW

CONVERSATIONS WITH AUNTIE CAROL

A Series of Hawaiian Oral History Interviews
Researched, Conducted, Compiled & Narrated by
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson

Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias
Meet Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias

It seems as though I have been absent more than present on the Internet this year. . .

WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING?

I’ve redesigned my websites: JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com [with more Island recipes plus tales about historic Tucson] and ImaginingsWordpower.com [a branding and development website] which will soon have new material.

~  Yen for Murder [the fourth book in the award-winning Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries] has been edited and awaits a new publishing home…Perhaps you know a publisher who likes hardcover as well as softcover books—the only type of book libraries concerned with their collection’s longevity will buy. Maybe you even know of a publisher with connections to overseas markets and television and movie opportunities.

I created a professional Facebook page was created to provide updates and links to my websites and this blog.

I’ve just complete writing a detailed introduction with discoursive endnotes for Conversations with Auntie Carol.

AUNTIE CAROL

This last project is especially dear to me. The seven interviews are observations on childhood, family, and events that reflect the inner spirit of Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias who lived from 1923 to 2001. Carol was a descendant of ali`i, Hawaiian nobility. Her personal story includes performing hula awana at the Moana Hotel on the beach at Waikīkī on December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other parts of O`ahu that brought the United States into the Second World War. 

As a reader or listener will observe, Carol was close to her family and proud of the prominent roles they played in the history of Hawai`i. She was the grandniece of Col. Robert W. K. Wilcox, a major politician and a revolutionary who strove to restore Queen Lili`uokalani to the throne of a sovereign Kingdom of Hawai`i. Carol was also the second cousin of Johanna N. Wilcox, the first woman registered to vote in the U.S. Territory of Hawai`i.

Carol was one of the first people to welcome me to Honolulu in January of 1973. While performing at a Daughters of the British Empire tea to celebrate the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns, Carol and others expressed interest in having their daughters study Scottish Highland Dancing with me. Soon I was privileged to teach Carol’s younger daughter Lorna and her neighbor in the Farias home. In 1975, Carol and her family helped plan my wedding and I was especially honored when she performed hula at our reception. Within a couple of years, Lorna was participating in competition and performances, including Highland Games and the Hilo International Festival on the island of Hawai`i. Although Lorna stopped taking dance classes as a teenager, I periodically saw Carol at gatherings in both of our homes.

In 1981, I returned to college. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, I continued studies in Asian and American history and worked as a graduate teaching assistant in the World Civilization program of the University of Hawai`i. As I learned more about Hawaiian history, I was able to appreciate many aspects of Carol’s stories. We remained in touch when I accompanied my husband to Newport, Rhode Island, where he was an instructor at the U.S. Naval Education and Training Center. At that time I began my career as a free-lance writer and marketing consultant.

When I returned to Hawai`i, Carol shared the many changes that had occurred in her life. Three of the sisters of Johanna Wilcox had moved into Carol’s home in Kāne`ohe. This was a time of mixed joys and sorrows for the family. For although her Aunties rejoiced in being united in Carol’s home, by 1990 the last of them had passed, as well as Carol’s beloved husband Freddy. Although I had met a couple of the women, I had absorbed neither their familial dynamics, nor the details of their individual lives. Continue reading AN ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW

EMPOWERING BIOS

Jeanne Burrows-JohnsonWith 2019 quickly unfolding, authors and artists face a multitude of challenges and opportunities. Beyond financial planning and tax preparation, this is the ideal time to strategize and schedule events, design and/or revise our websites and social media outreach, and shape marketing materials to support these endeavors. While professional service providers can address many of these issues, there are expenditures that can be avoided if we are able to do some of the work ourselves. The essential question is whether we possess the skills and artistic vision to do so…as well as the time that will be required. Fortunately, like book synopses, several elements of biographies can be utilized repeatedly. Your picture, logos and slogans, descriptions of your work, and biographies of varying lengths and emphasis will all prove useful eventually. Today, I will suggest requisite elements of effective biographies.

WHEN WILL YOU NEED AN EMPOWERING BIOGRAPHY?
You are invited to view points raised in a humorous discussion of the need for biographies at imaginingswordpower.com/bios-to-empower-you.html. The gist of the piece is that everyone, both in and out of public view, has a need for one or more biographies…ranging from single sentences of self-introduction, to paragraphs for professional publications, and even a lengthy eulogy that will enumerate key aspects in one’s life.

WHERE TO BEGIN SHAPING YOUR BIOGRAPHY
By reviewing hardcopy and electronic files that contain materials addressing your life and work, you can gather facts, as well as previous stylistic choices from which you can draw. In addition, I suggest you create files of bios that have impressed you. These can include materials from colleagues and co-authors, as well as the brochures of professionals whose offices you visit.

Regardless of whether you work on a computer, or with pen and paper, begin listing words, phrases and other verbal images that you find attractive and worthy of positive public attention. At this point, do not be concerned about the length of your notes, their chronology, or even the vocabulary you are utilizing. For example, if you were writing a physical description of yourself, you might begin with the basics of hair and eye color with simple words like “brown” and “black.” You can add interest later by replacing “brown” with more dynamic words like coffee, chestnut, or charcoal.

IS THERE AN IDEAL LENGTH FOR A biography?
If you are a professional, you will interact with colleagues and the general public in differing ways. Each time you are required to produce a new bio, you will face varying requirements in length and style.

~ A casual meeting or elevator speech requires a single sentence of self-introduction in a first-person voice

~ Casual reference by another person requires similar length, but should be written in a third-person voice

~ Your brief self-introduction, should be about three sentences in a first-person voice

~ A brief introduction by another person requires similar length, but should be written in a third-person voice

~ Detailed self-intros often range from a paragraph to a page, written in a first-person voice

~ Complex intros that are to be delivered by someone else should be similar in length, written in a third-person voice

  ~ Anything longer can be used for slow elevators or tall buildings 

BIOGRAPHY ELEMENTS
Regardless of usage, I recommend you utilize verbiage that expresses your personality, as well as the products or services you offer. This allows readers or listeners of your promotional materials [especially prior to an event] to feel they have actually met you. You should consider including the following.

~ Education and training
~ Career highlights and focus of work
~ Professional accreditation and affiliations
~ Photographs are optional and may be appropriate to only some uses. Authors can be photographed holding one of their books and artists may wish to show a sample of their art. Head and bust shots, as well as images of you standing on a stage or at a podium will all prove useful someday. If you have action shots featuring other people, you should obtain a signed release from them.

BIOGRAPHY LAYOUTS
Biographical layouts vary with length and purpose. To maximize harmony with other promotional materials, your biography should utilize elements from your style sheet with your signature font[s], colors, logos, slogans, etc.!

USAGE OF BIOGRAPHIES
Once you have created biographies of varying length and style, you can utilize them in numerous places. Bios can be placed in several places on the internet, including: One or more pages of your website[s], your blog; Facebook and other social media sites; a framed copy can face visitors to your office or studio.

I send copies of appropriate bios to organizers of public speaking engagements twice; once when arrangements have been confirmed, and just prior to the event. I also carry copies to the event in case the host does not have one. Depending on the purpose of the engagement, the bio/intro may be short or long. If short, I print it on cardstock, as well as 8.5 x 11- inch stationery. I also carry a copy with bulleted key points in a non-glare archival quality sleeve in my presentation folder…for those unexpected occasions when I end up having to introduce myself. [With bulleted data, I can choose to add or delete points that I may decide are, or are not, appropriate to the day’s audience.]

FYI: I recently received a call from a radio personality wanting to interview me. For a mere $125 per quarter of an hour, I can be featured on a drive-time radio show…This has reminded me of other [free] opportunities I have had. Not only am I glad to have varied bios at the ready for those I choose to pursue, but I’m thinking about preparing a series of questions that I might want an interviewer to ask…

Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson

author, narrator, design consultant, motivational speaker

To learn more about the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including Murders of Conveyance [Winner, Fiction Adventure-Drama, 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards], Island recipes and other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com.

FOLLOW ME:
Facebook
Amazon

Apple Books
Audible
Authors Den
Barnes and Noble
Blogarama
Book Bub
Cozy Mysteries-Unlimited
Good Reads
Hometown Reads
Midpoint
Smashwords

 

Interviews & Oral Histories, 3

Conducting Interviews

Few people willingly give up control of their personhood to allow a stranger to delve into their inner thoughts.  But those private thoughts are what an effective writer must access to produce a true facsimile of each interview they conduct.  For as a professional or even an amateur writer, your goal is to meet your listeners or readers expectations that they are sharing your sensory experience while gleaning the particulars of why the highlighted individual is worthy of their attention. 

There are four statements I can make about my perspective on the interviewing process:

~  The interviewer has one chance to make a good first impression
~  The interviewer may not get another opportunity to interview their subject
~  Despite a subject’s agenda, an interview should encompass a non-fiction record of fact
~  Regardless of the premise for an interview, the subject may become reluctant to speak about topics previously authorized for discussion

The Importance of Preparing for Interviews
In several blogs, I’ve stressed the importance of preparation to conduct both general and oral history interviews.  In contrast, there are some writers who feel that research and other preparation is unnecessary, or even unwarranted.  I strongly disagree.  I believe research is vital to empowering your words in the interview process.  It will also help establish your credibility as a wordsmith who has mastered the art and science of writing.  In short, it’s one of the best ways of demonstrating your skill at the art of communication and making your subject trust you.

Contrary to the theory that “winging it” in an interview demonstrates you are a “common man,” and therefore likely to establish a connection with your interviewee, I’ve observed the results of people who conduct interviews without appropriate research.  For when an interviewer demonstrates little knowledge of their subject, their interviewee may judge them inconsequential.  If that is the case, responses to the interviewer’s questions may be superficial.  In fact, the subject  may be thinking, “If you don’t care enough to do your homework, why should I care about your project?”  So I’ll just keep the kernels of my truth to myself until the right interviewer comes along.”

Summarizing Your Research
By the time you’re ready to conduct a cogent interview, you should have completed a great deal of fact checking in several areas of your subject’s life, including:

~  The historical era of their life and the category of work they’ve performed
~  Their biography and career…as reported by them, and as available in public sources
~  Materials they’ve published, and speeches and interviews they’ve given previously
~  Comments their colleagues and other contemporaries have expressed about them

 Shaping Your Questions
The bulk of your questions will be determined by the purpose of your project. In some cases you’ll need to conduct interviews with multiple persons.  By asking parallel questions of each, you can compare and contrast their views of the primary subject, as well as one another.

Regardless of whether there’s any obvious controversy you must address, beginning your interview with general questions about the unfolding of the subject’s life, can assist in putting them at ease…if their mental processes are fully functioning and there are no hidden elements in their early life.

By delivering the early portion of your questions chronologically, your interviewee can mentally relive moments with which they should be comfortable. Additionally, taking them through the recognizable patterns of the decades of their life may trigger remembrance of small details.  This will not only enhance the interview itself, but also add color to your subsequent reporting of the event. This can, of course, lead to some sidetracking, but you should be able to steer the conversation back to the key points you need to cover.

Prior to, or during the interview, you may uncover facts about your subject’s life and work that are at odds with information the person has released in the past.  In this case, you’ll have to decide whether to directly question these inconsistencies. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind that true or false, the opinions of others may have colored the public record.  Also, the perspectives of most people change with time and life experience.  And, whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has gaps in their memory, without necessarily being conscious of it.

Approaching the Interview
It’s nearly show time.  That’s right.  I said show time.  While serious scholars and journalists may dislike hearing me say it, an interview is usually a semi-public performance.  Unlike a play, the dialogue is not set in stone; unlike an evening at an improv theatre, it’s not without direction and form—for that’s your job.  But like a play on Broadway, it will be frozen in time, even if you conduct subsequent interviews.

Location of the Interview
It’s been my experience that interviewees often set and control the location of the interviews they grant.  This may not be the case for broadcast media and bloggers with sets in which the subject is expected to appear, but you are probably not working in these situations. Admittedly, it’s best to conduct an interview at a site to which you’re both agreeable, but sometimes you must accept interviewing your subject in their office, home or other location of their choice.  Nevertheless, there are things you can do to balance the situation so that you’re able to subtly declare your professional standing, while still putting the person at ease. 

There are many authoring strategies that can help to distinguish your work as an interviewer.  Establishing a good rapport can be the key to making the interviewee trust you with the information they’re imparting.  To do this, you might bring something with you to enhance the experience.  This could be an edible item, or, if you know they are fond of a particular author, you might obtain a copy of that writer’s work to share with your subject.  Please note that I’m not suggesting you spend a significant sum of money to buy your subject’s cooperation.  But small acts of kindness can help warm the atmosphere, demonstrate the thoroughness of your preparation, and make the entire experience positively memorable for both of you.

Interviewer Anxieties
Anxiety will undoubtedly arise, regardless of your preparation.  Despite previous contact you may have had with a subject, being in their presence (even by video conferencing or telephone) changes the balance of your relationship. There is another factor that may detract from your rapport with your interviewee:  If there’s an aspect of their lives that makes them suspect in the eyes of the public, they may be hesitant about granting you an interview.  They may be apprehensive about information you may have uncovered already…or what they might reveal in conversation with you. 

The Atmosphere of the Interview
Even when you have secured the location for holding the event, you cannot be certain of being able to completely control the environment.

~  Despite previous agreement, additional people may be present during the event
~  As recording devices can fail, carry a back-up unit, cordage and microphones with you
~  Regardless of their response, your subject may be distracted by ringing telephones and other interruptions

As you set up your equipment, be aware that recognition of the permanency of the record of their interview may be upsetting to your subject. Even if you have provided them with a copy of your primary questions, they may dislike seeing the list set out before them.  They may also have negative feelings about seeing any reference notes you’ve brought. But since such materials should be in easily read styles and sizes of fonts, you’ll be able to quickly reference pertinent facts, while maintaining eye contact and keeping the dialogue between you as natural as possible. 

The Ebb and Flow of Your Interview
Establishing and maintaining a smooth flow of conversation is a primary goal in the interviewing process.  Regardless of whether your personal views are in accord with those of your interviewee, it’s important to approach what they have to say with a calm, if not fully open mind.  This does not mean that you have to forfeit your role as the honest broker of truth.  However, you can adjust your personal style of behavior and other elements to maximize a positive atmosphere. After all, as in any natural conversation, your subject will periodically lead the discussion. That’s fine as long as they do not deviate greatly from the purpose of your dialogue, or delve into personal details of your life.

Be Prepared for Shifts During Your Interview
After opening pleasantries, you can help direct the flow of the interview by verifying the amount of time you’ll have with your subject.  This establishes a guideline for both parties and should make your periodic redirection of topic easier to explain.

Although you’re guiding the overall direction of the conversation, information will arise that may surprise you, or at least call for cursory examination. This may occur because the man or woman to whom you are speaking may have talking points of their own that they wish addressed.  If that’s so, let them express their concerns, and then try to deftly redirect them to the specific information you need in order to complete your project.

The Editorial Process
Sometimes an author feels stressed about the relationship between the creative process and editing As you review an interview, you will not only want to envision how you will shape an accurate account of the event that reflects truly inspired writing as well.  One thing that can help you achieve this dual pronged goal is to remember that the way in which you report your findings may be wholly different than the substance and sequence of the questions you posed. 

For example, if you’re part of an oral history project, there may be a specific format for you to follow.  This generates a record that harmonizes with the results of other interviewers within the larger body of work.  Typically you’ll prepare a transcript of the actual dialogue between you and the subject—often with punctuation or other markings to indicate accents, pauses, stresses, and other notable features of your conversation.  You may also write an introductory passage explaining your methods of preparation and your evaluation of the results you’ve achieved.

If you’re working on assignment for a media outlet, you might have the opportunity to write a personable article containing both dialogue and narrative prose. In this case, you may be allowed to offer your candid view of the person you’ve studied.  Be aware, if you’re working as a freelance researcher and writer, you may need to prepare multiple versions of your report in order to secure one or more appropriate outlets for its broadcast or publication.  I should note that there are situations when an interview will be available to only a select audience, or may be held in private for release at a future time.

As you finalize your work on an interview, you’ll want to remember that in this day of permanency in data recording and retrieval, the words you shape after the interview will live as long as the event itself.

Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, design consultant, motivational speaker

For further information on interviews and oral histories see:
Overview of Interview and Oral History Projects, June 2015
Researching for Interviews, July 2015
Conducting Interviews, May 2016
After the Interview, August 2017

To learn more about the Conversations with Auntie Carol, the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including Murders of Conveyance [Winner, Fiction Adventure-Drama, 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards], Island recipes and other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com.

FOLLOW ME:
Facebook
Amazon

Apple Books
Audible
Authors Den
Barnes and Noble
Blogarama
Book Bub
Cozy Mysteries-Unlimited
Good Reads
Hometown Reads
Midpoint
Smashwords

Interview and Oral History Projects, 2

Researching For Interviews 

The Art and Science of Writing
Today’s post is a recipe to help you prepare for any general or oral history interview you may conduct.  While the ingredients may prove dry for some of my readers, my intent is to simplify the process for those of you seeking to broaden your skills as a researcher, interviewer and writer For, like a piece of fine art, the strong interview provides a complex layering of elements that leads to a deeper understanding of the interviewee’s life, their place within world events, and the experiences that have made them who they are. 

Relying on their charm and a heavy dose of luck, some interviewers claim that establishing a good rapport with one’s subject is all that is required for a strong interview.  But although creating a personal connection with your subject is definitely required, I urge you to consider that doing a bit of research will strengthen your credibility with the interviewee and boost your skills as a professional interviewer worthy of respect.

Although the following example falls under the category of art, it demonstrates how the lack of professional training can interfere with one’s work.  Many years ago, I met a gifted painter who employed the tiniest makeup brushes to create delicate lace, fine hairs on African wildlife, and complex patterns on silken fabrics.  Noticing flaws in the placement of shadows, proportion of objects, and the musculature of human bodies, I gently suggested she take classes in the foundations of art

When she responded that an art teacher had previously crushed her spirit, I suggested she study privately with an artist she could carefully select for compatibility.  Over the years she has achieved a measure of success, but the flaws I first noticed continue throughout the body of her work.  I can only imagine what the knowledge of an authoritative artist could have added to the depth of her art.

Where should you begin your research as an interviewer?  Like the ideal scientist, you will want to thoroughly research your interview subject, confirming basic facts you may have assumed were correct.  To establish a reliable foundation for the facts to be revealed in the interview (as well as to offer a concise expression of the interviewee’s viewpoint), you will need to conduct research that goes beyond the details of their résumé.  This work should be completed before formulating the questions you will ask in the interview. 

As you move through the process of gathering information, consider the following questions.  What is the purpose of the interview project?  What are the demographics of your target audience who will be accessing your work?  Also, what direction is suggested by the format and themes of the media outlet with which you are working

Regardless of the proposed thrust of an interview, information that the public may seek about the subject should be addressed.  In addition, if you wish to separate your interview from others the subject may have granted, I believe it is good to have at least one surprising fact revealed. 

Now comes what some will consider the boring work.  There’s no way around it, unless you want to rely on your great charm.  To organize the facts you have discovered effectively, I suggest you consider using several tools.

  1. Create a double-spaced copy of the interviewee’s résumé or curriculum vitae [CV].  Highlight each piece of information you need to verify.  Place a check mark beside each one you confirm.
  1. Working from either a list provided by the subject (or revealed in your research), examine the interviewee’s articles, books, previous interviews, and other expressions of their thoughts that may exist.
  1. As you proceed with your research, write out potential topics for your forthcoming dialogue.
  1. Create a timeline of the subject’s life.  Although you may be focused on their career and public persona, list highlights in both their professional and personal living as a guideline to help you respond to unexpected turns your dialogue may take.  Depending on what has made the person newsworthy, you may wish to look at a graph of historical events that intersect with their life.  

How will such timelines be useful?  If, for example, the interviewee was involved in the labor movement of the post-World War II era, the strikes of labor unions on the West Coast and in Hawai`i greatly impacted the general public as well as union members.  Consider also the arts.  If your subject is a composer of music or lyrics, you may find that their noteworthy pieces were created at times of considerable importance in history.  Sometimes their work will actually be named for such an occurrence or an entire era.  This was true of a symphony named for, and embodying the discordant notes of, the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  Depending on the flow of your interview, reference to an intersection of general history and your subject’s life may yield surprising insights about their career or personal living.  This can help you communicate with your subject, as well as with your readers or listeners.

  1. Prepare an interviewee survey.  Sequence your questions from the information they have provided to you.  You can simplify the process for your subject by filling in information you have been able to confirm through your research.  This could include:  Dates and descriptions of their degrees, certifications, accreditations, and other qualifications; institutions of affiliation; professional positions they have held; published works, community volunteerism and other involvement; names, ages, careers of spouse, partners, or children.  Remember that if you put in data you have not confirmed, you may be inviting errors—should their memory be flawed, or they actually wish to perpetuate dissemination of erroneous information.

To further your acquaintanceship—and to trigger your subject’s memories—you may want to offer blank space for them to fill in items such as:  Their nicknames; mentors and public figures who have impacted their life; programs and schools of thought that have shaped their perspective; adjunct and social organizations with which they may be associated; and, hobbies and interests.  Whether or not you wish to pursue topics such as political, philosophical or religious associations may depend on both what you have learned about your interviewee and the orientation of the media outlet with which you are working.

Despite the details I am suggesting you consider, keep the resulting survey as short and simple as possible.  I also recommend using a five-point Likert Scale for any questions you wish answered with a measurement of the subject’s agreement.  Hopefully, your subject will be able to provide you with a completed survey prior to the interview.  This will allow you to fold their responses into questions you are preparing for conducting the interview. 

If you do not receive a response to your survey, have a pleasant conversation with your interviewee about your preparation, so that they will want to participate fully in the process.  If necessary, try to reschedule the survey by a day or two to ensure you are fully prepared.  If you must conduct the interview without seeing your subject’s survey responses, you may want to take a few moments to try to write notes in the margins of your interview questions about issues you now feel you need to explore.

By the time you are nearing completion of your research, you should know whether or not the facts you have uncovered demonstrate your subject’s ability and desire to answer your questions fully and honestly.  In addition, you will have determined whether the facts revealed are in accord with the original goals of your project.  It is also important to determine whether the direction of the interview indeed fits within the thrust of the media outlet with which you may be working

It is possible that you will find there are fundamental conflicts within the facts revealed in your research, your initial perspective on the interviewee, and the boundaries of the planned interview.  If you are able to control publication of the information resulting from your interview, you are fortunate.  But if you are restricted by the media outlet’s direction, I sincerely hope you will discuss your concerns with their management team prior to conducting an interview that does not honor you or your interviewee.

Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, design consultant, motivational speaker

For further information on interviews and oral histories, see:
Overview of Interview and Oral History Projects, June 2015
Researching for Interviews, July 2015
Conducting Interviews, May 2016
After the Interview, August 2017

To learn more about the Conversations with Auntie Carol, the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including Murders of Conveyance [Winner, Fiction Adventure-Drama, 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards], Island recipes and other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com.

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Interview and Oral History Projects, 1

nThe Art & Science of Writing

OVERVIEW OF INTERVIEW AND ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS

The Anxieties of Conducting Interviews
While many writers enter a new project by addressing its individual parts consecutively, I tend to begin by considering how it parallels other work I have undertaken.  That is why my discussion of business plans and grant proposals is offered in a single page on my website.  Likewise, I view preparing for both journalistic and oral history interviews as generally the same. Before examining specific aspects of preparing for an interview, I should clarify that there are limits to this simplistic summation, for the research is  for the research required for anything dealing with an historical topic is usually greater than that for a biographical feature in a newspaper or magazine.

However, in both instances, you need to learn as much as you can about your subjectFor while time or resources may preclude your conducting in-depth research, there are two essential reasons for doing as much as you can.  The most obvious one is to verify facts that have purported to make the man or woman sufficiently noteworthy for you to undertake your project.  This fact checking ensures that even if the subject’s memory of specific elements in their personal or professional history is flawed, your reporting will be accurate. 

The second reason to perform research is to find commonalities to help you establish an effective rapport with your interviewee.  This can be especially important if your interview is being done by telephone rather than in person.  Even with today’s connectivity via computer camera, the nuances of a personal meeting can be lost in electronic communication:  The brightness of your smile upon entering the presence of your interviewee; the warmth of a firm but nonthreatening handshake; the liveliness of your natural voice; the fragrance of memorabilia assembled for your meeting; the shared experience of a flavorful cup of tea or coffee.

Honing your skills in the art of communication is vital in conducting any kind of interview.  In the end, the results of failing to prepare properly for any interview are the same:  Poor quality dialogue between you and your interviewee AND poor quality of your authorship.

Good writing reflects a combination of science and art.  Empowering your words means investing the same amount of energy in your mental preparation as in performing your research, organizing the results, and outlining the questions you will ask during the interview.  What do I mean by encouraging your mental preparation?  There is little you can do to be certain of the attitude of your subject.  But, despite anything that may occur prior to the interview, you can adjust your own thinking to be as positive as possible.  In short, you need to be artful in your interaction with your interviewee in order to have a winning result for both of you. 

That last note is very important, so allow me to repeat it:  In order for your project to be a true success, both you and your interviewee must feel a sense of accomplishment when the conversation ends.  The interviewer is supposed to be in the driver’s seat.  To reach your goal of creating an interaction that will result in mutual satisfaction, you have to anticipate myriad issues that might arise in the interview.

I will admit that once you have completed your transcription, there may be points on which you and the subject will disagree…usually because the interviewee has doubts about the material they have disclosed, or they have misgivings about the manner in which they answered your questions.  In these situations, there is little that you can do about any disappointments your subject may feel—although you can offer to interview them again, or to make note of their after-thoughts in a way that honors both your work and their concerns.  However, as long as you have a signed informed consent and legal release form granting you use of the interview and its contents, you should be safe from future legal issues.

If you are a professional writer, you may have encountered circumstances in which you have turned to an attorney for counsel.  For as laws vary from state to state, and accepted interview practices may change over time, you must be careful to research the legal issues involved in the use of information obtained in interviews you conduct.  Also, you may wish to consider taking courses in journalism and oral history…at least have access to a respected journalist or historian who can advise you about interview standards. 

Should you find the thought of embarking on a round of higher education daunting, please know that you should be able to find a school that will allow you to audit a course.  This means that unlike a student taking the course for college credit, you should not have to take exams or write course papers.  However, as a sign of respect, even if the professor’s permission is not required, I recommend that you speak to them in advance of registering to audit their course[s].

How one handles the discomfort of an interviewee can be a difficult issue for anyone Following an interview with an elderly woman in Hawai`i, I was careful to recreate the full essence of our conversation.  I did this by indicating the subject’s cadence and pronunciation in the transcription.  At the time we were contemplating writing a partial family history, for which little of our dialogue would have appeared in the prose I would have composed for the book.  Unfortunately, that fact did not mitigate her displeasure at what she perceived as flaws in her use of the English language.

In another instance, during research for a master’s degree in modern American history, I conducted an oral history interview with a man who participated in the Allied Occupation of Japan following World War II.  As I had been trained in oral history courses, I had performed considerable research in advance.  The interviewee and I were the ideal combination of being opposite in gender and age, and we did strike a good rapport at the onset of our meeting.  In addition to this interview, I conducted subsequent interviews with former colleagues of the man, which also unfolded in equally harmonious ways.  Unfortunately, when I interviewed his wife after his death, I learned that the work of my subject had been undermined by the rise of McCarthyism and the prolonged witch hunt for anyone suspected of being a communist—or even, as in this case, being a supporter of freedom of speech in open dialogues between persons of varied political leanings.

I offer these examples of challenges faced by the interviewer to encourage you to conduct in-depth research prior to your interview AND to suggest that despite whatever due diligence you have performed, something unforeseen can arise.  I’m glad to say that in the aftermath of both of these challenges, I was able to retain positive relationships with my interviewees, although the projects did not come to fruition as I had planned.  In the long run, I recognized there is little I could have handled differently in the interview process itself, and I have certainly benefited from the experiences I had as a young writer.

This brings me to one of the most important points I wish to make on this topic:  All of your work as a researcher and writer adds to your credibility as an author.  And, without a few challenges along your path, you will lack the breadth of life experience that brings depth to the verbiage you shape into material that both a targeted and general readership will find of interest.

Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, design consultant, motivational speaker

Here are further comments on interviews and oral histories.
Overview of Interview and Oral History Projects, June 2015
Researching for Interviews, July 2015
Conducting Interviews, May 2016
After the Interview, August 2017

To learn more about the Conversations with Auntie Carol, the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including Murders of Conveyance [Winner, Fiction Adventure-Drama, 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards], Island recipes and other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com.

FOLLOW ME:
Facebook
Amazon

Apple Books
Audible
Authors Den
Barnes and Noble
Blogarama
Book Bub
Cozy Mysteries-Unlimited
Good Reads
Hometown Reads
Midpoint
Smashwords