My First Interview

Last week I introduced the idea of a different kind of Author Interviews. One of the people I interviewed was Amy Preder, and she wrote a blog post describing her experience. Check it out! Next week begins the Character Interviews done similarly to these Author Interviews, and I plan to write a post about those once I have done a few. In the meanwhile, enjoy Amy’s post!

amy preder

On 25 May 2015, I had my very first author interview with Kelly Blanchard. I’ve been the interviewer before, but never the interviewee. I must admit, I was more than a bit nervous. I’ve read plenty of author interviews before. Most are dull, to say the least. I was definitely afraid of being another one of those dull, lifeless interviews. I am just getting started in writing, and I thought the last thing I needed was to hamstring myself by seeming boring or uninspired.

As it turned out, I need not have feared. Kelly’s style for this interview is not the same as the standard author interview. Instead, she swept me into a wonderful imaginary world, Kelly’s Muse Shop. Instead of a boring and predictable set of questions, we co-wrote a story. Each of us wrote ourselves as a character in this story. Kelly did a great job of putting…

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A Different Kind of Author Interview

Author Interviews can be done in person or online. If it’s in person, you’d likely sit across from the interviewer and be asked numerous questions, “So, when did you start writing?”, “Tell us about the book you’ve published?”, “Where do you get your ideas?”, “What advice do you have for other writers?”, and so forth. You have no idea what question they’d ask next, and if you’re on camera and are a natural introvert, this is torture for you as you try not to let your nervousness show through while at the same time, you don’t want to come across as overly excited about your books. There’s a balance, but who really knows where it is? However, my main focus of this post isn’t about in-person interviews. I can’t help you there, so you’re on your own! But I want to focus on online interviews.

These interviews are much less intimidating. There’s a screen between you and them, and what usually happens is the interviewer will email you a list of questions and ask that you send back the answers by a certain deadline. In the end, the format looks something like this (DISCLAIMER: this is a fictional interview—not based on any real interview but made up specifically for this post.)

Q: So, when did you begin writing?

A: I began writing when I was really young. I can’t even remember the first story that I wrote!

Q: What genre do you write?

A: Fantasy! And a bit of science fiction—if you can believe that.

Q: Who is your favorite author?

A: I really like C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. Very awesome!

Q: What inspired your book?

A: Well, I was sitting in a coffee shop when I overheard this guy asking this girl questions like if she wanted to go watch this movie or that movie later, and all her responses were, “I have no preference,” because she was really into the book she was reading.

Q: What is your story about?

 

And it goes on from there. You send the answers back, and what happens? Weeks later, the interviewer posts the interview on their site/blog, and it looks exactly like that.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. It gets the job done, so it works.

But something seems to be missing. Could we do something more? Something more interactive?

These interviews tell us a lot about the author and their story, but I’ve never been satisfied with being told anything. I want to see! Pure dialogue reveals little about who the author really is because it lacks body language, facial expressions, and physical interaction with the author. We can’t really tell if they’re reserved, bored, or beaming with excitement. Those interviews simply give us the answers, but what if readers want to know more and get to know the author better to view them as truly human?

Well, I had an idea, so I ran an experiment—as you should know by now I am fond of doing. I’m still in the middle of it, but the responses I’ve gotten so far are very positive.

What did I do? I created a fictional place and invited authors to meet me there. They had to write themselves in third person as if they were a character of their own creation, but they were writing themselves. I did the same, and I took them through the setting I had created, sat them down, and had a chat with them. Some authors I took to a forest garden among castle ruins. Others opted for the palace library or the study in the palace. Others were more intrigued with the more modern-day Muse Shop I made up while few chose the setting of a coffee shop.

In these places, we met and chatted like friends but with me asking a lot of questions. To write this format, both of us had to be online at the same time, and we co-wrote via instant messenger. I told them I didn’t want dialogue tags because that would defeat the purpose of the interview since tags are more telling, but I preferred if they used body language instead. I asked for 27 volunteers and am currently in the middle of these interviews, but so far all the ones I’ve interviewed admitted they were nervous at the beginning because they didn’t know how this would work out, but they quickly slipped into it and became lost in the imaginary world I created. The next thing they knew, it was the end of the interview, and they were quite disappointed that it came to an end. Every person I’ve interviewed so far has used the word ‘fun’ to describe it, but here are some reviews a few people gave me after I interviewed them:

Kristen Moger

Kelly Blanchard’s interviews are a pleasure to take part in. She has a great imagination and encourages her interviewees to join in the creative adventure, all the while allowing the reader to discover an author in a new way that is far more interesting than the usual question and answer session.

Matthew Dale

I was unsure of what to expect going into this interview. The setup Kelly gave the volunteers beforehand was, unorthodox, to say the least, but interesting. The interview takes place in a fictional environment, and the author being interviewed is expected to write about themselves as if they are one of their own characters. I found this concept to be fascinating! Kelly is very friendly and easily approachable in the interview, and the process really forced me to consider my answers to her questions. Having been a newspaper reporter, I’ve done my share of interviews, even with a couple of published authors. I’ve never been the interviewee, and I’ve never had such an interesting, thought provoking, and overall enjoyable interview. Were I to give it an Amazon Star style rating, I’d probably rate it 5 out of 5. My only complaint is that the time for our conversation went by too quickly, and this is coming from a self professed introvert who has not had very much contact with Kelly prior to this interview. Definitely worth your time to do this, if for nothing more than a pleasant diversion from the norm.

Lia Rees

Kelly’s interviews are a pleasure to take part in. She invites you into a setting which is developed enough to offer scope for imagination, yet not restrictive in its demands. She is encouraging, builds a natural rapport with her interviewee, and easily shifts her focus to meet new ideas. Even allowing for the difference in our genres and styles, Kelly made my first ever author interview straightforward and inspiring.

Clint Brill

Kelly’s interviews are like all standard interviews with a simple Q&A session. The similarity, however, stops there. The idea of working through the interview in Third Person like you’re writing a scene for a character was a little odd at first, but it doesn’t take long to get into the fun of it. Her questions were thought-provoking and the “character interactions” between questions helped ease the tension and make the entire process enjoyable. More interviewers need to take a similar approach. I’d definitely do another interview like that any time.

Jacob Settlemyre

The interview was really interesting. Kelly is really good at setting the scene and making you comfortable when you first begin. It was like a real conversation. The talk was laidback and had a lot of possibilities. Of course she lets you explore and contribute. I learned a lot from the experience. Thanks Kelly!

Virginia Carraway Stark

Being interviewed by Kelly Blanchard about my upcoming novel, “The Hunt for Z’iaster’ was an interesting and imaginative romp that showed Blanchard’s clarity of vision of her world. I had never written about myself in the third person before and adding to the challenge of trying to think of how to describe and characterize my movements, voice and idiom was the challenge of being transported to Blanchard’s fantasy universe as well.

Blanchard encourages play over a standard, by the books interview and lets the interviewee lead with creation and imagination so that the interview takes place in another world, Kelly Blanchard’s world. In my case we started off in a royal garden and then rambled through a woods and into ancient ruins.

The suspension of belief and the removal of the bounds of reality are essential to the creative process. This is what was distinguishing about the interview. It was an effort of creation rather than a simple rundown of facts. There was no list of interview questions, and it was much more a conversation between writers that allows others an inside peek into the world of not one author, but two.

I am currently in the middle of interviews with two weeks of Author Interviews and two weeks of Character Interviews—two interviews a day, six days a week. Once all these interviews are completed, I will begin posting the Author Interview of one author on Wednesday and the Character Interview of the same author on Fridays on my new blog Meeting With The Muse. You can visit that blog now and see the Author/Character Interviews I already have posted there when I interviewed Kat Perrin for an example of the new style of interviews.

Am I saying all author interviews should be done like this? No. It is quite time consuming and a stretch of the imagination, and everyone’s schedules must be rearranged. However, the difference is nice.

Creating Distinct Characters

When you write, sometimes you worry about have your characters sounding too similar. Our characters are our babies. We want them to be perfect. We want them to be equally awesome, but if we make one character different, then that could cause an imbalance.

This is our subconsciousness speaking, and part of this is because we may have unknowingly based the characters off of us, and you can read about that in my blog discussing Author-Based Characters. However, right now, I want to how to make characters different from one another.

We need to let the characters become real. How do we do that? Well, you’re going to have to have a sit down chat with them to figure out most of this, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • A moral standard (or a complete lack of moral standards).
  • Give them something they’d disapprove of or absolutely won’t do. One character may be fine with killing, but another character may have a real conscience against this, and there they are unique.
  • Relationships/history with other characters
    • One character may be perfectly quiet all the time, but they come across this one specific character, and that quiet character suddenly explodes and becomes irrational and completely different than usual. All the other characters may be complete strangers to this new character except for that one, and that makes things different.
  • Is the character a loud person or quiet?
    • Loud and confident?
    • Quiet and confident?
    • Quiet and insecure?
  • Positive person or negative person?
  • Secrets? Regrets?

Of course, there are more things you can answer as to determine why they’ll act the way they do—full questionnaires based on this—but what you really want is their distinct voice in your head. You want to know how exactly they act.

Do they walk quietly into a room, observe everything and slip into the shadows? Or do they saunter in as if they’re in absolute control and love being the center of attention? When they’re angered, do they raise their voice and begin to shout, or do they become deadly silent? Are they sarcastic? Or do they take things literally?

Now, let’s say you have two characters you worry sound like each other. Here are a few things to consider: are they related? Are they best friends? Did they grow up together? If yes, then it’s okay for them to sound similar although they will encounter similar situations and respond completely different because they’re different people. At times they may say the exact same thing at the exact same time, and this will cause people to pause and look at them then shake their heads and carry on. Other times, one character may say something that sounds like another character, and whomever he’s talking to can point out the similarities, “And here I thought I left Nagging Martha behind!” “Well, I’m her sister, what did you expect?”

If you’re writing separate stories, but you’re worried your main characters are sounding familiar, try giving the new character unique qualities that the other one lacks. Or change gender from male to female. But if you really want to see the differences for yourself between those two characters, write out a random scene where those two characters meet. See how they interact with one another, what they think of each other. You may discover differences you hadn’t realized before.

However, if none of this is working for you, and you’re still struggling with making your characters distinct from each other, go to your favorite TV shows and favorite films. Watch your favorite characters from there. Don’t steal characters outright, but rather borrow certain qualities from different characters to create your own unique character. For instance, take Jack Sparrow’s drunkard, flamboyant behavior, and add the lie-detector abilities of Cal Lightman from the TV Show ‘Lie To Me’. That would be one very interesting character. “I’m sorry, I’m sober at the moment. I can’t tell if the person is lying or telling the truth. Ask me again after a few drinks. Where’s the rum??”

These are merely some suggestions as to how to think creatively when developing your characters. Remember, they’re flawed—not perfect, but that’s what makes them unique and more relatable.

What is the Alphasmart NEO?

What is an Alphasmart NEO? Well, here’s a picture:

 

AlphaSmartNEO

 

But what IS it? An Alphasmart NEO is basically a modern day typewriting without the paper. Here are some facts:

Pros:

No internet connection.

Light weight.

Body: slim but sturdy (if you knocked it off a table, it’ll be fine).

Connects to computer using USB cable.

8 files which have the capability of holding up to 10,000 words = 80,000 word-novel before you need to worry about transferring anything to the computer.

Saves IMMEDIATELY as soon as you type something—anything.

QUICK on/off (press of a single button).

Can print directly from NEO via USB cable.

Run on AA batteries.

Battery life: 700 hours.

Reasonably priced (can be found for less than $100 on eBay).

 

Cons:

No backlight to the screen (meaning you can’t write in the dark).

No mouse or touchpad. You use the arrow and certain specialized keys to maneuver around the file. It takes some getting used to, but then it becomes second nature.

No longer manufactured but can be found on second-hand sites such as eBay, etc.

 

NOTE:

People WILL honestly ask you what the NEO is! But this also gives you a perfect opportunity to promote your story because people are like, “What is that?”

“Oh, it’s an Alphasmart NEO. I’m writing my story on it.”

“You’re a writer??”

“Yep!”

“Wow! I’ve never met a real life author before! What’s your book about?”

It also acts as an extended keyboard should anything happen to the keyboard on your computer. Connect the NEO via USB, and you have typing functions once more! One time when I was in the middle of a semester in university, the spacebar on my laptop died. However, I had my NEO, so I connected it to my computer, typed up the report, and then printed it out in time for class. That was a huge relief.

So there you have it–a basic understanding of the Alphasmart NEO.

Now, there are two versions of the NEO (NEO and NEO 2). I’ve had both, and the only difference I could tell was the NEO 2 is black whereas the NEO is more of a darker olive color. The NEO has a sister called the Alphasmart DANA. This has more than just typing capabilities and has different programs and can connect to the internet. The catch? Less battery life. Because the DANA has a backlight for the screen, its battery only lasts 20-24 hours compared to NEO’s 700 hours.

Since the Alphasmarts are no longer being manufactured, there is a new tool being developed called the Hemingwrite. I don’t know much about them other than the appearance and their starting price, which is over $300. I don’t know anything of its battery life or capabilities, but here’s a picture of it beside an Alphasmart DANA, but you can find out more about the Hemingwrite here: Hemingwrite FAQ.

dana-wireless-vs-Hemingwrite1

(The Alphasmart DANA on the left. Hemingwrite on the right)

Personally, I like the Alphasmart better because it has proven itself irreplaceable to me. I’ve taken it on all my trips (because it’s easier to pull out the NEO and begin writing than to pull out a laptop, turn it on, and wait for it to load up). Whenever I feel like getting away from my computer without being tied to a power cord, I take my NEO.

To put it simply, if you want to write without distraction or if you like to travel and don’t want to damage your laptop in any way, the Alphasmart NEO will be your best friend. You can find it for less than $100 on eBay here: Alphasmart NEO on eBay. Now, if you do buy it on eBay, be aware that some sellers may not include the USB cable needed to transfer your work from NEO to computer, but don’t worry. A normal printer USB cable will do. It will look like this:

USBCable

Now, say you have the NEO and the proper cable, and you have writing you want to transfer over to your computer. Do the following steps:

  1. Turn on your NEO and make sure you’ve selected the file you want to transfer over.
  2. Plug the cable into the NEO and the computer.
  3. Open the document on your computer where you would like the writing to be placed. If you’re adding on to a story, scroll to the bottom of the document where there is no writing.
  4. Press SEND on the NEO, sit back, and watch the words quickly scroll across the document on the computer as if writing themselves. Go, get some coffee while you wait for it to finish

Now, I’m sure there’s another way to do it, but I’m not that techie. This is the way I’ve figured out that isn’t too complicated, and I like simple.

No, I’m not a salesperson, but I’ve been asked about the Alphasmart NEO enough times that I decided to create a blog post specifically about it because its easier to share a blog post link than to type up my knowledge of the NEO each time the question comes up.

If you get a NEO, I hope you the best with your writing adventures! It is a wonderful writing tool.