Although it’s becoming increasingly unlikely in the modern day, what with the folding of so many newspapers and the laying off of so many reporters from those that are left, it may be that in the course of your literary career you will be asked to give a press interview.
It will help you to know who you are dealing with when you deal with The Press.
Ideally, your interviewer will be a kindred spirit who likes your writing and wants to make you look good (while getting paid by the news outlet to write the story). These people are lovely to find, and you might even stay friends with them in later life. Less than ideally, your interviewer will have been assigned a story he or she is not keen about. At times like that it is helpful for you to have written the interview yourself, beforehand. (“You probably want to know how I got started in spear fishing. It was the summer of 1993…”)
Then there are reporters with an axe to grind.
In 1984, when my first book was published (Unbalanced Accounts, Little, Brown, now available on Kindle for $2.99), the publisher sent review copies around to all the newspapers. That’s how things were done then. The book received quite a bit of attention, most avidly at the entertainment desk of the newspaper where my ex-husband used to work. I got a phone call from a woman on that desk whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years, not since the break-up.
The break-up was one of those horribly unpleasant messes that used to happen to people in the early seventies, and that’s all I’m going to say about that, except to mention that when the dust settled my ex was married to Zoe, a big noise at the paper. (Names have been changed so that I may speak freely.) So I got a call from this woman who used to work with Zoe. Silly me, I thought the interview was all about me and my book. My very first newspaper interview. I had no clue.
We met at a Chinese restaurant near my place of employment. I had a good career going in software by this time, was married to the great love of my life, and had an adorable baby. I spotted Tillie (let’s call her) waiting at a booth inside. I was all set to brag about my new life and my new book.
“Katie!” she said. “What happened to your hair?”
“I got it cut,” I said. I’d had a few haircuts and re-stylings in the years since the ex and I used to sit around Tillie’s living room drinking and watching the hipsters smoke dope. She didn’t exactly look the same, either.
“I just want you to know that we all hate Zoe too,” Tillie said.
“We call her Venom Lips.”
“I see. But about my book…”
The rest of the interview sort of went like that. She said she wanted to know all about my life from the time I was born, and then tried to pick out things to put in the paper that would embarrass my ex and his new wife. I did my best to stonewall her. As for talking about the book: “This character in your book who cheats on his taxes. That’s your ex, right? We all know he cheats on his taxes.”
“I certainly hope not,” I said. “I signed those forms for ten years.”
The paper sent a photographer to my house in Lambertville, luckily nobody I knew from the old days. He took an interesting and totally posed picture of me lolling on our porch in front of one of Harold’s Persian rugs. It was pleasingly androgynous. I was thinner then. They put the picture and Tillie’s story on the front page of the paper. It was continued on page three and ran on for many columns. There was something strange about the story. Everyone who read it said so. It wasn’t really about me or my book.
But no ink is bad ink, as they say, and sales of the book went quite well. Still I drew a moral from the event. Know why you’re being interviewed. Be prepared to steer the conversation.