You: “On your last album, your theme of society’s disintegration and familial discord touched a lot of people as well as caused a lot of debate. Do you think that it will be difficult for your next album to unfold organically because of that?”
Photo by Ingrid Punwani
Celebrity: “What?”You: (patiently repeat the question)
Celebrity: “I dunno.”This occurs often, celebrity or not. And while it’s fun as a writer to fill in the blanks—and silences—it is excruciating to do it for a 1,000-word feature.
Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum—where someone just won’t stop talking, and what is meant to be a 40-minute interview for a 400-word, front-of-the-book piece turns into an almost three-hour diatribe about the person, his long history of depression, and why he doesn’t speak to his uncle anymore. And don’t forget, you have to listen to him pontificating again because now you’ve got to transcribe the damn thing. Sigh.It’s not always excruciating. I’ve had some amazing experiences. I got to have Caesar salad with author Jodi Picoult and her son, where I heard firsthand about her process (research an idea, and travel to learn more) and her incredible discipline and speed (completed, polished and edited manuscript: nine months). I got to interview the hosts of HGTV Canada’s Home Heist, Colin and Justin, who entertained me over cocktails.
But it’s not just the celebrities that wow me. What I love most about doing interviews is the immense joy and surprise I feel in listening to someone’s life and passions unfurl in front of me: restaurant owners and chefs who toil away 14-16 hours a day, just to keep everything running; the antique-furniture restorer who, if something isn’t just so, will take it all apart and start over, so that the customer gets the piece of her dreams; the clothing designer who instead of spending weekends out with friends, sits alone in her studio, hand-appliquéing beads and sequins to her latest collection.There are certainly horror stories: The time I traveled by train to an industrial suburb only to have my chef interviewee arrive two hours late and then take another hour to prepare the food (I, of course, hadn’t eaten to be sure I would savor every bite). Then there’s the guy I had to speak with about his building company. The magazine had already told him that I’d be calling and laid out some of the topics I’d be hitting upon. When I called, however, he yelled and hung up. Three times in a row. Or what about the once-in-a-lifetime chance to interview a famous hip-hop star only to realize that my recorder hadn’t captured a word?
Despite the treacherous road that writers must sometimes walk, the rewards almost always outweigh the hardships. Until the next sit-down with someone ...