It’s also about interviewing. For every book I’ve written I’ve had to venture out of my cave to research settings and careers and lifestyles by asking questions of people who’ve been there and done it.
Interviewing requires a whole different skill set than sitting alone creating stories out of thin air. It demands a curiosity about the subject, a lack of timidity about approaching people you don’t know, an ability to be patient and persistent when a subject gives monosyllabic answers but also to wrap things up if an interview just isn’t working.
When I freelanced for Waldenbooks (see previous post about Borders) and edited their consumer magazines, I interviewed a lot of authors, many of them celebrities. Some stand out as exceptional experiences.
Like the time I went to Katharine Hepburn’s Manhattan townhouse to talk to her about her autobiography, Me.
It was a hot August day and I was wearing a pair of pretty sandals. As we settled into her den, she said, “You have the most beautiful feet!” I laughed and said I hadn’t been told that before. And we were off and running. She was a delight, not the least bit reserved. In fact, as I was preparing to leave, she asked me to keep in touch with her and I did, and we had a nice little correspondence for awhile.
On the other side of the coin, I interviewed Joan Collins. Her book, Past Imperfect, was an international bestseller and she was at the height of her “Dynasty” fame.
Her publicist had arranged for me to call her on the set of the show during one of her breaks. She was curt, to say the least. I began with a softball question. She said, “I’d rather not talk about that.” I tried another softball question. “I’d rather not talk about that either.” And a third. “No, I don’t want to talk about that.” I took a deep breath and said, “Miss Collins, this isn’t working for me. I’m not an investigative reporter. I’m helping you promote your book. But since you’re not cooperating, I think I’ll just say, ‘Have a nice day.'” And I hung up. Five minutes later, her publicist called to beg me to give her another chance. I did, and she was much more – shall we say – responsive.
I’ve interviewed several Presidents; a few First Ladies too. And the one thing I’ve learned is this: Some people are easier to interview than others, and it has nothing to do with the level of their fame. It’s about me knowing what I’m doing.
So as I move forward with my caregiving book, I’m about to begin the interviewing process. Some of my subjects will be medical people. Some will be other caregivers. And some will be celebrities. It’s time to dust off my inner Barbara Walters and hope I don’t make someone cry.