Saturday, June 29, 2013

Writer's Camp--Day 1

Before I start talking about my cool completely and totally amazing writer's camp, I have an announcement to make! :D


I just recently found out and I am super excited (if you haven't noticed from my constant use of emoticons)! :D I'll be starting my position sometime in July. I'll blog here whenever one of my posts go up (or, you know, you can just subscribe to "The Book Chewers." Just an idea).

Now for the moment you've all been waiting for.

Writer's Camp.

On the first day, the teachers and the students mostly just got to know each other. We played a few games (including "Balderdash," "Scattergories," and "Would You Rather") and got to know each other by doing this fun exercise.

We got to interview each other!

We learned about what makes a good interview before splitting up into pairs. Here are some tips I learned:

Do background research.

If you're interviewing someone about their career, do a little research on their job. You might be interviewing them to learn more, but you don't want to look completely clueless. Plus, this will save you time in the interview to ask more interesting questions rather than asking, "So, Mr. Garbage Man, when you pick up the garbage, where do you put it?"

Set it up.

Contact the person by e-mail first. This won't put them on the spot, rather than if you contacted them by phone. If the person lives close to you, offer to take them out for coffee/hot chocolate or brunch. You'll pay, of course. Ask them for 30 minutes of their time MAX. If they don't live close to you, do the interview over the phone, Skype, or e-mail.

TIP: If the person you want to interview doesn't respond within a week, feel free to follow up with another e-mail. If you don't hear back from them for another week, try calling (if you can find the phone number). If no one picks up, leave a message. If you still don't hear back, chances are this person is not interested. Be persistent, but politely persistent.

Write the questions down.

This seems like a given, but a lot of people don't write down their questions. They simply go with a notebook or a tape recorder and ask whatever pops into their head. This leads to a lot of "Um-s" and "Uh-s" and "Hold-on-a-second-s." This just wastes both of your time. Think of the questions before hand and write them down.

TIP: Some of the answers might take more time than others. Put stars or hearts or some other simple doodle next to the questions you want to ask first. This way you'll have plenty of time to ask the questions you really want to ask. If you breeze through all of questions with time leftover, feel free to ask any follow-up questions you might have had throughout the interview.

Be polite.

If the 30 minutes is up, it's up. Don't ask for extra time, don't pretend like you don't see what time it is, don't ask another question right when the time is up. If the person you're interviewing keeps talking after the 30 minutes is up, remind them of the time. If they don't care, go ahead and ask more questions. But they should be the one to initiate the extra time, not you.

Ask interesting questions.

Especially if you want people to read this interview. You don't want your readers to scroll through a long interview of answers to, "What's your favorite color?" or "Do you have any pets?" Think of some really interesting questions, like, "What book character do you think you're most like?" or "What are your quirks?" I've tried both of these questions and gotten great results.

Small talk is extremely helpful.

Some people might have a hard time opening up. A good way to prevent yourself from getting two word answers is to add a little bit of small talk in between. But just a little. If you use too much, you'll end up wasting half of your interviewing time. A little bit goes a long way. If the person you're interviewing mentions that they've always wanted to travel to Portugal, you could respond by saying, "Oh, my mom's Portuguese!" (She is, by the way).

Write and record.

While recording an interview is a good idea, always, always, always bring a notebook along, too. You never know when your recording device might run out of battery or just break completely. Bring a backup and take notes.

Pick out the important stuff.

You don't have to write the interview down word for word, but never ever change something the person you're interviewing said. If they said they hate pizza, they hate pizza. You don't necessarily have to include that when you're writing the interview down, but don't write, "I have a love-hate relationship with pizza," when they specifically said that they hate pizza.

Good quotes.

If you're taking notes and the person you're interviewing says something really cool, make sure you write the whole thing down, word for word. You wouldn't want to forget part of a really cool quote and end up butchering it later. But never ask them to repeat the last thing they said, because chances are they forgot it and it won't be the same. These will be your pull-out quotes, and should be related to your controlling theme (see below).

Use your observational skills.

Interviewing isn't just about asking questions and getting answers. When the person you're interviewing is talking, take a look at how they're sitting. What's their body language like? How are they speaking? Are they excited by this topic? Are they grinding their teeth as they give an answer? Take notes of these things, too. You can get a lot from a person just by the way their eyes look as they speak.

Be nosy.

This is your big chance to ask any questions that you want and actually get answers! Dig deep. What have you always wanted to know about this person? Don't ever be rude, but you can be politely nosy.

The hook.

You're going to want a nice hook at the beginning of your interview. Really grab the readers. Entice them. Why do they want to keep reading? The reader should be reading this of her own free will. Some might just glance at the first few sentences and move on, but if you have a nice hook, a lot of them will stick around and see what you have to say.

The controlling theme.

What is your controlling theme? Bring out the person's personality in your interview. When I was interviewed at the writer's camp, the person who wrote the interview really focused on my dream I had as a little girl--I wanted to grow wings and fly. Throughout the whole interview, that person kept giving little hints about my dreams and my love of fantasy. It made for a really enjoyable interview. Figure out that person's personality and focus on it.


When writing your interview, add a little bit of description in between. These descriptions should not be what shoes the person has on or what the coffee shop looks like around you, but should focus on the person's face: the way their eyes sparkle at the mention of their dog, the way they bite their tongue when you ask them about their boss. These descriptions shouldn't just be boring, "she smiled-s" or "her eyes sparkled-s." They should be poetic and flow together, such as, "Her eyes looked as if they were sprinkled with glitter," or "her smile could have powered a city."

Your three gold coins.

Your three gold coins are your pull-out quotes (see above). Whether you have two or three or four, you should have a few of them and they should be spread out: one towards the very beginning or your hook (see above), one in the middle to keep your reader interested, and one at the end to wrap it up and leave your reader happy and content. If you use them all up at once, it lowers your chance of having people actually read your interview.

Now that I've bombarded you with tips, tricks, and tools of the trade (and no, alliteration isn't on there, though it can be extremely helpful in poetry), let me show you the interview I wrote that day. I had fifteen minutes to interview my partner and 30 minutes to write up my interview with her. But she wasn't a student.

Somehow I was the odd one out, so I got to choose which teacher I wanted to interview (there were three). I chose Ms. Savage, and boy am I glad I did! Ms. Savage gave me plenty to work with, and I loved the interview she wrote up after she interviewed me.

Here is my interview:

Interview With Daina Savage

Daina Savage--who is 50% Latvian on her mother's side--starts off by saying that her name is often mispronounced and means--roughly translated--the poems of the people. This is the perfect introduction for Ms. Savage, because that's exactly what she is: a poem for the people. Journalist, optimist, and lover of learning, Ms. Savage says that she is very much like Hermione Granger.

"There isn't enough time to learn everything about the world," she says. "That's why I'd want a Time Turner."

I ask her what she likes about journaling and if she'd rather be doing anything else.

"Oh, no," she says. "I have the best job. I was going to be a dentist, but that's not what I was passionate about."

At this point you can see the hopeful gleam in her eyes. I know this gleam well, because it matches the one I have. I, too, am an idealist.

"I like bringing people together," Ms. Savage says. "I like effecting change."

Daina believes that there is good in the world and that kids can be empowered. She is the epitome of an optimist.

Daina also writes poetry. Her love of adjectives, alliteration, and people reacting in a positive way to the natural world just highlight her hopefulness, her attitude of, "the sky's the limit." Her writing is very romanticized and inspirational, much like her personality.

I ask Ms. Savage more about her career and she says, "It's hard to be a critic. I don't like to bring down peoples' work. I love telling a story. I hope my writing motivates people to make a difference."

After we had a lunch break, we did some creative writing. We experimented with different sayings, like, "every cloud has a silver lining" or "the early bird gets the worm." Once we had one we liked, we had to take that saying and twist it around. That would be the theme of our poem or story.

But that's not all. Then we had to include five different words in our stories or poems. These words didn't have anything to do with each other. Our list was:


We had to include at least five, but we could do all six, if we wanted to. I took the phrase, "A cat has nine lives" and wrote a poem about it. Here it is:

They say a cat has nine lives,
But mine only had one.
My mother told me not to let her go outside.
I didn't listen.
Blackberry didn't hear the whir of wheels against the concrete as the bus came by.
She was deaf in one ear,
You see.
Seeing her broken body on the pavement was like a needle to the chest.
The killer didn't even look back.
I see Blackberry's face in the clouds sometimes
Gentle and sweet,
Never squashed.
It wasn't until a black kitten wandered into our backyard that I was able to love again.
I kissed his nose,
He licked my ear,
And blackberries never tasted so sweet.

And that concludes day one. What do you think? :D

I have a challenge for all of you. A fun challenge. I challenge you to find someone you've never met and interview them using the tips I wrote about in this post. If you want to participate, leave a comment saying so along with your e-mail (in this format: themagicviolinist(AT)gmail(DOT)com). Then find someone else in the comments that you'd like to interview and contact them through e-mail. Have fun! :D (I'll be awaiting your interviews)!


Anonymous said...

Love this! What great tips for interviewers, in any scenario. I'm going to tweet this. :)

Lovely poem, too!

The Magic Violinist said...

Thanks! :D I appreciate you tweeting, too!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you not only had fun at writer's camp but that you learned so much. I teach a lesson on how to interview well. I'm pleased to see that the things I stress were also stressed at writer's camp! There were some great additional items in your list that I might steal!

Your poem about the cat is great. I love the hint at reincarnation! I know I keep writing this, but you are so talented!

Boquinha said...

UGH. What a SAD poem! Well written and well done, but sad!!

Okay, now that that's out of the way . . . great post with so much great information! I love hearing about your days at camp. Of course I got the privilege of hearing it daily when picking you up. What a great experience! So, rank order - writers' camp, Christmas, NaNoWriMo. I'm curious what your order is.


Dr. Mark said...

From two to five comments in 3 minutes flat!

Great post. I know you told me all about your activities each night after camp, but it's really fun to see all the different things you learned.

That poem was really good. I'm thoroughly impressed.

Can't wait for Day 2!

Anonymous said...

Boquinha, I'm not sure it's really sad. Yes, it's sad that Blackberry died, but he loved her so much, he came back to her, and they get to spend another kitty lifetime together! That's happy, right?!

The Magic Violinist said...

@Everyone Day 2 to come soon. ;) Thanks for waiting!