For that perfect day job that I recently quit, I became adept at interviewing people. I learned how to prepare a detailed, thorough list of questions in advance. I learned how to keep the interviewee happy about talking to me, and how to control the conversation so the person doesn’t wander off into long stories of their most recent two surgeries or ranting about how people have no manners, morals, or common sense. I learned to follow my suspicions as to when the real dish was more complicated than whatever easier answer I was hearing. These skills will be hugely useful when I am interviewing people who have the first-hand memories I need.
I have joined Facebook groups where people post photos and memories of St. Johns in previous decades. I admire the photos in comments. I ask questions about the memories—what year did that happen? When did the business open? When did that building burn down? Does anyone else remember being there? What was it like? The people are friendly and answer readily, and I always thank them and tell them how helpful their answers are. And I notice which of them have the kind of memories I need for my book. I will be asking them for interviews.
I’ll meet them in local coffee joints, unless they specifically want to meet elsewhere. I’ll bring my laptop, with the long list of questions I’ve prepared, and type their answers directly into the list of questions. They will enjoy talking to me, because I’m obviously interested. I’ll listen for the metaphors under their surface story. What they noticed and didn’t notice, back then when they were young, will tell me more about what kind of person this is, and the kind of person this is will tell me more about the place where they grew up. I will leave them happy.
But how on earth do I get these people to talk to me in the first place?
(More on this next time…)