Best in Know

June 6, 2024
By Lisa Begin-Kruysman
Featured image for “Best in Know”

Notes from a Dogged Interviewer

Does the word “interview” evoke fear and apprehension in your heart and mind? Whether you are the questioner or the questioned, being asked or asking others about work and life experience, accomplishments, weaknesses, dreams and goals, it can make for a daunting and complex situation. However, it can also be so rewarding.

Whether you are seeking to find or fill a job opening, conducting interviews for a book project or article, or working on a profile piece for a newsletter such as Ruff Drafts, the ability to convey an original and genuine article can educate and inform with your own personal stamp.

Years ago I had the good fortune of working for HBO in Midtown Manhattan. I will woefully age myself here and relay that in the early 1980s, the use of the internet and cell phones was still a thing of the future and a myriad of resumes weren’t sent by email. Instead, they collected on my desk where I’d spend a good part of my day digging through a pile to peruse and categorize them for qualified job candidates for current job openings.

I had no trouble attracting candidates. EVERYONE wanted to work for HBO, even at an entry-level position. The challenge was to find the most suitable candidates for each distinct position.

My first order of duty was to interview supervisors to ascertain the unique, not always easy to define expectations of the candidate that often went beyond specific job needs such as typing and phone skills. The ability to ask the right questions and then to engage in focused listening was the key to any successful interview.

After I left that incredible corporate position, I became a full-time working artist and active in a large art guild in New Jersey. As a volunteer, I enjoyed my role of interviewing my fellow creatives for the guild’s monthly newsletter. With guild members representing so many categories of media including fiber, sculpture, pottery, wood, painting, and jewelry, it was imperative to gain some basic knowledge and terminology of each specific craft and art form no matter how unfamiliar it was to me.

During my involvement with the guild, I interviewed approximately 100 artists including a prominent weaver who told me that my article about his work was better than the one that appeared in The New York Times! His wife even commented how I’d understood her husband’s process and work and had relayed it so well to others. That’s the ultimate compliment for any interviewer and writer.

In recent years, I’ve found myself interviewing writers, authors and producers for Ruff Drafts. When our editor, Merrie Meyers, suggested I write an article on interviewing, I thought I’d share my own personal approach to the interview process.

For my articles for Ruff Drafts, I welcome DWAA members who wish to share their experience and accomplishments to contact Merrie or myself for consideration for their work to be featured. Once I find a willing subject, I request that they send links to their online sites and past items that feature their work. This gives me an understanding of their “art form” and some insight on their personality and creative path.

Based on what I learn, I formulate questions that delve deeper into some aspects of their work and life, to clarify techniques and terminology, and other issues that might not have been covered. I’ll typically send a list of questions and welcome the interviewee to provide any additional information they’d like to convey about recent accolades, works-in-progress, or any upcoming exciting news they’d like to share.

Occasionally, if the interviewee prefers, I will jump on the phone for a chat. Sometimes the subject wishes to see the finished product, but I have been humbled that most trust my judgment and wish to be surprised to read it live with the larger audience. I am also humbled by their enthusiastic feedback and when they tell me I was not only accurate, but conveyed them so positively.

But sometimes we can be intimidated by those we view as very accomplished, if not considered famous in our professional circuits. That is when one needs to step outside their comfort zone and reach out with genuine interest.

This can be as simple as using Messenger or email to contact an author or other “creative types” directly, contacting their representatives, or asking mutual and trusted colleagues for a referral. Sometimes the response is amazing; the worst case scenario is you’ll be ignored.

A few years ago, back in the good old days of our live DWAA Awards Banquets in New York City held on the evening before the Westminster Dog Show, I was honored to be part of a Speaker Panel on dog writing and publishing. At the time I was struggling with a book I was writing, told from a dog’s POV. I wanted to share that journey with my co-panel and audience, so I sought some insight from those who’d done it so well.

I first reached out to W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose and so many other captivating dog-centric books. As he was already a Facebook connection, I contacted him via Messenger and requested a moment of his time for a talk I was preparing to help others (and myself). He shared his own challenges on the topic and his personal strategy for making his stories succeed. During his response, he mentioned Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, a very popular and successful novel told from the POV of a dog named Enzo.

I knew that Garth was represented by Jeff Kleinman at Folio Literary Management, a prestigious literary agency in NYC. I reached out to Jeff and had the pleasure of a lengthy phone chat in which he imparted the obstacles and challenges he’d faced when Stein pitched his book project, so much so that it required several rewrites before Jeff felt he could not only rep but also sell the book to a major publisher.

Whether interviewing highly successful and well-known members of the publishing or other industries, or colleagues that are emerging authors and artists, while seeking information to help other creative types, I’m always able to gain some useful advice for my own writing; a win-win situation.

I like to think that I’m a better person, interviewer and contributor to the creative community at-large with each published article and interview.

Featured image: Quint helping with the writing

Lisa Begin-Kruysman resides in coastal Southeast Georgia where she writes and paints accompanied by her new pup Quint. She is a Board Member of the DWAA, regular contributor to Ruff Drafts, DWAA Social Media Contributor and the author of several dog-centric books. She’s always looking for fellow-members to interview so please consider your work for future issues of Ruff Drafts. This article first appeared in Ruff Drafts, Spring 2022.