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Interview tip #7: Give people a magic wand

The last in a series of seven blog posts on #interviewing techniques for #nonfiction authors. Toward the end of every interview, I love asking at least one speculative question. The idea of asking speculative questions in a factual interview can seem outlandish and a bit crazy, especially when you’re interviewing professionals, experts, or people with a very pragmatic attitude. But if you’re getting rote responses, these kinds of questions are a great way to shake things up. Bizarre though it may seem, I picked up this technique many years ago when I was a mentor for at-risk children in London. The approach I used was based on Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which focuses on goals: what you want to change in your life, rather than what caused your problems in the first place. For the first few books I wrote, I had to ask people to describe traumatic events, and one day it occurred to me that my mentoring techniques might be relevant here too. Let me explain what I mean by “speculative.” For a book about cancer survivors, I asked each of 50 interviewees, “If you could turn the clock back and take cancer out of the equation in your life, would you do it?” For a book about a little girl injured in a childcare center fire, I asked her doctors, nurses, teachers, and family, “If you had a crystal ball and could see into Sophie’s future, what do you think you would see? What would you WANT to see?” The results were astonishing. The very first time I tried this was with a police officer who had been first on the scene of that childcare centerfire. Sure, I felt pretty crazy asking a uniformed officer what he would do with a magic wand, but he didn’t blink or miss a beat: he just gave me a beautiful, emotionally nuanced answer that was pure gold. It’s those moments of connection that make me want to keep asking every obvious, dumb, crazy question I can think of. Sometimes, it makes magic happen. If you have enjoyed this blog series on interviewing, let me know in the comments section. And if you would like me to work with you on your interview-based #book or book #proposal, email me today on Photo by Karly Santiago on Unsplash


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