The Art of Conversation as Interview

by Eva Montealegre


Interviews are about question and answer. People can be completely unacquainted. A little description, a bit of history, some back and forth and voila, you have an interview. The best interviews do have the quality of a conversation. These interviews can run the gamut from delightful to painful. I don’t recommend it, but I must admit that heated discussions and even hostile questioning can make for a fantastic, unforgettable interview. I am in mind of the historical Barbara Walters and Fidel Castro interview. I remember Fidel blowing cigar smoke in Barbara’s face after she asked pointed questions about his policies and her pointed look of disdain. Everybody wanted to see that interview. For the most part, the best interviews are manned by an informed and passionate interviewer and a willing and forthcoming interviewee.

The most important ingredient to a great conversation is respect between the personalities. It’s fantastic to listen to conversations of people who know each other or have been best of friends or close colleagues for years. However, it’s not absolutely required that people in a conversation know each other. Perhaps they know of each other or are familiar with each other’s work. Or the subject that they are discussing is an area of expertise for both. One person in the conversation can be less informed than the other but hit on good points or bring up interesting viewpoints that the more seasoned person can respond to or address. The ability to listen is a large aspect of any good conversation. Teasing and sparring are often the spice thrown into conversations between more competitive or old-friend types. Sometimes authors of two completely different genres of books can have a profound and illuminating conversation.

My favorite conversations are when the participants accidently hit on deeper themes and more personal insights. Thoughtful questions, contemplative responses get me going. Unexpected reveals of previously unknown or unsaid matters is an aspect of conversation that I enjoy. These are often stumbled upon or come up without pretense. Very serious matters that are not always the topic of an interview can be most stimulating and intriguing. I’m always on the quest of having an experience, a sharing moment with the personalities involved. It’s not something that can be forced but it is helpful if one is open and allows the conversation to flow. In these types of exchanges something of value is gleaned. In a true exchange, I find the best conversations leave me feeling like I know the person better, that I gave something of myself in an authentic way and perhaps even shared a good laugh or two.

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing several respected crime writers including Barbara Seranella, T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Eversz and Michael Connelly. Michael Brandman and I had an impromptu conversation event at the Mystery Galaxy bookstore at a publicized signing. Charles Gordone and other personalities were people from my personal history that Brandman also had a few stories about, so the conversation emerged lively and enjoyable on all counts.

Eva Montealegre is author of Body on the Back Lot, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A Joan Lambert book, first in the RED CARPET NOIR series for more information