Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Research Interviews by Elaine Marie Cooper



Unlike author Elaine Marie Cooper, I don't have a journalism background, so the idea of interviewing experts can be daunting. If you feel the same, Elaine has some tips to make your interviews effective and organized. -- Sandy

Elaine: Perhaps it’s my background as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines that gets me excited about interviewing people. I think it’s mostly because I have an interest in people and want to know how they manage different issues in their lives.

So when I created the character of Nathaniel Stearns for my novel Promise of Deer Run, a Revolutionary War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I was definitely in a position to don my reporter “cap” and start asking questions of those in the know. That meant counselors for the military, coordinators of support groups, and those who suffered from PTSD themselves. But because this is such a sensitive issue, I knew it would be important to ask thoughtful questions. I also needed to find the right sources that could help me.

I began by contacting a military chaplain who referred me to another counselor who treated many veterans suffering from PTSD. Through a military organization on Facebook, I sent a message to a contact person who turned out to have a support group who could anonymously answer a few specific questions. Once I had my sources, I prepared for the interviews. 

When preparing for an interview for research, gather as many facts ahead of time so the person knows you’ve done your homework. You learn pretty quickly to prepare a list of questions and get comfortable asking strangers a whole host of queries.

Always ask someone if they prefer an interview by phone, email or even Skype. Everyone has a level of comfort in a particular style of communication. Your job is to get comfortable with all of them.

You also learn to listen carefully for cues from your interviewee. Are they getting stressed from detailed questions? Is it time to change the topic? Time to end the interview? I remember one person who was recovering from PTSD who blurted out a reply and I instinctively knew it had been a difficult revelation for him. I expressed my sympathy and pressed no further. When someone shares a painful story, you never want to say, “I know exactly how you must have felt” —because you absolutely don’t. You want to be compassionate without being condescending.

And thanks to these interviews, the character of Nathaniel Stearns was born on the pages of Book 2 in the Deer Run Saga. I am so grateful for the interviewees who shared from the heart to help bring the pain of PTSD alive in Promise of Deer Run.  And I pray that this book helps to bring hope and healing to my readers who have suffered from the pain of war-related stress. 

Promise of Deer Run releases June16. 

Do you have any tips to add? What is the most unusual interview you have conducted in the name of research?



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Award winning author Elaine Marie Cooper has written Road to Deer Run, Fields of the Fatherless, Bethany’s Calendar and the June 16 release, Promise of Deer Run. Her upcoming releases include Saratoga Letters (October 2016) and Legacy of Deer Run (December 2016). Her passions are her faith, her family, and the history of the American Revolution. She blogs at www.elainemariecooper.com , www.colonialquills.blogspot.com and www.almostanauthor.com

12 comments:

  1. Love these, Elaine. Especially, "Your job is to get comfortable with all of them." When you're researching a sensitive topics, put yourself in that situation. The more empathy you show for their situation, the safer they are going to feel.

    Great post, Elaine!

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    1. Thanks, Angie. It always helps to wear someone elses shoes during an interview. It gives us a whole new perspective. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  2. These are wonderful tips, Elaine. Thanks for sharing your insight. Many writers are introverts, which makes it a little uncomfortable to approach people for interviews. But your points on how important it is to focus on the the needs of those being interviewed helps put some things in perspective.

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    1. Dawn - you're spot on about writers being introverts. My immediate thought when reading was I wouldn't want to offer to skype.

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    2. I hear you about the Skyping, Terri! I just try to put a smidge of makeup on, make sure my hair isn't going crazy, and look behind me to make sure there isn't laundry or an open closet behind me!! LOL! And Dawn, yes, it can make us feel vulnerable, but if we view our interviewees as people just like us, I think it helps us to put things in perspective. I also like to pray before an interview that God will help me ask the right questions. Thanks for commenting ladies!

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  3. I'm with you, Dawn. Things like interviewing experts can be intimidating. Thanks for the tips, Elaine!

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    1. I understand that feeling of intimidation. That's why it helps to have a few questions on hand so you have something to grab onto. Thanks so much for having me as your guest on Seriously Write. It's been a pleasure!

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  4. Elaine - since I've admitted to being wary of skyping, would it be acceptable not to offer that venue? Or am I breaking the rule about making the interviewee uncomfortable?

    I will say I've done short research questions via the phone.

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    1. Terri, you're not breaking any rules. If skyping really increases your angst, just ask if the interviewee prefers email questions or a phone call. If you limit the options, the person will choose between what you have offered. No hard and fast rules. The important thing is to be relaxed and if it fills you with too much stress, just stay within your zone of most comfort. Best wishes!!

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  5. Thanks for the great advice with a great interview. My Western pilot/series is about a young man with PTSD from a traumatic experience when he was 17 and from being a sharpshooter and participating in guerilla warfare as well as many of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War. It is very devastating to him, but he doesn't realize it for several years. I look so forward to reading your new book!

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    1. Thanks so much, Connie. There are so many types of ramifications from being in the midst of warfare and it doesn't necessarily strike everyone in the same way. And like your character, it often shows up years later. In my research, I discovered that the younger the soldier, the worse the PTSD seems to be. So heartbreaking. Yet there is help with intervention. I hope "Promise of Deer Run" blesses you.

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