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?


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 , and