|Engaging The Word|
A Long, Rambling Ramble About the Whole Thing....
In around 2000-ish, I joined my local university radio station, CHRY 105.5FM in Toronto. Right away I got involved with their book show "Covered & Bound." Through C&B I was introduced to various authors of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Pretty soon I found that I enjoyed speaking with writers, and sensing this enthusiasm, the authors I spoke with generally reciprocated this positive attitude. By engaging writers with generally socratic, judgement-neutral questions, all sorts of wonderful conversations would ensue. Sometimes, especially when speaking with first time novelists, I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like meeting Hemingway, or, heck, even P.G. Wodehouse after the publication of their first novels. What sort of person would I have seen, and how would that compare with the legends and myths that would later develop? These new novelists, I thought, could very well be future Hemingways, and for students of literature such as myself, there would be nothing as wonderful, and pricelessly valuable when studying their works, than to hear their words from their mouths. Not being a post-modern cynic who sneers at authorial intention, or who prefers to dissociate an author from their work, it is my opinion that by getting a sense of a writer's very humanity, their enthusiasm, wit, passion, and frustration, their work will come to life for the reader more vividly and fully. Indeed, while some reviewers delight in tearing novels to metaphorical shreds, foisting thier own views, temperaments, predjudices, and perspectives on thier windows into a writer's work, I feel that there is a better way.
In our society, we hold as sacred a belief in an accused person's right to speak in their own defense. This we accord to criminals, swindlers, and swine. Yet to our authors we are not so lenient or kind. On the television and radio (for the most part) authors are limited to talking points, brief statements, often prepred statements, so as to fully capitalize on their five to ten minutes of air time (if they are lucky). With their ever attendant and helpful publicists by their sides, this move to the brief and rote is made easier, and in general the media personalities they meet are not adverse to this arrangement. The most surprising thing I heard when I first started interviewing authors was "Hey! You read the book!" Being a rather slow fellow (I really am), I couldn't quite get what they meant. All I could think was "Well, yeah, of course I read it. How else was I supposed to talk with you?" But over time, like slow molasses off a spoon, comprehension dawned on me, and I began to understand what these various authors meant. You see, with each review copy a publisher sends out, there is a media kit that contains information about the author, including jacket blurbs, a select biography, a synopsis of the book, and a list of suggested questions. The latter, I later learned, tended to be quite a hit with most "interviewers." So much of a hit, in fact, that those questions accounted for some 90% of the content of many author's interviews. Being, naive, and ignorant, I did not know this, and so would make up my own questions, ad hoc, on the spot, as an interview progressed. I saw the normal Q&A style interview as being rather self-defeating. To nick in an analogy here, I saw the Q&A thing in a Heisenbergian light, namely that an interviewer changes the nature of its subject through the act of interviewing. Often, coming in with a set list of questions, and a need for a few usable soundbites, interviewers will basically push their subject into a sort of mold, a predetermined picture artfully established by the publicity machines of the publishing houses. I, on the other hand, didn't really care about usuable sound bites, or the supposed image of the author. All I really cared about was this person sitting in front of me, who did something difficult and emotional, and who probably wants to talk about so much more than what other people keep on asking. In short, knowing that writing is a long, lonely labour, I figured that given a chance for free exposition most writers would leap at it. And they did. Interview after interview, the conversation would begin in pretty much the same manner, a sort of feeling out, if you will. From there, through segue, suggestion, and just your basic active listening, something much more interesting would occur.
As you can see I am not afraid of giving myself the occasional pat on the back. A Little self flattery can be quite helpful, especially in front of the mirror in the morning. Though I digress. That's the problem with segues. You have to get back on track. Right. Authors. Interviews. Conversations. I did that all at CHRY, so then, why ETW?
I officially started ETW in 2004, though I began persuing the idea two years before that. After recieving feedback from numerous authors who enjoyed our chat, and positive comments from listeners who heard the interviews, I began to think that perhaps more people might appreciate listening in as well. But how to do that? I couldn't use content produced through the radio station, because legally it would be theirs, even if I did all the work. The way to do it, then, was to produce it independently, then give it to the radio station, which would then also give me the freedom to send the interviews out to other radio stations as well. So then I began recording all intrerviews with my own equipment, away from CHRY, so that I could archive them and use them as I would. Since then I have sent interviews off to numberous radio stations across Canada, and one of those, CITR in Vancouver, started playing them semi-regularly. A small victory of sorts, but not enough. A better way of going about the whole thing would be to get it online, and make the archive open, and free to everyone. And so I decided to get it all online.
Being a poor man, and one whose programming skills can only be charitably be described as humble, I knew that simple html only interface was all that lay within my realm of capability. That was okay, since I could justtify the decision philisophically, with no need of mentioning either incompetence or ignorance. Like a five minute masterpiece by the classroom slacker, I could sell it all with a fancy idea. Thus the decision was made. Next, I had to get it all up online. To that end, I put together an interface that was simple enough, bought webspace, and started putting things online. Then is when I ran into a snag.
The problem with being poor is that you don't really have any money. I was able to get the web package for a year, all paid up, but it only offerred about 200mb of space, with additional space being too dear to contemplate without seriously thinking of selling kidneys and the like. In this way the plan began, in a hobbled leg, stutter step sort of way. The interviews are generally around 20 to 30 minutes long, and even as an mp3, these files are pretty large, ranging from 15mb to 40mb each. I found that, on average, I could put up eight or nine at a time, and rotate the others in monthly, but even doing that, it would take a full two years to get through all the interviews I currently have stored, and that just wouldn't do. Alas, I had no choice, and so that was what was done. But then things all changed.
Web space, once at a pricely premium, has become much less so. In the space of one year, the company I used expanded the space in my package by a factor of ten. While it was pricey to go beyond that, it was a good start. Now I could start throwing files on permanently, and look into getting mirrors up.
In the late half of 2004 and the early half of 2005, I did not do a single interview, nor did I go to Tim Horton's even once. That was because I was in Japan, teaching English while also kindly assisting the many friendly credit collectors who so liked the sound of my voice in Canada. In two months I get to come home, many debts repaid (though not nearly enough), and many hopes for things to come. Oh yes! Things to come...
When I first started ETW, I wanted to create a collaborative thing, not a wiki or a blog, but at the very least a place where people like myself, who do as I do, could also contribute. Surely I am not the only badly dressed twentysomething book lover who interviews authors for a local radio station? Who also records and produces all the audio himself? I hope not, and I hope that someday I might meet those hiding doppelgangers, and then get something started. Truly, though I have access to countless Canadian authors, many large American authors, and the odd British or Irish author, there are just so many different writers who I will never get a chance to meet. At the international festival of authors, I was happy to meet Homero Aridjis, a Mexican poet, whose work opened my eyes to the vast righness of story that lay outside our shallow North American pool. Surely there are so many other voices whose words, art, and vision shouldn't be allowed to entirely be allowed to disappear through the entropy of time. Until I meet that someone like me, though, it this whole project will remain a James O'Hearn original.
Anyway, thats about what this is in a nut. You can download files, stream them from here, and distribute the content as you will, just so long as you respect the precepts of the Creative Commons licence. Well then, that said, have a listen!
- James O'Hearn