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Monday, June 3, 2013

Guest Post Interview Tips & Lessons From a Holocaust Survivor


Seven years ago, I was at the home of a Holocaust survivor.

In the midst of an interview with Shlomo Fleischmann, (now 90), about his life before and after WWII, I looked up from my notes and asked had he ever forgiven the Germans for what they did?

The question popped into my head while we talked, and turned out to be the *money* question of the entire interview. He opened up, became more relaxed and that interview with Mr. Fleischmann remains a highlight in my writing career.

A beat reporter for years, I ran hundreds of interviews and eventually discovered what worked for my editors. (Never mind the readers - reporters write for only one person - their editor.)

I don’t think some Bloggers work nearly hard enough to ask their own *money* question.

Obviously, I do what works for me, a Pulitzer-less winning journalist. You are your own writer. I do, however, hope a few of these suggestions will at least make you ponder your questioning prose. 

·         If you’re part of a promotional bloghop, don’t ask bland questions. The usual Where do you write? When do you write? and Where do you get your ideas? will be asked by multiples of somebody else.

·         Instead, wander outside the box. Research your interviewee – with a trusty notebook and pen by your side. Read her bio. Peruse recent posts. What are his writerly hot buttons? Look at the sidebars? Why did she win the Sweetest Tamale in Town award?

·         Keep the interview under 500 words (excluding brief intro, links and questions.) Readers will stick ‘til the end – if they know it’s a quick read. (After clicking several pages in a fruitless search for the buy links, I always suffer from Scrollitosis and click my way to the next blog.

·         Utilize your curiosity. You like this Blogger enough to want to interview him, so ask unique questions – but keep the answers short and sweet. Make sure your interviewee understands the edit pen will be wielded – if the post strays over 500 words.

·         Offer the courtesy of a first read. Many won’t bother – they trust you already – but those new to your blog will appreciate that no surprises await them.

·         Include a picture (as long as the interviewee is not someone called no-hyperlink-needed Alex.)

Back in Florida, Mr. Fleischmann said there were many reasons he was able to forgive – but never forget.

We walked across the room to a closed cabinet door where he revealed two large oval frames, each filled with a collage of family pictures.

On the left was all black-and-whites. On the right, each picture was ablaze in color, and each featured a grandparent or parent with a young child.

“Eighty-two direct members of my family were murdered by the Nazis,” Mr. Fleischmann said, pointing to the left. “These,” he said, smiling at the right oval, “these are the survivors and the future of my family.

“Today, some of my good friends are Germans. I don’t hate them or their generation. Why should I? This was not their fault.”   

Shlomo Fleischmann, April 2006 (Courtesy: Hometown News)


Melanie Schulz said...

You're right. When I was being interviewed for the release of my book, I could always tell the person who'd already read it to one who hadn't. The ones who hadn't asked the scripted questions, the others owned it, if you know what I mean.

Elise Fallson said...

That must have been an incredible interview.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

He has a great attitude.
Excellent tips for interviews! Yes, ask unique questions. And keep it short. I once had to do an interview with over twenty questions. Suffice to say, my answers were shorter than the questions.

Mark Means said...

Some great tips and I'll bet that was a heck of an interview!

Julie Luek said...

I love digging into the lives of others who have, especially, lived longer than I have. There's so much to be learned and it will soon, literally, die away in the first person voice. THIS is wisdom.

Gina Gao said...

I met a Holocaust survivor once, and it was an experience of a lifetime. That must have been such an interesting interview.


Johanna Garth said...

Interesting food for thought. My husband is Jewish and, while older than me, not old enough to have survived the Holocaust. Still...the idea of visiting Germany, aside from a layover at an airport, holds zero appeal for him.

Nicole said...

What an awesome (and humbling) interview experience that must have been! Good advice on picking the right questions too.

S.P. Bowers said...

Great suggestions and something I really need help on. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Al Diaz said...

Very good tips, Mark. Thanks for sharing. I agree with all of them. Mostly the unique questions. It's kind of challenging to read all the blogs a book's tour includes, and finding the same questions asked over and over makes the whole thing completely pointless.

Anonymous said...

Cool blog!! Follwing U!

klahanie said...

Hi Mark,

I've no doubt that the interview with Mr. Fleischmann had a profound impact on your good self.

And yes, think outside the "blog". I have interviewed a Jack Russell dog named Penny and she also shared her wisdom on a site by some dude named Alex who you are most familiar with.

Yes, keep it brief and keep it different. Excellent points, my friend.


Melissa said...

Wow! What a great experience, interviewing him!

Thanks for the tips. I learned a few things. ;)

Leigh Covington said...

Great tips Koop, and I love his answer at the end. Sounds like a great man and a wonderful interview.

Nancy LaRonda Johnson said...

What a wonderful post that's sad and uplifting. I love your tips as well. Thanks for sharing this. Writer’s Mark

Donna Hole said...

Well, the only interview advice I can follow here is asking unique questions of my interview client, as I base my questions on what I read in their novel I'm reviewing and their personality on their blogs.

I doubt I've ever had a post within 500 words though. But, I'm trying :)

Wow, so cool you got to interview a holocaust survivor! His perspective would have been unique. I'm glad he forgave Germans in general. Good memories of loved ones is the best defense against hatred.


Sheena-kay Graham said...

It's great that he could forgive the Germans but I'm sure he'll never forget what happened. Bloggers need to ask questions that spark both curiosity and your imagination. That's what I think.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wow. What a great post. I haven't given much thought to interviews until I ended up doing so many for my blog tour. I love your advice.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark .. great thoughts here and Mr Fleishschmann .. must have been through so much - so many of us don't understand the Jewish plight ... I hadn't realised the word diaspora came from the dispersal of the Jews - the Jews dispersed amongst Gentiles .. sadly the Germans didn't help their race .. but we were persecuting Jews back in the Medieval days ..

The things you pick up when you write a blog .. I try and write for me to educate me, but at the same time .. I'll post about things that I know will interest peoples around the world .. thankfully us Brits have ties to most places!!

If I didn't get comments - I'd be worried .. especially now I've got lucky .. cheers to you .. Hilary

Carol Kilgore said...

Great post, Mark. I once did a series of profiles for a regional publication about older women who had overcome severe obstacles and thrived. It was one of the most interesting things I ever did. After doing my homework, each one told me something brand new that sparked those money questions. But if I hadn't done my part, they wouldn't have opened up. The editor wanted mine at 800 words. That's what he got!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent post! I agree with all of your suggestions. And I will have to check out that interview. How lucky are you to get that interview?

Annalisa Crawford said...

My grandfather escaped from a concentration camp. Years later, after he'd had a stroke and lost the ability to speak English (he was Ukrainian), I sat beside him with a kids history book. He looked at the picture of Stalin, took all his strength and said 'bad man'. I still remember it so clearly. I wish I'd been able to talk to him and hear his story.

Kirsten said...

Great tips! I hadn't really thought about what questions I might ask of an interviewee, but keeping the whole thing under 500 words seems more critical than I thought.
What a great opportunity you had in interviewing Mr. Fleischmann! Thanks for sharing it. :)

The Words Crafter said...

I just read your comment comment, lol!

I agree about asking unique questions. I don't write normal reviews. Sometimes that worries me, but I just go with what I'm thinking.

World War II fascinates me for several reasons. And you interviewed a survivor! Wow!!!! Is this published in a book? Available somewhere online?

Morgan said...

Fascinating, Mark. Phew. Amazing. Just amazing.

Fabulous post.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Excellent advice for bloggers. And what a beautiful photo, great to see Shlomo's gorgeous smile. You must have really hit it off.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Love the tips. I agree with the notion keep it short. I was interviewed by a student for his college magazine, the 20 questions he asked me, got very short answers from me.

~Sia McKye~ said...

While growing up I met several holocaust survivors. Their stories were fascinating and humbling.

Personally, atrocities and the ability to commit them doesn't belong to any one race. Scratch the surface and you'll find them.

Forgiving is something you do for yourself and your well-being not for the others. But you never forget because it's embedded in your psyche.


M. J. Joachim said...

Excellent post! I enjoyed this a lot!

Sabrina A. Fish said...

I like to ask slightly quirky questions...which reminds me, I haven't done one of those in awhile.

This much have been an amazing interview. How great to find forgiveness after such an ordeal. I so admire that!

Howdy from Okie-land, Mark. I feel like its been awhile since I 'spoke' with you. Glad to see all is well!

Trisha F said...

That's enough to give a girl goosebumps. Wow. This must have been a truly amazing interview, and yet heartbreaking as well.

Adriana Dascalu said...

A beautiful post, with great advice for bloggers.

I loved the idea that journalists write for one person, it's so true, so many times.

An inspirational story and a life lesson sure are a highlight of a career, especially in writing.

Kate Larkindale said...

Great interview advice. I'll keep all those things in mind for future interviews.

And what a wonderful story about forgiving but not forgetting.

Ida Chiavaro said...

It's hard to imagine the loss of 82 people. what a wonderful image the pictures represent.

Beverly Fox said...

I am saving this article- I've got an author interview or two coming up in the near future.

And I'm going over to read your entire article on this amazing man right now.

Yolanda Renee said...

Wow, what an amazing coincidence. I'm watch the James Garner movie Thirty-Six Hours. About the Normandy invasion. Awesome movie!

Great advice on interviews, will be mending my ways! Thanks!

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