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Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Lesson 9 of 21

Mapping Out the Interview - Part 2

Alex Blumberg

Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Alex Blumberg

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Lesson Info

9. Mapping Out the Interview - Part 2

Lesson Info

Mapping Out the Interview - Part 2

And reality is, I guess the reality would be the move from San Francisco to the suburbs. And we never got to San Francisco. Oh you never even got there? Nope, just diverted to. Oh that mid-road trip. Yeah, pretty much. (groaning) (laughing) So the San Francisco dream was very much deferred, okay. So, alright okay, so the reality. So I think clearly one of those is the moment where you realized what, talk about the moment you realized that you weren't going to San Francisco after all. Like you want to get that as a story. What else, and then you end up in Sacramento, Davis? Sacramento, initially. So you end up in the Central Valley. Which actually that wasn't so bad, it was Elk Grove, a suburb of a suburb, that was what I was referring to. Oh, okay gotcha. Is that place. Okay, so yeah. So let's fast forward I think, yeah go ahead. I want to know about the realization of like oh wait, I don't get to pursue the thing I want to do and I'm being forced, like the fo...

rce being forced to the suburbs and it sounded like there was a lot of financial pressure. So when, like what was the, was she watching, were they watching the money run out and felt that pressure? Like that sense of urgency of not having a choice. Yeah, right, right. So yeah exactly. What was your feeling? So let's like talk about the move. Where did it go, where did it start to go bad? Was it the move to Elk Grove? That was the part where things got like? That's when it started to go bad. That's when it started to get bad, okay. Sign the mortgage. Okay so the moment where things started to go bad sounds like Elk Grove, so let's just talk about like what (laughing) you know reality slash Elk Grove. And then what happened, so what was that about? So like talk about, yeah go ahead. Can we just ask her to sort of describe the suburb of Elk Grove, and like talk about Yes. What it looks like and what it feels like? Absolutely, yeah. You know her art later has to do with landscape, so clearly she's not really impacted by this like suburban landscape (laughing) that she finds one day. Yeah, that's a great idea. I think talk about the landscape of Elk Grove, you know the physical, what it looks like. And then I think you want the conversation that surrounded moving to Elk Grove, right? Again the day, was it a moment you guys decided you were moving. So the moment the move was sort of real. The moment the move was decided. What did you say, what did your husband say? All that sort of stuff. What were the circumstances? And again, how did you imagine your life in Elk Grove? (laughing) Yeah, is that what you were gonna say? I gonna say what was your expectation? And to kind of have her build that up. Right. And then how did, then it starts crumbling. Right, what was your expectation before you moved and then what was the reality? Was the reality worse or better than you expected? And why? What was it about that? Yeah? Can I ask you a question about the process first thing? I feel like I'm watching this and it feels like it's getting away from me a little bit when we were talking in the beginning about the themes that would show up and you know going to school for art and then coming back to your art after this journey. Like we didn't, so when you're going through this process, do you ever feel like your questions are maybe getting away from you and you need to take a step back? Yes! Because I'm thinking about the bookends that Moodge mentioned and having to get back to her love of art. And we kind of skipped over that she actually went to school to do this, it wasn't just that she's doing something that she loved as a child, I mean she had this direction that she was heading towards and with this line of questioning Right. I'm kind of, it's feeling like love and raw emotion and you know being a young woman and, but you had a focus that was art related. Yes. Right. So we should probably put that back in here, in the world of art discovery. So like it goes beyond, so then you discover it when you're a kid, that's right, good point. And then we should sort of get in there again like, and then you went to school for art and just sort of talk about how you saw your life as an artist or working with art. That should go back here, that's a good point. So we should, I'll just put that in here. Cus each time we want, each one of these things, we want to check back in with the art. Right, we want to sort of see what's happening with art in each one of these sections. Good point, yes and it does often happen this way. Especially when I'm doing it live on stage! (laughing) It's a lot to keep in mind! But yeah, so let's sort of say you know, and then art school here. And then part of what you're doing, is you're deciding when you're telling this, when you're doing a story like this, is you're deciding what parts are you gonna sort of blow out and sort of make moments? And what parts are you gonna sort of skip over? And so, that's one of the things that we're trying to figure out here. Like are we gonna , do we want art school, do we want the moment to be you know first grade art project? Do we want the moment to be you know like kick ass art school thesis? It's probably not gonna be both. We're probably not gonna spend too much time you know delving into both of those moments. But I think we want to sort of tack all the art school in this section here. And then, and I'm imagining what the dream of, the dream is that art will factor into that dream, I'm assuming. And then, reality. Expectation versus reality. Why, and then that's where you have, again the question of leaving design entirely, right that would be here, right? So that gets back to that as well, right? So, what's a question about leaving design? What do want to say about that? Yeah. Actually my question is, tell me about the moment you realized you had to leave Elk Grove. Right. Well that, I think. I think we still need to be a little bit more about like what was horrible about Elk Grove. So I think again what you want is the everyday moments of it. What was a typical day like? So basically first you decided, like we have to, so at this point you're dreaming you're gonna be an art, you know you're gonna work in design in California when you get out here. You're in Elk Grove and a different reality sets in. So talk about that. Like talk about the moment where you sort of gave up that dream, basically. Was there a moment where you gave up the dream, right? And then, yeah? That was pretty much what I was gonna say, but I also thought another question's like, what was it like to not have an artistic practice? Assuming that it sounded like there was nothing like that in Elk Grove? Sort of describe kind of what emotions, and what it felt like to not paint for a period of time. Right, right. Yeah, exactly and what was that like? Talk about like your, talk about the corporate, you know the cubicle life. You know just, and then here again a thing is there's one kind of tape which is it was so boring, I hated it. But then there's another kind of tape which is sort of like here's my day. Every day I would get in to work and I would pass my colleague where they had the Dilbert cartoon up, and then I would go and get the coffee that was already stale then I would, and like you're telling a story and it just gets across. So we want the story, we want that typical day. If you can just sort of imagine your most mundane, the most soul crushing version of what you were doing. (chuckling) Talk me through that day, right? And again, we just want this to come out as a story. Yes, Suzie and then. What do you think of a more open ended, like what was the role of art in your life when you were living there? Cus maybe she went to museums and felt that angst or something rather than just saying like. Maybe, it could, it could work. You weren't doing, or just like. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't know. I don't know, there's some questions that I feel like are hard to answer, and it's worth trying, we can try it. Let's try that question and see what happens. We'll try it, yeah. Yeah, go ahead. If you were making art in Elk Grove, what would it look like? Right. (laughing) And did you, yeah exactly, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, there you go. Alright, okay. Alright, so then. Alright so then there's a turning point, right? Where you basically decide to leave the cubicle life. Right, and do this bold, audacious thing. So what was that turning point, right what was the thing, and again like we want to boil this down, this is clearly a moment that we want to get in. We want to have it, so what kinds of questions would we want to ask here? Any, yeah. Yeah. I think part of the turning point is the relationship and deciding not to be in that relationship, so at what moment, tell me about the moment when you realized you didn't want to be in that relationship any longer. Yeah, how did that work? So what was the relationship between your relationship and your decision to sort of leave cubicle life? There's really three turning points. Okay. There was a turning point after about almost a decade I didn't make any art, so there was a turning point when I decided to make art again. Then there was a turning point when I entertained the thought of selling my art. And then there was the turning point where I said, eff this, I'm outta here, I'm going for it, I'm gonna go do what I've always wanted to do which was I've always wanted to live in San Francisco and I've always wanted to paint for a living. And since I don't know how much time I have left on this planet, I'm gonna go for it. So there's three different turning points. But what was the relationship between your ex-husband and those turning points? Like where did the, where did the, the end of that relationship happen in relation to those? It happened in a really ugly way. Like I say, he was a closet alcoholic, and as soon as I figured out that's what was going on with his behavior, then I left. You left? I just left everything. And then when did that, was that before or after these other turning points that you were talking about? That was before the other three turning points that I just referred to. But totally unrelated? It was, well it was unrelated in that, (laughing) well yeah I wasn't gonna go down that trajectory any longer. (laughing) Wasn't gonna live in Elk Grove any longer. At least that, and not that there's, when I moved to Elk Grove, (laughing) it was all flat and there were no trees and we used to call it Elkless Goveless. (laughing) I'm sure it's nicer now. Stop talking! Yeah. (laughing) Exactly. Alright, okay. So it sounds like, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say there were four turning points then, it sounds like. Right? Yeah, in a way. It sounds like there was the end of the the relationship, and the sort of just the realization came out that I'm afraid we're gonna make you talk about it tomorrow. Alright. And so that was the moment we want to get on tape. Right so the moment would be, tell me about when you found out that your husband was a closet alcoholic. So just like I would want to sort of set, you'd want that to be set up. And then, and it sounds like that triggered a bunch of other things that came out of it. So yes, Sean go ahead. So I have a question about the number of questions that we're generating. It feels like it's gonna be a three hour podcast. And so I'm just (laughing) trying to understand the limitation in terms of the questions and how many we go through, because I'm sure that it could become, we could have 100 questions, and what does that look like in terms of time? We've got 90 minutes to film the next session, so. (laughing) No it's a great story! It's a fantastic story. This is one of the things that's pretty artificial about this is like you wouldn't necessarily go again, you wouldn't choose one of these, one section. And you would summarize everything else, and you know she'd been in art since she was a kid, blah, blah, blah. And then but our story happens you know when she finally arrived in Elk Grove. And then you'd start in Elk Grove, right? So that's what we were doing, but to me it's just useful to sort of go through, like sort of point out what these turning points are. I think it'll be just interesting to hear it play out tomorrow, yeah. But this, this would be too much. You're setting yourself up for too much. Unless your podcast is "90 Minute Conversations With Interesting People "About Interesting Things" in which case, you're golden. Okay, yeah. We have two things here, determine the story formula and come up with interview questions and we're doing that like right now together. But typically when you're not in this situation I pictured you having a phone call with someone, that first little bit bit when you guys were both sitting on the table and I pictured you leaving. And then working on this stuff. But now you're talking to her the whole time, so now I'm wondering, do you actually have this whole, like an hour long conversation and you're writing down No, no. A story from the interview questions? I'm just talking to her now. Those questions are, like aside, but probably it would've come up. Like so what would've normally happened was I would have had like my list of questions and she would've said well actually you know, she would have said well actually that all started with like my husband and discovered this thing about my, and then I would've been like (exclaiming) recharge you know and let's talk more about that and then how did that relate to this? So some of the stuff that I asked her now, in a typical scenario would've come up the day of when I was actually doing the interview. And I would've just adjusted in that moment. In your first two bullet points, you do that in the pre-entry, you're on the phone, you're writing down as the person's talking? Just taking notes and then I have a thought about like what I want to do. Or sometimes like I've done research and stuff, this is like one of the you know a fairly unusual situation where I'm just, where it's just a person and then start. But yeah, the point is like you get as much information as you need in the beginning without getting too much from that person on tape in the beginning. And then you come up with like what you think is gonna be a list of questions that's gonna give evocative material, basically. And that's the main thing. You want stories from people, and you want them thinking and talking about their feelings. So, as long as I have like a skeleton of like the story that I want to tell, and then I can fill it in with these questions that I'm asking, that's what I want. So I'm just gonna like, I wanna like get through, I just want to move onto the thought questions. So I'm just gonna move, cus I think that's gonna be interesting and I just want to move through. So I think, so it seems like, turning point one is the end of your marriage, husband, finding out about the closet alcoholic. So that would be one. Under moving on, under marriage, that would be, turning point number one, you'd want to get that. And then there was, and then that was perhaps related to or not related to another turning point which is the decision to do art again, right? And one of those things which is like, I would want to again, that seems like a pivotal moment, you want to hone in on that moment. What did you do, where were your art supplies? Did you know where they were, you know? Go down to the, I talk about that, oh I had to go down to the basement, had to dry the, you know. What was the first piece of art you made after that hiatus? How was it? (laughing) You know, so all those sort of things are like, the most telling details you can get about that moment are the best. Like the details are gonna be what's powerful here. What was it, do you remember, do you still put it, is it exhibited anywhere, like talk about that piece of art. And do you see, and when you look back at that piece of art do you see any of the stuff that was going on in your life in that art right now? And if I was really doing this conversation, I might actually , if I could sort of pre-interview you and that was actually if you were in your house and I was on the phone with you or something like that, is it around? You know is it in your house? Go look at it. You know, and I would maybe ask her to do that on tape. Just go and just describe it now and talk to me about it. And what are the feelings that it brings back as you are talking about it? Okay so you just, again hone in on that. And then the decision to leave your cubicle job. You know sort of what was around there? What happened on there? It sounded like from our talk before, it sounded like it happened in a day, right like there was a sort of a pivotal day? Well, yeah the decision to start painting again, and there was a decision where you know to either follow the traditional path in the art establishment, or do something else. And then that was a big decision. And then the decision to just go for it full time. That was when I moved to San Francisco. Got it, okay. But when did you leave the corporate job? Eight and half, well almost, yeah over-- No, no, but like in this sequence here. In the turning point, like so, how did it go? It went, decision, discover horrible secret about marriage. Right. Decision to do art again? Right, decision to do art again was a few years after that. Okay, and when was decision to leave corporate job? That was about eight and a half years ago, nine years ago. Was it before or after the decision to do art again? I decided to make art again a few years after my divorce. And then I continued to work in the cubicle and make art. And then I started to, then I met Wayne Thiebaud. And he said you can paint. And based on his advice, or lack of, I changed my view about how art is sold. And I decided to take a different route in selling my work and then I said okay I'm just gonna do this full time. And make work. Okay, got it. Alright, so what we have is, we have decision to leave job, and then the decision to meet Wayne Thiebaud, and then the meeting of Wayne Thiebaud, right? (laughing) That sounds like a big part in there. We put that in there. And then, and I'm just speeding through this because I want to get to the next section where I think we want to all chime in. And then the decision to leave your job and do this new thing, essentially. Yeah. Okay, good. And then turning point four is the decision to leave, oh. This is flipped, yeah, yeah exactly. Great, okay. So, now we got the facts out of the way. And then what we want to do is we want to come back. So we'll get through the story, and then we want to ask these bigger thought questions. Sort of like where, reflection questions. Questions that we're, what does it all mean? How do we sort of talk about all this stuff? So we had one right there, Ryan you wrote one down, right? Yes, it was. Here, grab the mic. Yes it was about what you would, what advice you would give to your younger self right before making the decision to leave for California? Okay. Was leaving for California the right thing? Okay, great, great great. I wonder, I think tied up in that, so I think what we would want to establish is where are you in your life right now? Where is Anne in her life right now? How does she feel about where she is? Does she feel like she's arrived? Has she not quite arrived? Is there still things that she's trying to do? And then get a sense of that. And then I think sort of tied up in that, yeah and then I think one of those ones would be, yeah knowing what you know now about this whole thing. You know going back to that person you were in the car, would you want to tell that person what's coming? You know and if you did, what would you say to them? Cus it sounds like things worked out, and maybe it would have worked out completely differently if the trip to California had never happened. Well so, kind of was it worth it to go through everything to get to here? Right, right. But I also feel like there's like this sense of, there's a sense of like you're excited about your new life but there's also like you're still mourning your old life. I feel like. When I hear you talking about it. (clears throat) I feel like, I wonder if there's some questions that we can ask around there. Yeah. (clears throat) Yeah. I actually have a question about the order of how you pose the questions. So right now we're writing the questions but during the interview if you're asking these questions, wouldn't it make sense to, when she's telling us about something and to get the emotional question right after she tells us one aspect of the story? Or is it better to ask the chronological story questions, and then a whole section about emotion? You know it doesn't matter, it doesn't really matter. Like what I like to do, just so I can keep it straight in my mind of when I'm trying to get stories and feelings about those stories. It doesn't really matter. I usually, I just them out this way and then I put my thought questions at the end because I sort of want to, it just helps me keep it organized. I don't think it really matters, I feel like this is not at all science. This is my you know hair brained scheme of how I keep my interviews straight. But the key things are to focus on moments and to sort of focus on sort of thought questions and emotional sort of evocative questions and where those evocative questions happen in relation to the more nuts and bolts storytelling questions doesn't really matter. But I just like to organize it like this just cus it helps me. But I feel like anybody can organize it the way they want. So and I just label it literally like sort of thought questions, or reflection questions, is what I talk about. If you want to put reflection questions up there. So one reflection question is (clears throat) I mean one question is simple and sometimes they can be super simple. Like, you've gone through a lot, are you glad it worked out this way? Or would you still prefer that it hadn't? What would your preference be if you could go back and discover that your husband was not in fact a closet alcoholic, but you give up everything that you've learned about yourself since then, what would you do? What would the choice be? I feel like those are always, that's an interesting question. What other things can we talk about? What are some of the other thought questions that you'd want to know? Given that this has been Anne's life. Looking back, yeah. I would be interested to know at what point if at all, she's had an I made it moment. At what point did you look at your life and be like, oh I'm an artist full time! And what did that day look like that? And what was the feeling? Right, right. Yeah, did you feel like you made it? Do you feel like you've made it? And what does that mean? Yeah I did, I had a moment. Oh you did, oh great. What was that moment like when you did? You're ask me later or ask me now? Don't tell me now. Do not tell me now! (laughing) Okay. Yeah, Christie. I'd want to know, where did you find the strength to make such a dramatic change in your life? Because a lot of people get stuck, so that's a question that I think people would be interested in knowing. Yeah I would amend that a little bit to be do you, there's this horrible thing that you discovered about your relationship, that it seems tied up in this decision to self actualize, for lack of a better word. And so how much are those connected? And if that didn't happen, would you have done that? And what does that mean? That's what we're trying to get at, what's the relationship there, and what should we think about the fact that maybe if this horrible thing hadn't happened, I would still be doing this life, pursuing this life that I now know I didn't want to be pursuing. What else? More stuff about art, I think there's maybe some, yeah go ahead. Yeah, Liz, go ahead. I'd like to know more about the business plan side of things. Oh there's some business! She said that she took a big leap in doing things in an unconventional way, so where did she get the strength or information to do a business plan, has that been working out? Is she still making it up as she goes along? Where does that stand? Right, right we dropped the whole business thing. Our entire XY we totally left off. (laughing) Yes, thank you for bringing it back to the money! I was going all soft on us! (laughing) Right, so let's put that in there. This moment, the business. What is your secret to making money? How did you come up with it, right? Are you making more money than you did before? I think, yeah. (laughing) That's great! And then what would you tell the young you coming out to California? I feel like that's gonna be a really good question. I really want to know the answer to that question. Don't tell me now! What else, anything else? Yeah, Richard. Maybe how is the Anne now different from the Anne that was in Elk Grove? Oh my god! Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yeah. (laughing) They're not even the same person. Yes. (laughing) Yeah, how is the Anne now different than the Anne then? What would the Anne now think of the Anne then? Yeah, that's good. In the chat room we similar people chiming in here, worded a little bit differently. What are some valuable things that you learned in your former life that have shaped you as a person today, and the work that you're doing today? Any other, yeah. Two things maybe. One is if you could change something about this long stretch of your life, what would you do differently now? Cus I imagine she might say something about I wouldn't have spent all that time in a cubicle, I would have gone straight for this. Or maybe not. Maybe you had to get to the inspiration point, but that might bring something interesting out. And then also, I don't know if she has kids but regardless, what advice would you give your children or somebody from the next generation based on what you went through? No that's a good idea, that's a good question. Yeah, good question. Yeah, Rodney. Getting back to the business plan idea, what would you tell an artist, right now? Because that's the thing that would be most curious to me. Because we all have these ideas about how we're supposed to make money. Clearly she knows something. She's not telling us. (laughing) Take my creative life class. (laughing) Excellent. And then Morgan, do you have a question? This is kind of related to when she developed the business plan but if she hadn't spent all the time in the cubicle, would she be making money as an artist now? Oh that's a good question, did you learn any of the money skills while you were on your job? (laughing) Good. Okay. Okay, so are you guys excited to hear the answers to these questions? Yes! (laughing) Yes, see so that's a good sign, right? That means that we have done our job. I'm really excited, I can't wait to do this interview because I want to hear how Anne answers all these questions. So that's also like literally one of the best signs that you're on the right track, because if you're like I really want to hear what this person says to this question. If you have a question that you're like oh I really want to know the answer to that, that means you're onto something. So that's what we're trying to do here. So alright, so we have our road map for Anne. We're gonna start at one, two, three, four, five, Can I keep this? Six, absolutely! (laughing) Yeah, absolutely. For this, it's a small price. You get to keep your question road map.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Join Alex Blumberg, award-winning reporter and producer for This American Life and co-host of NPR’s Planet Money, for Power Your Podcast with Storytelling, and learn podcast tips on how to tell powerful, memorable stories through audio.

Storytelling is in our DNA – integrating its principles into a podcast not only helps you tell better stories, it allows you to authentically and emotionally connect with your audience. In this class, you will learn the unique approach to interviewing and story composition, which has made This American Life a fan favorite on public radio stations across the country. Alex will share production techniques you can use to create a multi-layered sensory experience and share tips for standing out in the ever-growing field of podcasts. You’ll learn: 

  • How to develop your narrative instincts
  • How to prepare for an interview to get the best answers
  • The elements of a good story

Alex will teach you how to create a “driveway moment” — that experience when the story is so good, it makes the audience pause what they are doing just to listen through to the end.

Whether you already produce a successful podcast, are a creative entrepreneur looking for a new marketing method, or just a public radio-loving audiophile – this class will help you tell better stories.


Matt James Smith

The best storytelling resource I've come across bar none. I've read all the books, paid for all the online courses, listened to all the podcasts but for me none have been anywhere near as useful, engaging, moving, fun and outright inspiring as this course. If you're trying to tell stories with factual material, whatever your medium, this is as good as it gets. Regarding those reviewers saying it was haphazard and underprepared - huh? He doesn't offer strict formulas and perfectly structured, detailed approaches, but that's because he's the real deal. Those things only exist for snake-oil-merchant online "story gurus" who charge through the nose for "the perfect strategy" (*cough* Patrick Moreau *cough*). Alex offers what he can of tricks and formulae, but where it's about experience and gut feelings, he's honest. Thank god. Superb.

Gregory Lawson

This class is great on multiple levels. Are you interested in interviewing? There are great tips and techniques. Interested in Storytelling? Great insights into the basic structures and tools to test how compelling your story idea is. Interested in podcasting? Great tips and ideas here too... Alex is a seasoned pro, has an easy, approachable style and allows his class (and you) time to really consider and work through the concepts. Excellent all the way around!