The first thing I said to the first person to ever interview me on national (Canadian) radio regarding my book was in response to “How are you this morning?”
“Certainly not so nervous that I’m gonna vomit! HAA!”
My husband Gus calls these my “flipper baby” moments, in reference to a unfortunate bit of miscommunication some years ago, when we were in a French class together. Madam Professor was solemnly describing the birth defects triggered by some event or poison, and I, with equal solemnity, nodded sympathetically and said to the class, “Mm. Yes. Flipper babies.”
Madam’s features froze…the struggle not to break was valiant, and then her poised, elegant features crumbled in inappropriate, stunned laughter
“Oh Ter-ezzz,” she muttered under her hands while the entire class shock-laughed and hated themselves for doing it. Apparently “flipper babies,” though accurate in description is not an actual medical term. And is in fact very rude.
And now I know that. But that leaves the entirety of the English language for me to misplace, poorly time, and blurt. Stick a microphone in front of me and watch!
The show is called Out in the Open, produced by CBC Radio. It discusses things that are uncomfortable to talk about. Next month menstruation will be a topic. My book has a chapter on that. A delightful producer named Karen had an Advanced Readers Copy of Unmentionable and invited me to speak, even though the book won’t be out for two months.
As far as I can tell CBC radio is Canada’s NPR, so no lousy phone interviews. I was booked at a state of the art recording studio on 1st avenue in Portland. I brought talking points, and the correct pronunciation of the host’s name.
Preparation is key. None-the-less I should never, ever attempt to do it.
I just started flipper-babying all over the place.
I walked in the doors of this seriously classy joint, the kind of place that reclaimed the color orange for decorative purposes, the kind where the light fixtures purposefully look like wadded paper.
I walked in and a lovely lady at an open plan desk, who I would later learn was an extra on Little House on the Prairie as a child, greeted me and offered me a drink.
I responded, “Ha! PARKING!”
And that ever familiar eyebrow lift, where a person is trying to decide if one of us misheard the other, or if I’m a special, special woman.
I waved my arm behind me at the small empty parking lot I’d pulled into.
“You’re on FIRST AVENUE in Portland and you have a dang PARKING LOT! That’s amazing! I zipped in like freakin’ Doris Day!”
She returned to the drink question and I stared at her. “I know that’s not a hard question, I’m sorry. I’m…this is my first radio thing and I can’t process much beyond…the parking.”
She was graceful and let me make myself home in a fancy kitchen lounge. I opened the fridge and found THIS.
Seriously, just some classy shit right there. All lined up like fancy little hipster soldiers! Micro-brews, energy drink buffet, ironic soda pops. Perrier. I took Perrier. I learned to drink it at a secret gay wedding this summer and now I can do classy, too.
Chip was my engineer. I asked him if Chip was short for Charles. He said his real name was Richard but his mom didn’t like the traditional nickname options. A neighbor gave them a little onesie with “Chip” written on it. That is a story that will make you instantly like someone.
He put me in a booth with soundproofing and a phallic microphone that I kept touching until it was laying against my bosom.
“Okay don’t…no that’s not where it goes.”
“You said move it closer.”
“Yeah just…no…no touch. There we are.”
He connected me to Canada, to both the host and the nice producer.
“Now no worries, Tah—Tareeese?”
“Ehh. Ter-ee-sa. Or whatever.”
“Well just relax, this is not actually on the radio right now. It’s just you and Karen and me.”
“And Chip. He’s my engineer. He won’t let me touch the microphone. He’s from Michigan but his goatee says he belongs HERE. If I seem nervous I think we all ought just ignore it.”
Here is what you’re supposed to do when you give a pre-recorded radio interview.
- Answer in a simple short paragraph the specific question the host asked you. Do not explore connected themes, no matter how enticing.
- Begin each of those answers by repeating the question you’ve been asked.
- Don’t shake your paper at the microphone.
- Don’t pant like fat basset-hound into the microphone.
- Always pause after your answer. This allows the editor to patch together your statements in the tidiest fashion.
- If you DO want to add some thing not touched on by the host, speak after the official sign off, and ask if you might mention one more thing. They can plug it in later if they like it.
- Don’t ask the host “….was I good?” after she’s said “Thank You For Being With Us.”
Because then she, being a professional journalist, will say, “You’re not supposed to ask me that.”
“But you said we weren’t on the radio. Like we’re just hangin’.”
“I’m going to thank you again and you just say goodbye.”
“….O…okay. Yes ma’am….YES AND THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME!!!!”
The host signed off the line then. I asked the sweet producer for a grade report, what I could do better in future to give great interviews.
She gave me the list above, all of which I had done backwards, needlessly, or not at all. Wrong. All of which I’d done wrong. She promised me I’d given plenty of usable dialog.
“Halfway through , you really started loosening up and – ”
“Klonopin kicked in!” I shouted into the microphone. Chip the engineer was visible through the booth window laughing into his soundboard. Not for the first time, bless his heart.
It was over, and I was happy. One step closer to not sucking at something new. I walked out and the nice lady who’d greeted me called out, “Are you traumatized?”
“Yes! But I really enjoyed it!”