5 Steps to Having an Engaging Conversation with Your Favorite Author

by bxrtley

You don’t have to be a journalist to ask compelling questions to famous people you admire. As a matter of fact, I’d rather you not be one. They’re overrated anyway. Besides, with amazing platforms like Medium.com, anyone can become a legitimate pseudo-journalist.

Well, your author doesn’t need to converse with yet another reporter, academician or wannabe author. Your idol author needs to talk to you. You’re the one who’s keeping their lights on.

So what do you say? Well, let’s start with not to say. After your first ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what to say’, you’d better be lying and come up with something worth their time. Yeah, they’re normal people looking for normal conversation, but when it comes to their work, bring it.

Don’t do what I did when I met Malcolm Gladwell in Union Square not too long ago, while stuffing my face with a Vanessa’s Tofu Pancake Sandwich.

  • Don’t talk with your mouth full. Simple manners, right? Well, that all goes out the window when you realize you have about 30 seconds to converse with the person who inspired you to write. Compose yourself, swallow (in my case, food) and speak intelligibly. Not pretentiously. Intelligibly.
  • Don’t talk about yourself so soon. I’ll admit, because I was searching for something to say, I began with something about myself that also had a common link with Gladwell: Our West-Indian heritage. But that’s so broad and forgettable. If I could do it all over, instead of saying ‘Hey my Dad’s a Jamaican too!’ I would’ve ask how, if at all, his Caribbean upbringing affecting his style of writing. And then I’d share how it has for mine. That’s a bit more memorable.
  • Don’t think you have less time than you actually do. And don’t think they’re less interested than they actually are. You do have time! And they are interested! Instead of crossing the street with Malcolm, I planted my feet on the curb and gave my adieu. I didn’t want to sound like a rambling buffoon or seem like a desperate stalker (although three posts about my encounter with Gladwell could be misconstrued into my being one..such is life). My goodbye was out of fear of rejection. So, fear not. And if the conversation is engaging, and their publicist is no where in sight (indicating they do have time) then you’re good to go. Just be temperate.

But how one earth do you create an engaging conversation so you don’t waste their time and your fandom reputation? Here are five things to consider.

Read their stuff

It’s obvious, but easy to miss. Many fans out there know about their favorite author, but haven’t really engaged in the work. I can watch Young Adult Genre movie adaptations of Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Twilight or the Giver. But these aren’t the primary sources.

Those of you who are researchers are taught to get the info straight from the horse’s mouth. Many of these are called seminal works. The original stuff that was groundbreaking for its time.

You need to read the seminal work. And if it’s movies, watch the original flick. The only way to truly understand your author’s perspective is to, um, read your author’s perspective. Not someone else’s!

Immerse yourself in their writing. Empathize, disagree, laugh, cry, engage the work. If you can’t, you’re not a fan. So if you see them on the street, wave hello and keep it moving.

Okay, so you don’t have to be a fan in order to have a conversation. But you need to be able to engage with the work. Engage or let the opportunity to connect pass you by. You’ll thank yourself later.

Oh and another point: If you buy the work…READ the work! Don’t just build a library of their books and never read them. That’s a literary mausoleum. Blow off the dust, rub out the crust (from your eyes) and start reading.

Form an opinion

So you’ve read their stuff. Great. What do you think about it? You might be the highlighting, underlining and writing in the margins type of person. Good. That gets you engaged with the text on all levels (physically, mentally, emotionally).

But please, if you’re going to write in the margins, do more than just a ‘Wow, that’s deep.’ Challenge yourself to ask something about what you just read, then right it down. And then perhaps if you find the answer, go back to that page and write in where you found it.

Do more than just say the literary “OMG!” because guess what you’ll do when your author idol is standing right in front of you? You’ll highlight their success, underline your fascination with their work. And in the margin of space between you and them, you’ll say “Wow, you’re really deep.”

Practice forming an opinion while you’re reading their work. Ask critical questions. Start with the 6 most essential question prompts: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why. You don’t have to be a journalist, remember?

Backup your premise

So you’ve formed some educated thought about your author’s work. Well, how did you come up with those thoughts? Start with following a breadcrumb trail of the text you read that lead to your opinion.

Reference their work first. And then reference other works so that you get a larger perspective on the topic. Your goal isn’t to impress your author. It’s to help them clearly understand where the heck you came up with your opinion. You don’t have to quote chapter, page, paragraph and clause. But just know where these thoughts are coming from. It’s about clarity.

I recently re-watched Inception. Brilliant movie. And besides the fact that five of the characters from that film are also in Dark Knight Rises, the concept about ideas being traceable is so true.

The more traceable your idea is, the more persuasive it will be in the mind of your favorite author. And no matter how simple your opinion might be, if you garner the breadcrumbs that provide an entire loaf from where your one little thought inspired, you’ve got ’em hooked.

Don’t echo, reverberate

Ok, so linguistically the words echo and reverberate mean the same thing. But socially, they’re different. Don’t form an opinion or thought that merely echoes what your idol’s already said, like a “HELLO-hello-hello..” Reverberate that! Reverse it! Make a clamour around it! Don’t let it fade! Make it louder, like “hello-HELLO-HELLOOO!”

The first Hello is the author’s. When you just echo their words, they’re the ones who start out with the loud HELLO and you run behind them with your little ‘hello’ whispers that are forgettable. Pathetic. You want to make a raucous. An educated one.

So make sure your author’s first Hello is the mini one. Profound, but mini. And you take it and use your own voice and microphone back a louder HELLO. Figuratively. Don’t shout at them. Please. But make your thought shout for itself. That’s what they want you to do!

Authentic authors want you to form thoughts and opinions that become bigger and brighter than their original work. They’re not writing to get rich. They’re calling is to share and inspire; feed and enlighten, so that you can turn around and do the same for someone else.

Challenge your idol

So how do you practically make your thoughts reverberations and not echoes? Challenge your author with a thought that extends beyond their work. Yep, critical thinking. Remember those six non-journalistic questions that journalist monopolize? Well, in order to challenge your author, you need to focus on the Why question.

In my last post, I made a connection to Gladwell’s ‘trickster hero’ reference and my antihero initiative. But I didn’t go far enough. Instead of addressing the Why behind trickster heroes being antiheroes, which would deem Civil Rights leaders a form of antihero, I just abandoned the thought at the end of my post. No bueno.

While I do plan on going further with that notion, I should’ve taken a bit more time to address the Why. Well why don’t I just edit my last post? Because then I wouldn’t be able to use this ultra-relevant example.

Answer the Why question to your thought about your author’s work. Example time:

Who & What:
The Civil Rights trickster heroes that Gladwell alluded to can be considered antiheroes.

Trickster heroes are protagonists who don’t play by the rules in order to effect change, a positive result or even a selfish outcome. Antiheroes are also protagonists. And they lack conventional heroic qualities and effect the same change or outcome that a trickster hero does. If they’re not identical twins, they’re fraternal. If not fraternal, then surely cousins.

The Why given above is definitely simplistic. But it’s a start. And it’ll make your author say ‘Hm, that’s interesting.’ Now, the goal isn’t to make them say or think you’re smart. And your intention isn’t even prove that you’re a true and loyal fan.

You simply want to have a memorable, engaging conversation with your author, which 10 years from now you can reminisce and not regret.