Saturday, July 10, 2010

So tell me, Mr. Twain: Just were do you get your ideas?

Over the past 40 or so years, I've had the pleasure of interviewing many notables who had already been interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of times before they sat down to chat with me. (Writer-director Whit Stillman once told me, years after the fact, that I actually was the first entertainment journalist ever to interview him, back when he premiered Metropolitan at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival. I suspect that he was joking, but if not, he apparently survived the experience with minimal trauma.) And on more than one of these occasions -- not many times, to be entirely honest, but more than once -- I have been told by the interviewee that I asked interesting questions, or at least questions that he or she hadn't fielded a zillion times before. I won't lie: I am shamelessly proud whenever I receive such a compliment. (Bless you, James Cameron and Philippe Noiret.) Early on, though, I learned not to get too big-headed about the praise because, in all likelihood, the interviewee thought I was a great interviewer simply because he or she had dealt with so very many lousy ones.

I'd like to think that, if I'd ever had the opportunity to converse with Mark Twain, I wouldn't be among the interviewers who inspired this essay. But as I read it, I confess, I found myself thinking: "Oh, gee, have I ever done this? Or that?" Which is a good thing, I suppose: You should never be too sure of yourself, or too complacent.  And if you're going to learn lessons from other writers, you can't do much better than heeding the words from this master. (Hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan for steering me toward the source.)

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