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Episode 5: You’re Not Lucky, You’re Just Good

with your host Jessica Abel

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Out On The Wire Episode 5

Don’t be lucky. Be good. Manufacture your own luck with the right kind of preparation for an interview. We hear from Zoe Chace, Robert Smith, Ira Glass and Jenna Weiss-Berman on how to research, prepare, and execute an interview that will provide exactly what you need. Plus we talk to New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar about her interviewing technique and her new book.

This week we heard from:

Zoe Chace, Robert Smith, Ira Glass, Jenna Weiss-Berman, and Larissa MacFarquhar

Listen to the show:

If you’re looking for a written version of this episode, you can find our transcript here.


Purchase Larissa MacFarquhar book Stranger’s Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help via Amazon (affiliate link) or via your local independent bookstore

This week we heard from:

Zoe Chace, Robert Smith, Ira Glass, Jenna Weiss-Berman, and Larissa MacFarquhar

Links to things we talked about:

Ira Glass’s 2012 Commencement Address to the CUNY Journalism Graduate School’s Graduating Class

What Two Pasta Factories Tell Us About The Italian Economy: From Planet Money

This American Life 459: What Kind of Country

 Jenna Weiss-Berman’s Knockout

Jackie Lyden and Zoe Chase’s story: Detroit’s Firefighters Battle Dangerous Ghosts

Requiem For a Dream: Larissa MacFarquhar’s Profile of Aaron Swartz

 Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars inspirations:

The Mars Society

The National Space Society

Space X

Mars One

Gotham Girls Roller Derby (Battling for their 6th world championship as I type this!!)

1971 Documentary: Derby

Texas Roller Derby TXRD (Rollergirls reality show)

Machine Transcription Services:

Voice Base

Pop-Up Archive

More resources:

Transom.org. Always Transom.org


This week’s challenge:

This week I want you to do an interview. Even if you’re writing fiction. (Remember my interviews with derby players?)

But before you do the interview, I want you to conduct a pre-interview or do research and map out major plot points and turning points. Create a list of questions. Think through “feeling questions”. Make your map. This map what you’ll post on the Out on the Wire Working Group, to get help building the best plan for your interview.

If you’re working on an idea story, where there is not necessarily a chronology to hang things on, first of all, look for one. But if that’s not working, figure out what questions are likely to produce major idea groups or plot points or facts. Search for anecdotal hooks you can use to help audience get through, and understand the stakes.

Put together your chronology, turning points, and list of questions for your interview into a post no longer than 300 words, and post it on the Working Group for feedback and further refinement before you actually do the interview.

Please, do NOT post your complete interview on the Working Group! We want to help everyone get set up for the best interviews, but we can’t do that if we’re getting 40-page interview transcripts to read.

Do post any questions you may have about the process, of course.


Next time on Out on the Wire

Join us next week for our You’re not Lucky, You’re Just Good workshop episode, and then in two weeks with Episode 6: Proof of Concept, where we finally put words on a page, find out what Buffy feels, and more.


Workshop Episode 5.5: You’re not Lucky, You’re Just Good

This is our 5th workshop episode, where we discuss work posted the Out on the Wire working group. This week, interviewing—we talk about space monks, schadenfreude, the value of interviewing vs. reading for research, and how to feel confident as you’re starting out doing interviews. Plus a report from group member Dean Johnson about his recent interview with a man who was begging for money at a gas station when they met.

Listen to the show:


Work we talked about this week:

Katia Tkach

Why do we sometimes enjoy the misfortune of others?
SCHADENFREUDE (a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people) is the theme of my first podcast episode.

While I am in a search of an engaging story to tell, I set to interview some professionals in the field. My first interviewee is COLIN WAYNE LEACH, Professor of Psychology at University of Connecticut. He did a study on how schadenfreude is different from pride, joy and gloating.

The Questionnaire:

1. How different our present understanding of SCHADENFREUDE from the one Nietzsche had?

2. What is your personal definition of SCHADENFREUDE?

3. Why is it important to tell SCHADENFREUDE apart from gloating and the other feelings?

4. What are the most common situations for SCHADENFREUDE these days?

5. You say that SCHADENFREUDE goes along with the feeling of powerlessness, why?

6. Are there ways to look at SCHADENFREUDE as at a positive emotion?

7. Is there anything we can do to escape/control SCHADENFREUDE within ourselves? What do you do when you have it?

8. Is there a real danger for a society where SCHADENFREUDE is widely experienced?

9. Is there a defiant degree of misfortune that happens to a person we envy, when SCHADENFREUDE fades into pure pity?

Brian McKinley

This is the story of six astronauts that spend forty years traveling to another world and then have their mission fall apart in a matter of days after arrival. Turning points in my story are the early death of one of the astronauts, discovery of a surviving intelligent lifeform, infection by a parasitic alien plant, and the psychedelic experiences it causes that lead to the catastrophic end of the expedition.

Real word research interview subjects would be former monks and nuns. Alternatively interview questions could just be applied to each character in the story.

What made you decide to join your religious order? What did your family or friends think about that decision?

What did you miss the most?

Did people treat you differently? How does that make you feel? What would you like to tell those people?

What parts of your secular life remained with you in the order?

Describe your average day.

What do you like to do with your free time?

What do you believe in? Tell me about a time that belief helped you get through a difficult experience.

Did you ever question your faith? What did you do when you have those feelings?

What is the question you most want an answer to?

What made you give up your vows? Was it one incident or an extended process?

Questions Asked:

Debbie Jenkinson:

I’m interested to hear how people have sourced experts for interview. Obviously it’s going to help if you can say you’re from the BBC or NPR, but have you examples of how you made that luck happen? Also, does approaching people get any easier? Or asking them personal questions? I felt a bit uncomfortable asking Declan how old he was, and he’s fictional. (!)

Katia Tkach

In the show Larissa MacFarquhar says she requests from her interview subjects two interviews of two hours each. Is that bold asking for so much attention time while you are an amateur? Is there a way to predict how much it is ok to ask from your interview subject? Or you should solely base your interview requests on your own needs and see if you are lucky?

Brian McKinley:

Jessica talked about interviewing derby players for Trish Trash. How would Trish Trash have been different without the interviews? What did the interviews provide that couldn’t have been gleaned from other sources of research?

Renee Brown Cheng

I found it difficult being able to come up with my ideal ending with my first interview. From my pre-interview I am very intrigued by Rachel’s story and think others would be interested as well. But do you think it will fall flat if I don’t have an envisioned ending? I also don’t know how to end the interview.

Links to stuff we talked about:

Scott Kelly’s Twitter (Astronaut who is living in space for a year)

Scientology’s Sea Org

Stephanie Foo’s Interview from Out on the Wire Episode 1


Next time on Out on the Wire

In our next episode, Episode 6: Proof of Concept, We get into the nitty gritty: starting to write a draft. With more exclusive interviews from Joe Richman, Soren Wheeler, Chana Joffe-Walt, Sean Cole, Ira Glass, and more.


Find us elsewhere on the internet:

I’m on Twitter @jccabel, Producer Benjamin is @BenjaminFrisch.

Take a look around my website. Check out the great comics on Ben’s website. Find out more about experimental comics on Matt’s blog.

Help us out by sharing this show with your friends!

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  • Rob Rosenthal (the Transom Workshop, How Sound)
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