Giving a good interview means revealing yourself (and other reasons I won’t be in PlayGirl)

 In BOOK BLOG, Everything, Ned's Column

I recently found myself giving my first interview which, the more I thought about it, was a lot like going for that first kiss on a date; you want it to be memorable and to send the right message, but you also worry about your tongue getting in the way. What I eventually realized was that, just like the key to a good kiss, you can’t force it. You have to trust your instincts if you want to offer something real that someone can connect with.

In short: you have to be willing to reveal yourself.

Did I accomplish this in my first interview? Yes and no. But I’m offering it up as it appeared so that you can judge for yourself. Learn from my mistakes as well as the things I may have gotten right. What I can say for certain is this: Seven years ago tonight I kissed my wife for the first time. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice…

Who are you? How can we find you?

Without question, the introduction part of this interview would be a lot better if I had a really cool name like “Blaze” or “Vin.” My name is Ned, which doesn’t set an exciting tone. However, if all goes well, we’ve just passed through the low point of this interview. I’ve been a newspaper humor columnist for 15 years, the last year of which has been in syndication through News Media Corporation. A began blogging a little over a year ago and, after careful consideration and meeting with a team of marketing analysts, titled my blog with the compelling name: Ned’s Blog. I’m also on Twitter (@NedHickson) and Facebook. To be honest, I’m still not sure why — but I’m told it will help me establish a media empire rivaling our local public access channel.

2) Other than writing, what is your favorite hobby or thing to do?
Aside from writing, which is both a hobby and a career, I honestly have to say my favorite thing to do is spend time with my wife. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing — cleaning house, watching a movie, grocery shopping, performing a hostage extraction with a team of Navy SEALS — we always have a lot of laughs. I’ve also been a volunteer firefighter for four years, which I enjoy a lot. Especially when it’s cold outside.

3) How long have you been writing? What have you had published?
I’ve been writing since I was about 10. I’m happy to say my writing has progressed a lot since then, mostly because I never stopped writing. Even as a chef for 10 years, before I stumbled into journalism, I was always writing on days off. During that time I wrote countless short stories (horror, mostly — I wasn’t very happy in my first marriage) that were published in small-press magazines. I also wrote a mystery novel called “No Safe Harbor,” which I’m hoping to find a publisher for next year. Also, over the last 15 years, I’ve written nearly 500 columns. I’m on 489. When I get to 500, I’m going to celebrate with a new typewriter ribbon.

4) What is your favorite genre to write and why?
My favorite genre to write is anything that involves humor. Not just because I love sharing a laugh with people, but also because to do it right is very challenging. It’s not enough to just have a funny story. You have to know how to wield the tools, which is a constantly evolving process. Sort of like a Chia pet, except without the muddy paste; if there’s muddy paste involved, you’re definitely doing it wrong.

Or you have a new baby.

5) Are you currently writing something? If so, tell us about it.
This December, I have my first book coming out, which is a collection of columns that were chosen randomly by wild squirrels hand-picked from 15 my years at Siuslaw News. It’s called Humor at the Speed of Life and is being published by Port Hole Publications. It will be available at Walmart, Target,, through my blog, and on book shelves wherever security is lax.

6) How do you typically begin your projects? Do you begin with outlines and character profiles or jump in headfirst?
Being a columnist, I’m fortunate that my palette is pretty broad. I write about family life, social trends, personal experiences — anything that catches my attention. I’ve written about super-heated pickles, glow-in-the-dark mice, how Breath-Rite strips won’t work on a Labrador, running for Governor of California while living in Oregon…

And no, I don’t take drugs. After reading back over that short list of subject matter, I could see how that question might come up. I’m just constantly inspired by the world, society and the ins and outs of daily life.

7) What aspects of your writing do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
As for my writing strengths and weaknesses, I work out a lot moving my daughter’s collection of Twilight books off the kitchen table. I’ve also been told I have a conversational style and can be witty. This has been told to me by people whose opinions I respect, regardless of how much they’ve had to drink — so I believe them.

My weaknesses:
a) Definitely spelling; I’m a horrable horible really bad speller.
b) Editing; I really have to focus myself in order to do a good job editing my work.
c) Writing sex scenes — Yes, you’d be surprised how many sex scenes I write as a humor columnist. They never make it in, however, because they’re so bad.

8) After publishing, the next obstacle facing writers is marketing. What do you do to market your book?
Marketing can be tough. Ironically, while the Internet and self publishing has made it easier to get your writing in print, it has also made standing out in the crowd that much more difficult. In short: there’s a lot of white noise out there and competing with it isn’t easy. One of the reasons I started a blog was to connect with others and utilize it as a marketing tool. Over the last year I’ve gained a little over 2,000 followers, about a third of whom found their way to me via my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

In addition, one thing I insisted on when I was offered the chance to syndicate was receiving advertising for my book in all the newspapers that carry my column — that’s about 35 across the country. Between marketing the book through my blog and newspapers, I’m hoping to create a marketing buzz equal to a really large horse fly.

9) What advice would you give a writer who is just starting out?
For writers who are just starting out, my advice is to write regularly. And by that I mean looking at your schedule and determining a time that you can put aside each day, week or even month that you can commit to — without fail or excuse. Whether you’re married with kids or single and just getting started in life as an adult, having that time set aside gives you a goal and establishes a commitment to your writing. It’s important to establish a routine instead of relying on opportunity or inspiration to write. If you make it a routine, eventually your creativity will automatically prepare for that time — an hour a day or once a week for two hours, whatever you decide — and you’ll be surprised by how productive you will be when your creativity begins to anticipate that routine.

Sort of like Pavlov’s dogs, except hopefully without all the drooling.

Ned Hickson
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