Monday, January 11, 2010

Qualifications versus Imagination

"I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity." – Oprah Winfrey

I am happy to be a published author. Yet I don’t feel the act of being published qualifies me as an expert on writing or in any other field. I feel like it simply makes me one of the lucky ones.

The reason I bring this up is that I recently ran across an old email request for a radio interview. I like doing radio interviews from my home, but this one I turned down. I don’t know if it was a good decision or bad; at this point it no longer matters. What’s done is done. But, I can’t help thinking about it all over again.

Here’s the deal. I was offered the opportunity to be part of a three person radio panel. I assumed (assuming always gets me into trouble) it was to discuss something to do with The Ride, writing or with books in general. I don’t feel like you have to be an expert to contribute your personal thoughts and views so I was okay with participating. In fact, I was flattered to have been asked.

A few days before the interview I received more information. The topic was not to be about my book or any aspect of writing. The topic was addiction, depression and recovery. The host was a clinical psychologist. The other panelist had opened a mental health facility and had written a nonfiction book about recovery.

The questions to be discussed included: If you were to set public policy on improving care what recommendations would you present? How would you convince the government to spend money on treatment programs when we are going through one of the most difficult economic times?

Alarm bells sounded. I was supposed to be the third panelist? Me, a writer of fiction? My qualifications: I created a character and labeled her as depressed with low self-esteem.

What could I contribute to this discussion? My character didn’t turn to a professional health care worker for assistance. Instead, she dealt with her problems with the help of chocolate, wine and a vivid imagination. These ineffective techniques, I felt sure, were not what the radio host wanted to hear.

I have never figured out why I was asked. Perhaps they had me confused with some other Jane Kennedy Sutton. Or, maybe when the radio host read my book (if he actually did), he missed the fact it was a novel. Possibly he assumed it was based on my life so I could add the experience of one who’s been there, done that.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, except… I do like wine and chocolate. Oh…and I do have a vivid imagination. Wait—this isn’t sounding good, is it?

Though I have an occasional down day and I’m currently suffering from “unseasonal” affective disorder as something evil has sabotaged the normally 75 degree sunny days we have this time of year (yes, I realize the rest of the country is worse off, but it doesn’t keep me from whining), ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time I am far from depressed.

Out of curiosity, I tried to find the show and listen to see how it turned out, but I guess the station had cleaned out their archives. If I had received the offer this year, instead of last when I was such a newbie in the world of the published, maybe I would have gone through with it just to see if imagination can hold its own against qualifications.

Have you ever turned down an interview/panel? Why? Have you ever participated in a discussion you knew nothing about?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Oprah, The Ride, depression, self-esteem,


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

That's so odd that they would ask you to be on the panel! Maybe the radio producer didn't realize you wrote a novel and thought it was nonfiction?

I've been asked to speak on panels about *writing* where I still had to do a lot of research in preparation. But I'd be totally lost if it didn't cover writing. Yes, I'd pass on that, too. What if people took my advice and I didn't know what I was talking about?

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never turned one down for that reason, but I have participated in a few discussions where I felt my inclusion was 'iffy' at best. Those are tough.
Sometimes out research does provide us with enough knowledge to be a little dangerous. It's just that as fiction writers, we aren't about offering solutions.

Joanne said...

Given your reasons here, I think I would've turned down the interview too. It really didn't seem like a fit with your craft, and part of being a professional is knowing too the times to decline invitations. This one seemed like the right thing to do.

Helen Ginger said...

That request, in that setup, was so odd, I think you were right to turn it down. In my mind, I don't see the interview turning out good for you. A panel about writing or your book in particular - yeah, go for it.

Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

I've participated in discussions I knew nothing about, but it's always been among friends. Here, I definitely believe you did the right thing in turning them down.

arlee bird said...

I've never had the opportunity to participate as pertaining to your question. But I can understand why someone like you might be asked to participate -- different perspective. The radio show might have a wide variety of listeners who hear from a different way of thinking and you would have tapped into that group.

Also you are a pro at what you do. That's why I am hoping that you and your readers will check my post today and give your input.

Jane, you always give me such wonderful comments and today's topic more than any could use comments from someone with your expertise on the topic.


Karen Walker said...

I would have turned down the interview for the same reasons you did. Or I would have called them up and asked some questions. Sounds like you made the right decision, though. Just know that in the future you can ask questions prior to agreeing to clarify what they are expecting.

John A. Allen said...

What an odd honor that must have been. I can certainly understand your ambivalence.

Me? I write zombie humor, so the only discussions I've taken part in are the "Should zombies be fast or slow?" kind - so hardly anything of serious merit.

Tamika: said...

I think initially I would have been flattered too. What a big deal.

I would have prayed profusely, and left it up to God's direction. I never want to step out on my own.

Jan Morrison said...

I don't think this is odd at all. Radio hosts and other media types generally know that novelists and other fiction writers or playwrights are clever with words - they make good interviewees. My published pal is always going on the radio to talk about something - for instance she was on CBC on Christmas Eve to discuss how to deal with TOO much family at the holidays. She is funny and so are most writers I know. You had written about a depressed person and therefore had thought about it, perhaps even had some personal story to do with it and undoubtedly researched the topic. That doesn't mean you have to go on - just cuz you're asked but I know that writers are always considered as entertaining and worthwhile types by the media.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Elizabeth, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of passing along bad advice. That’s a good point.

You said that very well, Diane, fiction writers aren’t about offering solutions, we simply have fun making up the problems.

Thanks Joanne, Helen and Carol. Declining was probably the right thing to do then as it would be now.

Arlee, thanks for the nice comments. I never thought of it like that – it's an interesting perspective. I had already visited your blog before I read your comment here. I didn’t really have great wisdom to impart but I did comment on why I blog.

Karen, it never crossed my mind to call them and ask questions! I have so much to learn.

John, it was an odd honor, but I’m not sure it would have been of any more importance than if zombies should be fast or slow. By the way, should zombies be fast or slow?

Tamika, you have such a practical approach to everything life has to offer.

Jan, I never thought of the opportunity from that viewpoint either. Maybe they did want to add a little lightness to what was sure to be a serious discussion.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I find it odd you were asked. However, it's flattering.

I wouldn't take part in a discussion where I wasn't conversant with the topic. I have no wish to look like a fool. In this particular instance, if I had done loads of research on the subject, then I'd have done it. If I hadn't I'd stay away.


Galen Kindley--Author said...

I think you're comfortable with what you decided. I, too, would have declined upon learning the subject matter, or, determining it was a subject about which I knew nothing and in this case, don't even have an informed opinion. Why waste my time and the listeners? Additionally, because I'm subject matter ignorant, chances are I'd give bad advice. Yikes. No one wants that.

Best Regards, Galen.
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Rowe said...

Hi jane, thanks for visiting on behalf of JMac. I can see your point on being hesitant speaking about issues you felt unqualified to discuss on a radio show. I was once involved in a discussion on suicide to be later televised, I was badly prepared and ended up feeling uncomfortable which is not a good look when cameras are rolling.

The Old Silly said...

Interesting dillemma. The Oprah quote reminds of a Les Brown quote:

"It is better to not have an opportunity and be prepared, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared."

Marvin D Wilson

Nancy J. Parra said...

Wow- cool that they asked you- and that he actually read your book. But I agree with you. As a story teller we are not "experts." Sometimes it's okay not to do something- I think you made the right choice.
thoughtful blog- thanks for sharing!

Elisabeth said...

Ah the cult of the writer. These days it's big.

Once writers were the town balladeers, minstrels or poets. The stories they told spoke for themselves as metaphors, fairytales or fables. Now you have to spell everything out.

It's as if ordinary people themselves lack imagination. I think this is sad. To move from the creative and the imaginative to become the expert in one fell swoop - it's sad and dangerous.

Good on you for knowing your limits and not being seduced into fluffing up your feathers, however much you were flattered.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to be interviewed or invited to a panel. I guess at this point I would take anything, live and learn, then be a bit more selective once I become better known and actually am interviewed.

Stephen Tremp

Anonymous said...

I will not acquiesce in on it. I over polite post. Specially the appellation attracted me to study the intact story.

arlee bird said...

Interesting comment from "anonymous". What did it mean?

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Elspeth, it was flattering, but you’re right - had I done it I would have sounded like some sort of idiot next to the other two very informed panelist.

Galen, I am comfortable with my decision except for that “what if” writer part of me that wonders what if I had done it. Now I’m wondering if a radio panelist can be sued for spouting off bad advice.

Rowe, thanks for the story. I’ll remember I definitely want to be well-informed on any issues where a camera is rolling.

Marvin, do you think Oprah may have paraphrased Les Brown?

Nancy, thanks for your support. You are so right, there are times when it is okay to just say no and we shouldn’t feel bad about it.

Elisabeth, I never thought about being part of a cult. But that’s an interesting point.

Stephen, I am sure your time is coming. I have a feeling you’re a lot braver than I am and could cover any subject with confidence.

Anonymous thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment.

Arlee, unfortunately, don't really know. Any ideas, anyone?

Enid Wilson said...

Yes it's strange. People often confuse fiction with reality. I write sexy romance and I am sure people assume I am an expert in that area.

Really Angelic

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world