Monday, March 5, 2012

UPDATED: I am totally bros with Neil Gaiman! Ha, not really. But I listened to his voice on tape once. So, you know, ALMOST the same thing.

When I was twenty years old, I interned for The Hollywood Reporter. It was my first serious job ever. I’d mostly gotten it by talking up my former post as Entertainment Head of the Bedford Square News, our student-run newspaper at NYU London. I hadn’t even worked for NYU’s actual newspaper. I had worked for the study-abroad paper.

So when reporters gave me transcription to type, I was lost. It took me hours to do the first few. Was I supposed to include every single time people said things like “like” or “uh?” Luckily I eventually got the hang of it.

But once I could do my job in satisfactory manner, it wasn’t long before I started to get a little annoyed with the interviewees on the tapes. They often responded to questions with dry, unadorned answers. I listened to talented journalists do all kinds of fancy wordsmithery, trying to get some elaboration out of their stubborn charges—but to no avail.

If you’ve ever done transcription, you’ll know it’s full of little annoyances. There are those prickly words you will never be able to decipher no matter how many times you replay them. There was a producer whose voice I had to slow to the lowest setting to be able to even slightly understand. So when the interviewee wasn’t interesting, it could be pretty grueling work.

One day I was assigned to transcribe an interview with Neil Gaiman. I didn’t know much about him, though I had seen Stardust (a film based on one of his novels) and enjoyed it. Even with no outside knowledge of the author, I was completely charmed. Not only did he wander well outside short-answer territory every time, but he always had some fascinating anecdote on hand. It was easily the fastest transcription I’d ever done, but I was sad when it was over. I would’ve happily transcribed for hours if all the interviews had been as intriguing as that.

I went on to read and love much of Mr. Gaiman’s work, from Neverwhere to Coraline to the Sandman comics. But I will always remember him as the funny, clever writer who made an intern’s little gray cubicle in New York a tad less so for a few hours.

So, listen up, writers. If you’re ever lucky enough to be interviewed by a magazine, don’t waste time getting nervous. You’ve got an edge over every other person getting interviewed in the world—the word thing is what you’re all about! 

Each time you feel tempted to give a simple “yes” or “no,” remember that there will one day be an intern out there somewhere with a stress headache, trying to figure out if you in fact said yard because you mumble a lot.


Um ...WHAT??


Okay, I know that's super tiny and hard to read, but, see, a lot of you guys don't know me very well. Certainly not well enough to know if I wouldn't be above getting up to a little Photoshop wizardry to make it look like NEIL FUCKING GAIMAN retweeted my blog post.

I know I write for young adults. I know that. But I think that on today, of all days, a few jubilant curses are in fine order. 

This is as big as I can get the picture without it wandering into the margins: 

Really, the fact that you think I'm capable of Photoshop wizardry is laughable.

P.S. Neil Gaiman, you are a god among men. A king among peasants. A swan among geese. A Godzilla among tiny buildings in Tokyo. 

Thank you, sir.


  1. I've only been interviewed a couple times on the radio and on tape. It's definitely hard not to go with the straight, dull answers when you're peppered with insightful, complicated questions. What if you talk too much? What if you slip up and start using complicated words because you feel you won't make any sense with the simple ones?

    In my experience, interviewers often go to great-sometimes ridiculous-lengths to write something beyond simple yes/no questions. I'd never really considered the role of transcribers until now.

    1. After listening to about ten million tapes of interviews, I would say there's definitely a happy medium as far as answer length is concerned. "Yes" or "no" answers are no fun, but neither is a writer reciting an entire novel for some poor intern to transcribe later.

      After all, that intern probably needs to leave on time. She probably has another job to get to, because she needs a job that pays actual real person money. And she's also supposed to read HOMAGE TO CATALONIA for her War Literature class by tomorrow.

  2. Awww, how cute. What a gracious man. Good post as well, I've had the transcription blues myself.

    1. Isn't he? He was already one of my favorite authors--so now I'm not sure where this leaves him on the Awesome Scale. And thank you! Between the premiere parties and the frequent free food that came with them, transcription is the main thing I DON'T miss about that internship.

  3. ...I still don't have a serious job. Yay on Neil Gaiman being awesome!

    1. I'm not sure my job is serious either. At least not "will provide health insurance" serious.

      And I KNOW, right???

  4. I hope to one day be interviewed and not for doing something that landed me in prison.

    Also, NG and I have been BFFs for several years now, ever since I started listening to him read his own books. It's gotten to the point that I don't even read his books anymore; I just wait for some audiobook company to release the copy of him reading his own work (which did not happen with Anansi Boys, btw, and that was weird). So it's kind of like he comes over every so often and sits at my desk with me and tells me a story.
    The weird thing was, though, when I saw Nancy Pearl interview him a year, or so, back - and I was in the same room as him and everything - he did not even recognize me. After spending hours upon hours talking at me from the confines of my computer, he didn't even know who I was. I like to think the stage lights got in his eyes and he couldn't actually see me.
    I also like to think that I will always be able to understand the line between make-believe and full-on delusion...because otherwise that interview from a prison cell will become a reality.

    1. Sorry for taking ages to respond! I saw Neil Gaiman in person at the New Yorker Festival a few years back and he similarly didn't seem to recognize me out there in the audience either. He didn't even yell out a "Hey there, my lady bro!" in the middle of his interview; it was all very disconcerting.

      I agree about that man's voice--I'm reading The 13 Clocks by James Thurber right now, which Neil Gaiman wrote an introduction for, and would love to hear an audio edition of Mr. Gaiman reading it.

  5. It took you forty-five minutes to realize Neil Gaiman retweeted you?!

    1. No, it actually took me half an hour. I was very new to twitter and blogging at the time, and never in my wildest dreams did I think Neil Fucking Gaiman would retweet my fourth blog post. So I only noticed when I checked my blog stats a half hour after posting and saw that they had gone shithouse crazy. I proceeded to freak out for roughy fifteen minutes, and THEN I took a screenshot.