Sunday, November 24, 2013

Aren't they neat, the people that you meet?

Previously on this blog I've discussed my introverted-ness and how that influences my work as a writer and veterinarian. I'll be honest: when writing, I used to develop anxiety whenever a magazine article assignment required interviews. Always wanting to conduct interviews via email so I didn't have to actually talk to anyone, I began to realize that really the best soundbites came from a live interview (over the phone in most of my cases). Getting a feel for the person, a live interview gives the conversation a certain dynamic that emailed questions simply can't create. A live interview can also take you places you wouldn't have expected and add more detail or intrigue to the article itself. There are several decent websites on conducting interviews, like here and here.

What I'm about to tell you is strictly off the record...
Beyond getting a good story, however, there's also the people factor. The simple fact is: I've met some really cool people through interviews.

Most of the interviews I've been conducting lately are for articles on pets or livestock (go figure). Many interviews are with other veterinarians, like equine surgeons or feline specialists, answering questions like: what's the first thing you recommend when a horse owner suspects colic? Or: what are the most common diseases seen in older cats?

Once in a while, I do get to write less vet med-themed pieces. For the October 2013 issue of Dog Fancy magazine, I wrote a piece on how dog owners are involving their animals in social media. This allowed me to talk to several creative dog owners about how and why they blog, Tweet, and Facebook about their pets. One interviewee really stood out in my mind for her creativity: Jessica Rhae Williams. Creator of the blog youdidwhatwithyourwiener, Jessica hikes the wilds of Washington state with her two Dachshunds Chester and Gretel to get fit, break stereotypes, and fight pet obesity. Also president of the Adventurewiener Club of Seattle, Jessica's sense of humor and her message left a mark in my memory for sure.
Just a wiener on an adventure.
More recently, another interviewee has left an even bigger impression on me, and for more than the interview-based information. About a month ago, I was writing an online feature for the magazine Modern Farmer about Rocky Mountain Oysters (fried bull testicles). Needing some first-hand knowledge on how to cook these bad boys, I spoke to a woman in Virginia City, Nevada named Brandi Lee. Brandi is a multi-time winner at the Virginia City Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry and has been competing for over 20 years. As if these facts weren't enough to reserve Brandi a permanent place in Anna's Memory Hall of Fame, at the very end of our phone interview, after chatting about our dogs, Brandi said to me, "You know what else I used to do? I used to race ostriches."


At first I thought I heard "raise ostriches." Thinking that was a little unusual but then again I know folks in Maryland with emus, the conversation continued into the mundane. However, a phrase about jockeys soon popped into the dialogue and I put one and one together: RACE not RAISE ostriches. This changed the game entirely.

Brandi allowed that she also used to race water buffalo and camels. "When I do something, I get right in the middle of it," she said. I could imagine.

Fast forward one month and the Modern Farmer article was published online. I sent Brandi a link and was delighted to hear that she loved it. A few back and forth email exchanges later and this week what showed up in my mailbox, but an original copy of the June 1974 issue of National Geographic magazine. On page 747 is a full color photo of a woman racing an ostrich (see below). It is the one and only Brandi Lee.
Go, Brandi, go!
To boot, the photo had also been autographed for a nice personalized touch. I now officially have an ostrich-racing, bull testicle-eating 21st century pen pal who I would never have met if it weren't for that interview. Now instead of feeling anxious to conduct an interview, I'm looking forward to my next phone call. Who knows who I'll meet next. 


  1. That's so cool! I've loved the idea of riding on / racing with ostriches ever since I first saw the Swiss Family Robinson movie as a kid. I need to learn more about how you've been getting all these interesting story assignments, too.

  2. Three words for you: query, query, query. If you throw out enough ideas, sooner or later someone's going to bite!