Quite a while back — this means “many years” to a Southerner — I was on a book tour that included stops in one of my favorite states: Louisiana.
I spent a couple of days in New Orleans, appearing on radio and television talk shows, did signings at two stores then headed north to Baton Rouge. If you’ve never visited Baton Rouge, I highly recommend it for a few reasons: The Mississippi River, Huey Long and the state capitol where the assassin gunned him down and the LSU Stadium.
The stadium because, primarily, it reveals the pure genius of Long who, when he was either governor or U.S. Senator, cleverly took advantage of government money specified for college housing. He used the funds to build a handsome stadium and sidestepped the law by constructing dormitory rooms under the grandstands.
Needless to say, Franklin D. Roosevelt hated him.
One thing I learned quickly in my early days of book touring was that from Atlanta to Memphis to Dallas, television stations and on-air personnel all bear deep resemblances. They look, smell and feel the same. And, without variation, a guest is led to the icy cold news room down a long, beige corridor with tiled floors and paraded through three-foot-tall colored posters of the news anchors, reporters and weather forecasters.
It was 6:30 a.m. on Halloween morning when a production assistant opened the back door of a Baton Rouge station, blinked her eyes at the rising sun and waved me in. We stepped carefully among all the heavy camera cables strewn across the floor and she seated me in a chair behind the cameras.
“You go on at 7:06, just after the weather. Katie will interview you.”
I nodded, thanked her and sipped the coffee she had given me. Everything was pretty standard except that all the on-air talent were dressed in Halloween costumes.
Charlie Brown read the news, Yogi Bear pointed out the traffic from the helicopter and Superman forecast — wrongly, as it turned out — the weather. A pretty young woman, her thick blonde hair pulled back into a bouncy ponytail, worn a bright sweater and twirled an enormous poodle skirt. She was ‘Sandy’ from the musical, “Grease.”
The light-heartedness was endearing. They weren’t taking themselves seriously. But when ‘Sandy’ sat down on the dull green chair next to the matching sofa on which I sat and spread out her polka dot skirt widely, my equilibrium was thrown off. I didn’t know, for a second, if I was on live television or in a school play.
As the commercial for a car dealership played, she held up my book, smiled sweetly and apologized kindly.
“I’m sorry but I haven’t had a chance to read this.” Panic suddenly flashed in her blue eyes. We were about to “go live” where she was to interview me and she didn’t have a clue as to what to ask.
I waved away her concern. “Don’t worry. Just follow me.”
The green light flashed, she welcomed me then I gaily took off with the five-minute interview. I drew her in with a couple of questions. We talked up a storm until the director counted us down into the next commercial.
“My goodness!” she exclaimed as soon as we were off the air. “That’s the most fun interview I’ve ever had.”
That day I didn’t mind at all that I was being interviewed by someone who didn’t know me and hadn’t prepared. Usually, though, it does trouble me.
When I was a reporter, I had to dig through dusty archives and spend hours in the library to research for an interview. I did the hard work. Now, a world of knowledge is the easy press of a button away.
Do the work. Know your subject because the more people feel you care to know about them, the more they will care to know about you.
It’s easier than playing Halloween dress-up.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]