Big Ideas, Delivered With Impact

How to Interview a Superstar

In Writing on May 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm

By Tim Beyers

I’m enjoying myself today because, earlier, I got to interview a superstar. Not of the stage, or screen, or court, or field but of the board. Alfred Leonardi is the co-creator of Ace of Aces, a series of picture-book games.

Source: Flying Buffalo Games

Source: Flying Buffalo Games

Copies of the varying “series” sit on the bookshelf of my basement office, just above well-worn copies of The Random House Thesaurus and The Associated Press Stylebook.

To me, an unapologetic boardgame geek, Leonardi is a superstar. Interviewing him was a thrill. The downside? Even though I’ve been a freelance writer for years and I don’t get starstruck easily, I still let the interview get away from me. Leonardi answered just one of the five questions I had planned, and that was for fact-checking purposes.

And that’s fine.

See, Leonardi was such an interesting character — topics ranged from his work on crucial fuel cells for the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to his current interest in Irish dancing, at 70 years old — that I just listened. Story after story fascinated me. I couldn’t scribble it down fast enough.

In the end, what I got in talking with Leonardi was far more than the rich history of a game-changing boardgame. Instead, I got a mini-biography that I believe will make a great profile for his hometown paper, one of the nation’s oldest and largest, and which I plan to query after checking a few more facts.

If there’s a lesson here it’s to let interviews be fluid, especially when you’re interviewing someone accomplished in their field. As Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell put it in The Renegade Writer:

“if the interview is interesting and you both have time to spare, feel free to let the conversation take on a life of its own. You never know where it will lead you.”

Indeed.

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  1. Tim,

    This took me back. An old friend back in England was a huge wargame buff (and expert – national wargames champion as I recall) and a big fan of Ace of Aces – he programmed a minicomputer version into our old PDP-8 (this is back in 1982) as a junior year project in computer science.

    Anyway, glad to have found your blog.

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