Question is a radio program that explores the world of
writing and publishing in the Western United States. Produced in
Missoula by Chérie Newman (Executive Producer: Michael Marsolek),
TWQ has been on the air since mid-2007, and in November 2009
expanded its format from twelve to thirty minutes. It can be heard
on Montana Public Radio each Thursday evening at 7:30pm.
Humanities Montana recently caught up
with Chérie Newman to discuss the new directions of the show.
HM: How do you prepare for an
interview with a writer? Do you have a routine or methodology for
familiarizing yourself with the writer's work?
CN: I prepare for interviews in two
ways. The first way is methodical. The second, not so much. My
process depends on how much time I have.
The methodical process happens when I
have at least a couple of weeks before the interview. In that case,
I'll read as much of the author's work as possible—at least one
book, maybe two, and as many online pieces as I can find. Then,
I'll read reviews of the author's work. And, finally, I'll research
the author, which involves reading bios and listening to or reading
interviews they've done with other media people. This is my process
for most of the authors I talk with.
However, once in a while I get a call
or an e-mail message on, say, a Tuesday with big news!:
So-and-so-über-famous-author will be in town this Thursday (only).
In that case, I’ll rush over to the library or Fact & Fiction
to get the author’s latest book and read as much of it as I can
before Thursday. Also in that case, I’ll blitz through the Web
looking for any mention of the author. When I’m lucky, the author
has a Web site and there’s a coherent bio posted there. When I’m
unlucky, the author has a day job at a University. Then, I’m forced
to use Wikipedia and pray that it’s been updated within the last
HM: How much interviewing do you do
with a writer in order to have enough content for an
CN: If the writer tracks well (doesn’t
stray too far from the question while answering), we’ll talk for
about 35 minutes. If the writer is prone to verbal forays, I’ll end
up with more than an hour of audio that requires considerable
HM: Has your interviewing process or
technique changed since you expanded the program from 12 to 30
CN: Yes. A lot. I used to be an
interview “guide.” I’d guide the conversation while we talked for
about 15 minutes. Then, when putting the program together, I’d edit
myself out (to give listeners more time with the guest). No
brilliance required. No pressure.
Now that I’m present in the program as
an interviewer, I must be articulate and clever, no matter how much
sleep I didn’t have. I must ask probing questions and make
insightful commentary. I must be energetic and intelligent. Big
HM: What was the motivation for
extending the show from 12 to 30 minutes?
CN: When Michael Marsolek (Program
Director for Montana Public Radio) and I first talked about my idea
for a radio program featuring writers, he decided to add it to the
Sunday morning eleven o’clock hour—because the producer of another
short-form program had retired. The time available during that hour
was about twelve minutes. And I was grateful for those minutes and
for the opportunity to produce a writing program.
However, from the beginning, we were
always trying to do too much with those twelve minutes. We wanted
to feature the author talking, give listeners information about new
books, and offer information about the authors and their work. That
was way too much to cram into such a short program. The comment we
heard most often from listeners was that they wanted more, a longer
program. And we listened.
HM: What are the challenges and
benefits of that longer format? Did it require you to rethink any
of the fundamental qualities or objectives of the program?
CN: As I mentioned before, my biggest
challenge with this change was transitioning from producer/editor
to my three-part role as producer, editor, and interviewer. Other
than that, putting the program together has actually been easier
and more satisfying. That’s because we, the writers and I, have
more time to explore complex ideas and tell bigger stories, which
makes the editing less complicated.
My original objective for The Write
Question was to create opportunities for us to listen to
intelligent, interesting, and passionate people talk about writing.
So, no, the longer format did not change that objective.
HM: You always have interesting
music in the program. What part does music play in terms of the
overall quality and feeling of The Write Question? Where do
you find the music?
CN: I think using interesting music is
probably a natural extension of my desire to create interesting
content. Also, I’m a musician—a singer/songwriter who plays guitar,
keyboards, and percussion—and a writer, so I put the program
together in somewhat the same way I would write a song or an essay.
I want a beginning, middle, and end. I want to tell a story. I want
the listener’s mind to expand, or formulate new questions. Music
creates emotion, transition, and/or space and I use it for all
All the music in the program is
written and performed by Montana musicians. Springhill is a jazz
quartet with three members living in Bozeman and one from Billings.
Aaron Minnick is a music composition student at UM, Missoula.
Michael Blessing is a composer/musician in Bozeman. And the
recording/performing duo of Michael Marsolek and Lawrence Duncan,
from Missoula, are members of Drum Brothers.
HM: Do you see interesting trends in
any of the specific genres—fiction (historical or otherwise),
CN: There may, or may not, be a trend
here, but lately I’ve noticed a surfeit of newly-published story
collections. I read six or seven last summer and fall. Maybe the
short story is making a come back? And maybe that’s because our
attention spans are shrinking?
HM: What do you think are the best
qualities of Montana's regional writing?
CN: In my opinion, Montana writers are
exceptionally talented at creating emotional connections between
landscape and people. Some also have a keen insight into animal
behavior as it connects to landscape and people. In the same way I
enjoy watching a sunrise, a diving hawk, or the slow progress of a
grazing antelope toward a creek, I enjoy watching a Montana
writer’s prose flow a landscape across my imagination. But, I also
want something to happen there and Montana writers are great