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Character Interview with Jolene Wiley

Character Interview with Jolene Wiley, Voices of the Dead

What I imagine Jo and I would have if we sat down for a chat at her place.

I signed up for the Writer Nation spring challenge, which has been both fun and productive so far. Today’s task is a character interview, which I’ve never done before. I tooled around on the internet to find some standard questions to ask your character, but I was either meh about them or, if they were good and juicy questions, the answers to them would maybe give too much away. 

I’ve been fascinated with the whole 36 questions to make strangers fall in love with each other since it appeared a few years ago for at least two reasons. One—though I realize astrology is not a personality test—I have always identified with the description of my Scorpio star sign as one that has no interest in chit chat and small talk. Never talk about religion, politics, or sex “they” say. Well, those are my three favorite topics. And two, I think relationships are built and maintained by communicating whether that be body language, steamy missives passed hand to hand, deep conversation, or a version of flaming semifore you work out between the two of you. The premise of these questions is that if two strangers reveal their deepest selves in conversation, love can happen. Isn’t that what we all want to believe?

So, it isn’t the complete set of questions as some of them are partner exchanges and well, at the end of the day, Jo and I talking is me talking to myself and I didn’t want to make that any weirder than it already was. 

1.Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

My dad. Or maybe Leonard Cohen. You didn’t say alive or dead. Alive? Let’s make it amusing. Both Nick Caves and both Warren Ellises. 

2. Would you like to be famous? 

No. Fame means you stop belonging to yourself. 

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? 

No. I hate making calls. They are pretty much only for emergencies. Texting is easier. 

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you? 

Sleepy morning sex. A walk along the river in Ljubljana to Cacao or another favorite coffee haunt. A perfect cafe latté. Seeing an art or photography exhibit and having a deep conversation or debate about it afterward. Catching some live music somewhere in town, walking home, and taking a long hot bath before crawling back into bed, maybe alone. 

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? 

To myself, this morning getting dressed. To someone else, probably my son when he was a baby. 

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

(Laughs scandalously loudly)

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? 

(Keeps laughing and then takes a breath) With the eventual heat-death of the universe? 

8. Name three things you and your partner have in common. [OK, we’ll do this one.]

We both have 20-something grown sons, a penchant for black clothes and very similar taste in music. 

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful? 

For the care and love of friends and chosen family. I’m certain I would not have made it this far without it. 

10. If you could change anything about they way you were raised, what would it be? 

(Laughs, but snarkily) I mean there’s a laundry list of things I would probably change, but what would that mean? What in my current life—the good things—would be altered? I could dwell on this question all damn day, but it wouldn’t change the past. 


12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? 

First I’d remind anyone to be careful what they wish for in that department. But if I could have the choice of what I’d gained? I don’t know … Wait. Yes, I do know. I would wish to attain some inner peace. Cheesy maybe but very true. 

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know? 

I’d want to always know when I was being lied to, even if it was for what the person talking to me thought was for good reasons. 

14. Is there something you’ve dreamed of for a long time? 

How long is a long time? For the last year or so, I’ve dreamt of going back to being a slinger of tea and fancy sandwiches. 

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? 

Survival. Mine and my kiddo’s. 

16. What do you value most in friendship? 

Honesty and always having my back. 

17. What is your most treasured memory? 

The one I tell is the day Faron, my son, first smiled at me. it felt like maybe I hadn’t completely screwed up if this little being was happy to see me. The one I keep to myself is a day I spent in an orchard a long time ago. 

18. What is your most terrible memory? 

Can we skip this one? I’m sure you can find a newspaper article about it with half the real story. 

19. If you knew that in one year you would suddenly die, would you change anything about the way you are now living? 

No. The way we spend our hours is the way we spend our days. I had been living the life I wanted, but things changed a bit. 

20. What does friendship mean to you? 

Everything. Friendships are the relationships that keep me tethered to the earth. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends and whether you want to be friends with your family or not. 

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life? 

It’s complicated. 

22. [skip]

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s? 

My chosen family is very close; we’ve been through a lot together. (Laughs again) No. My childhood was difficult but not as much as other’s. 

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother? 

How long do you have? 

25. [skip]

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share …”

A giant eye roll? I have good people in my life, and I have a few I share things with that I wish I didn’t. We all have to carry our own burdens. 

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for them to know. 

Very bad things happen to people close to me. 

28. [skip]

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life. 

Hm. There are a few. When I was still in college in Chattanooga, this very famous photographer came to do a talk for some joint event between the local art museum and the university. I was kind of enamored with her in both a brain crush way and in a more direct, physical way. After the talk at a party at a professor’s house, I wormed my way into a circle of people chatting with her. She kept looking at me with this intense expression and I thought maybe she was coming on to me. The circle dwindled and it was soon just the two of us. Before I could say anything that would have been mortifying later, she leaned in and whispered in my ear that I had a giant piece of spinach from the canapés wedged in my teeth. Lesson learned: don’t each spinach canapés at parties. 

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? 

I don’t, as a rule, cry in front of other people and by extension that means I’m probably not going to tell you the last time I cried by myself either. 

31. [skip]

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about? 

In public, lots of horrible things. In private, nothing. Gallows humor is key to survival. 

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? 

Nothing. I don’t take that chance any more. 

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? 

 Nothing. If the loved ones and pets are safe, nothing else matters; it’s just stuff. 

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why? 

My son’s. I don’t think I need to explain why. 

36. [skip]

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