Pre-interview Notes & Preparation–Marsha

10Mar11

Professor (Marsha)

5:45pm

Rowan University

I want to interview Marsha because she is a credible individual (in the context that she is a professor at a Rowan University) who saw the Jersey Devil. I want to hear about the experience of her sighting—when, where, why, etc.—but I’m also interested in her interpretation of the experience, her beliefs in the supernatural, and who she is.

A few of the questions I will have in mind during our conversation:

Did she grow up in New Jersey? What are her interests both professionally and personally? Does she travel in the Pine Barrens often? I would also like to know what her theory is about the Jersey Devil. Does she believe the creature truly exists, or does she doubt her own experience because it goes against what is allowable in “reality”? If she does believe it exists, where does she think it originated? Does she have any theories about the creature? Does she often speculate on her experience or does it rarely cross her mind? Is she generally pragmatic in her beliefs and values or does she lean toward the supernatural?

According to Postmodern Interviewing edited by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein, two broad kinds of stories exist within interviewing: “personal narratives and folk narratives” (124).  The authors of this chapter go onto explain that “Personal narratives are idiosyncratic, whereas folk narratives are collective” (124). While I consider Marsha’s story a personal narrative, it will most likely contain remnants of a folk narrative as well. Because Marsha’s story is one of many Jersey Devil sightings, I can assume that she is working within a genre to find the language to describe her personal narrative.

In other words, any sighting of the Jersey Devil will most likely contain a description of the creature itself. Not coincidentally, the details of the descriptions are often the same—large bat-like wings, the head of a horse, a long tail, etc. These similarities can arise because people who experience sightings are all seeing the same creature, but they can also arise because the Jersey Devil has become a legend; consequently, many people have seen drawings, renditions, and oral descriptions of the creature. How would we know to call it the Jersey Devil if not for a form that has been previously established within our minds.

More similar language will also appear because many of the sightings occur in a similar context. The Jersey Devil is not being spotted on South Beach, despite what some articles may have you believe (thanks Meghan). Rather, the sightings generally occur in the Pine Barrens; therefore, physical landscape descriptions may also appear similar.

South Jersey is not the only culture that has developed a language to tell tales of cryptid sightings. I assume the Scottish have created a subgenre for sightings of the Loch Ness. And there is the Chupacabra of South America, and Big Foot of the North American wilderness, and so on. All of these cryptid sightings have created a larger, interrelated genre. The storytellers know they ought to include details about where they were and what they were doing at the time. They know to visually describe their surroundings and the creature itself. They know to describe the action of the creature and how long they saw it.

Thus, I can expect Marsha’s sighting to fit some of these genre standards. However, I think her interpretation of her experience will be idiosyncratic. While the sighting itself undoubtedly interests me (otherwise I would not be researching this topic), I believe her reflection of the experience and what it means to her is where the true value will lie. With all of that said, I don’t want to carry these expectations into the interview. Easier said than done.

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