Interviews for the biography

After many months of health challenges, I’m finally up to the point where I can think about working on Isaac’s biography again.

The current challenge is the interviews. I’ve already blogged about the number of interviews I’d like to do. Another issue has come up: releases.

First problem

If the biography is published, it’s likely to be with a relatively small publisher such as Llewellyn. (I think Llewellyn is largest publisher of spiritual/pagan/magical books, but they’re still small compared to the mainstream publishers.) Small publishers don’t have the resources to handle legal challenges due to privacy or libel, so they’ll usually demand a signed release from anyone whose name is mentioned in a book, if they’re living and not a public figure.

I didn’t obtain signed releases from anyone I’ve interviewed so far. All I did is get them to say that they give me permission to record the conversation; I didn’t explicitly say for what. That means I have to track down everyone I interviewed and ask them to sign a release. Some of them were hard to reach, and I’m not sure I can reach them again.

Second problem

The release form looks scary to me. It says that the signer grants me the right to use their name however I see fit in the biography. and gives up the right to privacy, libel, and slander. Many people have already told me things, then added “Please don’t print that.” I won’t, of course, but the release frees me of all legal obligation to respect their wishes. I still have a moral obligation to do so, but anyone who’s walked into a courtroom knows that legality and morality are two different things.

Pagans are sensitive about their right to privacy, and for good reasons. I’m worried that the release form will scare off potential interview subjects. Or they’ll grant me interviews but won’t sign the release, leaving me with awkward omissions; e.g., “Isaac was married five times: Rusty; Selene; Sally; his fourth wife; Phaedra.” (This is a fake example; Deborah has been through this process before and I know she’d sign a release.)

I need a strategy by which I can convince people to trust me to respect their wishes, but still give a small publisher legal protection.

Third problem

I’ve collected about 45 hours of interviews so far. I anticipate I’ll have 150-200 hours worth of interviews when done. I’d like to have transcripts made of these interviews; that’s a challenge unto itself, and I’ll talk about that in another post.

After the biography is written and published, I’d like to turn over the interviews and transcripts to Columbia University’s Department of Oral History. I don’t think anyone has done an oral history project based on the pagan community before. It could become a starting point for future historical research into the history of paganism in the United States. I think this would please Isaac, who put so much value into scholarship.

However, the release form for an oral history project is not the same as the release form for a publisher. The publisher’s release form let me use their name; the oral history release form talks about copyrights and privacy for the interview.

How many forms can I reasonably expect an interview subject to understand and sign before they’ll just walk away from me?

Reality check: this is a self-made problem. I don’t have to do an oral history project, just write a biography. Though it seems like such a waste to gather all this information and have no one else ever be able to see it.

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