(Janet Knott/Boston Globe)
“I don’t have time to talk,” said Gay Talese, the only person I was scheduled to interview yesterday for my story about the mafioso Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno, who died of a heart attack this past Tuesday.
It was the last thing I was prepared to hear. Talese had rushed me off the phone when I first called to schedule the interview, and I had spent the interim time preparing, in part by skimming through his book “Honor Thy Father,” which chronicled the rise and fall of the Bonanno family.
So when I heard those words, after almost two days of research, I did the only thing I could do to save my story: I begged.
I pleaded with him to stay on the phone and told him it would take just five minutes, or really, any amount of time he could give me. I would have offered to wash his car if I thought it would have persuaded him.
“You know I wrote a book about this, right?” he asked. He sounded so irritated. I was terrified that he was going to hang up on me, but I forced myself to ask him again for just a few minutes of his time. There was no way I was returning to the newsroom without a quote from him.
It felt like hours, but it was actually only about a minute before I could sense Talese giving in to my pleading. He sighed as he said he wouldn’t allow the interview to drag, and then he said, “Turn on the tape recorder now.”
It lasted five minutes, but it was all I needed. After I told Talese that I had read his book, he gave me some great insight about who Bonanno was.
I was still rattled after the interview was over, but it felt good, as if I’d completed a rite of passage. I even got some compliments from the pros at The New York Times.
Preparation was key. I had prepared for two days for two questions, but it didn’t matter. I had asked the right ones, and I got my story.
— Yolanne Almanzar