Ten Questions

November 18, 2008 | Written by admin

A while back, a website manager said she wanted to ask me some questions, in order to find out more about my role and my life. Most of the time I'm answering questions about the industry on this blog, so here's a post that's a bit different… I'm answering questions from Ashley Weis, who runs a very funny and creative blog.

1. As an agent, what is a typical Monday like for you?

I get up early, go running, drink a huge mug of Starbucks (which I now make myself, since I can't see paying $4 a pop each morning), then face mycomputer. It seems like Mondays are the days I need to catch up on emails and phone calls… um,this doesn't sound very exciting, does it? I've been teaching a couple writing classes for a university, but that's coming to an end in a couple weeks, and I've decided I'm done with teaching for a while. I'd love to tell you that I generally do a million dollar deal on Mondays, or that Monday is the day I solve world hunger or pray until I glow in the dark, but it's not. Mondays are my day for catching up on stuff, so it's pretty much a day filled with talking — via the phone or the internet. Patti usually has Mondays off (she works for Barnes & Noble), so she quilts and reads and occasionally interrupts me. We have dinner together, she goes to her Bible study, and I watch Monday Night Football. Clearly you were hoping for something more when you asked the question. (TUESDAYS! It's on Tuesdays I routinely do those million dollar deals and promote world peace. Trust me on this.)

2. What is the best book you ever read?

Ack. Asking a book guy for one favorite book is always a Herculean task. When I was a kid, I thought Treasure Island was the best book ever written. Later, I thought The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was brilliant. In high school my answer would have been Huckleberry Finn (and it still might be), and in college it was Crime and Punishment.  I'm a huge Dickens fan, and I think Joseph Conrad may be the best novelist in history. Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel changed my life. But if I had to pick just one book as a favorite, I think it would have to be Tom Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Brilliant from first page to last.

3. If you were an author, why would you want Chip MacGregor to be your agent?

Well… I am an author. So I guess I'd say (assuming I'm speaking as an outsider) that Chip knows what he's doing — knows what it's like to make a living as a writer. He has a long track record of having done deals and successfully serving his clients. He reads widely, he's confident, and he'll tell me the truth instead of BS'ing me. He's focused on making me better. He thinks long term. He knows what to do next and stays calm in a crisis. He returns my calls, and he gets along with most people. (Good grief. This man is a saint! Call the pope, quick.)

4. So what are Chip's weaknesses?

Too many to count. I can be a pain. I get so focused that I get cranky when interrupted or when things don't go my way. I am always thinking "make it better," so I sometimes forget to say "nice work." I talk too softly. I make inappropriate jokes. I suffer fools badly. I lack faith. I have a very hard time forgiving myself for my failings. Let's move on.

5. Okay, if you could be the agent for any author from the past, who would it have been?

That one's easy: Mark Twain. A brilliant stylist, with a wonderful wit and a natural writing voice. The man could create great prose while (as we say in the Northwest) half drunk and falling off a log. And if there's one thing I've always appreciated, it's talent. Twain had a double portion. He was funny — naturally funny, and I also appreciate people who make me laugh. I'd take Mark Twain over anyone else.

6. And what was the worst story you were ever pitched?

Man…  I could go for hours. I once had a guy tell me that he and his son were "the two witnesses of Revelation," and inform me that I needed to send him "a large advance" or he would tell God to hit my part of the country with "severe weather patterns." I rejected it — and survived the drought and locust plague.

I once had a guy send me a book about how to play poker naked (complete with photo). He was middle-aged, and had a pot belly. It wasn't pretty.

There was this one guy who kept sending me his book entitled, "Harry Potter Visits Veda-Land," in which the lovable wizard apparently becomes a Hindu and has merry mixups in India. (I'm sure Ms Rowling would approve.)

I've had proposals in pencil, proposals from people who were incarcerated, and proposals from people who do not speak English. I had one woman tell me she communicates with plants, and wanted to do a book where she related their stories. I frequently get emails from people saying something like, "I hear you do some religious-type books, so I know you'll like this one. I have visions. I can see the future." Unfortunately, they can never see far enough in the future to know that I'm going to reject them.

I used to go to this one particular writing conference where every year this woman would try to pitch me her book: "My Father Was The Hamburglar." You'll never guess what it was about: Her father played the Hamburglar on those old McDonalds TV commercials. Scintillating.

At another conference, this sleazy Sonny Bono-like character kept trying to sell me a book that had the title (and I swear I'm not making this up) How to Make Out with Chicks. He reminded me of Dean Martin playing Matt Helm in those godawful movies from the late 60's.

Oh, and worst: I once had a guy try and hand me his proposal while I was standing at the urinal. I am not exaggerating. I wanted to turn and say thanks at that very moment.

But my favorite proposal was probably from the guy who used translation software and failed to edit it. If you're unaware, translation software inserts alternative words in brackets after the word in question. So his first line was:

        "Dear Chip [potato, chocolate, buffalo, fish and__],

Thanks [gratitude, appreciation] for looking at my book [tome, treatise, verbiage]…"

7. When you wake up in the morning, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

It's probably, "What am I going to do today?" I'm  a very organized person, so I start off by thinking about the day's events: Who am I seeing? What needs to get done? What is important? But soon after that comes, "How are my girls?" and "I need some coffee." (My girls, in case you don't know, are both studying in Europe. Molly is a grad student in Sweden, studying third-world development. Kate is a sophomore in Spain, studying…whatever it is they study in Spain. Flamenco, maybe.)

8. What's the last book that brought you to tears?

Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy. A fabulous read. And yes, I represented it, so you might consider this a biased response, but it's honestly one of the best novels I've read in the past five years. Just a fabulous book.

9. What is your favorite book of the Bible?

1 John. There's an emphasis on truth and love and living out your faith. Three things I'd like to be better at. Saint John wants us to understand that Christ was real, and that the Spirit is shaping our lives as we seek to live out our faith… but at the same time, he notes that we all fail, and need forgiveness, and need to grow. It's a great book for those of us who have been failures, and need to be reminded to press on, and love people, and demonstrate that we can be different, better people. I believe my faith is supposed to shape the way I do my job, the way I represent authors, the way I live my life. Again — I'd like to be better at all of that.

10. Last, what do you love most about life?

Lots. The fact that my wife still loves me. The fact that I have three children of whom I am incredibly proud. The fact that God loves me (in fact, He sought me out, even though I'm a wreck). The fact that I have good friends, who understand the importance of things like great writing, and baseball, the Oregon Ducks, and the Green Bay Packers. And words — God, how I love words. Knowing that I'm going to open up a book and read great thoughts inspires me every single day. No kidding. I love doing what I do. I love the authors I get to represent. I love the books I get to read. I love this stuff.

There you go. Sorry if this sounds self-aggrandizing, but I thought it would be different from the usual stuff.

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  • http://stonyriverfarm.blogspot.com Susan

    Chip, that was heaven-sent; you gave me such a laugh and shared such great advice, when I sorely needed both. I laughed so hard at #6 I hurt myself (ouch, right here…)
    Thank you thank you!

  • http://www.TheNiceLife.com Brandon Merhout

    Very candid in #4!
    Until we recognize our own weaknesses, we can’t do anything to improve!

  • Molly MacGregor

    Good morning!
    I’m doing really well. I stayed up too late last night writing a paper on neglected diseases as they relate to global risk, but at least it’s done. My first bandy practice was yesterday and it was awesome, way better than soccer. I wish I had more time to play guitar, but I’ll be spending the week in the library reading about patterns of global consumption.
    Kate is sick. She was in Morocco over the weekend and caught something, but don’t worry her host family knew just what to do. They giving her nothing but apples and tea so I’m sure she’ll be feeling better tomorrow (when she finally gets something to eat).

  • Molly MacGregor

    By the way, how did Randolf (Rudolf’s cousin?)the Red Arsed Reindeer not make it’s way into the all time worst pitch category? Besides being generally ridiculous, it had a major plot problem. What was Randolf going to do, give Santa a tan?

  • http://cherylbarker.blogspot.com/ Cheryl Barker

    Chip, thoroughly enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing it!

  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com Chip

    A clarification: My daughter Molly is referencing that I once received a proposal for Randolf, who was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s cousin. Randolf’s nose didn’t glow — his butt did. And the woman who created it made up this story that was saccarine sweet. Except…what would Santa do with a reindoor who had a glowing butt? (As Molly suggested, perhaps he could get a nice tan.) Anyway, I was working with a couple people at the time, and we had a wonderful time thinking up glowing body parts for Rudolph’s relatives.

  • http://aweiswriter.blogspot.com Ashley Weis

    You forgot the best question and answer… if you had to spend a lifetime of being insane or being a woman!

  • http://hopeofglory.typepad.com Nicole

    It’s bad enough that you’re a Ducks’ fan, but the Green Bay Packers???!!! AAACCCKK!

  • http://www.danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    Okay, now I understand the green and gold sidebar! :-)

  • Carol L Daubenmire

    Oh, this was good. Its always good but this was especially good. Love the glimpse into the person. Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself. We are all fans of what you do …at least I think we are … but now we got to read fun facts to know and learn about Chip.
    Hope your daughter is enjoying Spain. We used to live there and my Taylor grad spent a semester there. Good times. I learned how to make a mean tortilla and drink sol y sombras!

  • http://alisonstrobel.blogspot.com Alison Strobel Morrow

    That was awesome. You’re the bomb, Chip.

  • http://alisonstrobel.blogspot.com Alison Strobel Morrow

    That was awesome. You’re the bomb, Chip.

  • http://www.rmabry.com Richard Mabry

    Chip,
    Thanks for the inside look at the working of your mind [brain, cerebrum, consciousness]. I appreciate your candor [openness, sharing]. Will the Randolph book hit the stores in time for Christmas?

  • http://www.trishperry.com Trish Perry

    Hey, I have “I make inappropriate jokes” in my plus column. Am I missing something here?

  • http://www.sibellagiorello.com sibella

    Fabulous post, Chip. Thanks for the wisdom, and for giving this day a rainbow’s gravity (yeah, that’s right, a *literary* reference. Take that, Randolf!)

  • http://lynnrush.wordpress.com/ Lynn Rush

    This was great, Chip!
    I always thought the pitching-an-agent-in-the-bathroom was an urban legend…..OMG I can’t believe someone actually did that.

  • http://www.myspace.com/hillbillybible Stevie Rey

    Ye like Mark Twain and John and ye don’t like The Hillbilly Bible!? WHAT IN TARNATION!?
    Oh, I must a overlooked that “don’t suffer fools well” part, Chip :-)
    Grace and Cornbread and a Very Happy Wednesdee to y’all,
    SR

  • http://soigonow3.blogspot.com jeff jacobson

    ahhh .. classic urinal line. “I wanted to turn and say thanks .. ” good stuff.

  • http://www.courtneywalsh.typepad.com Courtney Walsh

    I am still laughing at all these pitches, though I don’t know why I’m surprised!! I feel like I’ve met all of these people who pitched this stuff to you.
    I once had a woman come up to me after a play I was in and she said, “If you’re going to keep doing this stuff on stage you really need to do something about your eyebrows. From the back, it didn’t look like you had any. A little makeup on them would really make them pop.” I said, “Uh, thanks for that.”
    So, you know… nothing really surprises me anymore.
    Except the urinal. hahaha. That one is a classic.
    Perhaps you could compile your own book of failed pitches. I bet a lot of people would get a kick out of reading that. Kind of like the failed American Idol auditions. Could be a best-seller! :)
    Thanks for the laugh this morning!

  • http://loribenton.blogspot.com/ Lori Benton

    “Susan Meissner’s The Shape of Mercy”
    Yes, indeed. Best book I’ve read in a long while. Doing my best to promote it locally and on my blog. Well done, Susan and Chip!

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel Hauck

    “Dear Chip [potato, chocolate, buffalo, fish and__],
    Thanks [gratitude, appreciation] for looking at my book [tome, treatise, verbiage]…”
    This is absolutely my favorite story pitch. I still laugh over this and hearing you tell it in person makes it way funnier.
    Fun, fun, post, Chip. I think I’d post something similar about myself but I’m dubious anyone would care. ;)
    But, I’m desperate for blog material so….
    Go ducks, but GO BUCKEYES!
    Have a fun Wednesday. Grace and peace.
    Rachel

  • http://portraitofawriter.ginaconroy.com Gina Conroy

    Thanks for giving us a behind the scenes glimpse at your life and making me smile!

  • Christina S. Nelson

    Chip,
    You had me until the comment about the Ducks. We’re big Beaver fans here. Good luck in the civil war game. I think you’ll be needing it this year.
    Have a great day!
    Christina

  • http://readinnwritin.blogspot.com PatriciaW

    Funny and always welcome insight.
    “I get so focused that I get cranky when interrupted or when things don’t go my way.” and “I lack faith.” You too? Thought it was me.
    I hope the guy who played the Hamburglar had more than one daughter.

  • http://www.avilyjerome.com Avily Jerome

    Ok, let’s see here.
    Don’t communicate with plants. Check.
    Don’t claim to have witnessed Revelation. Check.
    Don’t pitch in the bathroom. Check. (Of course, if I were in the men’s bathroom in the first place, that would bring up a whole new set of questions… Double Check.)
    Ok, I think I’ve got the major things handled… now if only you were accepting submissions!

  • http://www.jeffwofford.com Jeff

    I just tried the first page of Gravity’s Rainbow. Too brilliant for me. Alack!

  • http://aweiswriter.blogspot.com Ashley Weis

    “I believe my faith is supposed to shape the way I do my job, the way I represent authors, the way I live my life.”
    How do you think your faith currently shapes the way you work, your relationship with your authors, and the way you live your life?

  • http://www.publishedauthors.net/robsargeant Rob Sargeant

    I enjoyed the post. John’s my favourite book of the Bible too. I always thought it would translate well into a movie, with all its references to water.

  • http://www.jimrubart.com Jim Rubart

    Loved this! Great questions. Great answers.

  • http://www.jimrubart.com Jim Rubart

    Need to add to my earlier commment: Nicole, who said “it’s bad enough that you’re a duck’s fan …” has great insight. Her words are truth.

  • erin

    These were great answers! I love hearing what you get shipped in the way of proposals. :) I loved The Ragamuffin Gospel too. I have a bookmark (ie: a fortune from a fortune cookie) in the “Grazie Signore” chapter. That book is exceptional. Here’s a question for next time you do personal stuff – is there a book (classic or contemporary) most people love that you didn’t like? I had this conversation with a friend the other day. I feel like a loser because I didn’t like Moby Dick. I know I’m supposed to, and I do like the idea of it. I like the concept of chasing a dream and going nuts over it. I just didn’t like the story much and I can’t really figure out why. (Please don’t throw fried shrimp at me).
    Thanks for the insight into your private life Mr. Chocolate/Buffalo/Fish :)

  • http://danicafavorite.blogspot.com Danica

    Right, so I come looking for hysterically funny because it’s hysterically cold here and I need to laugh to warm up, and I get deep. Thankfully for young MacGregor, who I’d say was a chip off the old block, but since Chip’s taken, well, I guess it’ll have to be young MacGregor. Although she’s sharp enough she could pick her own name and I’d go with it. You’ve got a nice family, Chip.
    Anyway, I really DO have a real question this time. What’s with submissions from incarcerated people? I’ve heard from a number of editors and agents that they don’t take submissions from them. Why not? Just curious.

  • kyle watson

    Thank you Chip. I don’t feel so bad about my query letter and proposal anymore. I love your sense of humor. We need more Christians with a sense of humor. I can’t find much good humor online or in real life. I like to be funny on my blog and in real life.
    When the economy was good I didn’t come across many genuine happy people. Thanks for the humor.

  • http://www.susanmeissner.com Susan Meissner

    Dearest Potato:
    Thanks for the kudos here. You’re the best. We’re going to have to get together more on Tuesdays. . .
    I laughed out loud at the gratitude in the men’s room scene. Wasn’t ready to laugh out loud, though. Sprayed my computer screen with coffee-laced spittle.
    But so worth the mess. That was hilarious.
    Sooz