Chip MacGregor

November 18, 2008

Ten Questions


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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