Chip MacGregor

July 28, 2007

The Wisdom of the Ages


Tammy wrote in to ask, "When an editor at a newspaper or magazine hands you a topic and tells you to write a story, where do you begin?" The is closely related to Dave’s question: "When writing a book, where do you begin to find your information?’

The easiest way, of course, is to simply make them up. Specifically, create a name and a bunch of quotes. Make sure the name sounds vaguely academic ("V. Pennington Longbottom" works better than "Dan Smith.") Stick in some phony facts, making sure to use "actual" numbers (saying "9482 people believe Hillary Clinton is really Ted Kennedy in a wig" is much more believable than saying "nearly ten thousand people believe…") If anyone questions your sources, immediately attack them as heretics.

Another thing that works well is to generalize: "EVERYBODY KNOWS that literary agents are more trustworthy than publishers." The goal is to try and make people who disagree feel stupid.

In a pinch, citing Bible verses also helps. For example, you can say, "As the prophet Fiorello says in Formica 2:2, ‘Only the good die young.’" (Note to Biblicists: You can also simply misquote a verse, like the people in CBA who use "Publish Glad Tidings" on their stationery, as though it were a reference to publishing books in 21st Century America. That sort of establishes a link between you and God in the minds of the readers. Trust me on this.)

In addition you can make your quotes close, even if they aren’t exactly correct. Or even germane. I once read a review of one of the 762 anti-DaVinci Code books that appeared on religious bookstore shelves in recent years, and the reviewer used these words: "As Jesus is claimed to have said, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ If only his modern-day disciples would follow his advice." Ha! Yeah, it’s a cute line. The only problem is that it’s entirely stupid. First, Jesus didn’t say those words — that’s a line from the Psalms, as any idiot with a bible and a concordance would discover if he put two minutes of research into his work. Second, the words have absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand…but what should that matter to a writer who wants to get a cheap laugh? Actual facts mean nothing to, say, Michael Moore — why should they mean anything to me?

Next, be sure to use the word "obvious" a lot: "When looking at the state of publishing today, it’s OBVIOUS that Tim LaHaye is a better writer than John Steinbeck. What has Steinbeck written in the past ten years?"

Also, make sure to be as vague as possible. Cite big names but don’t offer any details to actually support your facts. As Mark Twain once said, "I don’t need facts if I have a dynamite story." (see? It works!)

I serendipitously suggest you use really big words. Even if you don’t know their meaning. It will make you look antedilluvian.

You may want to claim you have supernatural powers. For Christians, the gift of prophecy is particularly helpful. If you can routinely end sentences with the words "…in accordance with prophecy," you’ve got a bright future in religious publishing. And if anyone doubts you, simply pronounce a curse on him or her.

Above all, feign shock whenever anyone questions your integrity. This has worked extremely well for Peter Popoff, Robert Tilton, Jimmy Swaggert, Benny Hinn, and numerous others. I once watched some of Brother Benny’s boys take the arm of an elderly lady, move her to the front of the auditorium, and seat her in a wheel chair, all the while explaining, "Brother Benny feels the Lord wants you right down front…why look! There are no chairs left. Here — just sit in this wheelchair until we find you a regular seat." They never found it, apparently…but Brother Benny certainly found HER, and during the show got her to stand up and dance in front of the crowd, who was fooled into believing the old gal had actually SHOWN UP in the wheelchair. They doubtless went home happy and blessed, knowing in their hearts that all was well in the world of snakeoil evangelism. (I got to ask Benny about it later. He couldn’t BELIEVE such a thing had happened. In the spirit of Major Renault– "I’m shocked, SHOCKED to find that gambling is going on here!" — Brother Benny was shocked, SHOCKED to find that humbug was going on here. There were real people who had come in wheelchairs that night, by the way. They all sat to the right of the stage. Brother Benny never made it over to that side. Probably an oversight.)

Trust me, if anyone questions you, be SHOCKED. Michael Vick was SHOCKED to learn there was dogfighting going on at his home in Virginia. Barry Bonds was SHOCKED to learn the guys at BALCO were giving athletes steroids. Tim Donaghywas SHOCKED to discover his calls as an NBA referee would influence games and help gamblers. Alberto Contador was SHOCKED to learn there was blood doping going on at the Tour de France. Hillary Clinton was SHOCKED to find the supposedly lost Rose Law Firm records to be, um, in her own closet. It’s an effective strategy.

There you have it — the wisdom of the ages.

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