Saturday, December 11, 2010

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Chris Richman

Chris Richman is an agent with Upstart Crow Literary. He received his undergraduate degree in professional writing from Elizabethtown College, and an MA in Writing from Rowan University. A former playwright, contributor to The Onion, and sketch comedy writer, Chris broke into agenting in 2008 and has quickly made a name for himself by selling several noteworthy projects. Chris is actively building his list, enjoys working with debut writers, and is primarily interested in middle grade and young adult fiction, with a special interest in books for boys, books with unforgettable characters, and fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously.

For more information, as always, you should check out Casey McCormick's amazing blog Literary Rambles. Here is a interesting piece Chris Richman wrote about himself:

My love of books started at an early age. In the second grade I fell in love with the gross and wonderful works of Roald Dahl. On career day in third grade I carried a book and called myself an author. In the fourth grade I was sent to the principal’s office when the teacher discovered me reading Stephen King’s Pet Sematary in the back of the room.

After that first Stephen King book, I spent years reading books for adults until, in college, someone handed me the first Harry Potter and promised me it wasn’t just for kids. Within a handful of pages I was hooked.

Suddenly a new world opened up for me, a world full of wonderful books for children that I’d ignored since my own childhood. Here were books that appealed to adults, too. Lemony Snicket could take a weird old count and some orphans and make me laugh. Louis Sachar could take me to the desert so I could sweat along with the digging boys. Jerry Spinelli could introduce me to a kid everyone called Maniac and make me long for butterscotch krimpets.

It took a few years before I landed in children’s books. The opportunity to find the next big thing, the next work that will transport me to a Narnia or a Hogwarts or even to places that we’ve all visited, made it completely worth the wait. I want to work on books that inspire children like I once was inspired.

There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

And now Chris Richman faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Boy oh boy. This is a nearly impossible question, as everyone has already noted. And, like everyone else, I’m going to cheat by narrowing the category. Instead of three favorite books, I’ll list my three most re-read books, since that, I feel, gives an indication of how big a place certain works have in my history as a reader. So, in no particular order, they are:

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I first read this gorgeously written novel while in middle school and loved the carefully crafted plot and how everything eventually ties together, the very true coming of age feel of the story, and the mix of comedy and tragedy. One of my favorites.

I’m cheating here, too, but I’ll list J.D. Salinger’s collected stories about the Glass family, including: Franny and Zooey; Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; Seymour: An Introduction; and a few of the tales from Nine Stories as one work. I’ve always loved Salinger’s voice, his characters, and his gift for description, and felt the stories about the Glass family surpassed the far more popular Catcher in the Rye.

Finally, The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Like Owen Meany, I read this one as a kid, and loved that it, too, was a story for adults featuring a kid main character. I was immediately drawn into the fantasy elements—it was probably the first time I’d read a book that would now probably be categorized as urban fantasy—and I loved how it combined the real world with an alternate version. It also was just the classic version of the hero’s quest, as young Jack had to travel across the country to obtain the magic item to save his dying mother. Those stories still appeal to me, though I’ve gotten a lot pickier as I’ve gotten older.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

TV shows: The Simpsons will never be surpassed in my heart for the impact it had on me as I was growing up. For drama, I adored The Wire, and am currently completely in love with Breaking Bad and hoping it can somehow manage to remain amazing as it goes along.

Movies: I love movies. I once briefly considered a career as a film critic and have loads of favorites. However, in terms of the films I watch over and over again, my three favorites are: The Big Lebowski, Amelié, and Pulp Fiction. There are too many other fantastic films to name, but those three have all been worn out by constant viewing.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Someone with a good sense of humor, a fantastic worth ethic, patience, and the burning desire to always be improving.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I’m really in the market for classic stories that will withstand the test of time, as well as books that will genuinely make me laugh.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

As cheesy as it sounds, my favorite thing is having a small part in making people’s dreams come true. My least favorite is having to pass on so many projects people have worked very hard to create while searching for my own specific idea of what I most desperately want to work on.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Never stop reading or writing. Continually challenge yourself. Finish something with the knowledge that you’ll come back to it when you’re ready to make it perfect. Every book is a piece of clay, not stone, and it can be reshaped into something terrific.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I could say Shakespeare, whom I love, or Salinger, but in terms of someone I’ve loved for my entire life, my answer would have to be Stephen King. I have very few fanboy moments, but I’d probably jump up and down like a teen at a Justin Bieber concert if I found out I had the chance to sit down with SK. I devoured his books when I was younger and I used to fantasize about writing him fan mail and somehow having the chance to talk with him. He’s sometimes dismissed in more literary circles—for example, everyone in my Master’s program pooh-poohed him for all they were worth—but I still think he’s a good writer and a fantastic storyteller.


  1. If you were ever to ask me, Ninja, if I could have lunch with any agent, Chris Richman would be the one. Bonus points if you could arrange for both Shakespeare and Stephen King to sit down with us. (From what I know of him, I don't think Salinger would agree to attend.)

    I love the line about a book being a "piece of clay, not stone." Too true.

    Thanks for doing this interview. As you know, your blog is a must-read for me.

  2. An agent who used to write for The Onion, got into books because of Roald Dahl, and loves The Simpsons?

    Yes, please. :)

    Fun interview again, thanks!

  3. Great answers. My favorite is also the answer to #6 and how the book can be shaped. Very nice.


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