Monday, July 22, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Stephen Barr

Stephen Barr is an agent with Writers House, and holy crap does he like books - unexpected memoirs with itchy voices, narrative non-fiction that tackles hard-to-tackle issues, wry and rarely paranormal YA, laugh-until-you-squirt-milk-out-of-your-nose middle grade, sweet and wacky (but still logical!) picture books from author/illustrators, and rarest of all, fiction that rewards the reader line-by-line and that gets to know (at least) one character really, really well (will brake for Geoff Dyer, Aleksandar Hemon, J.M Coetzee, Stephen King, etc.) ... he's willing to be a sucker for smart, unconventional thrillers, mysteries that bend reality, ghost stories that blow reality to hell, and literary novels that are interested in why people do the things they do and why they feel the things they feel.

Writers House was founded in 1973 with a vision for a new kind of literary agency, one that would combine a passion for managing a writer's career with an integrated understanding of how storytelling works. With this two-pronged philosophy, Writers House has played a critical role in developing the careers of hundreds of novelists and non-fiction authors. We believe in offering our clients not only our expertise in negotiating contracts, but in contributing to all phases of the editorial and publishing processes. Our goal is to maximize the value of our clients' work by providing hands-on editorial and marketing advice, as well as leading the way in branding, licensing, and selling film/TV, foreign, audio, dramatic and serial rights.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.

And now Stephen Barr faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books? 

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey has a pretty safe spot in the top three…I remember walking through the (now dearly departed) Borders on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles with my dad, about six or seven years ago, when he picked up a copy and told me that when he was in college, Sometimes a Great Notion was the only thing his entire dorm talked about for two whole years.  Not the only book, the only thing.  Out of all the things.  Maybe I decided that I had to love it, lest I be a lousy son, but I think I would have loved it even if I’d been going through my annoying rebellious phase.  It’s gorgeous line by line, of course, but what killed me about it was the way it talked about the total possibility of loving your own totally impossible family.  
P.S. Just to be clear, I love my family.        

The Fantastic Mr. Fox probably gets a spot, too, since there must have been some reason I read it 150 times as a kid, beyond how totally drool-inducing the drawings of roasts and ribs and ham hocks and barrels of cider were.  No one will ever be a better, cooler dad than Mr. Fox.

I guess Sentimental Education by Flaubert rounds out the top three, if only because it helped me figure out that I wasn’t actually in love with this one girl I thought I was hopelessly in love with (for years and years and years).  Phew.            

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

I know a couple of these probably bear some explanation, but I’m going to pretend that they don’t, and that they’re all totally obvious choices, and that you all totally agree with me.

The Fugitive

Home Alone

Habla Con Ella (Talk to Her)

Twin Peaks

The West Wing

Mad Men 

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

 Someone who’s so good at writing that I’m not bothered by their slightly mad-scientist-y desire to take over the world (with their books).  

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


A cookbook that’s actually a novel in disguise.  Seriously! 

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?
My favorite thing by far is being there at the slow genesis of an idea that my author and I can tell is going to be totally freaking incredible.  That and giving good news to a writer who worked his or her butt off.

My least favorite thing is that we don’t get badges like other kinds of agents.  That and giving bad news to a writer who worked his or her butt off.

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)

There are no shortcuts, and the long way has a much better view. 

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

Sloane Crosley, because lunch is always a good time to ask someone to marry you.


  1. Any advice for young writers? My 13 year-old is interested in the whole writing process. He has co-written and self published his own book, Mason Davis and the Rise of the Storm Makers, which is available on Amazon. Now my 9 year-old wants to do the same. Any advice on how to grab the readers from page one? They either start too late or too early in their stories. How does a writer strike the right balance?

  2. Great interview. I loved The Fugitive, Home Alone, and Twin Peaks too.

  3. Very interesting... Great questions and better answers. Twin Peaks? No more need be said.

  4. Enjoyable to read out the interview.

  5. I love the cookbook that is actually a novel in disguise. Nice.


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