With Literary Agent, Sean McCarthy 

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. 

My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to mccarthy small headshothave fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy! 

Today, Sean McCarthy, owner of Sean McCarthy Literary Agency, joins us as our ABC Game contestant. His agency specializes in representing  both authors and illustrators for all ages of children’s books.

Below is a list of Sean’s categories from A – Z and his answers off the top of his head.


BLUE: Jackets (I love the NHL playoffs, even if my Rangers didn’t come close this year).

COLOR: Yellow

DESSERT: Ice cream (or pretty much any frozen dessert, be it sorbet, gelato, or even sherbet)

EXERCISE: Cycling (definitely not running)

FOUND IN RAIN FOREST: Howler monkeys (saw these in Costa Rica – cute at first, but the howler part of their name is accurate)

GAME:  Any type of card game – pitch and Hearts are my favorites.

HOLIDAY:  4th of July (as long as it’s not raining)

INDOOR SPORT:  Bowling (not sure if it’s a sport, but I enjoy it!)

JELLYBEANS:  All of them, even that weird Buttered Popcorn one from Jelly Belly.

KITE FLYING REQUIRES:  More patience than I have.

LIQUID:  Seltzer. So much seltzer.

MONOPOLY SPACE:  Marvin Gardens. (I just Googled this to make sure I was spelling it right, and it turns out that the “real” neighborhood name in New Jersey is Marven Gardens, but Monopoly spells it wrong in the game.)

NON-FICTION BOOK:  Anything by Bill Bryson


PIZZA TOPPING:  Pepperoni, even though it’s super boring.

QUOTE:  Everything Takes Forever (My father is a CPA and has his own tax practice, and he has a sign in his office that says Everything Takes Forever so that he can point to it when people ask how long their tax return will take. I think it’s equally applicable in publishing.)

ROAD SIGN:  Yield (mainly because of the Pearl Jam album with the same name)

SYNONYM FOR AWESOME:  Thrilling (I say this way too much on Twitter and am trying to cut back)

TRANSPORTATION:  Trains (though I’m thankful to be working from home with how bad the NYC subways have become of late)

UNUSUAL COMBINATION:  Dill Pickle Potato Chips. They shouldn’t work, and that first bite is always strange, but they’re so good.

VILLAIN:  Madvillain (one of my favorite albums of all time, featuring the rappers MF DOOM and Madlib)

WEATHER:  70s and partly cloudy. Anything else and I’ll get sunburn immediately.

X WORD:  X-Ray (this is why I’m an agent and not an author – my ideas are terrible!)

YEAR AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT1986 – the last time that the Mets won the World Series (maybe this year!)

ZOO ANIMAL:  Pandas (or pretty much any uncoordinated bear).


ME:  (Laughing out loud…[I’m tired of the acronym 😊]) Which animals were more fun to watch pandas or howler monkeys? And have you seen other animals, native to other countries in their own environment?

SM: It was incredible to see the howler monkeys in the wild, although it Sean Lion Photobecame less charming when it became clear why they’re called howler monkeys, I will never tire of Internet videos of pandas falling down and being clumsy, but I’ve never seen that in person, so I will go with the howler monkeys. 

I’ve also had the chance to travel to Zambia when my brother was living there, and got this amazing photo when we were visiting a lion sanctuary. I should point out that as soon as my brother took this picture, I was back on my feet and practically sprinting away.

 ME:  Understandable! Ghosts tend to have that effect on people also, but as soon as I read “GHOSTS” in your first answer, I was hooked. What made you decide to read that book? Is it a clients’; was it the title; you recently met a ghost and wanted a little insight?

SM: It’s an adult sci-fi novel that I’m reading for fun. I don’t get as much time for pleasure reading as I would like, so I tend to read adult when I do (otherwise, it all starts to feel like work!). I found it via the incredible Book Concierge feature on NPR, and I’ve been on a big fantasy/sci-fi kick lately, so I was instantly hooked.  

ME:  Fantasy/SciFi readers, heads up, Sean just gave you an excellent recommendation.

Clarification…you say “thrilling” or “awesome” too much on Twitter? I ask because besides the word ‘great’, ‘awesome’ is another word used too often by most people. Which is why I often use this as a category. Do you have a favorite word (any word-not category specific) that you wish people used more often in conversation?

SM: I like to share all my good news about clients on Twitter (along with the occasional wry complaint about the Mets). I realized that I was starting every other Tweet with “Thrilled to see…” (or something similar), so I’m looking to expand my praise vocabulary. I’ve been trying to use “copacetic” more frequently in business emails, but it hasn’t caught on yet.

ME:  Last time I heard ‘copacetic’ was on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

And you are correct about bowling. It is an indoor sport! My mother was inducted into our City Sports Hall of Fame for her long term bowling career and dedication to promoting the sport. Do you bowl and if so, do you know how the term ‘turkey’ came to be in this sport? 😊

SM: That’s amazing about your mother! I confess that I had to Google the etymology of turkey (apparently, the origin is a little unclear, but it’s most likely that actual turkeys were given away as prizes during bowling competitions to anyone that bowled three strikes in a row). It’s amazing how much bowling lingo is out there – one of my favorites is Fast Eight, which is when it looks like you’ve thrown a great ball, but only wind up with eight pins down instead of a strike. I throw way more of those than I do turkeys!

ME:  Frozen turkeys should be given away for throwing strike balls and ending up with the 7-10 split, then bowlers may not get so frustrated. Just a thought.

I’ve always believed the Monopoly spaces were connected to New York City so I am really happy you clarified that Marvin Gardens is actually an area in Atlantic City, NJ where the Monopoly spaces were named after. Have you played Monopoly and if so, what is the longest time your game lasted?

SM: I used to love playing Monopoly as a kid, and I could play for hours (I was usually the one demanding that we keep going, as long as I wasn’t losing too badly). There’s a fascinating podcast about the history of the game (from 99% Invisible), and that the original purpose of the game was to teach people to work collaboratively and to show how toxic monopolies can be. 

ME:  You are absolutely correct about the original purpose. The originator of the game, Elizabeth “Lizzie’ Magie, created it as a medium to educate people about the then current state of economy (too many monopolies) and promote Henry George’s (her political hero) economist ideas about putting the burden of taxation on wealthy landowners. The game’s history goes back to 1903!

What is the worst flavored Jelly Belly jellybean you have ever eaten? Feel free to consider flavors of their Bertie Botts Every Flavour Jelly Bean.

SM: I’ve never been a fan of the Apple Cinnamon one (it was a bit too spicy for me, which should tell you about how well I handle legit spicy food).

ME:  Yup, it, along with your LIQUID answer, does explain your handling of spicy food. However, you visited a spicy region of the world…Costa Rica! What a thrilling or in your new word, copacetic, place to visit. Besides the howler monkeys, what other animals did you see in the wild while you were visiting? And anything else you’d like to add to this interview?

SM: My brother was living there (where there) was a white-water rafting guide, so we took a few days off to travel to Puerto Viejo and explore the area. While we were walking in a nature preserve, we thought we spotted a small creature in the forest, and we excitedly got our cameras ready. After waiting patiently for the animal to venture out from the brush, we got some great photos, and felt such a sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t until we were back in our hostel and looking through our camera that the animal we had breathlessly waited for was a raccoon, and identical to those that are found all over the US. 

ME:  (Laughing out loud). 😊 I bet you made that Costa Rican raccoon feel special.

Thank you for playing the ABC Game with us Sean, and giving us a glimpse into your world outside of work.

Readers, you can find Sean on…

Twitter: @mccarthylit

Facebook: @mccarthylit






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