After 20 years of being an adoption lawyer, and approaching age 50, I finally decided to indulge in a lifelong fantasy. No, I didn't buy a Corvette, date a swimsuit model, or have a cosmetic surgeon carve me a Brat Pitt six-pack. I wrote a murder mystery.
Having little imagination, I made my protagonist an adoption attorney/country club tennis pro, running his law practice out of the pro shop's storage room. Hey, no one said it had to be a serious mystery. When I finished and got the book published, I assumed my work was done. Let the fame begin.
That was not the case-far from it. My publisher explained that books don't sell themselves, and no, Jay Leno wouldn't be calling. Instead, I was told I was going on a 14-stop, four-state book tour. This prompted a panic attack as severe as the one I had in my ill-fated attempt to ask out a cheerleader in high school.
Why would anyone come to my book signing, I wondered. Adding to my anxiety was the fact that my first signing was to be in Orange, the town in which my parents live. The only thing worse than having no one show up would be having no one show but my parents. I could imagine them valiantly trying to hide their pity, and offering comments designed to bolster my ego, like "You survived the cheerleader humiliation, honey. You can survive this."
As I was leaving home for my first signing event, my wife stopped me, saying, "You aren't wearing that shirt, are you?"
"What's wrong with this shirt?" I asked. It was my favorite shirt, and it did an admirable job of camouflaging my lack of both biceps and pecs.
"Nothing's wrong with the shirt, but you wore it for the author photo on your book jacket. You can't wear the same shirt to a signing. It'll look like you have only one shirt!"
She had a point, so back upstairs I went for another shirt. On the way, I saw my teenage son. "Whoa, Dad! What's up with the pants?"
"What's wrong with my pants?" I knew they weren't visible in my author photo.
"Looks like you're expecting a flood. Totally high water." He continued: "And try to stand up straight, Dad. It hides that little belly you've got going on. Nothing's worse than a skinny man with a belly."
At least my daughter tried to cheer me up. "Don't worry, Dad. I think you look great. ... And you can hardly see the blood where you cut yourself trimming your ear hair."
Things got even worse when I arrived at the bookstore. The entire store was deserted. Where was everyone? Had a plague hit? But then I was escorted to a desk in the back. Waiting for me were 14 books, which I was told were pre-sold. Somebody liked me after all! Even better, signing them gave me something to do, since evidently no one was coming to my signing. I suddenly became the slowest-signing author in history, calculating that if I spent four minutes per signature, I could stretch the signings to my allotted hour, and manage to look busy the entire time.
Soon, though, people started to trickle in. For brief moments, there was even a line. OK, it was actually just a family standing together, but in a line! Quick, someone, take my picture, and make sure you get the line in it! Final tally for the night: 50 books sold. Step aside, Grisham.
At my second signing, in Los Angeles, people were actually standing in the aisles. This was because there were only six chairs, but hey, "standing in the aisles" sounds more impressive. One gentleman pulled me aside, indicated the chair that was set up for me to do my signing, and said, "The last time I was here, Bill Clinton sat there for his book signing." The comparison made me feel absurdly proud, kind of like when I saw my name next to Maya Angelou's in the Los Angeles Times Book Calendar. Oprah, are you paying attention?
Alas, at my third signing, only one person showed up, but she was pregnant, so damn it, I'm counting her as two people.
I haven't quit my day job yet, given the fact I like to eat. My new career is quite humbling, but it's still the most fun I've had in ages. And, hey, I can dream. Maybe my next book will bring that call from network TV. Who needs Leno and Oprah? I'm more of a Letterman guy anyway.
Randall Hicks practices in Riverside. He won the 2006 Gumshoe Award for best debut mystery for The Baby Game. His second mystery, Baby Crimes, was published in 2007. You can read chapter one at babycrimes.com.