Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Randy Hicks on Adoption Law, Doogie Howser and the Success of The Baby Game

Hi, Randy! Thanks for chatting with me.

You are an acclaimed adoption attorney; how did this become your specialty in the world of law?

Jeez, my answer is so boring (but then, so is my life, what can I say?). I did a lot of volunteer work as a kid, from junior high school into college (I’m not sure why, since I’m actually not that nice a guy). For about six years I worked every Saturday with severely retarded adults at Fairview State Mental Hospital in Orange County, CA. When I decided to go to law school, I wanted to find a career where I felt I could help people. I’ve always believed attorneys should solve problems, not create them. Through some luck I somehow ended up the world of adoptions. I can proudly say I’ve helped create more than 800 families, and unlike most lawyers, have never sued anyone!

Some of your work in adoption cases has influenced changes in the law. What feels better, changing the law, or getting published? :)
That’s a toughie. Can I say both? Most of my success in appellate law comes from my own incompetence. My first contested case, In re Jenny N, was a month out of law school. I was representing Jenny, a single mom who was the foster mom for two little girls she’d had in her care for several years. The county wanted to remove them to be adopted by a different family. This was twenty years ago when few single moms could adopt and foster parents had few rights. The county’s position was Jenny showed poor financial judgment by (get this – spending too much money on her foster daughters’ clothes!). I lost at trial and won on appeal, altering foster parent law. I learned the key to getting published opinions in the appellate courts is to be incompetent at trial and lose cases you should have won, then I’m sure to win them on appeal. I’ve now mastered that incompetence thing and have had a few law-changing cases. I actually don’t get any great thrill from winning a case per se, but knowing I’ve helped keep a family together, like in Jenny’s case, feels great.

I don’t know if I can compare that to publishing, but all I can say was that when I held my first copy of THE BABY GAME in my hands, FedExed to me a few days before it hit the stores, I stood there and cried, holding it like it was a long lost scroll from Biblical times.

As Randy Colin Shepard, you spent five years in the acting world, working with the likes of James Coburn, Eva Marie Saint, Jeff Bridges and Hal Holbrook. So why did you leave?
No lie, I was the least competent actor ever to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild. I was afraid with every acting job I had I’d be exposed and someone would shout, “He’s a fake! He doesn’t know what he’s doing!” Of course, now as I writer, I feel the same way, waiting for “Fake!” to echo behind me. Luckily, no one’s said it in my acting or writing career. Sadly, however, my wife does often shout it in bed.

You have offered to bring avocados to Bouchercon. What makes the Hicks farm avocados so special? Is growing them a family tradition?
No, I grew up a suburban boy, but I moved my family to a rural part of San Diego (Fallbrook, the avocado capitol of the world) about nine years ago. Now we have a hundred plus fruit trees, two horses, two sheep, ten chickens and the occasional pig. Both my kids have been in 4-H. Since my book’s protagonist has an avocado grove, and so do I, I started bringing avocados to book signings and it’s become a bit of a tradition. All I can say is they make great guacamole.

Your website states that you were halfway through your Master’s Degree at age nineteen. Were you sort of like Doogie Howser?
Since Doogie was a nerd, and without a girlfriend all through school as I recall, yes, I was like Doogie Howser. Hey, when the girls ignore you, and you are too much of a spaz to make the football team, what’s left but race through school?

The Baby Game draws on your experience with people who want to adopt babies, and deals with a kidnapped baby. Were you influenced by the Lindbergh Kidnapping at all in shaping this plot?
No, the idea was partially born from some actual cases I had. Never a kidnapping, but a few people in the entertainment industry who were clients were always worried about security-type issues, which was something I’d never encountered before. They live in a different world, with different fears. That, and an emotionally-disturbed birth mother who told me she’d been kidnapped, gave me the idea.

You joke on your website that Owen Wilson will play your protagonist, Toby Dillon, in the movie. If you could cast your book, who really WOULD play Toby Dillon?
My acting career was so pitiful I think SAG has barred any actors from associating with me, and this probably includes playing characters I wrote.

You love reading mysteries, and you mention among your influences Gregory McDonald, Laurence Shames, Robert Crais (especially the Elvis Cole series), T. Jefferson Parker, David Rosenfelt, Robert Eversz, Bill Fitzhugh, Sue Grafton, Barbara Seranella, Robert B. Parker, S.V. Date, Ken Bruen, Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series), Harlan Coben (particularly the Myron Bolitar series), Steve Martini, John D. McDonald, James Swain, Tim Dorsey, Lawrence Block, Brian Wiprud, John Sanford, Lee Child and Carl Hiaasen. Wow! What book are you reading now?
The hardest part of writing for me is to stop reading. I truly love to read. I just finished CREEPERS by David Morrell and some Margery Allingham short stories. I’m now getting into DEAD MAN”S DANCE by Robert Ferrigno.

You recommend, most commendably, that “people look beyond the writers on the top of the bestseller lists to find great writers.” Do you find some of those great writers on Dorothy L, or where do you discover these unsung authors?
Yes, I found many of them chatting on the web, or reading posts. I remember attending my first convention, LCC in El Paso (before my book came out, I was just there as a mystery fan). I thought I knew so much about the mystery genre, but compared to the other people there, I knew nothing. It is from these kind of people I learned about so many great writers that sadly, the average bookbuyer never hears of.

Jon Jordan of Crimespree Magazine said you had “a wonderful voice” in the narration of your novel. Interestingly enough, he also said that I had a wonderful voice. Perhaps one day we should sing together. :)
With my voice, if we do, I’m afraid he’ll never review either one of us again! Jon is a cool guy.

I agree.

He saw some of my posts on DL last year, about my debut author book tour (aka, the tour of incompetence) and asked me to write an article in Crimespree about it. I really liked how it came out and it’s on my website, I think under the “Literary Baloney” section.

How do you work in everything that you do—writing, promoting, lawyering, husbanding and fathering?
When I wrote my first non-fiction “how to” adoption book, my writing time was 9 p.m. (when the kids were in bed) to about one in the morning. This explains why I’m 49 but look 92. Luckily, I’ve cut down on my law practice so I can now write during regular business hours. My “dad time” has lessened too, as my kids have gotten older. (They are 17 and 12, and now they are embarrassed to be seen with me.) I find myself yearning for those past years of being their soccer coach and Sunday School teacher, which at the time seemed like so much work.

Will you ever give up law to write mysteries full time?
I love what I do as a lawyer so can’t imagine it, although I’d like to cut it way down to a “hobby” level. But wouldn’t it be a nice dilemma to get such a sweet deal from a publisher than I almost had to write full time? I don’t think that problem is in my near future, however.

What do your wife and children think of your writing success?

My daughter gets a kick out of it and really enjoys going to book signings or having friends ask her about “her dad the writer” when they see something in the newspaper. By comparison I’ve heard my son tell friends on the phone, “That guy’s not my dad, he’s just got the same name.” My wife says this a lot: “Shouldn’t you be making some MONEY for all this time you spend writing???!!!!”

Like Chris Grabenstein’s mother, your mother has submitted her criticism of your book, which is “If there is any justice in the world, The Baby Game will sell more copies than The Davinci Code.” That’s very sweet. Has your mom always been this supportive of your endeavors?
Yes, she even agreed to be my date for my senior prom. Only kidding, it was my cousin. Still kidding. Both my mom and dad have always been supportive and I’m lucky they live close enough to visit every month. Recently they came over and I proudly told them I’d won the Gumshoe Award for Best First Novel. They asked to see the award and I had to tell them that I didn’t think there was anything physical we got for winning, it was just the honor of the award. They looked at each other, likely thinking of all the times I pretended I had a date, and shared a sad look as if to say, “The poor boy, now he’s making up awards he’s supposedly won.” So they pretended to be happy.

You have won The Gumshoe Award for The Baby Game, and you’ve been nominated for the Barry, the Macavity, and the Anthony. Do you think all the fame will go to your head? :)
I don’t think anyone could know how much I appreciate these nominations. In past years I’ve read about some authors who get nominated for an award and are quoted saying something like, “I had to ask someone what this award was.” They even say that about the Edgar. I find that amazing. To the contrary, I’ve been a mystery fan my whole life and have spent years anticipating who’d get the nominations each year, then run out and buy each book if I hadn’t read them. So to now be one of them myself is such a true honor and a joy. There’s no chance of any fame going to my head. I have no fame for one thing, and if I were ever lucky enough to get some, I wouldn’t believe it anyway. I’d still be out there picking avocados and shoveling horse and sheep poop.

How can readers who haven’t yet read The Baby Game (sorry, Randy’s mom) learn more about Randall Hicks and his writing?
Where else, the good old website. I have to use a hyphen,, since without, it will take you to my law practice. It’s boring, don’t go there, stick to the hyphen. People can read chapter one, and I hope just have fun with some funny stories and stuff. I really tried to write a book which had both humor and a true hide-the-clues mystery, with characters you really care about, in an original setting. I hope people give it a try and like it.

Thanks, Randy! You are a very fun interviewee.

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