I couldn’t even act dignified. I was riding around Los Angeles in the back of a cab, fidgeting with unthrottled excitement, snapping a million photos out the window like a tourist-fool, click, click, click. And I actually found myself with the proverbial urge to stop and pinch myself. This is why: Hollywood had just sent for me.
My fifth comic Florida novel, The Stingray Shuffle, was hitting the bookstores, and I was hitting the book tour. Meanwhile my agents had just sold the movie rights to the series of books, starting with Florida Roadkill. Who would have guessed it would get this far when, in 1999, I introduced Serge A. Storms, possibly the only lovable serial killer in the whole publishing business? Serge is a devotee of Florida history, which he likes to recite to the state’s despoilers before dispatching them.
So now the powers that be had flown me out to L.A. for several book signings and to "take meetings" with the movie people. I had spent 15 years in the newspaper business and had gone to lots and lots of meetings. This was the first time I’d be taking them. They told me this was good. Everything was paid for. People were nice to me.
Something was really wrong.
I had the sensation that a big, surrealistic cane was about to reach out from offstage, grab me around the neck-"Okay, you impostor, let’s go"- and yank me out of this dream. So that’s what my camera was for. I was going to make a photographic record of this trip before the whole cosmic mistake was discovered. Then someday I could show my future grandchildren. ("And this here, this was the day back in ’03 when I took meetings.") Click, click, click.
I arrive at my movie agent’s suite in a high-rise on the Sunset Strip. The tower holds the offices of all kinds of famous film people, like Tobey McGuire. The receptionist tells me the names of some of the other celebrities but I don’t remember them because I am all tingly the whole time, just sitting and smiling in the lobby, nodding and glancing at all the autographed movie posters on the wall.
I also keep my mouth shut. That’s how I’d decided to play it-create an air of mystery, come off as the silent enigmatic type, as opposed to the complete imbecile.
The receptionist says I can go in. The agent comes out from around his desk, extending a hand to shake.
"You wore a suit," he says.
I smile and nod. What the hell does he mean by that?
"You’re the writer," he adds, grinning. "You could have worn anything."
He sees the question in my eyes. "Writers are expected to be cool. They can dress down and wear grunge if they want. That’s what the directors do. Directors are the worst-dressed people in this town. Especially the female directors. They want respect, so they dress as bad as possible on purpose- baggy stuff, no makeup-to identify with the crew. ‘See? I’m no better than you. And I’m here to work.’ But you’re the writer; you could have worn anything. And the fact that you could have worn anything and still wore a suit is actually even cooler."
I smile and nod.
"Let’s go to lunch."
We eat at a Beverly Hills hamburger joint with tasseled menus and giant red leather chairs. He tells me Florida is hot now. He explains the deal they’ve put together for me, with about a gazillion contingencies that kick in for overseas distribution and sequels and spin-offs and action figures and if there’s a total lunar eclipse in Paraguay, and I’m getting woozy.
We get back to the office. He checks his watch and stops at the receptionist’s desk. "Get Tim a cab. They’re expecting him at the studio in 30 minutes."
He turns to me. "It’s important that you sell yourself to these people. But you’re the writer, so you really don’t have to sell yourself."
I smile and nod.
He shakes my hand. "You’ll do great."
The cab whisks me across town. I get out my camera. Click, click, click.
Suddenly, I’m at the studio. I’m in an elevator. I’m sitting in a suite on the fourth floor. I’m on a long, plush couch. Two executives are facing me in chairs, a good 15 feet away, nothing between us but an expanse of carpet. One is in a suit, like an accountant. The other is in a T-shirt and looks like he just came from the gym. Behind them, the whole wall is a giant, tinted plate-glass window overlooking the Hollywood Hills. I’m getting lightheaded.
The executives lean forward and smile at me bigger than people have ever smiled at me in my life, and I’m not sure whom this is a reflection on. They start telling jokes about Florida and laughing and leaning toward me even more, as if I were the source of the jokes. That’s when it hits me. I’m the writer. I’m funny just sitting here.
I smile and nod. They lean back in their chairs and laugh.
Back to the hotel. I take a shower. The phone’s ringing when I get out.
It’s my agent. "Just talked to the studio. Heard the meeting went well. They said you were funny."
I head down the stairs. Two young producers are waiting for me in the hotel lobby. They’re the ones who discovered the books a couple of years ago and got the whole ball rolling. We’re going to dinner.
I climb in their car and we head up the Sunset Strip, past Chateau Marmont where John Belushi bought it, to a chic bistro that is some kind of gene splice of a Dolly Parton Wild West theme saloon and the alien bar in the first Star Wars. We order drinks and wait for a table while people from the pages of Vanity Fair are thrown around the room by a mechanical bull.
I’ve known these two for a while now, and we’ve become friends. In other words, they already know I’m an idiot, so no point in the quiet man act. Besides, I enjoy talking to these two. They say sentences that I never hear in my Florida circles. Like: "I’ve got to stop dating actresses. They’re all neurotic."
They tell me I ought to stop in and check out SkyBar, up at the Mondrain, where the big stars hang.
I tell them I heard it was almost impossible to get in.
They say it is, except they know a real easy way to get in every time. "You go with a super model."
See what I mean? My peeps in Sarasota don’t talk like this.
So I chuckle, and say, right, where you gonna find a super model?
They just smile back; the mechanical bull sends a super model flying behind me.
Now, confession time. The rights the studio bought for my book are called the "option," which means it’s up against about 20 other options for that one coveted slot to actually get made. Which means it most likely will never see the light of day. And that’s okay. At least I’ll have the memories of this trip, which will probably be the high point of my life, mechanical bull, airborne Claudia Schiffer and all. I hand the camera to our waitress. "Can you take a picture of us for my grandchildren?"
The following morning: rise and shine, book signing day. I’m met in the hotel lobby by my "media escort." The "media escorts" are local liaisons who know everyone in the publishing biz and make sure you get everywhere you need to be. They drive you around for impromptu appearances at a half dozen bookstores over the course of the day before heading to the big, scheduled event that evening. Since this is Hollywood, my media escort also used to play Douglas Brackman’s low-life brother on L.A. Law. He tells me stories about his friend Joe Pantoliano from The Sopranos as we drive to a nearby Borders, where the store representative played the wife of an FBI agent in a made-for-TV movie starring Michael Gross and David Soul. That’s what L.A. is like all the time.
These impromptu visits are an important public relations tool. In Florida, they go over big. A store in Fort Myers or Ocala is very appreciative to have authors make surprise appearances. In L.A., just the opposite, the other edge of the knife. While the writer is king to the movie people, in bookstores they practically outnumber the customers.
We walk into a store in Santa Monica. There’s a pile of freshly signed books by someone who made a surprise appearance just a few hours before me. Mariel Hemingway. We head across the store to find the manager. My escort leans over and says they get actors in these stores all the time, three or four a week.
We find the manager and an assistant. We shake hands. For some reason, they don’t seem as warm as the store folks back in Florida. Next to Mariel Hemingway, I’m like some guy who just farted.
We drop by more stores in Pasadena, Orange County, Venice Beach ("Fred Ward was just in. You know, Gus Grissom from The Right Stuff"?). We’re leaving and something catches my eye. "Hey, take a look at that guy," I say to my escort, pointing at some weirdo standing perfectly still in the middle of the road with a plastic trash bag over his head.
"What?" he says with a chuckle. "You find that strange?"
"No," I say. "Finally something that reminds me of Florida."
For more on Tim Dorsey’s books, visit www.timdorsey.com.