It was 4:30 p.m. by the time we got on the road. Me, Melinda, and Jane.  The sky over the southern San Joaquin Valley was heavy with rain clouds. I drove. The road was slick.  The San Emigdio Mountains were topped with snow.  “You sure are quiet,” I said to Jane. Normally she was ruling the conversation. She called it a “Janeopoly.” I figured she was plotting out her novel, Puro Amor.  Not long ago she told me she could write entire paragraphs in her head and remember them for transcribing later.

An hour or so later we zoomed down the Hollywood Freeway, took the Highland Avenue exit and headed west onto Hollywood Boulevard, on our way to Book Soup. We were nearly late for the reading.

The bookstore was small, cramped, packed floor-to-ceiling with shelves. The reading area was an aisle essentially, a few folding chairs leading to a podium.  Bunched in the crowd were some writers from TNB, several of whom I’d never met. Kimberly M. Wetherell, filmmaker and writer, wore black glasses, her red hair a fire of loveliness. She mentioned that I was no longer two dimensional—no longer just words on a screen. I said something about being a figment of her imagination.

Duke Haney, author of Banned For Life and Subversia, stood in a corner wearing a black newsboy cap and a leather jacket. He was talking to Rachel Pollon, another TNBer.  She stood about half his size and got shy when I asked her to talk on camera.  “Meet Hank,” Duke said, pointing to another tall guy.  Hank stepped forward and handed me a photo of a face with the word “awesome” on it.

Lenore Zion had long, curly hair—different than when I last saw her.  She looked younger.  She asked what I had been up to. I mumbled something about 2010 being a year to write off and later bought her book, My Dead Pets Are Interesting.

Greg Boose came up and offered me a friendly hello.  He was taller than I expected, and handsome. His wife, Claire Bidwell Smith, was taller than expected, too. Both have striking eyes the color of the sea.  Greg asked me how long I was staying in town. I wanted to say a week. I wanted to say I had a suitcase and was looking for a nice padded bus bench.  “Probably headed back tonight,” I told him.  “Though maybe I’ll just stay and find my way back in the morning.”

Joe Daly, TNB’s music editor, came over and introduced himself.  His hair was shaggy, he was unshaven, he looked like rock and roll.  For some reason I had expected his hair to be short.

I met Ben Loory, too.  He has a gentle soul and a contemplative smile. Later, when he read a story of his called “The Well” and said he might cry, I almost started crying myself.

I didn’t get to meet Victoria Patterson. She read an essay about farts in literature, and her hands were shaking as she read.  It was hilarious.  Everyone laughed and held their gas.

Then there was the master of ceremonies, Greg Olear, author of the new novel Fathermucker.  A dark sweater covered his “Brave New World” T-shirt.  He gave me a guy hug and we made small talk.  I met his wife, Stephanie, too—not a writer, but a ferocious singer.  Steph was all hugs. She talked to a college friend from Syracuse, and they laughed about old times.

 

 

WATCH: GREG OLEAR/TNBERS AT BOOK SOUP

VIEW: JANE HAWLEY PHOTOS FROM BOOK SOUP

 

After the event, many of us headed over to Mirabelle, a nearby bar and restaurant. Brad Listi carried a sack of books and asked what I was up to and where I’d been. I didn’t want to dish out my sob story right then, so I just talked opportunities, my new book of poetry, the interest of an agent in my novel Anhinga, and so on.

Inside the bar, Jane came suddenly to life. She talked and talked and I grew quiet as she and a new friend walked to where Ben, Duke and the others were hanging out. Greg was at the bar drinking a beer. He ordered me some water.  I listened to Stephanie and her friend talking about their college days. I was content.

Melinda was quiet. She used to write (Lenore recognized her from her defunct blog), and she does have a voice. But now, for the most part, she just comes to my Random Writers Workshop, where I prod people like her to write novels and dream big. Jesse from the workshop was there, too. He downed a few drinks and talked shop with Ben Loory.

We were there for about an hour before heading home.  Jane fell asleep in the back of the car and began snoring. Rain poured over Interstate 5, turning into slush as we hit the Tejon Pass, the hump over the San Andreas Fault that marks the downward slide into the Central Valley.

“You okay?” Melinda asked. She could tell I couldn’t see the lines on the road.

“I’m fine,” I told her. “Just gotta see the lanes. I don’t mind driving in storms.”  I was smiling a little, eyes  straight ahead. I felt strangely at ease, like I was passing through a kind of personal storm, releasing it, washing it away on the rain-slicked desert road.

As we rolled back into Bakersfield, Jane woke up. By now it was one o’clock, and still raining.  I pulled into Melinda’s driveway.  We got out.  Jane said a quick goodbye, ran to her car, and drove away.  A pile of leaves in the neighbor’s gutter had caused a flood in front of Melinda’s house. I grabbed a hoe from the garage and started moving the pile. Melinda watched me briefly, then went inside, to bed.  I stayed outside and pushed and pulled and hacked at the pile of leaves and branches until a stream was created.  I stood alone in the rain and watched the water flow down the street.  Rain came down against the lawns and streets of Bakersfield in the night.  It was quiet otherwise, no signs of life, and I stood alone in the rain, content to know that the flood was gone.

 

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NICK BELARDES is illustrator of NYT Best-Selling Novel by Jonathan Evison West of Here (2011), author of Random Obsessions (2009), Lords (2005), and the first literary Twitter novel: Small Places (2010). An author, poet, and screenwriter for Hectic Films, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

29 responses to “To Hollywood and Back, in the Rain”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    What’s up with the weather and journeys to and from Bakersfield where the L.A. TNB set is concerned? I was a little concerned for your safety, as well as for the safety of your friend Jesse, who, like you, made it back okay. Anyway, it was good to see you all, and meet those I’d never met before (meaning Jane and Jesse, of course), though, in all honesty, I regret exposing myself to your camera, Nick. I don’t do cameras anymore, and I don’t do mirrors. I can’t afford the antidepressants.

  2. Greg Olear says:

    Big thanks to you and the Bako crew, Nick, for making the trek down. Was great to hang out. Glad you made it back safely.

  3. Hrmph. Jealous.

    But at least I have your wonderful account of it all. Your drive home reminds me of the phone conversation I had with my grandfather last week. He mentioned having to drive to another city for his doctor’s appointment, in a downpour. “Grandpa! You shouldn’t have gone!” I said. “Oh. Psh. All I had to do was keep an eye on the white lines.” Also, he’s been in two car accidents in as many years. Glad you made it home safe!

    • The adventure started at noon and ended at 1:30 a.m. You didn’t get the full picture. Just enough to realize the craziness and silliness that part of the day was.

      Grandpas are cool. I hope to be one someday. Never really had one. Always laughed at other people’s grandpappies though.

  4. I am having a strange after-reaction to the entire trip to L.A.
    To have spent years knowing people via a screen and a small square picture
    and then BOOM, they come to life. Because, now I just want to see everyone again in real life.
    I don’t want to go back to screen life – don’t make me, don’t make me go back in there!!!

    So,
    that said,
    having said that,
    it goes without saying:
    I’m so glad to have met you, Nick.
    And everyone else – wish it were longer.

    • I feel like such a tiny blip on that day. All I really did was record other people. I didn’t say much. Didn’t do much. Was just a happy chronicler; a listener. Glad I got to see people. But it really was so brief I feel like it was just a photo in the end. If that makes sense? I think it takes time to really get to know people. Long conversations. Adventures together. Facing obstacles on rainy freeways. I suspect some TNBers are sharing those adventures. If they are, I hope they write about them. Looks like Greg has done some of that by including real TNBers in “Fathermucker.” And that’s way cool.

  5. Nicole Biggs says:

    I’m sad that I couldn’t go, maybe another time. Loved the video, especially the ass! haha!

  6. Gloria says:

    I’m with Cynthia. I’m totally jealous, too. I almost made the journey by car, but, once again, decided against leaving town. Next time and next time. And next time.

    Glad the flood’s over.
    xo

    • There’s always the Dec. 1 reading. Though I still haven’t figured out where it’s going to be…

      • Gloria says:

        Nope. Have the boys that day. My boy days are protected time. I rarely do anything other than be with T and I on my boy days.

        • I understand boy days. I was really happy last night when I held an event for the author Alan Kaufman of “Drunken Angel” last night at Russo’s Books and both my boys showed up. One of them even asked the author a question during the reading. That was special to me because it was a packed house. About 70 people showed up. My boys — they are everything to me and always make me proud and inspire…

  7. Very jealous. I have never been able to attend one of these TNB events. I keep saying, “Maybe next year…” Well. Maybe next year. You never know.

  8. pixy says:

    nick, it was a blast meeting you. and i can’t believe you wanted me to be in your radtastic video. and that you actually put me in. i have pie eyes and no upper lip, i never knew that! : ) i can’t wait to for the end of march to get here so we can start planning the uprising of the bako scene.

  9. New Orleans Lady says:

    Just like everyone else that didn’t make it, I’m jealous. Don’t you guys wanna meet in New Orleans for some crazy TNB fun? It’s finally starting to cool off down here…

    C’mon…please?

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Ashley, that is a fantastic idea. In typical dreamer fashion, I was reading about travel deals to New Orleans this morning. I’m looking at the reduced-price days thinking… But New Orleans would really be a better education than school. My son could vanish for awhile. I mean what’s one more week? 🙂

    • Why does it have to be a TNB event? Just invite writers. Bring writers together. Congregate. That’s what we do in Bakersfield and we have events. Cool events. Whatever you want to call it, I would go!

  10. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is a really cool piece, Nick. Now I wish I hadn’t missed the event that evening, because I might’ve lifted a line or two of back-story out of you at the bar… Enough to satiate the curiosity this aroused. You have a gift for setting.

    • I agree. An event in New Orleans would be cool. And thanks for your kind words. It was funny how I kept seeing people and thinking they might be you, though they didn’t really look like what I thought you might actually look like in person. Funny!

  11. Rachel Pollon says:

    Just saw this as I was crawling through the site. You’re making me realize I don’t know where my Hank Cherry “AWESOME” piece of paper is. It will be fun to find it somewhere down the line… probably in one of the three books I brought to have Lenore, Ben, and Greg each sign. (Their own books, not other random books.) Anyway, it was a fun night, even though I only got to stay for the pre-show, and great to see you and all le TNBers!

    • I know where my Hank Cherry “awesome” note is. Hahaha. I have it sitting on an old piano. Was great seeing you. Thanks for the hugs (BTW, both of us end to end aren’t even half as tall as Duke).

  12. Oh, I so wish I could have been there!

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