Take a look at this detailed photo of North America taken from outer space. Look at California. What do you see?

You don’t see San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego. You don’t see Disneyland or a giant sequoia named General Sherman. You see a big bowl. A trough, really.

A big green trough.

That’s the Great Central Valley. It’s green. It stands out more than the Great Wall of China ever could in a celestial photograph.

At the far southern end of the bowl lies Bakersfield. Up north? Sacramento. Right in the middle? Fresno.

Fresno. Now that’s a city. Imagine the writers of the Central Valley on the edges of the bowl. If they slid down the mountains they would skim along the surface of rivers and waterways, over the dusty loam (the sweet agricultural topsoil) and come to a stop in and around Fresno.

Call it the ghost-effect of William Saroyan. Or nowadays, the magnetic tug of Bonnie Hearn Hill.

That’s where I was headed yesterday — to the center. Seven of us from Bakersfield shot up Highway 99 in three separate cars. We zoomed past tanker trucks and cow-filled dairies. We slipped along sunlit rows of flowering almond and cherry trees. We ta-doodled past vineyards, slaughterhouses and canneries.

We passed Shafter, Delano, Pixley, Selma, Alpaugh, Kingsburg, Hanford. We sped toward a Barnes & Noble as if it held the Holy Grail of all Central Valley book events. It did. We hit the 41 North from the 99. Jeannie Hart of the Random Writers Workshop was speed racer supreme. She drove as if she was clocking a lap around the valley bowl. Really fast. This was her racetrack. Melinda Carroll was on the GPS. “Take Friant Road,” she said.

I’d given wrong directions as usual.

Bonnie Hearn Hill stood at the front of the store when we arrived. “Hi Nicky,” she said giving me a hug. Stacks of her book “Aries Rising” had covers as shiny as her eyes. Proud covers. Proud eyes. She must have thanked me four times for coming. She called us the “Bakersfield caravan.”

Her astrology/author pal, Hazel Dixon-Cooper of the Rotten Day Series was there. Rik Bollman from Clear Channel drove his mother from Vegas for the event. They left the mad city of lights at 4 a.m. Genevieve Hinson ustreamed interviews. She recently grew a Facebook page from 1,000 to 5,600 friends for Children’s Hospital Central California. She’s a student of Hearn Hill. I once walked around Fresno with her kid, Pip. It’s a highlight of my brief forays into Fresno, a monumental walk of neighborhood explorations.

There were childhood friends of Bonnie in the B&N house, as well as contingents from Hanford, Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield, including the kid who became a minor Internet star: Astro Jessica. Her love, Tony, wasn’t in sight.

Larry Hill was there. He’s an abstract expressionist. He once taught figure drawing at a university at only eighteen years of age. I’m guessing the late 1960s. He looked on proudly. “I’m working on my writing,” he told me at a reception at the Scene Gallery after the signing. “I finally get it,” he said. His grey hair looked snowy. His paintings hung everywhere. They take you back to 1960s Los Angeles though they aren’t old works of art. Stare at them long enough and you can look past the new Millennium and into a scene of abstract expressionists crashing into the Venice West Beats, yet with a contemporary explosion of technique and colliding colors. There are feelings of New York in there too and brush strokes that suggest a Central Valley perspective looking out toward the stars.

Christopher Poe was at the gallery. Brandi Poe talked news. She’s good at that. I dig anyone who writes about women sports leaders. Christopher and I fed off Bonnie’s energy like hungry dogs. Her event was a steak covered in salsa. A little too much alcohol later I kicked Christopher in the ass after Brandi gave him the “look.” 

Bonnie threw him out with a stare. That’s love. I was a close second (Probably in trouble for laughing).

It was a rare monumental celebration of books at B&N before the gallery. Its vaulted ceiling couldn’t be more perfect. Bonnie thanked everyone. She took some questions and read two pages from “Aries Rising.” There was no shaking in her voice. Just the beginning to the story of Logan McRae, a teen who finds a book called “Fearless Astrology.” Call it a tween adventure, a paranormal glimpse into explorations of family, school, love and astrology. Logan is an aggressive girl. She knows what she wants: a writing contest victory, a boy and a detective adventure. Her story rolls along a fictional Central Coast right outside of the Central Valley. That’s where writers and stories often spill over. And here was Bonnie Hearn Hill spilling over with joy from the center of the big bowl. Two hundred books sold.

You could see her smile from outer space.

I put my arm around Bonnie. “You’re my mentor but I want you to know I’m proud of you.” She hugged me back.

Now, win a copy of “Aries Rising” by leaving a comment. I’ll pick a winner using some kind of complex scientific method.


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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.

30 responses to “Bonnie Hearn Hill, ‘Aries Rising,’ And The Smile From Outer Space”

  1. Lana Elfstrom says:

    Sounds like such a wonderful and fun event! I wish I could have gone. I will definitely plan on joining the next roadtrip north! Thanks for the article.

  2. Thanks for checking it out, Lana. On March 26 there’s another big event in Fresno as author/poet T.Z. Hernandez will be releasing “Breathing, In Dust.”

  3. Jeannie says:

    I needed that laugh today.

    Thanks for getting me to go.

  4. I’m glad you went. It was fun. Bonnie is so inspiring. Notice I didn’t go into detail about the art gallery? hehe. I have enough info to write an entire piece just about your driving us there. heh.

  5. matildakay says:

    This was such a great literary event for the Central Valley and for Bonnie Hearn Hill. 200 books sold! Wow! That is support!

    It was fun hanging out with the members of the Random Writer’s Workshop that ventured to Fresno with us for the book signing. And it was great to see Hazel, Bonnie, Rick and Genevieve again. Love them all they’re great people.

  6. Bonnie HH says:

    Thanks, Nick. This is makes me experience the event all over again. Wonderful writing.

    Larry is also a writer. He won the NYU award for fiction this year. Gail Godwin, final judge. And he was my caterer for the event. Hazel and Chris were my wine pourers–a choice that perhaps should have been revisited.

    Seriously, it was a lovely celebration made much better by your wonderful self and the rest of the Bakersfield Caravan.

    Hugs and love.

    • This is my favorite line you just wrote: “Hazel and Chris were my wine pourers–a choice that perhaps should have been revisited.”


      Wow: congrats to Larry Hill on his award. That’s awesome. I want to read what he wrote!

      Thanks for your kind words, Bonnie.

    • matildakay says:

      Bonnie you’re wonderful and fabulous and I’m so honored to know you! I can’t wait to read your new series of books.

    • Lisanne says:

      I’m so happy for you, Bonnie. I can’t imagine the joy you must feel at selling out the bookstore! The pictures were great. Wish I could have been there. . . sigh . . . maybe for “Taurus Eyes.” I am a Taurus, you know!

  7. Great article here. So neat to read about how much support and fun was had by all.

  8. Connie says:

    sigh, Nick you make the Central Valley sound exciting and mystical. I must get out of the house and look around with innocent eyes and discover its wonders.

    I was disappointed not to be able to make the trip with the rest of the Caravan however the dual birthday party was something I could NOT get out of.

    Miss Bonnie , I enjoyed the tweets introducing your book , looking forward to more and eventually reading your books.

    • Bonnie is wonderful, Connie. You would instantly love her as her energy is part of that mysticism that the Central Valley does hold. It’s an area too quickly judged by travelers, except for those in outer space of course, which could be the reason for so many UFOs in the valley.

      I mean, I haven’t seen any, but they say there are the Merced lights!

      OK, now go get someone a copy of her book. It’s badass!

  9. Connie says:

    Wait!! I am hoping to WIN a copy , well then of course I will have to purchase more. 🙂

  10. Gail Marshall says:

    Congratulations, Bonnie — off to a roaring start!

  11. I read somewhere that the only people to have ever “seen” the Great Wall of China from space are Chinese astronauts. It’s pretty much a given that it’s not visible except to nationalistic Chinese.

    In fact, most of the roads in LA are actually wider than the Great Wall, and you can’t see them at all.

    • This is why I love you, man. You’re a walking encyclopedia. Hope all is well in the world of writing…

      • I’m a fountain of utterly useless knowledge. With a degree in English literature, writing credits in only the most obscure of publications, and a headful of things no one really cares about… I can’t help feel a certain sense of impending doom.

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    Ah, if only I could have made it!

    Next time… next time.

  13. Hey Nick:

    I hope you’re workshops are going well, brother. Hope to see you one of these days, sooner than later.

  14. FYI all,

    The contest portion of this blog is over.

  15. Erika Rae says:

    You can make poetry out of anything, can’t you? Your friends are both lucky and blessed.

  16. Bonnie HH says:


    I had dinner with Hazel tonight. Her birthday was on Pisceshish March 18. Without a single glass of wine, she went on and on about what a great job you did with this post. Hugs from her–and from me, of course.


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