March 14, 2010
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.
Or, BUY HERE: ARIES RISING