He threaded his way through the small round tables scattered across a dark, cavernous room. Small floodlights in the ceiling cut through a fog of blue cigarette smoke. Somewhere, someone was torturing an acoustic guitar. Nevada Southern University was just across the desert—maybe half a mile away—and college kids with fake IDs crowded the tables, sitting on short stools and mismatched chairs. Smoking. Drinking jug wine from chipped coffee cups. Acting cool. Acting beat. Snapping their fingers instead of clapping their hands. Pretending they were something they weren’t. He saw some older faces among the students. Hip professors. It was perfect. It was the last place anyone would look for Ben Berlin.
When the Red Barn opened just off old Bond Road, a couple miles east of the Strip, it was an antique store with an Old West angle. The antique store didn’t last. A new owner came along and it reopened as a cowboy bar. That didn’t last either. The county fathers renamed the two lane road Tropicana Avenue and it still looked like a big red barn and the decor inside was still cowboy. But cowboy, it was not.
Aged hipsters sat at the bigger tables around the edges of the room. Mostly men. Their long silver hair, if they had hair, set them apart. A few of the hipsters had dates. Somewhat younger than they, but not young. Women swimming in cable-knit sweaters and sheathed in tights. Black, of course. The wine at these tables was served from a bottle, not a jug. That didn’t necessarily mean it was better grape. Just more expensive.
Nobody knew him, but he knew he was being watched. Even if heads didn’t move, even if eyes were hidden by dark glasses. He was a square. As welcome as a draft notice. As out-of-place as a tourist in Bermuda shorts and a knit shirt with a little alligator on the chest. Everyone here was cool and he wasn’t. He didn’t care. He just wanted to be lost.
“Joey’s Place” will be one of the featured books at this gathering and you’ll find a unique and eclectic mix of styles and subject matter in the other offerings. I look forward to meeting old friends and new ones.
The Writer’s Block is located in the heart of vintage Las Vegas, Nevada, at 1020 Fremont Street. I hope to see you there.
Use the form below to contact me for more information. Or email me at John@JWNelson.net. Thank you.
Up front, near the door, were four nickel slot-machines and one that took quarters. They looked dusty and unused. Along the wall opposite the bar there were booths pretending to be upholstered in red leather. They were empty except for one near the middle that held an old blond overflowing a shiny black spaghetti-strap dress and a fat man in a dark suit with his face in a bowl of chili. At least, it looked like chili. Their table was flush with empty highball glasses. The old blond was washed-out by too much neon and not enough fresh air. She took a drag on her cigarette and glared at her date’s head like she wanted to put it out in his bald spot. Maybe this was Gwen.
I was fortunate enough to take John Truby‘s Story Structure Class several years ago. That good fortune was multiplied when I spent time at his writers’ studio, working with him on the film story breakdowns used as examples for his screenwriting software, which later became “Blockbuster.” A best-selling author, John teaches standing-room only classes around the world and has served as a consultant on over 1,000 film scripts. It was a remarkable learning experience.
“Another big thumbs up for John Nelson’s detective novel, Joey’s Place. Nelson took the Anatomy of Story Masterclass so many years ago it was just called the Story Structure Class. He really knows his stuff. The story takes place in Las Vegas, 1970, the turning point when the city’s casinos went from mob control to corporate control. This allows Nelson to make the rare and difficult combination of detective story and historical drama. We not only get a terrific plot, we see the machinations play out within the making of a modern American city. Impressive stuff, and more proof that the well-written, self-published novel is the way of the future for most writers.”
Two stiff young deputies bracketed the open doorway of a room on the first floor. Two older deputies caressing cigarettes leaned against the columns supporting the second story and blew smoke at the stars. All four jumped when Parkins almost put the unmarked sedan’s bumper into one of the columns, tortured the transmission into Park, threw open his door, and rushed into the room, holding up his badge like it was the Olympic torch. Slack-jawed, the deputies just watched him pass.
Fortuna reached over the front seat, turned off the ignition, and said to Ben, “He still gets excited.”