I recently had the unique opportunity to interview best-selling author, Nick Belardes. His new book, A People’s History of the Peculiar, is one of the most eccentric and quirky books probably ever written. Subtitled, “A Freak Show of Facts, Random Obsessions and Astounding Truths”, here is a veritable collection of odd stuff, fascinating nuggets, random strangeness and just plain weirdness. It is the perfect recipe for a family night around a campfire mixed with your favorite ghost stories. (Belardes has written a few of those too!)
1. Of all the weird, peculiar, odd and freaky things that exist throughout time and across the universe, which ONE is your absolute all-time favorite and why?
Great question. Nearly impossible to answer. I do think the answer lies with people. I could spend all day discussing how freaky, odd and peculiar writers are. Or people afflicted with strange maladies. Bizarre history surrounds notables and their decisions. And, of course, there’s the mystery of one man in particular, Christopher Columbus, who seems to have turned the tides between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Europeans and Americans celebrate him as a hero. But that’s freaky and odd. Most peculiar. We don’t really know where he was from, or much about his family. We don’t know what he looks like though there are many paintings of him. And the ship’s log of his most famous first voyage? An embellished copy of a copy of the original (the original was lost). He didn’t even think the world was round. He thought it was pear shaped. Who was this violent man who had the hands cut off natives if they didn’t bring him a tribute of gold? Is he even important to history any more? We’re so used to his name and what we think he did, we lose sight of the freaky enigma that surrounds his name (which has many different forms too if you look him up).
2. For just a moment let’s be a bit confusing for those who know nothing about your fabulous new book: Why is your book a map and exactly how is a map a door?
The book is a map because it’s a guide to further knowledge. Any topic in A People’s History of the Peculiar can be explored in volumes upon volumes of history, science and more. Follow the map to many doors of knowledge. Step through into your local libraries, colleges and universities. There’s so much to learn out there.
3. Tell us a new story or fact that you now wish had been included in the book.
Telomeres. Those are tiny parts of cells that predict our death. I read about those while researching HeLa cells. Another would have to be the memory palace of Mateo Ricci. He was a 16th Century missionary who taught Chinese how to build entire mansions of memories in their brains. It gets really bizarre. But imagine if you could explore your memories as if they were rooms, or even specific objects in those rooms, all hidden away in the cells in your mind.
4. Your book is a compendium of the weird, a bastion of boggling factoids. How should it be read? Is it okay to skip around or should it be read in order?
A People’s History of the Peculiar is the kind of book left on a table, or in the bathroom. It can be used as a drinking game too where you skip around. You open the book, read something strange, close the book, open it again and read something strange (all at random) then recite the two mysteries you’ve uncovered. The more you screw up in the telling of the factoids, the more sips of rum and Coke you have to take. I haven’t actually played this game, but some of the book’s fans say they really appreciate how fun it is at parties.
5. In your interview with Caroline Leavittville (embed link) you share that you must definitely have psychic powers. How has this helped you as a writer? But more importantly, do you think your psychic ability should’ve helped you avoid being pelted in the head with a teddy bear (p.60)
Do you remember the episode of the Flintstones where Wilma tries to use the power of suggestion with Fred while he’s sleeping so she can get a new fur coat? I think that’s the extent of my psychic powers. It’s a suggestive energy. One that says, “Buy my book, please,” “Read my book, please,” “And give away my book as a gift, please.” Of course there’s the suggestive energy in the book that we are all connected to this strange cosmos, so why not dig into the stories we’re all peculiarly a part of? Other than that, I keep trying to read minds, but fail miserably in my efforts time and again. You had to bring up that Teddy bear toss? Why did I put that in the book? I didn’t attend the Teddy bear toss this year with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL. While thousands of stuffed animals are raining you can only wish you had Jedi moves that could block them from hitting you in the face. I can still remember searching for my glasses under all that fur.
6. Do you think that people think you are weird? How do you feel about that?
I don’t care if people think I’m weird or not. I think I’m weird. This weirdness that is me is my connectedness to creativity and knowledge. I can only say that novelists (as well as writers of peculiar books such as A People’s History of the Peculiar) are really strange. We channel characters. We have visions. We wander around imagining stories. We get lost in worlds that sometimes we alone create. Then we dream of sharing those stories with millions. And then it happens, and that’s weird too. It’s weird to write a book of oddities. But I know that people are drawn to the freaky side of life. It’s like a detective movie where moviegoers get a rush because they’re discovering clues too. We all want clues so we can understand the weirdness. But do we ever really understand the weirdness? Probably not. But the clues are so cool!
7. Give four words to best describe YOU.
A guy writing books.
8. Any parting words, witty sayings, or other choice remarks?
A People’s History of the Peculiar also explores urban legends. Mysterious tunnels, Mothman, legends of mutants . . . For those who pick up the book who love these types of urban mysteries, don’t forget my novel Lords: Part One. It’s a fictitious account of the urban legend of the Lords of Bakersfield. For that book you can find me as a seller on Amazon. The link is up at nicholasbelardes.com. It’s filled with real ghost stories, as well as all of the creepy and possibly true tales of murder and debauchery in the town I’m from: Bakersfield, California…