HLS - The Letters Of Harvey L. Slatin

March 22, 1989

Hey, they’re, Udo!–

YOU SAY THAT YOU DREAMED you had written a novel. When you woke up, you couldn’t remember the plot. “How to retrieve my novel?” you cry out in heartrending anguish.

Start from First Principles. (I base this on a successful career in novel writing under the familiar pen names Robert Ludlum, Barbara Cartland, Louis Lamour, Danielle Steele, and many others. I’m sure you have read some of my best sellers while you were sitting in airport lounges waiting for your delayed flight.)

“By First Principles do you mean Earth, Air, Fire and Water?”

I mean YOUR first principles. You are a Buffalo boy. A Buffalo novel ferments in your soul, struggling to get out.

We open on the Falls, then pan to the corner of Delaware and Chippewa. A newsboy — played by you in Jackie Coogan tatters — cries the latest “extra.” Customers buy every paper, but they are impatient and hasty, indifferent to the poetic sensibilities that simmer in your breast. They fling coins at you, and depart for their luxurious homes with inside toilets, and never give you another thought.

Snow blows in off the lake. The wind howls. You trudge to the public library for your nightly perusal of the Haldeman — Julius volume, “Electro-Chemistry For Newsboys.” At nine o’clock you are ordered out into the cold.

“Some day,” you mutter, “lyberries will stay open until I let them close! Tommy Udo will be A BIG MAN!”

I suggest you recite the above to yourself every night before bedtime, like a mantra. One night you will dream the rest of the novel. From there on it’s like rolling off the proverbial log. That’s how I became such a widely published author, with many pen names (see above).

Howard uses this approach all the time and, as you know, he is Mr. Canyon Road, the toast of Santa Fe, and the locals unhitch the horses of his carriage and pull it around the Plaza with tears of devotion in their grateful eyes. THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU IN STAMFORD! Buy four horses and have a carriage made by one of the flourishing carriage-makers of the Catskills, where The Old Values live on. I will alert The Sacramento Bee’s literary editor as soon as you are in print. I’ll cut out the review and send it to you immediately: “New Navel By Electero-Chemise Makes Best Cellar List First Weke!” You’ll be on your way.

Where would I be today without the praise The Bee gave me for the first book I wrote under the pen-name Harold Robbins? (They spelled it “Herald Ribbons.”) Take advantage of my clout in The Big Tomato.

YOUR NEW STATIONERY and letterhead are quite impressive. You even have a fax connection. This sounds like a Sophie-Tucker-style retirement, where you’ll be busier than when you were working. Would you be available to consult on my problem: how much zinc can be replaced by manganese in my troostite before I am in trouble?  Name your fee.

MUCH APPRECIATE THE EXPLANATION of the encoded text starting at the bottom of page one of your last letter. The intense discipline in code—breaking I received during the war did not help me to crack it. Fortunately I can’t have a problem like yours because I have one computer and one printer, although the printer does not print everything the computer orders. Uncommon symbols become straight lines or oddities. This, ░, is supposed to be a rectangle in 20% half-tone. (For once it worked.)


Zinfandel was not the only example of my cultural benightedness in The Land of Enchantment. Among the artistes y artesanos were the potters, about whom I knew less than my impressive grasp of Leon (Epifanio) Zinfandel’s potation. I just assumed that pots were cast in molds, like cylinder heads, and I shuffled heedlessly through the quaint, unpaved streets, absorbing the ambiance of centuries, without a notion to the contrary. But every once in a while I would hear one hobbyist ask another, “Thrown any pots lately?” The response was unenlightening, because I assumed the question meant “Have you had to throw away any pots lately?” Which would not be unexpected, considering the structural qualities of clay. Then what happened of course was that I heard the question put like this: “Come on over next Saturday, and we’ll throw a few pots.” That opened my eyes. They were throwing pots at targets, like shooting clay pigeons, but without shotguns. I attributed that to the delayed availability of gunpowder among the pueblo Indians, and assumed that the custom had been appropriated by the gringos. Now we were getting somewhere: a year or two more and I would pass for an Old Territorial Hand, sprawled in the lobby of La Fonda, chuckling at the dudes.

Then one day I heard one hobbyist say to another, “I’m going to throw a few pots on the wheel this weekend.” That was the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle. The hobbyists weren’t doing the throwing by hand! They were attaching the pots to some kind of a wheel that threw them by centrifugal force, a gringo modificatior of the Indian game. I applied for my Old Territorial Hand card.

I have kept all this a dark secret until now, Just like the Great Zinfandel Misunderstanding. How much humiliation can one‘ person stand before being psychically shattered? Please don’t noise it around the IGA.

The final humiliation is to come, however. On Anne’s attractive card with the goose silhouette are the words “Spongeware” and “Redware.” I will guess that redware is like flower pots, etc. What is spongeware? Is it thrown?

Please ask Anne to keep her voice down, especially if the front windows are open. If this got to Palenville, I couldn’t show my face around there again.

Regards to Anne and Thomas and the gang at the IGA (great pot throwers, all of them, hah?).

Fred C. (“Does The Pot Call The Redware Black?”) Dobbs

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