I started with letters from Ingomar Robier (for no reason other than they were “on top”), a 1976 classmate from English Lit classes at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Since I had a habit of befriending people who didn’t seem to fit in, I insisted on showing him around St. Louis. I took him to a baseball game and tired explaining the rules while we drank wine from a American made fake goatskin wine flask, and I introduced him to my girlfriends and their friends, and we went to Chinese restaurants, being cosmopolitan college students in St. Louis. After graduation, he went back to Austria. I didn’t remember much about his circumstances, but kept a series of letters from him dated January 20, 1977 through April, 1979, a particularly transformative time in my life, as I suppose as it is for most at that age.
I’m not sure why we stopped corresponding. His letters clearly showed he was the better writer, the better academic, writing about his Masters and Doctorate work. I was moving on to the ugly world of writing fiction and working various insignificant jobs. It may be that we just stopped for no other reason than being consumed by life. I have no idea who wrote the last letter. I don’t have copies of what I sent him. (Did anybody make Xerox copies of personal correspondence?) But one thing is clear, then and now, the Ingomar Robier I knew was an intelligent, astute reader, an excellent critical writer, and judging from his response to my work, a generous and kind heart. Clearly, I valued his friendship, however brief, and I can only hope that I expressed it at the time. (I have researched his name and found that he was on a Fulbright in the USA, published his doctorate, and apparently is teaching English Lit and French at a university in Austria.) As young men, we were brash, sometimes boastful, but also confident (in some of our abilities at least). Now, at sixty, I am invoking my impetuous young man prerogative and am quoting the letters from Ingomar. Who cares if I appear boastful? (Sometimes humility is merely a mask for your fears and is not the virtue you might think it is.)
In a conjunction of seemingly coincidental events, I started rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan (downloaded to my kindle two years ago), and I can clearly see it’s influence on my writing, especially Roobala Take Me Home. I’m convinced now more than ever that had Scribners published Roobala all those years ago, it would have been successful, and perhaps more. Since the initial draft, Roobala Take Me Home has been expanded and revised countless times. See my last blog “Why I Stopped Revising My First Novel.”
Last letter from Ingomar:
April 7, 1979
To start with, I think that “Roobala Take Me Home” is vivid and exciting, full of weird humour and cosmic nostalgia. The universe you portray is a galactic Wild West and the hero himself, Jesse Enoob, hunts through stellar wilderness, a lonesome Candide who finally settles down to cultivate his space garden with his long-lost lover found at last. What made “Star Wars” so amusing, that is, the generous exploitation of hetergenous elements, also gives your space fantasy its special flavour. I’ve found “Roobala” immensely entertaining. Al’s Bar and Grill is turned into a spaceship only to reappear later in Jesse Enoob’s front yard on a strange planet. The American myth of discovery is put on a galactic scale and becomes even more obvious in Daniel Boone, the half brain hunter and, of course, Willima Bailey. If “Roobala” is space realism too, you managed perfectly to reveal the familiar in the unknown and vice versa. Taken as a chain of episodes, the story is fast-moving and picaresque, leaving out emanations of the characters’ inner space dives, who are nevertheless alive and colourful.
If, as Henry James once wrote, all criticism finally boils down to the question of like and not liking, I think I’ve answered it through my “interpretation” of your fine novel. Roobala is a living thing the memory of which has remained alive in me. I should really like to see it published. Have you already submitted it? Maybe you can send me a word or two. Meanwhile I wish you good luck with your efforts to get your first book into print.