Author Nick Mamatas discovered a postcard containing an interview between Goodenough and Lovecraft entirely conducted on a single postcard.
I spent about eighteen months in Brattleboro, Vermont in the middle of the last decade. I learned a lot of things, mostly about myself. For one thing: Brattleboro is a great small town. For another: I dislike small towns, even the ones with more bookstores than traffic lights. But I did love the bookstores, especially a used paperback house called Baskets Bookstore/Paperback Palace. Huge horror and romance sections — Sherwood, the owner, laughed when I christened the romance section “The Pink Bomb.”Most paperbacks were cheap enough to be purchasable by the basket, which was perfect for the long winter nights, but some of the items for sale were quite a bit rarer. One day he handed me a postcard sent between H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur H. Goodenough, an amateur press enthusiast living near Brattleboro. Goodenough isn’t talked about much today, but Brattleboro is still full of Goodenough — there’s a road named for the family (or was the family named for the road?), a trash removal firm, you name it.Lovecraft was acquainted with Goodenough, and Lovecraft’s visits to Goodenough in Vermont in 1927 and 1928 are the basis of his wonderful novelette “The Whisperer in Darkness.” After the story was published in Weird Tales, Goodenough sent Lovecraft a congratulatory card, and also asked the author a couple of questions. Rather than responding with a card or letter of his own, Lovecraft wrote the answers in a tiny hand and then apparently gave the card to Vrest Orton — a bookman and eventual founder of The Vermont County Store — who returned the card to Goodenough personally during a trip to the Green Mountain State. Then Goodenough sent the card back to Lovecraft again, with follow-up questions written in a nearly microscopic hand. I suppose he knew the local postmaster, and was able to get the card back into the mail system without a problem. Amazingly, Lovecraft managed to fit the answers to the questions on the postcard in an even smaller hand. Sherwood told me that he’d guessed that Lovecraft used a magnifying glass and a sewing needle dipped in ink. Here’s an odd thing; Sherwood had found the postcard at an estate sale. It had been protected from the elements because it had been used as a bookmark in a 1935 number of The Revelator, and that number was a special issue dedicated to the “gothic tales” of Isak Dinesen.I bought the card and kept it with me for years — I moved to Boston, and then to California. Only recently have I been able to spare the time to closely examine and transcribe the postcard. It took a few weeks. Lovecraft’s handwriting was difficult to read in the best of times, as I learned in 2007 when writer Brian Evenson took me and my friend Geoffrey Goodwin to the library at Brown University to check out some of Lovecraft’s papers. If anything, Goodenough’s penmanship is even worse, especially in the last unanswered round of questions. There are a few ink splatters on the postcard as well, but only one seems purposeful, as I make note of below. I took the card to work and abused my photocopy and scanner privileges to blow up sections of the card, then turn them into a series of PDFs. I then zoomed in on the PDFs as much as I could, to turn the tiny letters into great abstract shapes, to better see what we would call “kerning” if the text had been typset. To decipher this postcard, I not only had to read between the lines, as it were, but I had to make sure I was properly reading between the letters.My friend Raphael is Google’s resident font expert and I showed him the PDFs. Raph’s PhD thesis is on imaging and halftoning over at the University of California at Berkeley, and he was able to use his research to cobble together a program to “draw” my blow-ups in a way that made the letters more legible. It was still a game of refrigerator poetry for a while, as the letters, words, and sentences the computer spit out barely made sense. Only after reading S. T. Joshi’s two-volume biography of Lovecraft was I finally confident in my deciphering of the card.We already know a lot of Lovecraft’s life and beliefs, which is a great part of why all of the many short stories in which Lovecraft is a character and the theme of the story is, “Everything Lovecraft wrote about was real! Real!” are so tedious. He was a philosophical materialist and a metaphysical skeptic, so of course there will be no secret correspondence, no occult messages, in the transcription below. But the postcard is interesting, and illuminating, and strange, in its own way.—Nick Mamatasread the interview here