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August 16, 1992|M.H.

My name is Harold Bell Wright, and it's strange indeed that I have to introduce myself, because I used to be a famous writer. Are you sure you haven't heard of me? I was the Danielle Steel and Louis L'Amour of my era rolled into one. Nineteen novels, most of them set in the Southwest; exciting tales of romance, graced with the noblest and most wholesome sentiments; more than 10 million copies sold.

I was pastor of a church in Pittsburg, Kan., when I wrote the first of them in 1903. From then until my death in La Jolla in 1944, I worked serenely in the hope of heaven. And that's where I am now, on a fine, fleecy cloud, strumming my harp. But my literary self has vanished into a kind of limbo.

How did it happen? Far and away, I outsold the likes of Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, who peddled Darwinist smut to the so-called critics, and this Faulkner fellow down in Mississippi, scribbling Southern degeneracy in a language that wasn't even English. I deserved to outsell them, and the public concurred. Why, then, have they survived and I haven't?

Not long ago, the hereafter was wired for cable, and I saw a television show--a "Twilight Zone" episode, I think. It showed this limbo where literary reputations dwell--an ectoplasmic Algonquin Round Table where the ghosts of authors reminisce and bicker and grow ever more transparent as their readership declines. When an author's final reader--perhaps a vagrant warming himself in a public library--slams shut a dogeared volume of poetry, poof! goes Edgar Allan Poe. When nobody in the whole world any longer plucks the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn from a shelf, poof! goes Mark Twain.

Verily, verily, Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz, Stephen King, it could happen to you too.

But have faith. Authors can rise from the dead, like Lazarus. It takes just one reader opening a neglected old book. And where better to do this than at Beyond Baroque's book auction Friday and book sale Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at 681 Venice Blvd. (phone: (310) 822-3006). Donate your old books; buy somebody else's. May I humbly suggest "The Winning of Barbara Worth" (1911)? Love, water rights, real estate development; set right here in Los Angeles.

And in the spirit of Christian charity, let me urge you to seek out even those old reprobates, my late rivals, Norris and Dreiser. Even the survivors must be getting a little pale by now, beyond the pale.

As for the rest: Please, please, un- poof! us all.

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