Francis Irby Gwaltney, December 20, 1963

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NORMAN MAILER’s Letters
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
December 20, 1963

Dear Fig,

Now you’ve really got me curious to read the rejected novel. Is your only copy at Secker and Warburg? Or could I get a chance to see it? I don’t want to moralize, but the difficult thing about writing well when one is angry is that the truth of it tunes up one’s whole body physically so you tend to lose the cool sense of each moment passing into each new moment in your book. That sense of knowing when you’re right and when you’re getting off your balance. I know when I’m mad, I tend to accelerate not only in the physical speed with which my hand writes down the words but I also telescope the progression of the ideas and so something which makes sense internally to me is hysterical in its external manifestations. If it weren’t for this difficulty I think anger might be the best single emotion to write out of, for it firms ups one’s balls and burns out all the half-shitty half-loyalties to people who we don’t really like or admire.

I’m working sixty days ahead of publication (that’s my automatic deadline); I’ve now finished the first three installments of the serial. Everything is fine so far except that I can’t describe a screw as thoroughly as I might like to, and I ain’t moving quite as fast as I should be moving. In the first three parts I don’t think I’ve gone a quarter of the way. It’s a little like giving a course and taking too long on the earlier writers so you find you have one lecture left for Stendhal, and a half lecture for Proust, a half lecture for Joyce.[1] But writing the serial is in itself fun. It makes me work. Since it’s been eight years since I’ve set out to write a novel and finish it, I think I would have taken forever to get somewhere if it weren’t for the fact that I have to make my decisions in great haste and stick by them. It’s a little like playing ten-second chess. You have to take the bold choice each time, because you know you can depend on getting something out of the bold effects—the subtler choices may prove too subtle and fail to come to life in the speed with which you have to write. I don’t know how good the book will be, but it’s interesting writing a serial. I’m not so sure I’ll say when I’m done, I swear, never again. Since I, like you, used to be very much of a second, third, or even fourth draft novelist, it occurs to me that much of the possibility in this may have developed over the last twelve months when I was writing against a deadline once or twice a month and so formed the habit, for better or worse, of having my first drafts become the basic body on which the final result was clothed.

Anyway, that much for shop. Bev is coming along nicely and should have the baby by the middle of March. She hasn’t put on any weight since this summer except around the middle, and we’re both looking pretty good, although I am definitely on the plump side. If I get any fatter I’ll need an old skinny gal like Ecey to shake some life into me. But now you tell me Ecey’s getting plump too. God almighty.

As for The Presidential Papers, I’ll send you off a copy tomorrow. I was working so hard on the serial that I goofed on preparing a list of friends to get the book, and so practically no one I know has received a copy. Only my enemies. The publicity girl at Putnam blithely went ahead and sent out copies to people I don’t even speak to. That’s the literary life, dear friend. Incidentally, you’ll find the book very odd reading. Like everybody else, I discovered I cared a lot more about Kennedy than I thought I did, and so his death was directly depressing, and turned much of what I wrote. A lot of it seems off balance now. Anyway, let me know what you think.

And love to Ecey, Yee Yee, and Frank, Jr.

Merry Christmas
Norm
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.

Notes

  1. Marie-Henri Beyle Stendhal, Marcel Proust and James Joyce are writers much admired by Mailer.