Vance Bourjaily, January 16, 1964

From Project Mailer
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
January 16, 1964

Dear Vance,[1]

The serial business is excellent for straightening out one’s life, since there’s no time to do anything but work. Years ago, Theordor Reik[2] was being analyzed by Freud, and as a talented young man he was naturally interested not only in being a superb analyst but a musician, a writer, a lover, a boulevardier, a vigilante, even a mad genius. Freud listened and got angrier and angrier. Finally he said, “Reik, you want to be a big man? Piss in one spot.” So that is what the serial business puts you up to.

Actually, it’s like ten-second chess. You have to make your decisions in a hurry and depend on the probability that the professionalism you’ve acquired over the years is backing you up, that the bets are good and solid and that you’re enough of a gambler to take an occasional long shot which excites you. I think one benefit from writing a serial is that one could give a good practical course in how to write a novel afterward, for you spend most of your time dealing with the simple mechanical aspects of book writing. Never before has it been quite so important to get a character out of a room with a minimum of sweat.

I feel for you as a hunting guide. Not to mention us amateurs who land on your door. There will be all the bad pros who arrive with a drink in their eye and the remark, “Vance, baby, I feel like I got to kill something this year.” The worst thing about writing a book is the afters—all the obligation one has to be loyal to its logic. So you have to put up with guys like me who invite themselves to go hunting with you. I feel half bad about this. I sure as hell want to come out next year for a few days; you sure as hell may wish to do some work or to go hunting by yourself. So can we leave it that I accept your invitation with pleasure but that it is understood that you are free to change your mind if later on the thought of my arriving gives you, for a hundred good reasons, no particular sense of the agreeableness of things. And I in my turn expecting that your excellent manners will overcome your excellent instinct asking you this, should I buy a shotgun? What would be a good shotgun to buy? I know nothing about them, and so half like the idea of handling one for some months before I get to fire it.

Give my best to Tina, and hear ye, I’m married again, and to the young lady you met last spring, Carnegie Hall evening.

This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.


  1. The novelist Vance Bourjaily met Mailer in New York in 1951 and introduced him to several writers.
  2. Theodor Reik, the American psychologist, was an early and brilliant acolyte of Sigmund Freud.