norman mailer writers colony

In April I received an email: “…you have been awarded a scholarship to the Historical Narrative workshop led by faculty member Charles Strozier which begins on Sunday, June 27 and ends on Saturday, July 3.”  Out of the workshops offered, this was the best choice for a ridiculously full schedule this summer and it was a great experience. Saturday, I flew to Boston and spent the night at the Seaport Hotel right across the street from the ferry I took the next morning (after a lobster roll dinner of course). We arrived at MacMillan Wharf in P’town. It was crowded and a band was playing in the gazebo. New England! Fortunately we stayed the much quieter East End near the Mailer home. NMWC provided a great apt. Neighbors included Mary Oliver and Michael Cunningham. Literary!

Ours was one of the busiest workshops they’ve had, so be aware – results may vary.  Charles Strozier (Chuck) is enthusiastic, energetic and we had a full week. Eight of us met Monday morning at the Mailer home. There are pics of the house on the website. Just know that you cannot beat the view from the porch. After introductions, Chuck had invited Mike Lennon, Mailer’s biographer, joined us and gave us a tour of the home, including Mailer’s study followed by a talk and Q&A.  To say he knows his subject is an understatement, so there was no question unanswered. During the rest of the week we discussed each others pieces as well as three books: The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History, Washington’s Crossing (Pivotal Moments in American History)and the first hundred pages or so of Chuck’s upcoming book on 9/11 (heartbreaking, excellent and should be out for the 10th anniversary next year). On Tuesday we were joined by Steve Bukowski who briefed us on Provincetown History and gave us an orientation to the digital archives as well as some local stories (so many resources!) and Wednesday took a tour led by Laurel Guadazno of the P’town Museum. We each wrote a piece based on an artifact at the Provincetown Museum, which had some cool stuff. I chose a painting by Charles Hawthorne of Portuguese fishermen in the area. Spent Wednesday afternoon and eve writing mine. Thursday we discussed the rest of the workshop submissions and final two books. That night on the way back from dinner, John Waters passed me on his bike. I was tempted to turn around. I didn’t. Friday we met Lawrence Schiller. He produced and directed The Executioner’s Song (among his many other accomplishments) and is one of the driving forces behind the Colony. As with the others who knew Mailer, Schiller also had great stories.

Mailer will likely be remembered for his non-fiction rather than his fiction. He’s not taught in English departments. To a large degree, feminists have seen to that – kind of ironic considering his literary aspirations that women would affect the womanizer’s place in literary history. My conclusion after hearing the stories, reading some of his work, etc. is that he couldn’t imagine the other. One of the knocks on him is that he only wrote about himself. Truman Capote and Gore Vidal nailed him for ripping off other writers. Still, the man didn’t lack for ego and he had a ferocious work ethic. 40 books and 50,000 letters in some 50 years is no small thing and he worked right up to the end, taking books to the hospital with him just in case things improved.

We all went out for drinks and lobster the last night after Chuck and his wife threw us a cocktail party. I won’t tell you that there wasn’t nearly as much drinking as it sounds. No, just imagine that we upheld the hard-drinking image of the writer and engaged in fisticuffs late in the evening.

If you want to know more about Mailer, read his widow’s memoir, A Ticket to the Circus and watch for Lennon’s 900 page biography. Even after death, Mailer continues to generate controversy. However, love him or hate him, the Colony was great. Our group was talented, respectful and fun, it’s always interesting and inspiring to be in the living/working space of an author, and P-town is not only a spectacular setting, but full of history. You have to pay your way to get there and most meals when you’re there, but I recommend the experience to writers.

Finally, no trip to P-town is complete without mentioning Ellie, the enthusiastic singer ‘living the dream’ (his/her words) usually in front of Town Hall


Attended the LA Times Festival of Books over the weekend. As usual, it was a mixed bag. There are panels and individuals that are insufferably pretentious. Fortunately, I avoided most.  The panels I went to on Saturday and Sunday had both intelligence and humor.  This time, I had friends on panels which added a lot to the experience. Still, it’s crowded and most writers I know get uncomfortable with crowds after a couple of hours (if that!). Tweeted it over the weekend.

It did inspire me. Still in the pondering stage for the new novel, but my process lines is similar to others I heard and that helps give me patience for the process (OMG, I should be WRITING! fades a bit)

The prizes:

Biography: “Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits” by Linda Gordon

Current Interest: “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers

Fiction: “A Happy Marriage” by Rafael Yglesias

Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction: “American Rust” by Philipp Meyer

Graphic Novel: Asterios Polyp” by David Mazzuchelli

History: Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance 1950-1963” by Kevin Starr

Mystery/Thriller: The Ghosts of Belfast” by Stuart Neville

Poetry: “Practical Water” by Brenda Hillman

Science and Technology: The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom” by Graham Farmelo

Young Adult Literature: “Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary” by Elizabeth Partridge

Innovators Award: Dave Eggers

Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement: Evan S. Connell

I feel the need… the need to read

Nathan Bransford at Curtis Brown blogs about ‘gap’ books. His key is books most people have read, so bear that in mind. What are yours?

He’s right about the recut trailers. A feel-good Shining. Good exercise to think of your story in a new way, too.

And if you need a reality check, The Rejectionist is happy to give it to you.

Pronouncing authors names correctly here

Reading my novel aloud today (and possibly for a few days!). Started the new one, but really looking forward to getting Wrestling Alligators out into the world next week.

B&N sees digital future

William Lynch is set to guide the retailer into a the digital. He’s just been named the new CEO of Barnes and Noble.

I don’t have a problem with ebooks. I love my Kindle for travel, but I also love books. I expect both will be with us in the future, but traditional publishing is going to have to adapt. That most likely means printing books as they are ordered, perhaps on site as Harvard’s doing.  As mentioned before, The Northshire Bookstore in Vermont has had success with print on demand, too.

odds & ends

Happy Friday!

Something to think about over the weekend: Dialog is people saying no to each other in interesting ways. It is about people talking, but can often be about people not communicating (thanks to Rob Roberge)

The Book Publicity Blog makes the case for authors not approaching show producers on their own.

Pamela Dorman discusses her imprint at Penguin.

A number of authors are addressing themes of loneliness, including Paolo Giordano in The Solitude of Prime Numbers, a book getting a lot of buzz.

catching up

Yeah, I’ve been negligent in the writing department, blogging included. Stopping in to congratulate the National Book Award winners, just posted at Omnivoracious:

And because she had such an impact on the world of publishing, I feel compelled to post that Oprah is apparently calling it quits in 2011, for real this time.

Now, I have to figure out how to get my discipline back. It’s become distressingly elusive.