Two Letters to Norman Mailer
November 16, 2007
In 1988 I was struggling with alcohol and substance abuse. I doubt I would write two letters like these now, as I near my tenth anniversary of sobriety, but from a literary standpoint it’s certain I should exhume some of the anger that follows and put it on paper.
May 10, 1988
I’ve thought about how I should write this letter and after some ambivalence I’ve decided to begin not with pyrotechnics but a simple statement: the manuscript underneath this missive is a historical novel about Hitler that will have lasting international appeal.
My approach (to this oft-written about man) is unique. The book is comprised of first-person accounts of people and events linked in chronological order. So, instead of historians rather routinely noting that so and so did this and that on such and such a date, we have, for example, Hitler’s mother telling what it was like to bathe and examine her special surviving youngster’s scrotum, followed by Hitler’s loving opinions of these and other procedures. Hitler’s father expresses himself about conjugal concerns and paternal practices. Later, a variety of new characters are introduced, or, rather, introduce themselves. Dietrich Eckart is a bloated, blustery and eloquent springboard for something he’ll never see. Goering relates his passion about everything: about drilling opponents in the sky, prior to taking over for the riddled Red Baron, about his beautiful sweet pale dying Carin, about morphine and his newfound Fuehrer. Goebbels says he’s especially brilliant and sensitive and hot club-footed horny. Mimi Reiter tells what it’s like to date the young Hitler, and she makes it clear he’s a very unusual guy. Geli Raubaul says it was thrilling to be the Fuehrer’s special girl, and half-niece, at least for a couple of years. And Eva Braun… Eva Braun candidly tells her story. Everyone is candid. In fact in this form they are all involuntarily forthcoming. They have no choice. The unconscious is unlocked and etched on paper and frailties and machinations are exposed even as characters try to hide facts and justify actions. Anyone who briefly succeeds in not revealing himself will inevitably be exposed by someone else. The stories and feelings are here evoked as if by relentless infusions of sodium pentothal. There’s a lot more. So here it is: Hitler Here.
This book is currently complete up to early 1938, and will proceed until April thirtieth, 1945. Already I can see that Eva Braun will write the final chapter. I have studied Hitler and the Nazis most of my life and I began this book about four-and-a-half years ago, just after turning thirty-one. I am of course beholden to a number of historians, psycho-historians, psychiatrists and biographers in forming a vision of Hitler and his time. My book will have an acknowledgment in front, crediting such seminal contributors as Dr. Walter C. Langer, Robert G. L. Wait, Bradley Smith, Richard Hanser, max Gallo, William Shirer, Joachim Fest and John Toland. At the end of Hitler Here there will be a bibliography comprising two-hundred titles or so.
Whether you’re amused or bemused at this point, it is surely time to tell you why and what: I am writing because every time I ask myself who out there might appreciate this book, the same name echoes: Norman Mailer. Norman Mailer might see and understand what I have done. I did not want to make my first overture to someone – an editor for example – who to me is a stranger.
If you care to, I’d appreciate it if you would proffer this manuscript to your publisher, or anyone else appropriate. As I indicated, from my current vantage point in the wilderness, I don’t know who that would be. I only know people respond to my work and I’m concerned about potential barriers that might exist in publishing bureaucracies.
* * * *
May 16, 1988
I felt I should write a clerical letter, a good clear nice polite letter of introduction and inquiry, a letter explaining the basics in businesslike fashion. And since the letter dated May tenth was, at least by my standard, a paradigm of restraint, I am now compelled to write something more candid. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so direct. I might be better served by reticence, or at least a disingenuous attempt at diplomacy. That doesn’t seem fair, though. Since I’ve been forthcoming about the howls of a thousand long dead now living souls, I should be consistent and say what I really feel. I should say that sometimes I am gut sick with humiliated concern that some bureaucrat, some group of bureaucrats, a group of semi-literate nerds with protruding guts and no guts and no talent and minds bound tight by the straps of their inherent mediocrity, will tell me there is no place for Hitler Here. I’m concerned they will say there have been a hundred thousand books written about Hitler and what makes you think and besides we don’t like the style and…
I’m trying to promise myself I won’t let them say more. I’m hoping I won’t. I don’t think I will. At that point it is my forum. At that point it is my turn to say: fuck you bureaucrat. Fuck your fast-ass sit on the sidelines your whole life cipher-self. Fuck you with your face now crushed.
But perhaps this is only a paranoid historical remembrance. I in fact have no experience at all with book editors. My only experience has been with newspaper editors. The feelings described above concern only them. I emphasize that. I hope book editors are different. They must be or books would read like the see-Spot- run robot-writing in metro sections across the land. Book editors can’t be looking for that. I’m willing to trust them and I here stress that during the long (perhaps two-thirds complete) course of writing this book I have made many changes, then made a hundred more. It would be absurd to contend a shrewd editor could not also find places to refine. I am as dedicated to this book as anyone to any book and all I seek is someone with the keys to the printing presses who will cooperate…
I must make sure I write full-time. When I am not writing there are reasons and they hurt a lot in the morning, not only in the head and the stomach, but sometimes the lungs. When my head and stomach hurt, I don’t write. I play the stock market. When my lungs hurt my judgment is for several days slaughtered, relative to the norms of prudent investing, and I do things unforgivably stupid for an essentially unemployable guy who lucked out a few years ago by inheriting a modest but nice portfolio from a late father who was himself unemployable. He knew it, and was cautious. At first, rescued in my early thirties from revolving part-time labors in warehouses and construction sites and offices, I was cautious, and successful. I vowed I’d be careful and not risk principal and thereby not risk a resumption of truck loading or trying to sell five hundred words for twenty bucks to bureaucrats.
I have many times urged myself not to pilfer my portfolio or creative prime with any more aggressive and time-consuming forays into the computerized schizophrenia of speculation. This morning I was whipsawed by that esteemed purveyor of power in your region, Long Island Lighting. Did I really take a heavily margined bite at that one? I’ve still got enough left to finish this book, if I quit speculating. I think I can quit playing the market because I have to. I want to. Reading mounds – piles – of financial reports and publications is even worse for the soul than the petrified prose of a newspaper editor. I swear. It is worse. But I am always reinvigorated when I shove the financials and pick up what I was born to. Even if the bull had not turned into a ravening bear I would have scolded myself for occasionally digressing from my commitment to writing. You see, I just reread “A Speech at Berkeley on Viet Nam Day”, and I know what I should be doing.
* * * *
Editorial note: I sent these letters along with the manuscript to Norman Mailer in care of his publisher at the time. This year, when Mailer’s novel about Hitler’s youth was published, I wrote a much shorter note inside the cover of the third edition of Hitler Here, signed it, and sent it to the ailing author, who was using two canes to walk. I don’t know if the letters or the book were ever forwarded to him.
November 16, 2007