Commenting on my post about blatant self-promotion, Marvin D. Wilson advised me to “let it all hang out” when it comes to hyping my books. The phrase brought back a treasured memory from 2007 – the night Norman Mailer gave me a beatific grin while he ogled my chest.
Mailer was at the New York State Writers Institute in the spring of 2007 reading from his latest book, and as it turned out, his last – his controversial novel The Castle in the Forest, about Hitler’s childhood. Page Hall was packed to overflowing. Though Mailer hobbled to the stage with difficulty, his reading and the Q&A that followed was strong, lucid and entertaining. As I recall, he said he was still following a disciplined writing schedule. Someone asked if he was planning to write a sequel about Hitler’s adulthood, and he replied that realistically, he didn’t believe he would live long enough. He died later that year, on November 10th.
I bought the book, of course, and joined the long line for autographs. We admirers had our instructions – he would sign his name only. No personal inscriptions, and no chitchat. As I inched slowly toward his table, I could see how frail, fatigued and bored he looked. I was wearing my turquoise tee-
shirt with the cover of Mood Swing emblazoned on my chest. I threw open my jacket and proclaimed, “This is my first novel!” His face lit up, and he blessed me with a radiant grin I’ll always treasure in memory.
I know he wasn’t grinning at my feminine endowments, because I haven’t got anything to brag about in that department. But I like to think I brightened up the signing for him. I’m not a huge fan of Mailer’s, and I know many women detest him as a male chauvinist pig (does anyone use that phrase anymore?) But I admire him as an American master of great stature and productivity. The flyleaf of The Castle in the Forest lists 35 books, fiction and non-fiction, covering an enormous range of topics and spanning almost six decades. You’ve got to admire that kind of self-discipline and dedication.
I’m going to wear that same tee-shirt tonight. There’s a free dinner for members and staff at my local YMCA, so I’m going to don my bra (which I almost never wear, as an underendowed and aging child of the Sixties), flaunt my chest and flog my books. But I doubt anyone will give me a grin as great as the one I got from Norman Mailer.