It was the middle of a two-week writing intensive in the French Alps, and Indianapolis author Mike Dahlie had 20 minutes in between class, an evening event, and taking care of 30 American writers and grad students, some who were abroad for the first time. Despite all this, we wound up chatting for more than half an hour.
Dahlie may have been so gracious because he’s been in an interviewer’s shoes. Before he won a PEN/Hemingway awards and a Pushcart prize, he was a struggling writer in New York City, freelancing wherever he could in between jobs like being a secretary for Oscar Meyer (yes, the sausage company).
Dahlie is the author of two novels, “a bunch” of writing published under pseudonyms, and a forthcoming book that “has been almost done for a while now.” Selections have been published in Harper’s, the Yale Review, and the Harvard Review. Dahlie usually writes about “male shame. Guys who have been beaten down,” but “everything is great” for the new novel’s protagonist. Dahlie “felt fraudulent” writing in first-person about such a fortunate dude, so he wrote as Luther Magnussen, the “most exciting and romantic name I could come up with.”
It’s a fancy name, but the real author writes in an un-fancy place: his basement, which he describes as damp. Dahlie enjoys writing there because his wife and son find it “disgusting,” so they avoid it.
Dahlie teaches in the English Department at Butler University. He founded what was to become the Mt. Blanc Writing Workshop, held in Chamonix, France, in 2013 as a summer intensive for Butler grad students. In 2014, the workshop opened up to non-Butler applicants. This year, anyone could apply. There are five Butler students there now, but Butler’s name is no longer affiliated.
No bad blood exists between Dahlie and Butler. “It just made more sense—for me and Butler—to run it on my own.”
Dahlie chose Chamonix for the workshop because of its breathtaking mountain views.
“Indiana is a flat place,” he explained, “People have their minds blown when they come out here. It’s transporting. A couple weeks here can make people feel like they’ve been gone for a year, and the things that can do for someone’s writing is stunning. People transform their work.”
Also, Dahlie said, Chamonix is “a great place to bring your kids. Or your fiancé. People come here and they decide not to go home, so it’s a great place to get out of a relationship, too, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
The workshop is held in between the ski season and the French school vacation, so lodging is affordable. Attendees can pay as little as $4,500 for the whole package, including a plane ticket and housing. That’s not much for two weeks with New York Times bestselling authors in a picturesque alpine setting.
The Mt. Blanc Writing workshop will continue to run annually each summer.