Aug. 22, 2009

Skinny-Dipping After Work at the Drive-In

by Debra Nystrom

No moon; the pickup's headlights stare
across the river from the bluff above, where
fields of sunflower heads turn away,
waiting for dawn. It's cold, yelps Amy,
and Brian calls where are you
but she screams no, get away, so
he and Tommy laugh, dive under for
her legs again. In March I skated over
this same place, past Farm Island, leaving
my track lines in the snow hard to imagine
now, and even then the water must
have moved like this beneath me, erasing
bodies' outlines, as if everything touched
everything all the time.

"Skinny-Dipping After Work at the Drive-In", by Debra Nystrom from Bad River Road. © Sarabande Books, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Ray Bradbury, (books by this author) born in Waukegan, Illinois (1920). He has more than 500 published works — novels, stories, plays, and poems — and he is best known for Fahrenheit 451 (1953), about a "fireman" book burner in a world where books and printed material are illegal.

It's the birthday of screenwriter Julius Epstein, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1909. He and his twin brother, Philip, took an unpublished play called Everybody Comes to Rick's and turned it into a screenplay for one of the most-quoted and beloved classic movies: Casablanca. Julius Epstein said that his screenplay for Casablancacontained "a great deal of corn, more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined."

It's the birthday of writer and satirist Dorothy Parker, (books by this author) born in West End, New Jersey (1893). She was clever even as a little girl — she got kicked out of Catholic school for describing the Immaculate Conception as "spontaneous combustion."

Almost every day from 1919 until 1929, a group of clever writers and actors met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan. They called themselves the Algonquin Round Table, and eventually, "The Vicious Circle." Dorothy Parker was one of the founding members of the group, along with people like Harold Ross, who founded The New Yorker, and journalist George S. Kaufman, and there were frequent guests, like Tallulah Bankhead, Frank Sullivan, and Harpo Marx. They played word games and card games, they made fun of other writers and actors, they played pranks on each other, and they wrote about each others' clever comments in newspaper columns, so that their witticisms and pranks became national news.

It's the birthday of Annie Proulx, (books by this author) born on this day in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). She had four younger sisters, and she said: "I always wanted a brother and I liked the things that men did; when I was growing up, women didn't go skiing, or hiking, or have adventurous canoe trips, or any of that sort of thing. I felt the lack of a brother whom I imagined could introduce me to the vigorous outdoor activities that my sisters were not particularly interested in. If you live in a woman's world and that's all there is, the other side of the equation looks pretty interesting." Which is why, when she started writing fiction much later, almost all her main characters were male.

Annie Proulx studied history as an undergraduate and a graduate student, and did lots of academic research. After she dropped out of her Ph.D. program, she moved to a town on the border of Canada. She got involved with the back-to-the-land movement, and she started freelancing to make a living, writing how-to manuals. She wrote about growing grapes, building window shutters and fences, making cider and cheese. She spent a lot of time fly-fishing, hiking, and skiing.

Her editor suggested that she write a novel, and she just laughed because she didn't have any idea how to write a novel. But a couple of years later, she was ready to try. She said, "I sat down, and within a half-hour, the whole of Postcards was in my head." Postcards was published in 1992, and a year later Annie Proulx published The Shipping News, set in rural Newfoundland. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and Annie Proulx became a celebrity.

She has published several novels and books of short stories since then. One of these books, Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999), has a story about two cowboys who become lovers, a story called "Brokeback Mountain," which was made into a movie starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

When someone asked her about her advice to writers, she said: "Spend some time living before you start writing. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, 'Write what you know.' It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don't develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »