Dec. 2, 2008


by Liz Robbins

The couple in the rooms above me smoke. The smell
drifts down into their floor and through the cracks in my ceiling.
When I pass by them in the hall, they nod, Hello, hello, smile,
their arms bloomed with packages. He goes in daily
to an office. She travels to Paris with the airlines.
Once she came home with a sack overflowing with brie,
Gauloises, red wine. She smiled, shy, sideways. Down came
smoke, good silence, for days.

I lie in the dark. Dried roses, sage, scentless in a vase.
I inhale. The smell, the smell.

The man below me smokes also. The smell ascends
through his ceiling into the cracks in my floor. When I pass by,
he cries, How are you? shows his teeth, leaves bowls of chicken
stew outside my door. He never seems to leave, has money
all his own, mysteriously. Once he painted his rooms a beautiful
whorehouse red. Blonde men with long lashes come to his place
to stay the weekend. They play Moroccan music, sitars. Cook
with cumin and garlic. Stars shine beyond the windows, two
or three in bright clusters, and the occasional one, alone.

"Studio" by Liz Robbins, from Hope, As The World Is A Scorpion Fish. © The Backwaters Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of short-story writer George Saunders, (books by this author) born in Amarillo, Texas (1958). He grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Then he went to work for an oil company in Indonesia and started writing fiction, but he said, "In all my stories, a stoic young man who has just arrived in Asia witnesses something brutal and then recoils in silent horror." So he decided to go back to the U.S., and he thought that being poor and driftless would inspire him to write. So he went from job to job, working as a roofer, a slaughterhouse laborer, and a convenience store clerk. But he found his own stories serious and boring, and he decided it wasn't helping his writing to be poor, so he went to work for the FDA. One night, he had a dream that he worked at a giant haunted theme park, and he wrote a story about it. For the first time, he liked his own writing. He wrote stories full of bizarre people and events, and those became his first book, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996). He's also the author of a children's book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (2000), and his latest, The Braindead Megaphone (2007).

It's the birthday of novelist Ann Patchett, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1963). She was raised in Nashville by her single mother, and she hardly ever went to school. So even though she decided at age five that she wanted to be a writer, at age seven she still didn't know how to read. But she learned, and by high school, she wrote incessantly. She said, "While my girlfriends danced and dated, I sat and wrote. Every ounce of gangly energy I had went onto paper." Her first story came out in the Paris Review on her 21st birthday. Everybody loved the story; it got anthologized over and over. But Ann Patchett got writer's block. She tried to write a novel based on the story, but it failed, and her publisher dropped her. The same year, her marriage broke up. She moved back in with her mother and waited tables at T.G.I. Friday's. She spent a year just thinking about what to write, and then she sat down and in six months she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars (1992). She went on to write Bel Canto (2001), which sold more than 1 million copies, Truth & Beauty (2004), and her most recent novel, Run (2007).

It's the birthday of the novelist Elizabeth Berg, (books by this author) born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1948. She worked for 10 years as a nurse, and then she decided to quit her job and stay home with her two daughters. She wrote an award-winning essay about it, and that started her career as a writer. She wrote for magazines, and then wrote a novel, Durable Goods (1993), and since then she's been writing fiction at the rate of about one book a year.

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
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  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
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