Mar. 16, 2012


by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

"Prayer" by Marie Howe, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter was published on this date in 1850 (books by this author). He didn't expect the book to sell well, although he did feel that "some parts of the book are powerfully written." As it happened, the book was an instant best-seller, selling 2,500 copies in 10 days. The Scarlet Letter was one of the first mass-produced books in America, and it was likewise distributed quickly, so more people were reading it at once and talking about it. The word of mouth drove sales of the book, a relatively new phenomenon at that time. The second edition, a run of 1,500 copies, sold out in just three days.

Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket on this date in 1926. Goddard had been interested in outer space since he read H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds as a boy of 16 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Though he'd always been interested in science, he started thinking seriously about rockets the following year, in 1899. As he recounted in his autobiography, he was up in a cherry tree, preparing to prune its dead branches, when he began to daydream: "It was one of the quiet, colorful afternoons of sheer beauty which we have in October in New England, and as I looked toward the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet."

Eight years later, while studying at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Goddard began experimenting with a rocket that was powered by gunpowder. He had a theory that a rocket engine could produce thrust even in the vacuum of space, without any air to thrust against. The government wasn't really interested in the idea of space travel, so he had a hard time getting grants for his research, and he ended up paying for most of it himself. Finally, a grant from the Smithsonian Institution enabled him to do research and publish a paper on "A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes" in 1920. In the paper, he speculated that rockets could be used to reach the moon.

The New York Times heard about his paper and ridiculed him. He went from being a relative nobody to a laughingstock literally overnight. But he persisted, and on this date in 1926, he completed the first successful launch of his liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. Similar to a blowtorch, his rocket was equipped with two lines running from a fuel tank into a combustion chamber; in this case, the lines delivered gasoline and liquid oxygen. The rocket achieved a height of 41 feet and an average speed of 60 miles per hour. Unfortunately, his wife Esther's movie camera ran out of film, so there's no record of this first foray into space exploration.

Today is the 60th birthday of Alice Hoffman (books by this author), born in New York City (1952). Her parents divorced when she was quite young, so she was raised on Long Island by her single mother. She writes for young adults as well as older ones, and often delves into magical realism. She's often said that her favorite novel of all time is Wuthering Heights, and her novel Here on Earth (1997) was inspired by Emily Brontë's masterpiece. Her most recent novel, The Dovekeepers, came out last fall (2011).

Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor, and she donated the advance for her 1999 story collection Local Girls to help found the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Today is the birthday of Sid Fleischman (books by this author), born Avron Zalmon Fleischman in Brooklyn, New York (1920). Fleischman grew up in San Diego, and as a teenager toured the country with vaudeville acts as a magician. After college he became a journalist, then he started writing suspense novels and screenplays.

One day his daughter Jane came home from school with the autograph of a children's author. Fleischman's wife, Betty, pointed out to the children that their father was also a writer. Jane said, "Yes, but no one reads his books." So he started in at once, and his first of many children's books, Mr. Mysterious & Company, was published in 1962. He won the Newbery Award in 1987 for his novel The Whipping Boy (1986), which tells the story of a spoiled European prince and his servant who receives the prince's punishments, because it's a crime to strike the prince. He also wrote a memoir: The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life (1996).

He said: "The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever — they have a special impact. Paragraph after paragraph and page after page, the author must deliver his or her best work."

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
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  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
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  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
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