On Life


"Anger dies, genius endures."


“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”


I always found that in a pinch one ounce of understanding was worth a ton of sympathy . . . Almost anybody will stand by you when you’re right, but it takes a real pal to stick by you when he thinks you’re wrong . . . There isn’t much difference between the best of the worst or the worst of the best –  and about the worst fault of the best people is they think there is. Believe me, the one infallible formula for getting the wrong slant is to look down your nose.


"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space."


“I learned one thing about men. When they argue over nothing, it’s usually over something they’re hiding.”


“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

“If you’re gonna be two-faced at least make one of them pretty.”


"There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us.  I have observed for example that we all get the same amount of ice.  The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter."

- Found on his typewriter when he died, 1931.


"Associate with well-mannered persons and your own manners will improve. Run with decent folk and your own decent instincts will be strengthened.  Keep the company of bums and you will become a bum.   But hang around with rich people and you will end by picking up the tab and dying broke."

- Walker's Law from an editor  at the New York Herald Tribune, 1920s.

DR. ALETTA JACOBS, first woman physician in the Netherlands

“What’s the use of brains if you’re born a girl?”

Dr. Jacobs asked this question as an adolescent. Determined to become a doctor like her father, she passed the examination to enter Groningen University but was permitted only to listen for a year.  She became a permanent student the next year, graduating in 1878, and went on to become the first woman physician in the Netherlands. She then opened a free clinic for poor women and children, where she gave contraceptive advice and information, the first time this had ever been done in the world.


"No man is lonely while eating spaghetti"


"The cure for a horrible day is to go to bed early and start over in the morning."

On Writing


"Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.


"If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works."


“Writing is very convenient, has a low expense and is a great way to pass the time. I highly recommend it to any old rocker who is out of cash and doesn’t know what to do next.”

 - on writing his autobiography after breaking his toe


“You think out what actually happened, you tell friends long stories about it, you mull it over in your mind, you connect it together at leisure, then when the time comes to pay the rent again you force yourself to sit at the typewriter, or at the writing notebook, and get it over with as fast as you can.”


“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” 


“Fiction reveals the truth that reality obscures.”


"Fiction is the lie that helps us understand the truth."


"You can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for centuries."


“The two most terrifying flights in literature that come to mind are the flight out of Paris in ‘The tale of Two Cities,’ and the flight of the ship in ‘The Ancient Mariner.’ No one was chasing the wildly flying carriage in Dickens’s book, and no one was in the wake of Coleridge’s ship’s crew.  But Fear was shrieking at their heels.”

ROBERT CARO on writing biography like fiction

“Rhythm matters. Mood matters. Sense of place matters. All these things we talk about with novels, yet I feel that for history and biography to ­accomplish what they should accomplish, they have to pay as much attention to these devices as novels do.”

EDWARD HOAGLAND on why writing about nature matters

“Because people will want to know what those wild places were like when there are no more wild places. There will be no more wild places! There will be national parks that will be like glorified zoos. But there simply will not be wild places.”


“I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning to the end. This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research.”


“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Bill's Books

Sex, Suffrage, & Scandal
in Gilded Age New York


A nonfiction narrative of 1872 New York, a city convulsing with social upheaval and sexual revolution and beset with all the excitement and challenges a moment of transformation brings.
"Solid Research and
Outstanding Storytelling"
- Booklist
And from New York's Dutch Era

A Novel of New Amsterdam

The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan


"[A] romp through the history of New Netherland that would surely have Petrus Stuyvesant complaining about the riot transpiring between its pages."

- de Halve Maen, Journal of the Holland Society of New York