• Here’s the Story

    I wrote a book called The Forest for the Trees and it’s an advice book for writers. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. Now, the most popular posts are gathered in Greatest Hits ( a work in progress) Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I've learned one thing about writers, it's this: we really are all alone. Love, Betsy
  • Archives

You Must Not Know ‘Bout Me

I was out for two weeks taking care of my mom (yes, Sabitha, I do have a heart). I returned to two enormous stacks of mail. All of the query letters were about dysfunctional families, addiction, mental illness, etc. Is it like I have a sign over my head? Couldn’t just once someone send me a book about the history of jam, or Jews in Ireland, or the true story of Karen Carpenter? I want zombies, vampires, NFL champions who dance.  I’ll take Harry Potter’s ugly cousin. Two Shades of Gray. I want books that fly or compute. My Kingdom for a book about depression that isn’t upbeat in the end. I want Daniel Day Louis pre-Lincoln. I want a book about gold leaf. About golden pears. About Benjamin Franklin’s theory of trees. About pigeon holes and whack-a-moles and Spanish sauce and moss.

What do you want to read?

63 Responses

  1. My book is about mental illness with death at the end. DEATH. Death and dying and not coming out better for it. Just hanging on until there’s nothing left.

  2. Non-fiction about people more twisted than I am, and lots of it.

  3. I just finished Swamplandia! and am ready to read it again–now there’s a book that will give you more wack-a-moles and moss than you know what to do with. Hope your mom is ok and you’ve come back in one piece. You are missed!

  4. Hope your mom is better, Betsy. Welcome back to the mines.

  5. Interesting random factual stuff of the Malcolm Gladwell type. Gearing up for teaching AP Composition next year…ordered Tipping Point for them.

  6. I just finished Breath by Tim Winton, an Australian coming-of-age novel with sex, surfing, and a great white shark named Barney. That book rang my bell. I’m almost afraid to read his other stuff in case it doesn’t measure up.

    • Dirt Music and Cloudstreet.
      Yes, I know you think Cloudstreet’s a family drama. It is… and Brokeback Mountain’s a camping story… To Kill a Mockingbird about a kid who breaks his arm… The Old Man and The Sea about fishing.

  7. Broke down and bought a Kindle Fire with my charge card points. It’s not like we use our card for milk and eggs we use it for business; we rack the points, so I got the Kindle for near nothing, got lots of free books for the first month too. Discovered AN UNEXPECTED TWIST by Andy Borowitz, jeez that guy is funny. I want to read anything he’s written.
    BTW anybody who is holding out on buying a Kindle because you think it’s siding with the enemy, crapola, embrace it, you will love it, it is an amazing little device. It’s my most favorite hand held battery powered personal small appliance which I like to take to bed. I believe all women should have a personal relationship with small appliances, Kindles and Keurigs aside. Hahaha, Averil will love that.
    Hope your mom is okay. Missed ya.

    • Oh sold your soul and gone to the dark side ;) Lol. I have the Kindle app on my iPad because a writing book I wanted only came on Kindle and it was free. So, I broke my own rule and have put other books on it…only free or $1 nonfiction about writing, teaching, parenting, and God. Came in handy too because I have lunch duty and watching kids eat for half an hour is boring as hell. So I read on my Kindle/iPad the whole time!

    • now that you have a kindle, carolynn, you can read my book. i won’t be so slatternly as to post the link to it here, but i will say you can find it up the river.

      • You won’t mention it but I will, HIGH STREET.
        Read the sample first, two things:
        Not everybody can get me to shell out but you can.
        Lends a whole new meaning to laundry pile.

        I found a dead frog under the kid’s bathing suits at the bottom of my laundry pile. It was January and there was snow on the ground. Says a lot about my laundry habits..

      • thank you, carolynn.

        kids leave their frogs in the darnedest places.

  8. I believe you that you want all those things, but I bet you wouldn’t take them on and try to sell them if they landed on your desk..
    I want to read the final draft of the first draft I just finished. That’s why I wrote it, and that’s why I’ll bother to fix all its nasty little problems.

  9. I want the sequel to Finnegan’s Wake.

  10. i want to read The Art of Character by David Corbett, but I promised myself I’d finish another chapter of rewrites, first.

    But the Benjamin Franklin thing sounds good, too.

  11. I want to read about the link between sixties Dead and Fifty Shades and Pema Chodron.

    Or about mothers and the shades that change when we’re of a certain age and find ourselves taking care of them. How maybe we’re kind after all. Best local license plate: R U KIND

  12. “What do you want to read?”

    everything that i have no excuse for not having read yet.

    i do hope your mom is doing all right. my parents are in their eighties now and it’s hard.

    (look at how many of us are here, betsy. you know we drop by several times a day to see if you’ve been in. we’re like faithful mastiffs ever waiting by the doggie door for the beloved footfall.)

  13. I would be very interested to read more about moss. Love moss. And hope your mother is doing better.

  14. Mental illness is so yesterday ;) I enjoyed the Roz Twitter show. Glad she’s on the mend…

  15. I want to read a book about a daughter who takes care of her mom and all the shit that comes with it. I’m not interested in the dysfunction, just the reality.

  16. Truth. Any truth. In its ugly, beautiful, inspiring form.

  17. Hope your mum’s OK, Betsy. What do I want to read? A critique that says I’ve nailed it; a letter from a long lost friend because I haven’t worked out why she’s long lost; a bank statement that doesn’t have a big fat zero on it; an assessment that says my autistic grandson isn’t as challenged as we first thought; a book about how to find some inner peace. I read The Forest for the Trees and now I know…really know that the world of publishing isn’t day-dreams, and stars, and fireworks going off in the firmament, but damned hard work and commitment to the craft. And a manuscript polished to within an inch of its life. I needed to know.

    http://tinyurl.com/5wevtye

  18. I hope your mother is okay.
    My current read is by Jim Marrs–so now not only am I depressed, but fully enlightened to the misery of being a “wage slave” ruled by the super elite. When I’m finished, I will likely go crawling on my hands and knees back into the blue-pilled world of escapist fiction–send me some pure fantasy STAT. On second thought, I may just need to watch every movie Jim Carrey every made (excepting Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that movie does not help one to forget.)

  19. I would read the true story of Karen Carpenter. –But then, I’ll read almost any memoir: Tatum O’Neal, Kris Kardashian, Ashley Judd, Tom Cruise, MacKinzie Phillips….

    Glad to see your mom is feeling better. Enjoyed the quotable quotes.

  20. There’s no gratitude like in the eyes of a mother when she knows her child is kind.
    I don’t mind dysfunction. We play the hand we’re dealt. What I get tired of is whiny self indulgence. Who cares? A book of facts would be boring, a good love story, unexpected and final, blows my mind all the way to whack a mole shaggy moss turd land.
    Moby Dick was a love story. White whale, symbolic penis leg, harpoons and rope; the sea. Hell, what about the friggin’ title?
    (Pardon me. I’m thinking about love a lot these days, the next big corporate holiday just around the corner and all).

  21. I don’t know—since our country does such a good job of ignoring mental illness—Newtown—and is presently entertaining itself to death–I tend to gravitate toward books that rip the bandaid off.

  22. Gone on a fucked-up lark reading dark. The Yellow Birds dark. Let’s make the old marine cry, shall we? Repeat as necessary until the day after Independence Day, when we’ll have sun again in the Pacific Northwest.

  23. I’m writing what a want to read. It pays homage to the nineties and mentions Full House on several occasions. Sigh…Dave Coulier.

  24. Many years ago I helped take care of my mom, who died way too young. Now, when I see smart & saavy elderly women navigating the city streets I imagine the fun we would have had, if she lived. I was a wild & crazy girl when she died. Now, it would be lunch in the city, cabs, Paris, grandchildren, books & fine wine. I’d spoil her rotten. My mom wasn’t perfect, but she was a class act. Fun, too. I miss her everyday.

    You’re doing a good thing, Betsy. The most important work in the world.

  25. a collection of personal essays written by you

  26. My book is called An Incredible Thing Happened and it’s an inspirational story for all people who have had to struggle through extraordinary circumstances, and a guidebook that teaches if you fight on, even the worst beginning can have a happy ending.
    It all began when my father traded the family ranch for a 45-foot yacht, so that we would be “educated around the world,” hopping from one country to the next. Sounds great, right? Not when your father is physically abusive and your mother is mentally ill.

  27. At the end of a hard day at the computer trying to sell my dragon romance book, I’d like to read a book about how to write better as well as give me uplifting advice about the writing life. I’d like to sit back and read a book that will put me asleep, not keep me up half the night.
    Webb

  28. I’ve read Twilight and the Fifty Shades series and have zero desire to read anything even remotely similar ever again. EVER. The theme(s) of what I read matters little to me as long as there are characters I can get behind and/or a story that’s going somewhere. (As opposed to either rambling aimlessly or spinning off in one pointless tangent after another. See above mentioned titles.)

    My novel has alcohol/drug abuse, dysfunction galore and violence around every other corner but mostly it’s about revenge and identity and failed heroes. You know, the things people like.

  29. I hope things are well woth your mother, or as well as they can be if that is the case.I guess i have to say i still love reading about madness in all its shapes. Recently i read The Iowa Sea. It was goregous. Not about madness. In a way i read randomly. And can find myself loving any damn thing i did expect to.

  30. I’ve been on a Michael Cunningham kick and I’d read anything written like him. Show me somebody who can use AIDS as a sidenote, a backdrop to get down to the real business of human beings and how screwed up our choices can be, yes, yes, yes. It’s the ability to use language in the best way possible to make it disappear completely and make you forget that you’re looking at black marks on paper. And when an author takes one event that we would have skimmed over in a newspaper and develops it so thoroughly that I know longer know what I would have done were I that person despite the fact that I started out knowing…well, yeah. That’s what I want to read every day for the rest of my life. Messy complicated human stories about every day things. I want to read about people who didn’t choose the “right” thing. Yep. That about sums it up.

  31. The other day I was in a bookstore looking for that Middlestein book–but I couldn’t remember the name of it and was too embarrassed to do that sort-of-describing-it-from-the NYT-review thing so instead, I picked up a book called NINE MONTHS by Paula Bomer. It’s so fucking excellent! It’s the sort of good where you take it around with you in your purse and pull it out at soccer games and sit there snorting and guffawing in pleasure while the parents around you shake their heads in disdain. Which is sort of what the book is about. It’s terrific, Betsy, so good.

  32. I want to read the final draft of my book, too. (harryipants, I hear you.) Don’t Go: A true story of alcoholism, Hogback Mountain, abandonment, and me.
    The pages bleed and that is before he gets killed.

  33. hmm, what to read, what to read… Okay, I want to read the next Bill Bryson travel memoir (I can dream, can’t I?), the next humor book by Dave Barry (ditto), and (of course) my friendship /travel memoir, in which I learn never to drink wine and give an interview. Oh, yeah… that was a boner of a day.

  34. I just want to get through my wobbly TBR pile. I’ve banned myself from bookstores, amazon, and the library, and that’s driving me crazy. Especially when tantalizing new books flaunt themselves under my nose via Goodreads updates, Shelf Awareness, and the boat load of other crazy ass emails I’ve got myself set up to receive.

    Daniel Day-Lewis pre-Lincoln. Swoon. The Last Of The Mohicans Day-Lewis. Oh yeah. Definitely.

  35. I want to read something that puts a spell on me, as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe once did, many moons ago. I want to become wrapped around it and pulled into it, so that I don’t even know what’s life and what’s the story, as happened from the first to the last page of The Poisonwood Bible. I want to feel as if no other tale is more perfect, more delicious, or more complete, as I did both times with East of Eden, and as I have no doubt that I will on the third time, whenever that may be. I want to read something that doesn’t make me feel as if I must keep going back to my favorite book every few years, like a heartbroken lover pulling out that same picture to gaze at those same lost lips, over and over and over again. Suggestions, anyone?

  36. I have a question about getting an agent. I am already published with a really good small publisher that I don’t want to change. I write Native American historical fiction mysteries based on heavily researched, almost unknown events that have gone unnoticed and have almost been forgotten. My series is Mysteries from the Trail of Tears, the books are Wheezer and the Painted Frog and Wheezer and the Shy Coyote. I am working on a third now. I give lectures locally on the aftermath of the Trail of Tears as well. My question is, what benefit can an agent give to someone like me? I would like to do more speaking engagements and I would want to explore film opportunities, but is that enough to attract a good agent? Thanks Kitty Sutton

  37. […] minutes on the internet and you can find out exactly what agents are looking for. There’s a whole site devoted to (helpfully) critiquing query letters. There’s an agent who […]

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