• 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
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And I can’t change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to And I can’t change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to My love My love My love

Novels are flying at my head. Thousands of pages flapping like seagulls at Brighton Beach. Stories from land locked countries, from the mouths of bats, from trains that never leave the station. From the station itself. How did you come up with so many sentences, so many girls named Cara or Carla or Quintana, or Ray. Did it start on a stair, a hill, a bucket, a pail? What’s it about? Well, that’s a good question. The beach, the mountains, a multi-generational tale of raisin bran. You are nothing like a summer’s day. Why do sympathetic characters bring out the sadist in me? Does anyone really change? Are you my beginning, my middle or my ass wipe? Hi, I’m Betsy and I’m addicted to prose. Oh, Daisy. Grow up. There is a big canister somewhere. Dear Betsy: I am writing to see if you would be interested in my five novels, a 874,000 word quintet about two slugs fucking in a snot can. Do you feel me? Oh mighty novelists with your big boots and musky armpits. Where would we be without you?

Where?

31 Responses

  1. My 9yo is writing and illustrating the definitive guide to the 124 species and sub-species of [imaginary] slugs. But, as he notes, “New species of slugs are being discovered all the time, so my work on this book may never end.” I will ask, but as far as I know, there are no snot cans in his WIP.

  2. I’m binge reading novels this month. One after another after another on a bender. Today I mostly stayed in bed reading this “literary thriller”- whatever the fuck that is.

    I am the slug and snot can. Goo goo g’jube.

  3. Yow! No plus-ones at this SlugFest. BYOAW.

  4. I’m not sure whether I should be offended or if I should smirk because you can’t change

  5. In spite of myself, in spite of everything, that made me laugh.

  6. When you need to escape from other people’s escapism, it’s probably time for a chocolate martini and a nap.

    The bat novel sounds interesting. Do bats eat slugs? Probably not—thank god slugs don’t fly, though, right?

  7. I just ditched a book I couldn’t finish, even though a friend whose judgement I trust recommended it. Was it the book? Timing? I don’t know, but the next novel that flew at my head (Abide WIth Me, Elizabeth Strout) has stuck.

  8. Slime trails of love, surely.

  9. Words are flying at my ass. Thousands of words flapping like cormorants at Seaside Heights. Stories from the Midwest, from the asses of condors, from boats that never leave the marina. From the marina itself. How did you come up with so many phrases, so many boys named Sue, Johnny or Cash? Did it end on a ladder, in a field, a frying pan, a stewpot? What’s it about? Well, that’s a good question. The woods, the marsh, a multi-generational tale of Metamucil. You are nothing like a mud-month morning. Why do non-sympathetic characters bring out the lover in me? Does anyone really stagnate? Are you my ending, my page break or my brain freeze? Hi, I’m Carolynn with 2Ns and I’m allergic to bullshit. Oh, Violet. Be a kid. There is a big hole somewhere. Thank you for reading this Betsy, Janet, Jeff, Jenny, Rachelle, Nathan, not Nathan he doesn’t do this anymore: I am writing to see if you would be interested in my poor pitiful story, a 1,000 word single standing tome about an A-type dancing with the stars. Did you touch me? Oh pathetic essayists with your mini flip-flops and vinegar-ed crotches. Who would I be without me?
    Who?

    Well, that was fun.
    Hi Betsy great to hear from ya.

  10. I’m no novelist, so you should read my shorts.

  11. I feel precisely the same way but it’s humans that are flying at me, each with their own handy dandy theory, their own desire, their own unending need for whatever the fuck it is they need at that precise millisecond. I’m not a novelist but there have been a handful of them that have steadied me. I’m not afraid of death, as long as it’s quick. I’d say without you guys I’d have jumped a long time ago.

  12. My armpits smell like violets.

  13. I’ve joined a new writing group. One of the members is 85 if he’s a day and he forgets (week to week, minute to minute) what we’re talking about. This week we’d spent almost an hour on somebody’s screenplay treatment when he piped up and yelled, “OH! It’s a screenplay?”

    When he’s not nodding off, he keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.

  14. Goya—where is that kind of spirit now when needed more than bread?

    Sent from my iPad

  15. Well, yes, we need our big, shit-kicking boots to survive as novelists these days. It’s a jungle out there.

  16. I had to go back and look at what you represent…”mostly works with non-fiction writers in the areas of science, psychology, history, cultural studies, biography, current events, memoir and the hard to categorize.”

    Hm. Well. The two slugs fucking in a snot can would certainly fit “hard to categorize.”

    But, on to the question…”oh mighty novelists with your big boots and musky armpits. Where would we be without you?

    Where?”

    Not banging your head on your desk?

  17. This little light of yours
    sure makes us sound like whores.

    It’s great to read your wildings again, Betsy. Best success with the slugs.

  18. “Where would we be without you? Where?”

    Standing on a corner,
    switchblade in your hand.
    Jackie’s in his corset,
    Janie’s in her vest,
    and me,
    I’m slipping down the strand.

    Jackie is a cranker,
    and Janie can’t get work.
    They don’t save their money,
    but lordy how they twerk.

    They sittin out by the alley,
    car radio does play,
    they don’t hear no music,
    just the voices say,
    “Where would we be without you?
    Now, tell me, baby, where?
    If life is just for dyin’,
    why would we think you’d care?”

    Falling down the stairwell,
    pages from a book.
    Janie’s now a poet,
    Jackie’s still a crook,
    and me,
    I still play my part.

    — “Sweet Liz” (pace Lou Reed)

  19. Well, at least amidst it all you’re able to still humor yourself–and us. Thanks for that.

  20. All alone at the station, a suitcase in my hand. Tracks going nowhere, seems it’s all in vain. I gave my love a rose, a finger and a prick. Shuffling along, head down, day is done and a chill is in my bones. Before he broke my arm, the lying bastard station master said his darkness tasted sweet.

  21. Oh, it pains me to write this comment… but it’s been burning a hole in me. And I’m prepared for the flack.

    I love this blog. I adore The Forest for the Trees. I’ve recommended and gifted the book countless times. Yes, it’s soundly in my top five in the genre of “writing advice” books, right up there with The Elements (Ch. V) and Gardner’s stuff.

    In reading a book, one often feels the writer behind the material — the spirit of the author. For me, as Holden put it, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

    I’ve felt that way about Betsy Lerner since I first read The Forest for the Trees in high school.

    And then it dawns on me that right here on the front page of her blog, she’s soliciting “The Next Fifty Shades of Gray or Twilight Series” under false pretenses, presumably for the purpose of publicizing her derisive attitude toward these texts and/or mocking the authors of such texts.

    Can you be the same woman who wrote:

    “On more than one occasion, I’ve heard a ‘literary’ writer (usually one who is stalled or struggling) announce that he’s thinking of writing something commercial; implicit is the idea that this project would be beneath his skills. I’ve always found this arrogance mind-boggling. If any writer could toss off a ‘commercial’ novel and cash in, why haven’t they? The reason may be obvious: it’s not as easy as it looks. On the contrary, these writers deploy the tools of their craft, a craft they have honed and studied and labored at for years, if not decades. I don’t believe that writers can choose a topic or genre the way you can choose a country you’d like to visit by spinning a globe.”

    The respect coded in that quote, the even-handedness, and the effortless grace with which you sidestep literary snobbery… where has it gone between then and now?

    • There is a deep ravine between the writing and the selling. Maybe that’s where it went?

      I know all of us has fallen in it once or twice…

    • Anon: You must have missed a few of Betsy’s blog posts in which she specifically asked readers to send her the next “big book,” including vampire novels or mss in the vein (no pun intended) of 50 Shades.

  22. No, no, no, I do want the next huge mega-selling blockbuster. That is not ironic. What I want is the best of best, the top of the genre, the girl with the most cake. Whoever you are, I love you for calling me out. It is very possible that I am full of shit, though I would more accurately describe myself as insane, at least on many days, like today, when publishing continues to boggle my fucking mind and I am reminded that I have been David every day of this 27 year career. At least I had lunch with a lovely young editor, a gentle man who I would have killed to date in my youth. And mostly what we talked about was love. So that, too, is part of this mean and stupid business. Except when it is sweet.Thank you for writing. Love, Betsy

    • A thousand apologies. I thought it was “in jest.” I’m glad to know it’s not, and I’m sorry for the impulsive comment. Like I said, it was chewing me up to a pretty sad degree. (Weird, I’m sure, that people should feel like they have a right to an idea of you — but I love my idea of you, formed almost exclusively by The Forest for the Trees.)

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