• THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

    THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is about writing, publishing and what makes writers tick. This blog is dedicated to the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gather here. I post less frequently now, but hopefully with as much vitriol. Please join in! Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives.

    If I’ve learned one thing about writers, it’s this: we really are all alone. Thanks for reading. Love, Betsy

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Must Be the Clouds in My Eyes

I finished the revision of a chapter today that I’ve been working on for weeks. How do I know? My cuticles are bloody, my skin is blotchy, I’ve been wearing the same clothes for days. I’ve printed it out, read it out loud, forced myself to go back and check facts and rewrite sections that were slacking. I deleted A LOT. I ran it under the scanner and took out all the too cute or clever lines. Except one. Let’s see if it flies with the editor. Some people believe revision is more difficult than writing. Some feel it’s where the magic happens. I feel wiped.

What’s your revision policy?

We’d Like to Take You Home with Us

“The Launching of Rochelle Epstein” was my single attempt at a novel in 1987. I squeezed out about 30 pages before the thing collapsed on itself. I’ve been working with writers for 30+ years and I don’t have a clue how fiction writers create their worlds then march their characters through them. I can help with plot points, I can tweak dialogue, or question a character’s motivation, but I don’t know how you get past the 30 page mark. How does the imagination unspool, how do the sentences get in line like a flock of geese? How do you go back the beach, the forest, the runway? The bridge table, the rest stop, the last best thing?

How the fuck does fiction work?

Ain’t It Hard When You Discover That

There’s no scale, yardstick, measurement or victory lap. No touchdown, gold star, or pat on the back. How the hell do you know if you’re making progress as a writer when you’re out there on your own? When there are no takers? I always tell my writers when I can’t place one of their books that it’s not wasted. That everything you put into every book is like a jet pilot logging hours or a musician practicing eight hours a day. That you’re not the same writer when you start the next project. You’re more limber, more agile, your sentences are more beautiful, your details more telling. You’ve learned a few more licks. That’s what I like to think. That the more writing you do the better you get.

Are you getting better?

Hey There Lonely Girl

I’m between books and you’d think I was searching for an iceberg shard to get hold of in the icy Atlantic for all the desperation I feel. It’s like being friendless or wearing a t-shirt on an unseasonably cold day. My grandma Rae always used to say when you have a book you’re not alone. And I could see her at bus stops and in line at the butcher or on a train to visit us in Connecticut reading her Chekhov or Pushkin or Pasternak. Though learning English was the first thing she set out to do when she arrived in America, she read her writers in her mother tongue. There really is no better friend than a book.

What are you reading?

When I Get That Feeling

I recently finished a novel that had a lot of sex in it. It was written in the first person and our male narrator, at least in his own estimation, was a fantastic lover. He went down on his lovers for an eternity, he rocked their worlds with his solid. Where is the clumsiness, the insecurities, the bad kisses and bad breath. I’m not a prude, you know I’m not, but I’d like to see some bad sex for a change.

Any thoughts?

And the Moon Rose Over an Open Field

What people talk about when they talk about tone. Don’t take that tone, little lady. He is so tone-deaf. What is this thing called “tone.” And how do you achieve it, control it, deploy it, enact it? Is it a quality of voice or a quality of prose. It is sprinkled on top or baked in? In some ways it’s like a rudder, doing all the steering from beneath. The tone tells you how to read what you’re about to read, and how to feel about it once you’ve done. Often, I forget everything about a book except the way it made me feel and that was often account on the tone. It’s a buzz in your ear, a sermon from on high, it’s fuck me pumps and fuck you boots. It’s a messy bun and the wrath of Anna Wintour. I have a feeling it’s something you can’t teach. Though maybe something you can learn.

How do you define tone?

You’re My Blue Sky, You’re My Sunny Day

The Outdoor Scientist by Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

I’ve had the great privilege of working with Temple Grandin for over 25 years. The Outdoor Scientist is our latest collaboration for kids. It’s about all the things Temple loved to do in the outdoors as a child interwoven with mini biographies of scientists who were inspired by nature. The chapters are on things like rocks, the ocean, the woods, the night skies, etc. Today it hit the Indie Bestseller List at #9. If you know a kid who might like figuring out the age of trees or hunting for nurdles on the beach, think about buying him or her a copy. Thanks so much for allowing me the public service announcement.

And the Traffic Wrote the Words

9 Children's Books Starring: BUNNIES!

You’ve probably read that book sales increased 10% over the last year, and even higher in certain categories such as kids’ books. Audio books! People who weren’t big readers started reading more and big readers went ham.The big question is will it hold. Once people go back to having pool parties and seances, will they still be turning to books? Hard to say. God, I hope so. I meant to read all of Shakespeare’s plays and only read Macbeth and 1/2 of Hamlet. I read The Waves, which took five months. I read a biography of Dorothy Parker. I read half of Obama’s memoir. I read Shuggie Bain, Think Again, Say Nothing, Microbe Hunters, Hidden Valley Road, Homeland Elegies, and Green Lights.

What did you read in lockdown?


Feelin’ Good Was Good Enough for Me

Well, well, well. Our kids are knocking it out of the park. Bobbi French’s first novel, COME HOME, FRANCES DELANEY, just got sold to Harper Canada. What’s up with Canada. Maybe we should all move there. Here’s a little interview we did. I basically butchered her answers because Bobbi answered too earnestly. I’m sure if anyone would like to see the interview in full, Bobbi will gladly provide. Couldn’t be prouder of any of you who break through. Equally proud of anyone who keeps writing in the face of the what the fuck.

FFTT: How was writing your second book different from your first? 

BF: Dead easy and lots of fun. I have no real education other than reading a squillion books in my life. I knew little about the elements of writing good fiction. It was a bit bewildering and strange and exciting to be doing something so new.

FFTT: What’s it like being a Canadian author?

BF: If people don’t like your book, we’re obligated to apologize profusely.

FFTT: What’s your secret to plotting?

BF: No secret really. I do have a secret weapon. When I got stuck early on, I engaged a professional editor/manuscript evaluator etc. (Bethany Gibson, certified genius) who helped me a great deal to organize my narrative.

FFTT: What’s your favorite sentence in the book?

 BF: “The End”

FFTT: How do you come up with characters’ names?

BF: Ha! The only research I did for this book was in choosing names. My novel’s setting is the island of Newfoundland in a fishing community that dates back seven or eight generations. Also, my names had to be Irish Catholic. So, I trolled through birth and death records and chose accordingly. Naturally, the first question my new editor asked was if I minded changing my main character’s last name. I changed it from Delahunty to Delaney. Tomato, tomahto.

FFTT: Do you hate it when people ask what the next one’s about?

BF: I really, really do. Mom, if you happen to be reading this, what did I tell you? Stop asking me.

Please leave a little love for Mademoiselle Bobbi!

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

New Girl in Little Cove!!! It’s on!!! Our own Damhnait Monaghan has published her wonderful new book in AMERICA!!!

I couldn’t be more proud. I feel like we raised her! We are your village, Damhnait!! We deserve some credit, don’t you think? Please everyone raise a virtual glass. More important pre-order! Leave some love for Damhnait!!

“Fans of Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic, Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel, and Patricia Harman’s The Runaway Midwife will enjoy Rachel’s fish-out-of-water journey to acceptance and understanding.” —Booklist

“If you loved Come From Away, don’t miss this charming debut novel.”
Kate Hilton, bestselling author of Better Luck Next Time