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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Come on the Safari With Me


I am going on VACAY, as the kids now say. I am out of office. AKA OOO. I am taking War and Peace and I may never come back. I mean I can’t even finish a People magazine article, so ha fucking ha. Do I need to smell the roses, gaze at the stars, drink Smoothies, and pick scabs? Do I need to lose my fucking phone? Do I need to write a screenplay, suck wind, take up smoking American Spirits? I might grow a beard, read old medical records, test drive an e-car. I hate gardening, cooking, and waking up. I’ve never been particularly good at vacation insofar as fun, rest, and new experiences are involved. I’ll be back in two weeks.

What are you doing for your summer vacation? I hope you are WRITING!!!

At Night We Ride Through Mansions of Glory In Suicide Machines


When I was in college, I was in a writing group with three other students. When we graduated, one went to Martha’s Vineyard to write screenplays. One went to London to write plays. And one went to graduate school for English. Me? I took a job at Morgan Stanley pulling documents in their corporate library. I never took a single day to write. Always had a day job. Was not a free spirit. Far from it. I prefer structure, rules, guidelines, and deadlines. I’m compulsive, rigid, and driven.

Are you a free spirit?

But I Said No No No


Some authors want to see their rejection letters from editors. Some don’t. For me, the worst is the writer who wants to parse every letter. Of course, I understand the need to unpack all the rejection language, but I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and what I’ve come to understand is this: rejection letters all say the exact same thing: no. And no is uninteresting if you’re in the business of getting to yes. Admittedly, sometimes a rejection letter can be interesting, informative, and helpful. But generally, the editor, when all is said and done, is being polite. It’s not right for them, they don’t have a vision for it, they aren’t passionate, they don’t know who the market is or how to reach them, they did a book just like it, they didn’t connect.

How do you handle rejection?

I Really Don’t Know Life At All


So tomorrow is the big day, my 62nd. Just in case anyone was wondering, I’m not at my goal weight. Nor have I received an Oscar (though I continue to update my speech). I know I’m supposed to be grateful for all the things I have in my life, but I’m not. I want more bites of the apple. I want unspeakable highs. I want the years I lost to depression. I want a wake up call. I want to tell one person what I really think. I want to push myself twice as hard. I want everyone I love to shine.

Make a wish.

You Don’t Know How Lucky You are Boy


“I have much more humility about my role in the publishing process now than I did ten years ago, I think that so much depends on luck, so much depends upon factors that are out of your control.”

This quote is by Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon and Schuster. I think it’s remarkable given that it’s his job to convince everyone that they know exactly what they’re doing. The truth is you can do everything for a book and it tanks. You can have a book with very little going for it, at least on the surface, and it can be a runaway success. Luck is such an interesting concept. Personally, I think you have to work very hard to be lucky. But even then you have to be lucky.

What’s your definition of luck?

All I Want is You to Make Love to Me


Money, love, fame, self-actualization, personal growth, jam. Or is it some deep need, some itch, some compulsion, obsession, search for LOL, what is it? And where do they come from: ideas, moments, toast points. How high can you go? How low? Are you on fire or drifting out to sea? This writing business is not for sissies.

Are you brave or?

Give Me Love Give Me Love Give Me Peace on Earth

A hundred years ago, when I was a young editor, I had the great pleasure and honor of editing a first collection of stories called, Naked to the Waist by Alice Elliott Dark. Even at the beginning of her career, she was a fully fledged literary writer with tremendous control, sophistication and incredible poise in describing the layers of meaning and emotion between people. You can feel everything in her stories.

Now, she has written her masterpiece, Fellowship Point. I’m no longer Alice’s editor, but I remain a devoted friend and fan. The novel is about two women in their eighties, lifetime friends, whose lives took different paths. A lifetime of accommodations, rivalries, intimacies, and devotion is described in gorgeous page-turning prose. If you have a chance, treat yourself.

“Enthralling, masterfully written . . . Fellowship Point is a novel rich with social and psychological insights, both earnest and sly, big ideas grounded in individual emotions, a portrait of a tightly knit community made up of artfully drawn, individual souls.”
–Kate Christensen, New York Times Book Review

“Fans who devoured ‘In the Gloaming’ and other, earlier works, rejoice. Striking from the first for its clear, sharply intelligent voice, streaming wisdom and wit on nearly all of close to 600 pages, Fellowship [Point] embodies a magnificent storytelling feat.”
Boston Globe

“Exquisitely written, utterly engrossing . . . Fellowship Point has the complexity, pace, and length of an absorbing 19th century epic . . . [and its] various plotlines dovetail with amazing grace, culminating in a moving, well-earned climax . . . This magnificent novel affirms that change and growth are possible at any age.”
–Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor

What’s your summer read?

Still Don’t Know What I Was Waiting For


Blogging is like dieting. Five days on, six days off. A trainer said, she loves intensity, but she worships consistency. I think I may have quoted her before, but it bears repeating. I truly, madly, deeply believe that to get anywhere with your writing you have to be consistent. You have to write every day or nearly every day. Especially the days when you don’t feel like it, when you’re lost, when you’re convinced that it’s all for naught. These are often the days when the writing gods shine on you and give you a transition, a simile to die for, a new characters, a killer first or last line. You have to show up, show up, show up.

What’s your writing routine?

Come to Me Now and Rest Your Head for Just Five Minutes


I had dinner tonight with some millennial writers and it was sort of amazing. They are reading all kinds of obscure literature and poetry and plays. They are writing plays and putting them on. Some are in therapy. Some love their parents. Their post college years have been decimated by Covid and yet they are full of the future, full of questions, in love with their friends. They make plans. They live in Brooklyn, they like to dance, they host theme parties, and help with the dishes. I felt old and young. I was very neurotic in my mid-twenties. All I wanted was to know how things were going to turn out.

What kind of twenty something were you?

Desmond Has a Barrow in the Marketplace


I’m addicted to Ozark. I’m addicted to Laura Linney’s impenetrable smile. I’m addicted to Justin Bateman’s preternatural calm in the face of hideous violence. I’m addicted to Ruth Langemore, smart, tough, mean. I wonder where they got the germ of the story. Did it start with place? The Missouri River? The old man in the basement on oxygen. The genius name for the main character Marty Byrde. The appetite for dead bodies. At first I thought it was all about raising the stakes plot wise, but I think it works because the characters deepen. At least for me. I’m soft that way.

Where do your ideas come from: place, character, a name, a detail?