• 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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Take My Hand Take My Whole Life Too

True confession: I’m in love with Keanu Reeves. Have been since Point Break. Every day a picture of him shows up in my Instagram feed. Bewhiskered, clean shaven, on his motorcycle, walking through an airport. Sometimes the clip comes up where Stephen Colbert asks him what do you think happens when we die. Keanu takes a deep breath then says, I know the ones who love us will miss us.

What do you think happens?

May You Build a Ladder to the Stars

Thanks to everyone who left a remembrance of Shanna. It all rang true. It was wonderful to spend a few more moments with her. She was all that and more. I guess I want to talk about suicide. I was 24 when I made an attempt, one semester into graduate school, having battled depression since I was fifteen, romanced by writers who who took their own lives, Plath, Sexton, Woolf. My love of their work, Lowell too, fused with my depression. I didn’t know if I was a cliche or a chicken. I thought you had to be brave to take your life. I was so ashamed when I failed. People say, “it was just a cry for help,” when you don’t succeed at taking your life. It’s so fucked up. It’s like they’re disappointed. As if a cry for help is pathetic and weak. A cry for help is the most profound thing of all. I don’t know the final days or hours of Shanna’s life. I don’t know about the last days of George’s life. Did they go off their meds? Did one voice crowd out all others? Did not wanting to live become wanting to die? Did wanting to die become a one way street. For anyone out there reading this post, please cry for help. Please get help. I am here thanks to Lithium, Lamictal, and years of therapy. But mostly the meds. Sorry, therapists. But all the insights about my childhood didn’t put the floor beneath me or the ceiling above me.

I love you.

When You’re Sure You’ve Had Enough of this Life, Hang On


It breaks my heart to share with you, beloved readers of this blog, that we lost Shanna Mahin last week when she took her life. She was an early, rambunctious, defiant, hilarious and generous member of this community. She was demanding in the best possible way, critical in the smartest possible way, searingly honest and screamingly funny. She once dared me to a weight gain competition. We were yo-yo dieting twins separated at birth. I don’t know the circumstances that led to this tragic and final act. Beloved Shanna, fuck fuck fuck. You were dearly loved and will be sorely missed. I am so sorry we lost you. I want to say one thing to anyone struggling out there: life wants you at least as much as death. Life wants you at least as much as death. If you are struggling, get help. There is help. And there is hope.

Please leave a memory of Shanna or any words you’d like to celebrate this brilliant writer’s life.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255

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.