• 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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And I Won’t Forget to Put Roses on Your Grave

I started this blog in December of 2008. I’m lousy at math, but I think that’s 13 years. My husband really tried to dissuade me from blogging. He was anxious that I would be too unfiltered, that I’d fail to respect boundaries, that I’d get in trouble. The reason he worried about these things is because he has lived with me for thirty years and he knows that I’m not happy unless I can be provocative. For a long time, I carried a can of spray paint withe me just in case. So I created some ground rules: I would never talk about any of clients, any projects that are in play, or talk trash about publishers. And for 13 years, I’ve abided by these rules and nothing bad has happened, unless you count the guy who threatened to lash me together with Patti Smith and lodge an axe in my heart. I was so young and cute when I started writing about publishing and writing. Now, I spend most of my time adding finger nails and bat wings to a boiling cauldron incanting prayers to the publishing gods. Don’t eat my children. Don’t unravel. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.

How unfiltered are you?

And Feather Canyons Everywhere

Sometimes a single sentence will transform into an eight headed snake, will roll up like a blood soaked carpet concealing a murdered body within, sometimes a breast plate of iron will grow emerald moss, or a pile of New England potatoes will heave as frost churns the frozen ground. I wrote for sixteen hours and never opened the door. My ass is mowed and my raincoat tattered. Once I played in a fort of cement blocks, we lit matches and started small fires of gum wrappers fashioned into tiny tents. I could see my house from there but I couldn’t tell you whether I was an old woman or a caterpillar about to smoke a cigar.

What do you do when you hit a wall with your writing?

What I Feel Has Come and Gone Before

Every year for Christmas, my husband gives me ten poetry books. He usually includes the year’s prize winners, but also collections he’s heard about. It’s overwhelming to be face so much new poetry and I usually don’t even crack one until April. Last night, I started reading one. Here’s my method: I read the first poem. I read the title poem. I read a random poem. And the last poem. At that point I have already declared whether the poet is a charlatan or gifted and of interest. If I think a poet is a phony, is cliched, has no clue how to break a line or just shreds some prose in the name of poetry, I become despondent as if the whole human project has been defiled.

How do you read a poem?

You Look Like a Movie You Sound Like a Song

It was my birthday yesterday and out of the CLEAR BLUE SKY, I received a birthday message from an old high school acquaintance. A nice chatty message filling me in on his circle of friends. Here’s what I remember from high school, the lockers breathing in and out as I acclimated to new medications. I remember the sound of the boy’s voice who did the morning announcements and how i cursed his cheerfulness. I remember a secret friendship with an athlete who also wrote poems, exchanging our diaries. I knew I had to get through it and life would start later, probably in New York City. I didn’t join the paper, the lit mag, the theater, the debate club. I pined for a boy who came over one night and we lay on the roof of my father’s Monte Carlo and got high, the stars obscured by the clouds.

How did you survive high school?

Is This My Beginning or is This the End

Some books stop so abruptly that you look to see if there is another chapter or paragraph or afterword. Others have multiple endings like a hall of mirrors or a series of false floors. And some books are just right. What makes a perfect ending? It has to be surprising and inevitable at the same time. It has to feel like sinking a putt. It’s something you want to read over, not because you need to but because you want to. It sums up everything and nothing. It has just the right number of beats. If loving you is right I don’t want to be wrong. How do you find your perfect ending? Good chance it’s in the first five pages. Good chance you knew it all along and had no idea. Good chance you stop suffering.

How do you know you have your ending?

Our Breath Comes Out White Clouds Mingles and Hangs in the Air

Every now and then I realize how basic it is. Writers need reassurance. It doesn’t matter how cocky, egotistical, self involved, faux humble, reclusive or sweet and chatty they are. When they call me they want one thing. Milk and cookies, a finger of bourbon, feathers soothed, temples massaged. They need the beach, the ocean, the reef, the wave. They need bucket hats, mac and cheese, slow dancing, and peonies. Writers need to know that their work isn’t for naught, or not in vain, or alone in the dark, or in the middle of the night with nothing but a magpie making fun of your name.

it’s 9:00 pm what do you need?

I Want to Know if it’s You I Don’t Trust ‘Cause I Damn Sure Don’t Trust Myself

Over the years I’ve tried to read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I’d never get more than 15 pages in. Some people I deeply respect say it’s their favorite book. Still, it continued to dog me. And I didn’t want to read any subsequent books of hers until I read this one. I’m a little rule maker like that. I started it again last week and boom I was at page fifty. I found the language so fresh and arresting. Something unlocked and the book let me in. I really don’t know why a book lets you in or locks you out. Is it the book itself or your circumstances, your “mood,” or your “readiness.”

Have you ever had that experience with a book?

Molly is the Singer in the Band

We all know I’m jaded, blah, blah, blah. But I still do feel a sacred responsibility when I am the first reader on a book. It’s a moment in the life of a writer and the life of a book when the finger paint is still wet, when the colors are vibrant and livid and shiny and happy to be hung on a string against a wall of construction paper. I’ve often felt that life recapitulates kindergarten when it comes to ribbons and pats of on the head and your first taste that a bully is mean just for the sport of it. When I read a manuscript, I’m harsh and unholy. It’s not my job to deliver a soft boiled egg. But then I figure out a way to say it, to hold a mirror up to the mirror and ask, did you want to look this way? Is this your best light? What can you see that you couldn’t see?

How do give your fellow writers feedback?

Don’t Believe Me Just Watch

Whenever I read that someone is leaving a job to spend more time with their family, I’m like no you’re not. It’s a euphemism for getting fired and it truly sucks that you’re fired. But spending more time with your family is no consolation.That’s worse than any boss giving you and your ideas the stink eye. Worse than having to sit by yourself in the corporate cafeteria with a cold helping of mac and cheese and some runny green beans. “Loyalty to the family is tyranny to the self,” a quote I’ve remembered my whole life from a woman in her nineties whose adventurous life took her around the world by steamship. When I met her she was home bound, reliant on a magnifying glass to read and kept company by a goldfish in filmy bowl. Small though her world was, she donned her artist’s smock every day, and studied her art books. I worshipped her. My family nearly came to blows on vacation over whether we leave for Portland at 10:30 or 11:00. Yes, a half hour took us down.

Work v. family. Discuss.

I Hate to Wake You Up to Say Goodbye

Going on vacation for two weeks. You can probably guess I’m not terribly good at vacations. Going on vacation, when you’re a workaholic, is like sending an innocent person to prison. The goal is to look at my phone twice a day. Sleep eight hours, or six. Stay off Ambien, and trust me it hasn’t been pretty. And to read FOR PLEASURE. I really hope I can hack it. I’ll miss you guys.

Do you do vacation?