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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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?

I Can Take All the Madness the World’s Got to Give

I went to Walgreen’s on Friday and it was closed for lunch hour. I went on Saturday, and it was closed., full stop, even though the website said it was open. I went today, Monday, and there was a sign, pharmacy is closed today. No reason, no explanation, no hint as to when it might re-open. I have also received two threatening texts from the pharmacists that they will put MY DRUGS away if I don’t pick them up. And since when don’t people take lunch in shifts?

How was your day?

I Really Don’t Know Life at All


I burned my two most recent diaries this morning, Watched the pages consumed by flame. I did it because I didn’t want anyone to ever see them. There were no big secrets there, just the contours my cruel heart, my peevish dislikes, all the hateful thoughts that cycle through me. It was more difficult than I thought. I had been so certain when I flicked on the lighter. I had been thinking about it for months. Only watching the pages curl and turn to ash felt like a betrayal of my self. I have around 40 boxes filled with diaries and letters. I always hoped to take up smoking again in my old age and read the diaries on the front porch of an assisted living facility.

Have you ever destroyed your work?

It’s Laughter and It’s Loving I Disdain


It’s July 13, do you know where your pages are? No beach, outdoor concerts, barbecues, carousels, trips to Paris, Maine, or the Jersey shore. It’s time to buckle down. We are not normal. Personally, I prefer to be by myself for as a long as possible. Inside. I like to see how long I can go without talking. I like to put in my eye drops, pop on my reading glasses, and stare at my screen-mirror-masturbatorium-sandbox-rosary-ghostdance-mask-trojan horse-armor-packing tape-first edition Elizabeth Bishop – and retractable measuring tape.

What kind of summer are you going to have, writing-wise?

I Keep my Visions to Myself


I’ve kept a dream notebook since 1988. It’s 4 x 6 with graph paper. It’s taken 34 years to fill because I only remember three or four dreams a year. And never a single wolf in a tree. I read Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams in college and have always relished analyzing dreams, believed they were windows in the psyche. Most of my dreams are violent, often I’m being chased by someone who wants to hurt me. Usually people who are minor characters show up to give me a plate. I’ve been run over many times including by my agent in a tractor.

Do you remember your dreams, do you analyze them?