Ginger Bensman was awarded a Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Maine in Orono in 1993 and spent 25 years directing programs for at-risk children and their struggling families. But she was always a writer, too, and now she writes whenever she’s not reading or gardening or watching her grandsons grow. She lives with her husband here in Salem.
Will: Ginger, tell me how you discovered that you were a writer?
Ginger: Every night at bedtime, my father read fairytales, or would make up adventure stories about my brother and me. I loved those stories! But mostly, as far as written materials and books were concerned, my family would rather be physically active outdoors than reading. We hiked, and camped, and fished. My father hunted and my mother loved gardening, canning, picnics and huge extended family get togethers. In our house, we had children’s books, our local newspaper, a subscription to Readers Digest Condensed Books, and a set of encyclopedias my parents bought for my brother and me. Otherwise, there weren’t a lot of books. I didn’t discover the public library until my sophomore year in high school, during a stretch when I was moody and sad, and having a tough time. The library was a place I could go to be alone, sequestered among the stacks. Books became my refuge. Through them, I could venture out of myself. I discovered David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Silas Marner, The Count of Monte Cristo, Green Mansions, Gone with the Wind, the novels of John Steinbeck, D.H. Lawrence, Jane Austen. It seemed to me then, and still does, that those writers achieved an almost impossible kind of magic—and I wanted to do it too.
Will: Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process? Do you have a special time
and place for writing? Do you write every day?
Ginger: Before Covid, I would take a notebook or my laptop to a coffee shop or restaurant mid-morning or after the lunch rush when there were lots of empty tables and the waitstaff was happy to bring me a cup of tea or a latte and leave me to my work. It was an environment where I could slip into a sense of space and detachment, and escape into my own head with the characters on the page and the rhythm of words. I miss those times, and that open sense of possibility.
Now, most days, I spend a couple hours writing in my study. I know how lucky I am to have such a pleasant place to work, but I’m anxious to get back to my table at the coffee shop.
Will: Do you work from an outline?
Ginger: I don’t use an outline, but I do have a plan when I begin a writing project. I start with a character, the rough arc of a story, and an image of how the story will end. And then I sit, and walk, think, and put in time staring at the page. Sometimes, listening to music that evokes the mood of a scene helps. I am a painstaking writer. I ponder each sentence, and I don’t do rough drafts. For me, writing is like laying brick, one solid, intentional layer at a time.
Will: When I read your novel, To Swim Beneath the Earth, I was struck by how poetic
your prose is, by your uncanny ability to find precisely the right word for your descriptions, elevating the ordinary to the sublime. It seems magical. How do you do that?
Ginger: What a kind thing to say! Thank you. Finding the perfect word, or phrase, or cadence, is the thing I love most about writing. I do a lot of research with a special focus on elemental things, those experiences encountered so often they tend to happen below awareness. I use Google images and YouTube videos to help me be more present with the thing I plan to write about. I like to visualize actions in slow-motion, to notice the nuances. When it’s possible, I duplicate an experience myself. And, of course, I’m a huge fan of the thesaurus. If I can render something mundane in a way that makes it sensory and vivid, I’m happy.
Will: I see you’ve used some professional review services to promote your novel,
including Kirkus Reviews and The San Francisco Book Review. Is that something you’d
recommend to other indie authors?
Ginger: Recommend—that depends. Getting a professional review is certainly something for an indie author to consider. I did it for two reasons: First, because I wanted an objective professional assessment of my novel from a recognized source—a sort of “seal of approval” (or disapproval) before going public as an indie author. Second, if the reviews were positive, I could use quotable excerpts on my novel’s back cover and in promotional materials. The downside is that getting a professional review is expensive, and an indie author would have to sell a lot of copies to recoup the cost. Would I do it again? Yes, those “esteemed” encouraging words gave me the confidence to self-publish.
Will: Please tell us about your short story, “When the Heat’s Off.” What was the inspiration for that?
Ginger: “When the Heat’s Off” is about Ella, an elderly widowed, shut-in, and the two young punks who break into her house with a plan to take her for all she’s worth. Trouble is, Ella may not be as docile as she seems.
This story was so much fun to write! The character of Ella is a tip-of-the-hat to the beautiful silver-haired Ella MacHolland who lived next door to my family when I was growing up. She was a feisty widow who told stories about how Confederate Soldiers commandeered the animals from her family’s farm and stole the clothes right off the clothesline.
Will: What are your thoughts about “novel versus short story?”
Ginger: A short story needs to be tightly organized, there’s less room for digression. A novel, on the other hand, gives the author broad latitude, and that can be daunting. A short story is like a close-up photograph of a single flower, while a novel is more akin to a landscape. I love them both.
Will: I understand you have a new project in the works. Would you open the curtain a bit
and tell us about it?
Ginger: My current project is a novel titled Minor Insults about two sisters in the second half of their lives confronting past differences and the pitfalls of aging. In our Western culture, aging often comes with a loss of autonomy and a host of social and institutional indignities. Many of the most egregious indignities are heaped on the aging with, what amounts to, a scolding finger and a “for your own good” kind of parental arrogance. If we live long enough, age comes for all of us. In the end, it’s how we respond.
Will: Do you have any advice you would share with other new authors, especially those
who may be on the fence about whether to pursue traditional publishing or go independent?
Ginger: Traditional publishing is not always a choice. I wanted an agent and a traditional publishing contract for To Swim. I spent several years submitting to agents via conferences and mail-in submissions before I decided to self-publish. These days, a whole industry has evolved to guide and support independent authors, but promoting an independent book takes resources, persistence, and an astonishing set of skills (many that don’t come easily if you are an introverted author like me). Most indie authors I know do it for love, not money. But, make no mistake, seeing your book in print is a heady beautiful thing.
Will: Ginger, thank you so much for your time and your insights. I am anxiously awaiting your new novel!
For more about Ginger and her writing, click here to be taken to her website.