Today I have Ginger Bensman with me, for an author interview. Ginger Bensman is a life-long student of the human condition with a deep interest in philosophy and ecology. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Development/Child and Family Studies from the University of Maine in Orono and has spent more than 25 years working in family support and child abuse prevention programs.
She lives with her husband in Salem, Oregon. This is her first novel.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was a junior in high school I had the most amazing English teacher. Her name was Pat
Johns, and I think that year was her first year of teaching, because she was young and fresh, and
so eager to have her students succeed. She gave our class a writing assignment, saying, “Pick
something and describe it so the reader will be able to imagine it’s happening to them.” I
remember that I described eating a ripe peach. The sense of intentionally putting myself inside
that experience was intoxicating, and when I got praised for my efforts, I knew I would always
How long does it take you to write a book?
To Swim is my first finished book, and it took me years and years to write, partly because I
wrote it in the corners of my life when my days (and often my nights) were dominated by a
demanding career and a hectic family life. But even when I’ve been on retreat with plenty of time
to focus on writing, I take my time, because I enjoy mulling characters and ideas, and parsing
the language. I’m hoping to finish the book I’m working on now, a book about two aging sisters
coming to terms with each other and the indignities of aging, by next spring. If I can do that, it
will have taken me two years.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
If I have a writing quirk, it’s probably my liberal use of em dashes in place of some commas,
parentheses and colons. I love the em dash because it seems to impart a slightly different
inflection to the words than its punctuation counterparts, and I like the way it looks on the page.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Most of my creative ideas start with something that evokes a strong emotion. To Swim, for
instance, really came about as an accumulation of ideas and images. For years before I started
writing the novel, I was haunted by two different news stories, one, a newspaper article I’d read
about a little girl from the American Midwest who died on the front porch of her family’s home
during a snowstorm, the other, a feature with glossy photographs in the National Geographic
about an Incan child that archeologists found sacrificed near the summit of El Plomo in Chile.
The two children lived centuries and worlds apart, yet, in my mind, they kept converging. Those
two images became foundational when I began to pull together ideas to write a book about a
young woman who has experiences that put her in conflict with the cultural and religious
framework of her life. At one point in the novel Megan's father says to her, "Just because
something's crazy doesn't mean it isn't true and, at least for me", that statement became the
fulcrum of the novel.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
In my early twenties I spent nearly a year writing the first two hundred pages of a novel about an
orphan immigrant at the beginning of the twentieth century. I never finished it.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love to take long walks with my husband. I live in Oregon and we are blessed with lots of varied
and beautiful landscapes and scenic walking and hiking trails. When I’m not writing or on the
move with my husband, I love to read and cook and spend time in my garden.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I have learned that fictional characters, at least the ones that have emerged in my novels and
short stories, are remarkably consistent as individual entities. Like real people, they can seem to
have a mind of their own.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What
impact have they had on your writing?
Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Michael
Cunningham’s The Hours, and Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses are books I read over and
over. Each of these works is imbued with a deep sense of longing. I admire the scope and
plotting, the language, and the characters. I can predictably open any one of them to just about
any page and find prose that is as moving and beautiful as poetry. Each of these novels is
nothing short of amazing, and I look to them as examples.
What do you think makes a good story?
I appreciate a story with a protagonist I can relate to and a cast of believable supporting
characters. I’m most attracted to a plot line that keeps me guessing going forward, but when I
reach that last page, it’s important that all the strands have come together in a way that seems
MEGAN KIMSEY, born and raised in a small Colorado town on the edge of the La Plata Mountains, grows up haunted by images. Straddling cryptic glimpses of events that foretell her own future, and events remembered from a past in the highlands of Ecuador and Peru more than 400 years before she was born, she must challenge her Catholic upbringing and the stigma of a mental breakdown following a childhood tragedy, before she can strike out on a quest for meaning.
Megan’s story shifts between present tense and flashbacks that recount her nervous breakdown and grief, when, as a teenager, a child she loves freezes to death on the family’s front porch. And later, when her father, the one person who believes her strange visions aren’t hallucinations, dies in a hit-and-run accident. His death and the belated birthday gift he leaves for her, launch her on a quest to face her phantoms and piece together the riddles in her dreams. Megan’s journey leads her to South America and an expedition among the remnants of the Inca Empire, and finally, to a wind-swept outcropping high atop Cotopaxi Mountain in search of the frozen child she sees in her dreams. Accompanied by a team of archeologists and an indigenous woman of wisdom who becomes her mentor and guide, Megan must confront her ghosts and claim her own redemption.