I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Ginger Bensman today to talk with me about her award winning book, To Swim Beneath the Earth. Ginger 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.
Hello, Ginger! Thank you for talking with me today. Please tell me how you discovered indiebrag?
A couple years ago, I discovered a wonderful book, After the Sucker Punch by Lorraine Devon Wilke. Wilke’s book was a recipient of the Indiebrag award, and after I read her book, I began to notice and appreciate that little gold medallion as an indicator of quality. Two years later, when I published my own book, I knew I wanted to submit it to the Indiebrag process. The possibility of winning a medallion was an exciting but secondary motivation, mostly, I wanted a straight up evaluation of my novel. Indiebrag is a gift to readers and independent authors, helping readers find high caliber indie books, and supporting writers to produce their best work.
Tell me about your book, To Swim Beneath the Earth.
To Swim Beneath the Earth is a literary novel about the possibility of reincarnation. Megan Kimsey, my protagonist, is a young emergency room physician from a small town in South Western Colorado. Since early childhood, she has been haunted by premonitions and dreams that, in the context of her life, make no sense. Her mother sees these experiences as evidence of a psychological disorder and brings in a psychiatrist to cure Megan of her hallucinations. But her father, with whom she shares a close and loving relationship, tries to help her understand and explore what’s happening to her. When he is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Megan is devastated, but the memory of his love and his belief in her, and the belated birthday gift she finds from him after his death, give her the courage to embark on an expedition to Colombia and Ecuador, determined to face her phantoms and piece together the riddles in her dreams.
Describe the La Plata Mountains.
I spent my growing-up years practically in the shadow of the La Plata Mountains. Geographically, the La Platas are a range of mountains in Southwestern Colorado, about a 14 mile drive from Durango, the setting for the first half of my novel, and the town where I was born. When I think of the La Platas, I think of snow-fed rivers, forests of aspen and evergreens, cool mornings, and clean pine-scented air. I spent a lot of time in those mountains. My grandfather was a hunting guide, my uncle was a forest service trapper, and my dad was an avid fly fisherman. My family spent several weeks every summer hiking and camping in the La Platas, and sometimes packing into remote areas on horseback. I learned at an early age to love and respect the Colorado mountains in a very intimate way.
Will you tell me one of the images that Megan is haunted by?
Throughout the book, Megan is haunted by sightings of the puma in both her waking and dreamlife. The puma is at once fearsome and comforting, and the she-cat often appears when Megan is stressed or at a transition point. The puma is a vestige from Megan’s former life and self (her power animal) meant to urge Megan toward some necessary but unknown (to her) future. In native mythology, the puma, the condor, and the snake make up the Incan trinity, and I give each of them their moment in the book. For the Incas, the condor represented sky—capable of taking messages to the gods and a being that does not hunt but feeds only on the dead; the snake travels to the underworld to shed its skin and be reborn; the puma represents earth and signifies patience and strength, characteristics Megan will need if she’s going to find what she’s looking for.
Talk about the courage and strength of Megan—and possibly the isolation she may feel with these attributes.
Because of Megan’s innate sense of what she knows to be true, the memories she has that are foreign to her own lifetime and culture, and her visions (past and future) that, if known, could make her seem strange and even dangerous, she has to be courageous and strong just to be herself. She has to keep secrets and tell lies, or else suffer assaults from the people (her mother, her friends, everyone but her father) and institutions (her church, medical community, etc.) that are supposed to protect and take care of her. She’s in a true double bind, and that makes her reluctant to trust or get close to other people.
I find your premise really fascinating. What inspired you to write this story?
To Swim Beneath the Earth really came about as an accumulation of ideas and images. For years, 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 concrete “realities” 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 is the fulcrum of the novel.
Where can a reader buy your book?
It’s available as an e-book from Amazon, and from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback.
What are your personal motivations in story-telling?
I think, like most writers, my aim is to write the kind of story that I enjoy reading. I want the story I’m telling to be able to be experienced and understood on many levels. I’m an avid reader and I have author heroes whose work thrills and inspires me; I’d like to offer that same kind of reading experience to my readers.
Define your writing style.
I would say my writing is character driven and descriptive. I give my characters a lot of latitude to do what they will, and language is important to me. I love to parse words and create images.
What’s up next for you?
I’m working on a novel about two aging sisters coming to terms with each other and the indignities of growing older. I hope to have it published next spring.
Thank you, Ginger!
A message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to Ginger Bensman who is the author of, To Swim Beneath the Earth, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, To Swim Beneath the Earth, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.