The Ben Chart

wheel with ben font


From Accidents of Marriage. Read an excerpt here.


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How To Use Critique & Advice


When it comes to criticism from my writer’s group, I need to hear or read the same idea two, three, or four times before I can incorporate it into my work-in-progress. Months after arguing with my fellow writers, (so blind! so ignorant!) I re-read their notes and am struck by wisdom where I formerly saw idiocy.

How do you decide what to keep and what to leave behind from critiques? One sure bet is the power of all yea or nay. I can’t say it any better than Stephen Koch did in A Guide to the Craft of Fiction:

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Writer’s Groups: Don’t Drink and Read

Randy with wine glass vignette boosted cropped

“No child could possibly be happy about her father moving out!”

The above was said to me at a writing workshop, in a discussion about my then unpublished novel (it eventually became The Murderer’s Daughters.) The ‘child’ in question lived with a selfish, sarcastic, angry mother and an oft-drunk “mooning around” father. In the questioned scene this 10-year-old protagonist voices guilty relief at finding a less troubling atmosphere after her father moved out. A workshop member, adamant in his belief that no child would ever feel relief at her father leaving the house, expressed insistence bordering on disbelief (that I would write such an emotion)! bordering on disdain (that I would be able to dredge up such an emotion)!

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How Besteller Lists Are Made, Authors, & A Bit of Crazy


“My agent and editor started talking about ‘the list’ from the start, virtually ensuring that I’d consider myself a failure if I didn’t make it. At first, when they talked about it, I didn’t even know what “the list” was—didn’t know there was truly only one ‘list.’

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Ray Bradbury 

The New York Times Bestseller list (AKA “the list”) is the writer’s holy grail. Despite being rife with methodology that many claim to comprehend, but none can swear to understanding; despite not being a measure of selling the most books, but of selling the most books that week at those stores, every author wants the honor.

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Debut Books by Writers Over 40

(first published in 2011)

Originally, I tried to resist writing this—especially after my plea against categorizing authors.  Plus, so many of us hide our age in this world of never-get-old, unearthing this information, even in our Googlized world, was difficult.

But when , along with the plethora of lists of writers under 40, I was faced with the declaration that, as headlined in a Guardian UK article about writers, ‘Let’s Face It, After 40 You’re Past It.”

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Posted in Cultural Politics, My Opinionated Self, Writing | Tagged , , , | 59 Comments

Micro-Inequality: Why Review Equality Matters


The first time I looked for a job, Help Wanted was divided into three sections: Men, Women, and General. If memory serves me (I doubt it) men’s jobs were the professional ones, women’s were the handmaiden ones, and general included dishwashers and drivers.

Trust me, the career paths were separate and not equal.

I remembered those categories while writing this post (which I wish I wasn’t writing) when I came across the terms microinequity and micro-affirmation, first coined by Mary Rowe, who defined micro-inequities as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’”

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Food and Loathing and Hamper Cookies

beach kids

Everyone hates a fat woman. Or is it that a fat woman thinks everyone hates her? Or does a fat woman simply hate herself?

As someone who’s measured her worth in dress sizes, waistbands, and, when in the midst of bravery, the hard-core truth of pounds, I’ve felt all of the above. We are a harsh country, filled with both self-loathing and a Calvinist push towards walking off, dieting away, running away from, and when all else fails, surgically sucking out unwanted fat.

Do men suffer as women do? I’m not sure. I don’t think so, not as much—not when fat men on screen are allowed to bed and wed women as lovely as Katherine Heigl. I think being fat is painful for men. I simply don’t think they’re as reviled; they need to climb far higher up the scale to merit as much hate as heavy women.

I recently re-read (even re-bought, when I couldn’t find my copy) Food and Loathing by Betsy Lerner. From far too young, Lerner’s existence rested on her body size—real and perceived. The book begins thusly:

“It is 1972. I am twelve years old. It is the first day of sixth grade, and I am standing in the girls’ gymnasium waiting to be weighed.”


If your flesh doesn’t crawl with those words, if you don’t want to either go running for a cream cheese smothered bagel, or conversely, vow to stop eating as of tomorrow, this book will still

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Posted in Books, Family, My Life, My Opinionated Self | 15 Comments

(Impossibly Condensed) Checklists for Writing a Novel

red pencil bleeding

Last week I taught an all day seminar at Grub Street on “Writing Tools for Beginning a Novel” where I learned how difficult it is to condense the process into six hours . . . and how exhilarating it is to step back and look at the entire process.

At day’s end it seemed as though I’d climbed a mountain where (for a day) I could look down at the forest and also take note of the trees. For those who appreciate concise road maps, my aerial view of writing a novel is below. Note the word “my.” There are as many methods and belief systems are there are writers—this one’s mine.

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Que Será, Será


At first writing seems the perfect job for a control freak. You are alone. At your desk. Making your very own world.These characters you’ve dreamed up, they JUMP when you say JUMP. Okay, perhaps they squirm away from your outline a bit. Or they do that thing where they start musing about the time in high school when they almost dated that awful guy and didn’t he have the worst clothes ever, and you gotta pull them back—but for the most part, everyone know who’s in charge.

Enjoy this.

Make it last.

Do not go to the next step until you are sure you have done all you can to make the greatest book you could dream up, write down, and edit.

Because now comes the part where the control freak in you might just freak out .

Let’s see. Take this simple test to determine how much you’ll enjoy experience of getting published:

1) When I need someone to help me take an important professional step, I like to:

a) Send out endless emails and letters to complete strangers so they can judge me!

b) Conduct extensive research to identify the best 35 candidates, hoping this will ensure a good match.

c) Pick the one person I want to work with based on my carefully formed opinions.

2) After procuring an agent (see above) I want to find a publisher based on:

a) Hey, whoever is willing to print my words is okay with me! Throw the manuscript  out there and see what sticks! My agent doesn’t even have to tell me who is getting it.

b) Work in tandem with my agent, knowing that ultimately she will make the best choices.

c) Tell my agent exactly who I think will do the best by my book and have her write the letter I’ve dictated.

3) After my book is published, my plan is to:

a) Seeing that book out there is enough! I don’t care what anyone says about it, as long as I can hold a printed copy in my hands.

b) Work with my publicist constantly—knowing that I must also work on my own seven days a week for a while in order to get the attention of readers.

c) Have my publicist get reviews in all the major papers and follow up on every lead I suggest.  Oh, and Oprah before she leaves. My book is PERFECT for her. And Terri Gross. And . . .

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Words for Peace

earth chairs

“I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
Malala Yousafzai

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Nelson Mandela

“I am not only a pacifist, but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”
Albert Einstein

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