Listen to an interview with Karen on
BS, UCLA, 1986
MFA, Iowa Writer's Workshop, 1991
- "This Cat" will appear in Narrative magazine, Fall, 2013
- “Sent,” Story of the Week, Narrative magazine, May, 2013
- “State of the Union,” TheNervousBreakdown.com, January, 2013
- “The Human Side of Our Situation,” Printers Row Journal, Chicago Tribune, pub date TBA
- “The Bracelet,” Printers Row Journal, Chicago Tribune, December 23, 2012
- “The Visit,“ The Harvard Review, Summer, 2012
- “The Stockbroker Who, Deep Down, Wanted to Join In” Salon.com, October, 2011
- "What the Cat Said," Harvard Review, 2008
- "Reunion," Ploughshares, 2007
- "Candidate," Ecotone, 2007
- "Refund," Ploughshares, 2005
- "Uck," Witness, 2005
- "Theft," Harvard Review, 2005
- "The Visiting Child," Granta, 2005
- "Anything for Money," Zoetrope, 2001
- "The Fourth Prussian Dynasty," New Yorker, 1999
- "The Dinner Party," Story, 1998
- "Eternal Love," Granta, 1996
- "Talk to Me Jenny," Kenyon Review, 1993
- "A Chick from My Dream Life," Iowa Review, 1992
- "Candidate," New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2008, Algonquin Books Co-editor of the nonfiction anthology Choice, 2007, MacAdam-Cage
- "Refund," Pushcart Prize XXXI, 2006
- "Theft," Best American Mystery Stories 2005, 2006
- "Anything for Money," Best of Zoetrope 2, 2003
- "Eternal Love," Best American Short Stories, 1997
- "A Chick from My Dream Life," Pushcart Prize series, 1993
- “What The Cat Said” one of 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories 2009
- “Candidate” listed as one of 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories 2008
- “Talk to me Jenny” one of 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Stories 1994
- National Endowment for the Arts fellowship
- Rona Jaffe Award
- Like Normal People was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year and a
- Barnes & Noble Discovery Book for 2000
- Stories "Eternal Love" and "The Fourth Prussian Dynasty" were read by Joanne Woodward and Frances Sternhagen, respectively, as part of the Selected Shorts program on NPR.
I believe that you need three elements to become a good fiction writer: honesty, craft, and patience. Here's why you need each one:
- As people, we live in our own separate worlds. How does one ever know what it is really like to be another person? Honest writing is one way to look into someone else's mind, to get a glimpse of what it is to be another human. When you write honestly, you create a bridge to another person.
- Learning craft is a way to give your honesty a form. Mastering elements of fiction, learning about all the different ways writers have used techniques such as dialogue, plot, sensory detail, etc., will help you find the best way for you to express your feelings and evoke a similar emotion in the reader.
- Finally, patience will help you produce work better than you ever imagined you could. Staying with a project, seeing it through revision after revision, taking the time to allow it to evolve, will make it better.
Karen Bender's Ten Commandments
for Becoming a Writer
- Create a writing schedule for yourself. (Writing an hour a day or a page a day or every other day—whatever feels right.) Try to stick to it. Watch your work grow.
- Feel how it feels when the writing's going well. Remember that feeling. It will come back.
- Pretend you're a great writer. Do whatever you need to further this idea. Buy a scarf a great writer would wear. Make up a great writer name. Write a line you think a great writer would write. Write a story you think a great writer would write.
- Do not show your work to anyone who says things like: "Well, it's not as good as Shakespeare" or, similarly, "It's better than Shakespeare!" Do not show your work to anyone who says, "Why are you doing this?" or "Why do you want to write about these people?" or anything that makes you doubt your work.
- Read. Reread works that you loved as a child. Read new works that people recommend. Don't feel like you have to like a book because everyone else does.
- Understand that when you write something honest—whether it is funny or sad or angry or whatever—it will help the person who reads it, for that person will probably have experienced something like that, too.
- Find one or two writing buddies who will read your work for you. Call these people when you're feeling down about your writing, or up, or anything.
- Learn patience. View rewriting as simply a task. Look for what's working. Then think: What do I want to try to do another way? Rewriting means taking one thing at a time—it's just doing a job.
- Remember that only YOU can write down your version of the world.
Download an excerpt of Karen Bender's Work (PDF).
Karen Bender on her identity as a writer in the Los Angeles Times