All about Cinthia…
Cinthia Ritchie is a former journalist who lives and runs mountains and marathons in Alaska. Her work can be found at New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Water-Stone Review, Under the Sun, Memoir, damselfly press, Slow Trains, 42opus, Evening Street Review and over 45 literary magazines. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released Feb. 5 from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group.
- How did you come with the idea for your current story?
When I began writing Dolls Behaving Badly, I was a single mother working two jobs and attending graduate school, and after I got home I would lie in the bathtub and read novels. One night I imagined, or perhaps actually saw, the ghost of my Polish grandmother. Ach, Pudel, she said. And the book came to me at that moment, it unfolded in my mind like a gift.I had been thinking of this book for quite a time, of course, yet that was when it became real. I started writing so after and yes, the Polish grandmother pushed her way into the book, too, bringing wisdom, messy love and recipes for Polish desserts and cinnamon communion wafers.
- Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you more of a seat of your pants type of a writer?
I am totally a seat of my pants writer. I don’t outline. I don’t plan. I sit down each night and write blindly. I have no idea what might come out, and this scares me, truly scares me. I write each chapter without thought, allowing my characters to take me wherever they choose. I simply follow. I don’t worry about grammar or spelling; I write without filter or intrusion from my pesky ego.After I finish a chapter, I read it over, outline what needs to happen, delete (a lot!), reshape characters, plot lines, sub-plot lines, etc. I usually write two to three drafts before I’m satisfied enough to move to the next chapter. It’s an intense and exhausting process, and I secretly love it. There’s nothing like a night of good writing, when everything flows and scenes purr through my head and transitions ebb and merge like water.
- What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
Oh, there are so many. But my favorite scene in Dolls Behaving Badly has to be when Jay-Jay, the son of my protagonist, intentionally throws the state spelling bee so that an older girl can win. It’s heartbreaking and wonderful and bittersweet and triumphant, and I cried each time I wrote it. The scene is short yet there is so much there. I love Jay-Jay for his sacrifice, love that he cries later that night, and that his mother holds him, and that neither says anything because really, sometimes there are no words.
- What is your usual writing routine?
I write at night, often late at night and sometimes all through the night so that I drag myself off to bed as my boyfriend is getting up for work. Such writing bouts ruin me for days, but I don’t mind. I feel they are necessary, and essential.I’m a night person, have always been a night person, but the main reason I prefer to write at night is then when I’m slightly tired, my ego quiets down and my real self emerges. The more tired I am, the more raw my writing becomes, and the more honest, the more true. Once my inner-editor shuts off, I’m able to sink down to a place that knows nothing of judgment, and that simply yearns to tell a story. Often I’m amazed at what I write. I have no idea where it comes from. Where does it come from?
- How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I’m a long-distance runner and I love to run. I don’t do it for competitive reasons; I’d say that it’s more of a spiritual quest. It never fails to center me. In the summer my favorite place to run is up and down Flattop Mountain late at night, around 11 p.m., when the Alaska twilight stretches out and the air is silver and almost no one else is around. Once a wolf stopped right in front of us and stared, and we all three froze, me and the wolf and my dog. It was magical. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I often see moose on the trails, and sometimes a bear or two. I love running in the mountains, it’s so wild. I feel so free.
- What is the highest goal that you desire to meet as an author?
I believe that we write for a reason, and reason that may never become clear to us because it often involves a person we’ll never know, a person who needs or may even be waiting for the words we write.My desire, my highest goal, is that my words might somehow direct themselves to the right reader. Because think of it! Think of the ways in which we find that one book we need to read. I once found the perfect book on a picnic table at a rest stop along the coast of California. It was weather-beaten and damp from the rain, and I knew that I was meant for me; I had no doubt in my mind.Whenever I’m writing and I want to quit, when times become tough and my mind numbs, I think of a reader (and always this is a woman) sitting on a porch. She’s in Kansas or Nebraska, one of those flat states, and she wears a cotton blouse and her feet are bare. I almost feel as if I know this woman, though we’ve never met. Still, I love her. She’s my reader. She’s the one I’m writing for. She’s waiting for my words.
Carla Richards is a lot of things. She’s a waitress at Anchorage’s premier dining establishment, Mexico in an Igloo; an artist who secretly makes erotic dolls for extra income; a divorcée who can’t quite detach from her ex-husband; and a single mom trying to support her gifted eight-year-old son, her pregnant sister, and her babysitter-turned-resident-teenager.
She’s one overdue bill away from completely losing control-when inspiration strikes in the form of a TV personality. Now she’s scribbling away in a diary, flirting with an anthropologist, and making appointments with a credit counselor.
Still, getting her life and dreams back on track is difficult. Is perfection really within reach? Or will she wind up with something even better?
From the book…
Thursday, Sept. 15
This is my diary, my pathetic little conversation with myself. No doubt I will burn it halfway through. I’ve never been one to finish anything. Mother used to say this was because I was born during a full moon, but like everything she says, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
It isn’t even the beginning of the year. Or even the month. It’s not even my birthday. I’m starting, typical of me, impulsively, in the middle of September. I’m starting with the facts.
I’m thirty-eight years old. I’ve slept with nineteen and a half men.
I live in Alaska, not the wild parts but smack in the middle of Anchorage, with the Walmart and Home Depot squatting over streets littered with moose poop.
I’m divorced. Last month my ex-husband paid child support in ptarmigan carcasses, those tiny bones snapping like fingers when I tried to eat them.
I have one son, age eight and already in fourth grade. He is gifted, his teachers gush, remarking how unusual it is for such a child to come out of such unique (meaning underprivileged, meaning single parent, meaning they don’t think I’m very smart) circumstances.
I work as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant. This is a step up: two years ago I was at Denny’s.
Yesterday, I was so worried about money I stayed home from work and tried to drown myself in the bathtub. I sank my head under the water and held my breath, but my face popped up in less than a minute. I tried a second time, but by then my heart wasn’t really in it so I got out, brushed the dog hair off the sofa and plopped down to watch Oprah on the cable channel.
What happened next was a miracle, like Gramma used to say. No angels sang, of course, and there was none of that ornery church music. Instead, a very tall woman (who might have been an angel if heaven had high ceilings) waved her arms. There were sweat stains under her sweater, and this impressed me so much that I leaned forward; I knew something important was about to happen.
Most of what she said was New Age mumbo-jumbo, but when she mentioned the diary, I pulled myself up and rewrapped the towel around my waist. I knew she was speaking to me, almost as if this was her purpose in life, to make sure these words got directed my way.
She said you didn’t need a fancy one; it didn’t even need a lock, like those little-girl ones I kept as a teenager. A notebook, she said, would work just fine. Or even a bunch of papers stapled together. The important thing was doing it. Committing yourself to paper every day, regardless of whether anything exciting or thought-provoking actually happens.
“Your thoughts are gold,” the giant woman said. “Hold them up to the light and they shine.”
I was crying by then, sobbing into the dog’s neck. It was like a salvation, like those traveling preachers who used to come to town. Mother would never let us go but I snuck out with Julie, who was a Baptist. Those preachers believed, and while we were there in that tent, we did too.
This is what I’m hoping for, that my words will deliver me something. Not the truth, exactly. But solace.
Connect with Cinthia Ritchie
Author Website: http://cinthiaritchie.com/