Friday, March 15, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Fiction Author, Cinthia Ritchie

Cinthia Ritchie, Author

Cinthia Ritchie seems to have a thing against Barbie dolls. In her recently-published novel DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY, her main character is a single mom of a gifted eight-year-old in Alaska. That's not too unusual, but to support herself and her son she has many jobs, including as “an artist who secretly makes erotic dolls for extra income.” One reviewer says her book is “A story you’ve never heard before, and one you won’t forget.”

Ritchie is a former journalist whose career is full of awards. She lives in Alaska where she enjoys the “indescribable” joy of running.

Don’t miss the excerpt following her interview.

Q: What caused or inspired you to write DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY?

Cinthia Ritchie: I was a single mother working two jobs and attending graduate school and my guilty pleasure was sitting in the bathroom at night and reading novels (the bathroom was the warmest room in our draft house). One night as I was reading “Diary of a Mad Housewife” I thought, wait a minute, this woman is stressing out and she has a husband, a housekeeper and no money worries.

That’s when the idea of a single mother writing a diary came into my head. A few nights later, I imagined or perhaps actually saw the ghost of my Polish grandmother (I was in the bathroom again), and the voice of the book swam through my head.

Q: OK – I can’t resist.  Did you grow up with Barbie dolls? Or were you more of a Cabbage Patch doll person?

Cinthia Ritchie: I grew up with Barbie dolls, though I rarely got to play with the “good” models, since I had two older sisters and one younger. I usually got stuck with Midge or the Barbies with crappy hair. I do remember eating the shoes, though. It was my way of getting back at my older sisters. I’d swallow one of those oh-so-tiny shoes, and sit there smiling as they frantically searched. Later that night, though, I’d lie in bed terrified I was going to die. So I guess I’ve always had it in for Barbie.

Q: How important is humor to telling your story?

Cinthia Ritchie: Humor is very fickle. If you overdo it, it can easily kick you in the butt, and the last thing you want to do is turn off readers. The voice behind “DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY” naturally developed with a humorous tone—I didn’t really have to work at it.   Really, I think it was my way of cheering myself up and resolving inner conflict over many of the choices I had made. The book isn’t overtly autobiographical yet I think we always write for a purpose: To make sense of our lives and the lives around us.

Q:  One of your reviewers said: “An out-of-the-ordinary setting and cast of characters are the backbone of Ritchie’s compelling debut novel.” How important is setting to telling your story?

Cinthia Ritchie: Living in Alaska is like nowhere else. Even though Anchorage is a city with big-box stories and traffic problems, it’s unique. Moose stumble down the streets in the winter. Bears are sighted in city parks. You can see whales while walking the beach late summer evenings. It’s pretty amazing. You are constantly reminded how small you are, and how immense nature is. It’s very liberating, and very grounding.

Mostly, living in Alaska is a dichotomy between beauty and danger. You are always aware of this, and maybe that’s why people feel free to shuck off pretensions and simply be themselves.  We are an odd lot up here, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Q: Do you have heroes and villains? Or are your characters some of both?

Cinthia Ritchie: I think we are always our own heroes and villains, and I wanted my characters to reflect that. Just as we don’t always like ourselves, we don’t always like the people we love and we don’t always like our characters, either, or agree with their choices. But we still love them. I wanted to transfer this philosophy over to my readers, I wanted them to know that it was okay if they didn’t like Stephanie or Sandee, didn’t like how they spoke or acted, as long as (and this was so, so important to me) they loved them.

Q: You have spent a considerable amount of time as a journalist. How transferrable were writing skills from journalism to fiction? Which do you enjoy more – writing fiction or reporting?

Cinthia Ritchie: Oh, fiction without a doubt. I also love creative nonfiction and poetry but reporting is simply what I did to pay the bills. I enjoyed it as a job, yes, and it offered opportunities to do and experience amazing things: Walk on glaciers, fly in float planes over mountains, kayak across Resurrection Bay. Yet fiction is my true love. I’ll put it this way: I wouldn’t report without a paycheck. But fiction and poetry? Honey, you don’t have to give me money, just give me a laptop and the time to write.

Q: Do you write to entertain, inform and/or influence?

Cinthia Ritchie: Influence first, and inform secondary. I think that fiction offers readers an invaluable lesson: The chance to see and feel the world through someone else’s perspective. And really, isn’t that why we read in the first place? It’s that same curiosity that causes us to look in other people’s windows when we walk our dogs at night. We are all voyeurs. We all need the reassurance that we share something with those around us.

Q: When you’re not writing, what are you doing? How important is running in your life?

Cinthia Ritchie: Oh, I do love running so, so much. In the summers I’m out running in the mountains and on the trails every night. It feeds something deep inside of me, something essential and wild. It brings me such joy. There’s nothing like running mountain trails in the Alaska summer twilight, no one else around and all of that silence. It’s indescribable, really.

I also love to hike, read, swim, write (of course), walk my dog on the beach, work out and take naps.

About Cinthia Ritchie

Cinthia Ritchie is a former journalist and Pushcart Prize nominee who lives and runs mountains in Alaska.

She’s a recipient of two Rasmuson Individual Artist Awards, a Connie Boocheever Fellowship, residencies at Hedgebrook, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and Hidden River Arts, the Brenda Ueland Prose Award, Memoir Prose Award, Sport Literate Essay Award, Northwest PEN Women Creative Nonfiction Award, Drexel Magazine Creative Nonfiction Award and Once Written Grand Prize Award.

Her work can be found in New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Water-Stone Review, Memoir, Under the Sun, Literary Mama, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Sugar Mule, Breadcrumbs and Scabs, Third Wednesday, Writer’s Digest, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Cactus Heart Press and over 30 other literary magazines and small presses.

Her debut novel, DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY, released Feb. 5, 2013 from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group.

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 divorcee 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 baby-sitter-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?

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.


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  1. I grew up with Sindy dolls--Barbie was American and too expensive back then.

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