About the Author:
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 from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group.
MF: You are an award winning journalist and your work has been included in a long list of publications. Do you consider those accomplishments stepping stones to higher achievements or are they just as important to you as your novel?
CR: I love journalism as a job, especially in Alaska. I mean, who wouldn’t? I’ve had the opportunity to fly over Denali in a float plane, hike over a glacier, kayak across Resurrection Bay and travel to remote regions of the state, all on story assignments. Yet, and how can I say this gracefully, as much as I love journalism, I wouldn’t do it without the paycheck. But fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction? Well, I cannot not write in these genres, and forget the fact that I normally receive a copy of a literary magazine as publication payment. It’s my passion. It’s as essential to me as breathing.
MF: Tell us a bit about your first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly.
CR: It’s a quirky Alaska novel, filled with odd-ball Alaska characters. Think Northern Exposure mixed with Sex and the City and you’ve pretty much got the picture. My protagonist is also a single mother, and she makes it without the financial support of a man. This was really important to me. Independence is the Alaska spirit, and up here, women chop their own wood, haul their own water, drive their own sled dogs. Most of us want but don’t need a man. I wanted to convey the message that women’s lives can be full and rich without the love of a man, though having a man’s love is an added plus.
MF: What makes Dolls Behaving Badly stand out from the crowd?
CR: I think the Alaska element. Up here, people are more accepting of others. We’re basically thick-headed and stubborn and opinionated, but we’re also there for one other in ways you probably wouldn’t find in the Lower 48. Anchorage is a major city with the usual big-box stores and amenities, yet it’s surrounded by vast wilderness, and because of that, those of us lucky enough to live here feel freer, less restricted. Dolls Behaving Badly features what many might think as odd characters and situations (moose peering in windows, men slinging dead salmon across kitchen tables as if they were gifts) yet to those of us living up here, they’re commonplace. Life really is different in Alaska. And I tried to reflect that difference, that individuality, throughout the book.
MF: How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
CR: Oh, that’s a tough question! I was totally unprepared for marketing. I published through a traditional publisher, and I had a publicist, I had a social media advisor. I naively thought that this was all I would need. I quickly learned otherwise. I’ve done signings and readings, and while it’s nice to see readers in person I’ve found that blogging and guest blogging is the best way to go, at least for me. Also, though I initially resisted, Twitter has proven invaluable. Facebook and Goodreads are also great avenues for reaching readers and connecting with other writers.
MF: Tell us about about your writing process. For example do you have a routine, are you a plotter or panster, do you sit and wait for a muse to come calling, etc.?
CR: I write mostly at night, though I edit during the day. I don’t plot. I simply sit down and write. What I love is the mystery, the not knowing what will emerge. I love allowing my characters free rein to do and say as they feel. Later, of course, I go back and edit and outline, but the initial first draft is purely unplanned.
I don’t wait for my muse to come calling. I’m not sure if I even believe in a muse. Sometimes I think that waiting for one’s muse is an excuse to not write, to not face ourselves until we feel in control. I don’t know. It seems to me that we sit down and we write. Some days what we produce is beautiful and some days it’s not, and in the end it evens out.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
CR: Well, I have a graduate degree in creative writing so I have years and years of criticism under my belt. I think the toughest criticism came while working as a journalist. Newspapers can be brutal. Time is short and tempers are short and words fly. You have to have thick skin, and you have to realize that a story is a story and writing is writing and sometimes your view is going to conflict with your editor’s view. Basically, the best way to handle criticism is to believe in yourself, and to know that not everyone is going to always love what you write, and that’s okay.
My best compliment? That would have to be from the 15-year-old boy who wrote and told me that he read one of my stories over and over when he was down, and that it made him feel less alone.
MF: What do you read? What do you re-read?
CR: I read everything and anything, as long as it’s well-written, though I tend toward women’s literary fiction. I also love memoirs. Right now I have about five books going, and that’s pretty typical. I’m re-reading one of my favorite memoirs right now, West of Then by Tara Bray Smith. I’m also reading Standing Up to the Rock by Louise Freeman-Toole, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood and a poetry book, fever almanac by Kristy Bowen.
MF: What is your favorite writing tip or quote?
CR: There’s a quote by Doris Lessings from a New York Times interview that I love: “You can only learn to be a better writer by actually writing. I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.”
MF: Do you have any advice for other writers?
CR: It might sound simplistic but: Write. Write every day, regardless of whether you’re in the mood. Write what you want, not what you believe others want you to write. Find your own voice, and don’t ever veer away from your own truths.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
CR: It would have to be the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read them throughout my childhood and recently revisited them, and the same feelings returned, the same sense of magic and timelessness. I also wouldn’t mind jumping into the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. And each time I read an Anne Tyler novel, I long to be one of those breezy, motherly, no-nonsense characters she writes so well, the ones with the sensible shoes and flowing skirts.
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?