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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Author Interview: Cinthia Ritchie

Today I am pleased to present to you all the 94th in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the marathon-running, bathroom writing, Cinthia Ritchie, and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
Cinthia:  I normally write at night, and I usually take a bath before I write, almost like a baptism, a way of cleansing myself of the day’s events and emotions. I prefer to write in the dark, which is difficult during the Alaska summer, when it’s basically light all of the time but heavenly in the winter, when it’s dark most of the time.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
Cinthia:  Oh dear, I think my creative mind is a bit of a jumbled mess: A string of words here, a cluster of sounds over there. In the corner are colors, and across the bottom, movements. Weaving in and out of are memories, fragments of conversations, the feel of the sun on my skin when I was ten, the touch of a lover, the smell of my son’s skin when he was born. Off in the background are mountains, because I can’t imagine a creative life without the presence of the wilderness.

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
Cinthia:  I think the biggest mistake I’ve made in not believing in myself and allowing others to define me as a writer. Publishing is a cruel and relentless business. The average literary magazine publishes less than 5% of work submitted, so you have to have a thick skin. You have to believe in yourself because lord knows no one else will. You have to believe in your writing. You have to love it like a mother, nurture and protect it. At the same time, you have to keep a healthy enough distance to see your own flaws and mistakes. You have to give in to the greater good of your own self and writing, and while that might sound easy, it isn’t. The mind fights you every step of the way.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
Cinthia:  I wrote Dolls Behaving Badly as a single mother while working two jobs. I wrote at night, after my son was in bed, and often I fell asleep at my desk. I’d drag myself into my job each morning (I was working as a journalist at the time and moonlighting as a waitress), and sneak off and take naps in my car. No matter how tired I was, I always made time to write, if only for a few minutes. I didn’t have much of a life but I did eventually finish my book.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
Cinthia:  That I sometimes write in the bathroom. I love bathrooms. They’re where we do all of the things we are taught to be ashamed of, and maybe that’s why I feel free to be my real self when I’m in the bathroom. I sit on the floor, my feet propped against the cabinets, my laptop on my lap, and sometimes I write for hours. It is odd, isn’t it? Yet at the same time, it’s probably one of the truest things I do.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Cinthia:  I have an idea and I run with it. I don’t outline my books or stories. I don’t have a preconceived plan. I sit down each night with no idea of what might emerge from my mind. This scares me to death, and I love it. I love the mystery of writing, the unknowingness, the way ideas collide and merge and eventually come together. I love when I become lost, when I have no idea how to write myself out of a situation. I love surrendering to my creative self, love giving up my ego and sense of self to something larger, wiser and, ultimately, more aware than my normal, puny and ordinary self. Some nights, it almost feels like a religion.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Cinthia:  I worked as a journalist for over 13 years and still freelance, so I don’t think I’ll ever get over my editing obsession, and that’s a good thing. I believe that all creative writers should learn to pare down their work. Too much of what I read could use a healthy dose of editing. It’s difficult for any writer to see his or her own extravagances, too easy to say more than is necessary. I think this has to do with our egos. We think our words are more important than they are. We all need to learn to let go of ourselves and give in to our stories. I still struggle with this. I think I will struggle with this until the day I die.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it.
Cinthia:  Dolls Behaving Badly released in February from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group. A quick blurb:
Carla Richards is many things: an Alaska waitress 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 babysitter-turned-resident-teenager.

She's one overdue bill away from completely losing control--when inspiration strikes in the form of The Oprah Giant. Now she's scribbling away in a diary, flirting with an anthropologist, and baking up desserts with the ghost of her Polish grandmother.

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?

Paul:  Do you also write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Cinthia:  I write everything, even the occasional play. Ironically, I have more poetry publications than anything else, though I don’t consider myself a poet. I excel at creative nonfiction; that’s where I’ve racked up the most awards and fellowships. It’s almost as if each genre captures a piece of my personality: Poetry is for reflective moments, fiction for deeper and more far-ranged moods, and creative nonfiction tears through my skin, exposes my muscle and tendon. It cuts to the bone. It swallows pieces of my soul.  

Paul:  What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Cinthia:  Marketing is definitely the least favorite aspect of writing. I’m an introverted person. I feel the most at home out in the mountains or curled in the corner reading. Attending events terrifies me. Talking about my own work in front of an audience terrifies me. Book signings overwhelm me. Yet I think the biggest struggle is social media. I love blogging, since I can write totally as myself, in my own voice. And while I do enjoy posting on Facebook and Twitter, it sometimes makes me very sad. Sometimes I read through posts or skim the Twitter feed and it seems as if we are all hurt little children trying to be heard in this vast and confusing world. And probably that is true. Probably deep inside we are all hurt little children trying to be heard. Probably that is why we write. And why we read. We are all hungry for connection. It is both a beautiful yet sad thing.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?

Cinthia:  I’m a marathon and mountain runner. I love running long-distance, love going out for 15 or 20 miles, love the way my head clears and my ego dissolves until I am both more and less of myself. I usually run in the mountains, on rugged trails, and I wish I could explain what it feels like to be out there by myself, no sounds but the wind and my breath, the air smelling of damp spruce. I often run past moose and sometimes I see bears. A few years ago I ran so close to a wolf I almost touched it. It’s exhilarating to be so near the wild side of life.

Paul:  Thanks, Cinthia. That was great. I wish you every success for the future.

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

Cinthia's Website: Cinthia Ritchie
Cinthia on Twitter: @cinthiaritchie1
Cinthia on Facebook: Cinthia Ritchie
Cinthia's latest book: Dolls Behaving Badly (Amazon)

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