— Tell us one strange and provocative tidbit from your life that nobody has heard before.
When I was in fourth grade, I cheated in the spelling bee and won first place. The word was vegetable and I almost spelled it with an extra “a,” until a friend in the audience mouthed the letter “e.” I felt terrible about it for weeks. Perhaps that’s why I grew up to become a vegetarian.
—What is a typical writing day like for you?
Well, I write mainly in the evening and through the night so a typical day consists of straggling out of bed around 10 a.m., checking my email, working on freelance assignments, running, walking the dog, spending time with my partner and then, around nine o’clock, heading downstairs to my office. I usually write until three or four or even five in the morning. There’s something about the night, something dark and mysterious, that fuels my creative energy. I feel freer, less restricted; it’s as if in the safety and silence of the night, my real self emerges.
—When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
Oh, my characters, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t outline or plan. I sit down each night and allow my characters to take over. This sometimes results in a mess, but as in real life, the best and truest moments often emerge from the messes we make.
—Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
I have so many! Let me see: Margaret Atwood, I love her dearly and want to have tea with her. Kathryn Harrison. Mary Gordon. Gail Godwin. Lauren Slater. Barbara Kingsolver. I could go on, but I won’t. I love these authors (and so many more) because they’ve touched me in deep and indescribable ways; some have seared my soul. That’s no small thing. I love books, love to read, and often I reread my favorites over and over until I know them by heart, until it’s almost as if as I read, the words fall into the cadence of my heartbeat.
—Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I live in Anchorage, Alaska, which is a city surrounded by mountains and wilderness. I love it here, even though the weather is so often miserable. There’s an air of freedom that doesn’t exist elsewhere, and a feeling of expansiveness. I love the summer twilight, when the sun doesn’t set until after midnight and it never really becomes dark, and everything is bathed in lavender light. It’s beautiful and surreal, and I never, ever get over it. I’m a runner and my favorite thing to do is run in the mountains at night, no one else around, everything so green and damp and fragrant. There’s nothing like charging down a mountain in the middle of the night, the moon rising behind you, the air still light enough to see. It’s like nothing else.
—Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
My favorite books were the “My Friend Flicka” series by Mary O’Hara. Oh, I loved those, read them over and over. I devoured Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon and “The Black Stallion” series. Later, I read Louis L’Armour. We lived on a farm in Pennsylvania and my big dream was to move out West, which I did after college. I owe a lot to the books I read as a child, which fueled my imagination and gave me the courage to uproot myself and head out West, where I hitchhiked and traveled around for years, before finally settling in Alaska.
–Tell us about your latest book.
Dolls Behaving Badly is a quirky story—think of it as Northern Exposure meets Sex and the City. Here’s the blurb: Carla Richards is an Alaska waitress who secretly makes erotic dolls for extra income. She’s also 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. Suddenly Carla’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?
—Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
In the mountains and out on the trails. And there’s a lonely stretch of beach out behind Kincaid Park that I love, it’s very desolate and has massive driftwood washed on the shore. I used to live in Seward, a small rural Alaska community 135 miles south of Anchorage, and in the evenings I’d run the Lost Lake Trail with the dog, and I can’t begin to tell you what that’s like, to be out there with nothing but mountains and the wind. Late summer the wildflowers grew past my knees. It was wild. I wrote in my head almost every step.
—Beside“writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
Right now I’m working on my second novel, also under contract with Grand Central Publishing, and I’m freelancing, too. For almost thirteen years I worked as an Alaska journalist, where I flew to remote towns in float planes, hiked on glaciers, got up close to bears and wildlife and traveled to amazing places and met amazing people. I’ve also worked as a waitress, bartender, secretary, apartment manager and exotic dancer, basically anything to pay the bills so I could expend most of my energy writing.
—Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?
I am struggling with a memoir. It’s difficult and beautiful and hideous and lovely, all in the same breath. It’s about my older sister, who died of an eating disorder over ten years ago. I have a few of her notebooks, a few photographs and not much else but memories. A few of the sections have been published in literary magazines. The writing process is very intense. It exhausts me. I feel as if I’m bleeding, not writing, over the page, and I suppose in some way I am.
—Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)
I read most of the classics, Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, The Wind in the Willows, Black Beauty, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables. When I became older I dived inside the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. All of these books influenced me in one way or another though of course Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House books were the ones that touched me the most.
— Why do you write?
Because I can’t not write. It’s as essential to me as breathing.
Visit Cinthia Ritchie at www.cinthiaritchie.com