Inkwell Guest: Cinthia Ritchie on Writing Her Way To Romance

Hi, all. Today I have a guest! Cinthia Ritchie is here to talk about writing her way to romance. Stick around and leave a comment because she’s also giving away a copy of her latest, Dolls Behaving Badly from Grand Central Publishing. Contest is open until midnight CT Sunday.

dolls_behaving_badly_proofWhen I first began writing Dolls Behaving Badly, I was a single mother working two jobs and attending graduate school, and I was always exhausted, always on the verge of tears. We had just gotten a puppy (a puppy!), and it was energetic and stubborn and content on chewing its way through everything in the house, and each day I arrived home to find the couch or rug or desk leg gnawed to pieces.

Later, after I put my son to bed, walked the dog and (once again) ignored the dirty dishes littering the kitchen counter, I’d sit in the bathroom and read novels. It was my one escape, my one guilty pleasure, and the books I read were uplifting yet realistic, and always there was a romantic interest, and usually sex, not blatant sex but the hint of sex, like the flutter of lingerie over a bedpost.

I devoured these novels. I needed them, not just for the distraction but for the hope they offered: That somewhere, just over the clutter and mess of my life, was a door, and when I opened it I’d be transported to another life. I’d be thinner, in this pretend life, and my breasts would be bigger, my hair shinier, and soon I would meet a man, and he’d have shiny hair, too.

I began to write this fantasy, because lord knows I needed it. Yet the more I wrote, the more these illusions fell way to a grittier reality. Maybe it was because I was stuck there myself but I wrote from the middle, I wrote about a woman with a messy life who meets a man at the worst possible time, and neither has shiny hair or perfectly white teeth, and instead of running toward the sunset they sit in a cluttered anthropology lab and hold ancient bones in their laps. I cried as I wrote this scene (like Kathleen Turner, in the beginning of Romancing the Stone), I sobbed and sobbed, because it was one of the purest, most romantic moments could ever imagine.

Ritchie PhotoRomance is funny, isn’t it? Some of us dream of silk sheets and wine and a man with six-pack abs feeding us strawberries in bed. Others dream of hot trysts in mountain cabins or beneath a kayak or in the middle of a national forest. And me, I think that romance is a little of both: A blend of the ordinary mixed up with slow flirt of the extraordinary. But then again, I live in Alaska and wear hiking boots with sexy silk skirts, so many I don’t know anything about romance at all.

About the Author:

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


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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.

By Michelle

I wish you all could be inside my head. The conversation is sparkling.