Hi all! Today I have author, Cinthia Ritchie guest posting today. A long time writer, she has just released her first novel, "Dolls Behaving Badly." Read on to find out about her writing and a sneak preview from her book!
Ghosts and Writing
I never expected to include ghosts in my debut novel, Dolls Behaving Badly. I set out to write a contemporary women’s novel, a light-hearted book with a substantial message: That it’s okay to be imperfect. That some of our best moments come out of our worst messes.
Yet, by the time I had reached the second chapter, the ghost of my protagonist’s Polish grandmother had intruded upon the story.
I tried to take her out. She squeezed her way back in (fat and disheveled and reeking of onions and garlic). I took her out again. She reappeared less than five pages later.
I did this over and over before it finally occurred to me: I needed this character in my book. I had no idea why but decided to trust my instincts and leave her in.
It was one of the best decisions I made. Gramma’s ghost added a bittersweet wisdom that stabilized the storyline while providingcontinuity to the past.
Still, I worried: A ghost? In a modern day woman’s novel? What was I thinking?
Well, I wasn’t thinking, that was the point. I was writing from my gut, following the lead of my characters, allowing them to veer off in whichever direction they needed to go. The grandmother needed to be a ghost, and that was that. Her voice was essential to the story, though I could exactly define why.
And I think that as writers we too often try to rein in our books. We try to be too exact, too precise. We too closely follow outlines and plot summaries and character sketches. But real life doesn’t follow an outline, and neither should books.
I’m not recommending that we throw away all semblance of order as we write, or that we abandon the editorial process, both critical, both necessary. No, I’m saying that we stop being so careful, that we write more from the heart instead of the head, that we trust our instincts and allow our characters to mess up and get their fictional hands dirty.
If I hadn’t done this, if I had filtered out the ghost, if I had kept cleanly on the surface, I wouldn’t have the book I have today and there’s a good chance that Dolls Behaving Badly wouldhave never been picked up by a publisher.
My advice to writers? Write messy. Write big. Write the impossible, the improbable, and find a way make it your own.
An excerpt from "Dolls Behaving Badly."
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 theWalmart 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.
Cinthia Ritchie is a former journalist who lives and runs mountains and marathons 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.