Dolls Behaving Badly: Cinthia Ritchie Guest Post
I often wonder what type of writer I’d be if I didn’t live in Alaska. Maybe I wouldn’t even write. Or maybe I’d write more intensely, more lyrically. Maybe I’d read classical literature and wear four-hundred dollar shoes and actually comb my hair in the morning.
But I’m not a big-city writer and I’m not sophisticated. I don’t know how to walk in high heels and I’ve been known to cut my hair with my partner’s toenail scissors. I wear outdoor gear even indoors and Xtratuf boots during spring break-up and barely flinch when encountering fresh bear scat on the hiking trails (encountering an actual bear, however, is a bit more flinch-worthy).
Alaska has its hold on me. I love it, terribly and uselessly. It beats me up each winter, leaves me struggling in the cold and dark and then, just when I’m ready to pack up and leave, spring arrives and soon after the long summer twilight, when the sky dims but never actually darkens so that when I hike up in the mountains past midnight, the air waits silver and muted and magical.
I moved to Alaska twenty-five years ago because it was vast and far away, and because I wanted to live on the edge. I wanted to shuck off convention and live more simply, more honestly. I wanted to live close to the wilderness. I wanted to run mountain trails and see wolves and foxes, lynx and coyotes, bears and moose. I wanted to get lost in the sky. I wanted to smell the salt of the inlet in my hair.
Mostly, I wanted to write in a place that would allow me to be fearless and uninhibited.
Alaska offers me that. It’s different than living and writing in, say, Nebraska. It’s so immense up here, and the land seemingly goes on forever. Sometimes when I stand on top of a mountain and look out over steep ranges of surrounding mountains, I find great comfort in the knowledge there are places still untouched, still wild. Still free.
I feel this as I write. I feel the pulse of Alaska, an energy that feeds me, almost like a breath. Usually I write late at night, after I’ve come back inside from running or hiking in the mountains or, on tamer days, walking the beach with the dog, the tide flowing and the air heavy with silt. I sit down to write and often I don’t even change my clothes, I sit down muddy and sweaty and smelling of the outdoors. And I write. Often I write through the night, the twilight lifting in stages so that the shadows flicker with silver and lavender and blue tints, before giving way to bright daylight. Winter, when the darkness stretches out thick and consuming, I write after walking the beach and sometimes the northern lights appear, that faint green light that grows and expands, yellows and pinks, reds and purples joining in until a chorus of color waves through the sky.
Alaska electrifies me. It feeds me. It makes me want to write. I don’t know if what I write is what I’m meant to write or if I become seduced by the wild nights, the mountains, the smell of damp spruce and alder trees. Maybe I’ll end up missing that one cue that I’m supposed to follow, that one thread that might lead to literary success, but no matter. There are enough writers living in New York, Chicago and beyond to fill the world with literary works.
Me? I’d rather write in Alaska. I’d rather write like a wolf, with teeth bared and breath hot and words falling like blood from my wild and undeserving hands.
About the book: With a quirky sensibility and belly-laugh inducing prose, Cinthia Ritchie’s debut novel, DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY (Grand Central Publishing; Paperback Original; On-Sale: February 5, 2013; ISBN: 9780446568135; 352 pages; $13.99), shares the story of the loveably eccentric people living in a small Alaska town. Why Alaska? Because as Ritchie herself says it’s the only place that’s ever felt like home. DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY features a sardonic 30-something single mom named Carla Richards who is trying to find her own sense of home and make a good life for her son—without drowning herself in the bathtub in the meantime.
Carla is a lot of things: a divorcée who’s slept with nineteen and a half men; a waitress for the most popular Mexican joint in Anchorage, Mexico in an Igloo; and a single mom to a precocious eight-year-old boy named Jay-Jay whom she’s supporting along with her pregnant sister Laurel and her live-in, teenaged babysitter Stephanie. Carla is also an aspiring artist who makes erotic dolls for extra income, and an avid Oprah devotee. She’s just one delinquent utility bill away from having collections kick down her door when inspiration knocks instead.
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.