Hello readers : )
Today I have a post full of goodies, including a guest post by author Cinthia Ritchie. Read along for a sneak peek at her novel, which includes an excerpt, and the author’s thoughts about writing when there is no time to write.
Carla Richards is a lot of things. She’s a waitress at Anchorage’s premier dining establishment, Mexico in an Igloo; an artist who secretly makes erotic dolls for extra income; a divorcée 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 a TV personality. Now she’s scribbling away in a diary, flirting with an anthropologist, and making appointments with a credit counselor.
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?
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.
And now a few words from Cinthia Ritchie…
Writing When There is No Time to Write
When I began writing my first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, I was a single mother working as a journalist, waitressing evenings and weekends and attending graduate school.
It was the busiest, most stressful period of my life, but I still found the time to write, and not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I had to.
Writing kept me sane, centered me, reminded me, throughout days filled with work duties, thesis writing and shuffling my son from one activity to the next, that something belonged to me.
I suppose some might say it was selfish to write a book while parenting a child, while bills piled up and phone calls went unanswered, while the car creaked and groaned and threatened to die. Yet I couldn’t stop. I had to write. It was essential as breathing or eating.
Each night after I washed my waitressing uniform and fed the dog and cats, after I packed my son’s lunch for the next day and made sure we both had clean socks and underwear, I sat down at my desk, turned on my computer, and I wrote.
I wrote every night, no matter how tired I was, no matter what kind of day I had had, no matter if I was sick or my son was sick or the dog was sick.
I didn’t always write what I wanted to write, and some nights every word ended up in the Trash file, but it was the discipline that mattered, the act of sitting down and committing myself, no excuses, no walking away when it became tough.
Each Sunday afternoon I made up a schedule. I filled in the time slots with work, school, waitressing, my son’s activities, followed by dentist appointments and parent-teacher conference. I did this on a plain piece of paper, and I wrote with a sturdy black pen. When I reached the end of each day and scrawled in “Writing Time,” my letters loped tall and straight, and my wrist felt suddenly competent.
I wrote for an hour or two each week night and three to five hours each weekend day, and though it varied depending on my mood, my life and where I was in the book, I averaged ten to fifteen hours of writing time a week, which loosely figures to a full work week each month.
Of course I had to give up a lot of my personal life. I missed out on large patches of my friends’ lives, from birthday parties to baby showers to anniversary dinners, but I think they forgive me. I hope they forgive me, though maybe choosing my novel over my life was selfish and partially unforgivable.
I really don’t know. At the time there was no other option. My characters were in my head, demanding that their stories be told. And so I told them. I slashed my life down to the bare minimum, and I found the time to finish my book.
If I could go back in time, I’d do exactly the same thing. I wouldn’t attend birthday parties or meet friends for pizza. I’d stay home.
About the author:
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. She presently owns five Barbie dolls.