WRITER WORKING TODAY WELCOMES CINTHIA RITCHIE, AUTHOR OF THE RECENTLY-RELEASED NOVEL DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY [CLICK ON THE TITLE FOR AN EXCERPT] HER FASCINATING PIECE IS ABOUT LIVING AND WRITING IN ALASKA, A LAND WHICH FEW OF US LOWER-48 FOLKS KNOW BEYOND A CRUISE OR AN EXCURSION INTO THE PAGES OF JACK LONDON. CINTHIA’S ARTICLE MAKES A NICE CONTRAST WITH NANCY WOOD’S RECENT WRITER WORKING DESCRIPTION OF THE IN’S AND OUT’S OF SETTING A NOVEL IN HER HOME TOWN OF SANTA CRUZ, CA.
BUT THAT WAS THEN. WE NOW TRAVEL WAAAAY UP THE PACIFIC COAST FROM SANTA CRUZ TO ANCHORAGE, AK. TAKE IT AWAY, CINTHIA.
When I began writing my debut novel Dolls Behaving Badly [click on title for an excerpt], I knew it had to take place in Anchorage; there was no doubt in my mind. The book came to me in fragments, each colored by the background of Alaska. As I wrote I envisioned moose wandering the streets; northern lights flashing the winter sky; the feel of the darkness lengthening and shadowing everything in purple darkness.
Anchorage is oddly unique. On one hand, it’s like any other city of roughly 350,000 residents. We have Walmart. We have the Gap. We have Home Depot and Office Max and traffic congestion during rush hour.
We also have moose lumbering across yards, wolves prowling the edge of town, bears wandering through city parks and green spaces. We have salmon the weight of a small car and berries that taste of Jolly Rancher watermelon candies and summer nights when the sun doesn’t set until past midnight.
And perhaps because of this, people who live in Alaska are a stubborn-minded lot. We don’t take kindly to rules or regulations. We love our outdoor gear, our dogs and our guns, though not in that specific order. And while many vote conservatively, most are liberal when it comes to tolerance and outlook. People aren’t overly judgmental or strident, and for good reason: That smelly guy sitting next to you at the coffee shop could be a homeless man or an oil executive on his way home from a camping trip. You just never know, and so you don’t differentiate. You accept.
This philosophy of acceptance offered a freedom not possible if I had, say, set the book in Ohio or North Carolina, and it allowed me to refine my character’s quirky sides while slowly stripping away their defenses. It was an odd juxtaposition, and one that showed my characters from a multitude of angles and situations.
For Alaska is a huge place, an untamed place, a place where people never feel boxed in, since the wilderness waits outside their backyards. We can and often do hike half the night during the summer or ski in the light of the moon during the winter, and drag ourselves into work the next day, exhausted yet exhilarated.
Once, while down in Seward, a small coastal fishing community about 135 miles south of Anchorage, I walked with a friend in the middle of the night, the winter sky clear, the snow crunching hard beneath our boots. We walked along Resurrection Bay, which never freezes, the sound of the waves interspersed with our words so that it felt as if we were floating, swaying up and down in the darkness. Beside us, the mountains loomed tall and white in the darkness, they loomed up like something alive, something so fierce and holy and pure that we stood silent, stunned by such cold and primal beauty.
This moment wasn’t included in Dolls Behaving Badly, of course, but the possibility was. And I this is what I gained the most by setting my novel in Alaska, not the mentioning of landmarks or weather or even northern lights but the undefined impulse that lingered behind my characters and gave them, not a sense of wildness, exactly, but a small dose of wonder.
“SMALL DOSE OF WONDER” VERY NICE. THANKS AND THANKS AGAIN FOR GRACING WRITER WORKING WITH THIS UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE, CINTHIA. WANT TO KNOW MORE? HERE’S THE BACKGROUND ON CINTHIA’S VARIED AND PROLIFIC LIFE AND CAREER AS WELL AS HOW YOU CAN BUY THE BOOK, AND THE LINK TO HER VERY ENTERTAINING WEBSITE.
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.