“Dolls Behaving Badly” by Cinthia Ritchie
“A Very Unintended Chick Lit Novel”
I didn’t set out to write a chick lit novel.
What I envisioned was a literary masterpiece, a book so lyrical and true that reviewers would praise it and readers would love it and everyone would talk about it in hushed tones, the way people speak in church.
But that didn’t happen. Dolls Behaving Badly was chick lit from the opening, though I fought against it. I fought my own book’s nature. I struggled and cursed and added clever literary devices and deep, philosophical allegories throughout a book that never asked for or needed such nonsense.
But I needed such nonsense. I was writing for all the wrong reasons, as if to gain approval of those unflinching critics from my graduate workshops. I wanted to impress. I wanted to feed my ego.
My book had other ideas, though (and thank god for that). It wanted to be simple and gritty and real, and I wanted it to be lofty and complex and pretentious.
I wasted months in this struggle, months I can never have back, months where I produced page after page of forced and stilted prose that stuttered and balked and wore my confidence to the edge.
Finally, one night I admitted defeat. I said, out loud (for I was talking to myself by that point), in a weary and wobbling voice, “Okay, you win. Have it your way.”
I spent the next day writing like mad. I wrote through the night, slept a few hours, got back up and wrote some more. I couldn’t stop. It was as if by admitting defeat, by laying myself bare and pushing aside my ego and expectations, I freed myself to write the book that was inside me, not necessarily the book I wanted to write but the book I needed to write. The one waiting for me to find it.
It didn’t take me long to love this book, love it with the messy, doomed, exhilarated love a mother has for her child, a love made even stronger by imperfections and doubt. I knew Dolls Behaving Badly would never be serious literature, but so what? It was filled with characters that were flawed and made bad choices and never quite resolved their issues. It was real. It was written for real women, who live real lives and face real conflicts and who, at the end of the day, want a bit of escape. They want to laugh. They want to feel better about themselves and their lives, they want comfort; they want to feel as if they aren’t alone, and how can I blame them when I want to feel the very same thing?
Dolls Behaving Badly will never win a literary award; it’s not that kind of book. But I’m banking that it will win something more important, something more real: Readers’ hearts.
Excerpt of “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 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.
**Contact Cinthia Ritchie:
Nikki Jefford (@NikkiJefford) says
I love this guest post! I struggled for 8 years to write “respectable” literary fiction. Then one day I was like “F it” and wrote my first (unpublished) historical romance novel. It was the first time the writing flowed and something else…I had fun!
I think the true merit of a book is the lasting impression it makes on a reader and Dolls Behaving Badly is one of those stories that touches your heart and sticks with you.
So, thank you, Cinthia for letting go and unleashing your masterpiece upon the world the way it was meant to be told!
Thanks so much, Nikki, for the support and heartfelt comment. And a huge thanks to you, Isabella, for the chance to shout my chick lit soul to the world. Hugs to all.
Shelly Hickman says
This was a wonderful post. You are spot on about how we need to write in the way that comes natural to us. A book doesn’t have to be a great work of literary fiction for me to fall in love with it, as long as it has heart, and characters I want to spend time with.