Author Interview — M.J. Ritchie

Today I’m pleased to present my interview with M. J. Ritchie, another author with a story in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]A lover of words, and things that go bump in the night, M. J. Ritchie’s been writing since the age of nine. She has degrees in business from Drexel University and Johns Hopkins University with experience in everything from accounting to sales. As a faculty associate at The Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business, she has helped graduate students learn the intricacies of business processes and organizational change. In her consulting practice, she works with organizations to improve performance. Writing fiction indulges her desire to play god on a small scale. She hopes her writing will educate, entertain, or inspire her readers. She’s married and lives in Maryland. Visit her at www.mjritchie.com.

Now for the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

M.J. Ritchie: Ever since I learned to talk I’ve had a love of words and language. I began writing poetry at the age of nine and have written in various forms for my own enjoyment throughout my life. I began writing fiction with an eye toward publication a little more than a decade ago. At the time, I was working as an independent consultant on a variety of systems projects in which the only project variable that didn’t change was my deadline. Writing fiction appealed to me because it allowed me to play god on a small scale, to be the one in control. I’ve since learned that playing god isn’t easy.

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

M.J.R.: To this day, I remember the plight of the land turtle crossing the road, so vividly described in The Grapes of Wrath. I think I read that book in high school. It was my introduction to Steinbeck, who devoted a chapter to that one scene. That book made me aware of what good fiction could be and do. I made it a point to read all of Steinbeck’s works available to me at the time. I also enjoy the psychological horror of Shirley Jackson, as exemplified in “The Lottery” and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’ve written an homage piece to “The Lottery,” which I hope to get published. I love the Irish short stories of Frank O’Connor, and Frederick Busch’s “Ralph the Duck,” a study in understated writing that packs a wallop. I love the beautiful simplicity of children’s stories. The Velveteen Rabbit and Charlotte’s Web with their life lessons are favorites. I enjoy reading poetry too, especially when I’ve hit a writing wall. Poetry has an evocative effect that helps me work through a stumbling block.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

M.J.R.: I don’t know that any aspect of writing is easy for me. Like Dorothy Parker, I “hate writing, but love having written.” That being said, I can’t imagine not writing. One of my biggest writing challenges is to write multi-sensory descriptions without having them seem appendages to the scene. I admire those who write scenes so that you can smell the coffee, or the manure; hear the wind or see the room and its garish furnishings. I struggle with that.

P.S.: Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

M.J.R.: Anywhere and everywhere: My own life experiences, watching people, eavesdropping, reading articles. Every once in a while, an idea just pops into my head.

P.S.: What is the primary genre you enjoy writing in? What interests you about that genre?

M.J.R.: To be honest, I don’t know that I have espoused a genre. I’m still flirting with different types of stories. I enjoy writing stories that entail elements of tragedy, lives gone awry, darkness, the supernatural, mysterious events, adversity. I have a curiosity about things that we can’t see or explain. I also am awed by people who, despite misfortune, somehow survive, succeed.

P.S.: In what way is your fiction different from that of other authors in your genre?

M.J.R.: This is a difficult question to answer because my writing is not specific to a genre. I’m interested in character and what motivates people to do what they do. I like exploring how people react to life events. Many of my stories involve a death of some kind. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve experienced the death of loved ones that I’m drawn to that topic or not, but I have a certain fascination with the subject. I also am a great admirer of the human spirit and its resilience, so my stories, though sometimes dark, are usually hopeful.

P.S.: What is your favorite story that you have written? Can you tell us a little about it?

M.J.R.: My favorite story is my novel, Emily’s Child, which is about a happily married couple whose world shatters when their eight-year- old son dies. Each grieves the loss of their son, but in different ways.

The husband, Tony, juggles the increasing demands of work, while tending to his grief. His position as the lead architect on a major project keeps him away from home and his wife, Emily. The stakes are high—this is the career opportunity of a lifetime.

When a project of her own falls through because of a trusted colleague’s betrayal, Emily feels increasingly lost and adrift. She begins acting strangely. An accident causes a psychotic break, and she is hospitalized. Here, she must unearth and confront her past.

This story of a young woman’s confrontation with death and her past is also a study of human relations. The story explores the ways that people cope with loss—some healthy, some not, and the strain that such loss places on relationships. Childhood trauma, betrayal, and mental illness are also potent themes of the novel.

P.S.: Your story in Hides the Dark Tower is “Soul for Sale,” a haunting tale of the value of that thing one shouldn’t offer on an online auction site. What prompted you to write it?

M.J.R.: Several years ago I read an article about the bizarre items people were auctioning on eBay. I remember thinking at the time that the theme might make for a good story. This idea resurfaced when I saw the submission guidelines for the Hides the Dark Tower anthology. I’ve been to the Yucatan and thought that it would be a good setting for “Soul for Sale,” which tells the tale of atheist Nicholas Marsden who sells his soul—something he doesn’t even believe he possesses—on eBay to a wealthy, attractive buyer for whom money is no object. The buyer’s sole condition of purchase is that Nicholas accompany her to Mexico on an all-expense paid trip. Such a deal, right? At the outset, Nicholas finds the whole arrangement amusing, as well as lucrative. He soon discovers, however, that this venture may involve a high price—to him.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

M.J.R.: I’m currently writing a story with the working title “Semper Fi” that’s about the casualties of war. A couple loses their only son, a young Marine, in the war in Iraq. The fallout of this terrible loss is their relationship with each other. Marva, the wife, who did not want her son to join the military in the first place, handles her grief by building a wall around her emotions. She is unavailable to her husband, Jude, who consequently enters into a brief relationship outside the marriage. Marva has to decide on how to move through her grief and whether she can forgive her husband.

My research for this story renewed my appreciation for our military and the sacrifices they and their families make. We need to remember that their sacrifices enable our freedom and the lifestyle we enjoy. While we sit eating dinner or watching TV, people are putting their lives on the line for us. No one returns home from war the same. Not all wounds are visible. These days, it’s all too easy to forget that we are indeed the “home of the free because of the brave.” We have to honor and value our veterans.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

M.J. Ritchie: My advice to aspiring writers and to anyone pursuing something that matters to them is to keep at it and to listen to your intuition or gut. Quiet your internal critic as best you can and don’t set up imagined obstacles for yourself such as I’m too old, too young, not smart enough, not talented enough, not whatever enough. Focus on what matters to you. Write what you enjoy writing. I have a saying hanging in my office: Dum spiro, spero. While I breathe I hope. Do the work, put it out there, and hope for the best. Save your old stuff—your rejected work that never saw the light of day. When you become famous, everybody will want to publish it. And if possible, join a solid writers group. My own group has been an invaluable source of knowledge and encouragement. They’ve kept me going when I might have given up otherwise.

Thank you, M.J.!

Readers inspired to find out more about her can visit her author website at www.mjritchie.com.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:

Author Interview—N.O.A. Rawle

The fun continues today as I interview another author with a story appearing in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower. To obtain this interview, I had to travel all the way to Greece…well, virtually.

NaomiRawleN.A.O. Rawle is a British writer, teacher and translator living and working in mythical Thessalian Plain in Greece. She graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy. After many years of procrastinating, she took the plunge and has started publishing short sci-fi/horror/fantasy stories. She’s had over a dozen short stories and poems published. She’s been published in the anthology Once Bitten, and The Girl at the End of the World, Book II  and the anthology Denizens of Steam.

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

N.A.O. Rawle: First, thank you for having me on your blog, it’s great to talk to you. I grew up with books as my dad was a librarian. He had a study stuffed floor to ceiling with books, mostly about fly fishing and theology, but that’s where I got the bug. The actual writing started with fan fiction when I was in Secondary school and progressed into photocopied comic books in my late teens. Published work came a lot later.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing? What are a few of your favorite books?

N.R.: Harder to answer than I imagined. I can’t say who has influenced my writing style as I don’t think I’ve really found my own. (At the moment I’m going through a phase of stories in rhyming prose and that comes straight from Dr Seuss and ‘The Night Before Christmas’!) Once I had finished James Herbert’s The Magic Cottage, I remember thinking “I should like to do that.” I love Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Iain M. Banks, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Bret Easton Ellis, Harlan Ellison and Bruce Sterling…

P.S.: In your blog, you’ve mentioned having thirty writing projects going at once, in various stages. Have you accepted that as a normal state of affairs for you, or would you prefer to be more focused?

N.R.: That’s normal. I live by flitting from one thing to the other and half finished projects everywhere, and I don’t mean just writing. I can focus and do occasionally, to the point of obsessive! That’s when work gets done fast.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

N.R.: Being asked to do edits is the hardest. Not because I’m too proud and don’t want to change what I’ve written but because I find incorporating another’s perspective bewildering. Will it look right to the reader? Have I clarified and tidied up the waffle? The easiest is writing. I can sit and type for hours and hours.

P.S.: Your bio mentions your British nationality, your current work location in Greece, your teaching and translation work, and your education in creative writing and philosophy. In ‘Core Craving’ and ‘Those Who Can, Do,’ you touch on two of those aspects. In what other ways do your varied background and education inspire your stories?

N.R.: I’ve done (counts on fingers and gives up) many jobs since the age of fifteen so there’s always a bit of those experiences in my writing but it’s not necessarily what I know about them. In ‘Those Who Can, Do’ I was more interested in the fact that so many teachers appear to have forgotten the purpose of their jobs and get into some sort of power place ‘us’ and ‘them’. I also had some hideous teachers at school who really didn’t understand that the colour of my shirt was not a factor in the learning process. Greece crops up in my work frequently, I’ve spent almost half my life here now and it would be weird for it not to feature. A character might come from someone I’ve met or the atmosphere of a place might inspire a scene, I’m always trying to paint a picture so that my reader can see what I do.

P.S.: It appears you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month) for the first time this year. How is that going?

N.R.: It’s going…I did it in the hope that I could complete one of those projects I’ve been composting for about a decade as there is outside interest in it after a short story grew from some of the remnants that I had cut from the original work. (‘Synchronysi’ due to be published in the New Year). If I can get the plot down then I know I’ll get it sorted.

P.S.: Lately, you’ve been writing some steampunk stories. Why does that genre appeal to you?

N.R.: It’s what Goths do when they discover brown, or so a friend of mine tells me. No, I like that I can mix up fancy frocks with feminism and mechanical monsters! Oh and rhyming prose, ‘A Walk in the Park’ is the first story I’ve self-published that is Steampunk in Denizens of Steam, an anthology that I helped ‘curate’ to promote the Scribbler’s Den writing forum on the Steampunk Empire.

P.S.: You’ve guest-blogged for Rie Sheridan Rose about your story ‘Core Craving’ in Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Hides the Dark Tower and mentioned the research you did on the castle. Had that story idea been kicking around in your mind before the anthology’s call for submissions, or did it all click together afterward?

N.R.: The story was fully formed but had not found a home. Vonnie and Kelly [editors Vonnie Winslow Crist and Kelly A. Harmon] made it welcome in Hides the Dark Tower, an anthology, which is a real treat to read and an honour to be included in! ‘Core Craving’ is such a small story but one that took a long time to build and the first one published which is set in my home town (I have several others) so I’m pleased it’s found its niche amongst so many respected authors.

P.S.: Among your many current Works in Progress (or, as you have quipped, Works in Procrastination), would you mind telling us a little about one of them?

N.R.: I have a story called ‘Touched’ which has been simmering for a long time (read years). It’s a fantasy/horror mishmash involving fae folk who live in the beautiful Greek mountain forests. (I am told, in all seriousness, that fairies do reside there.) I have so much written but on an ancient word processor whose disks I have been unable to print up anywhere since the WP died on me. I’ve been trying to remember the story but there are big gaps in the plot and I am so sad. I’m patching it up but it’s beginning to resemble Frankenstein’s monster not the glorious creation I envisaged. In my heart I know I can make it good but I need determination.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

N.O.A. Rawle: Jim Morrison wrote “Words dissemble, words be quick, words resemble walking sticks, plant them and they will grow…”

Sow the seeds of stories and see what becomes of them. Some will become roses and others prickly thistles that you’ll need to weed out. Like plants, some tales are therapeutic and others poisonous. Some will charm you with their beauty and there will be down-right ugly ones; they will all teach you something about writing but only if you keep tending them.

 

Thanks, Naomi! I know readers of my blog will want to find out more about you, and, luckily, I have that information handy. You have a blog and you’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. You also appear on Google+, Pinterest, and Amazon as N.O.A. Rawle, and on Steampunk Empire as Lady Naomi.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:
November 15, 2015Permalink