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 — Ogarita

The authors of stories in the upcoming anthology Avast, Ye Airships! continue to be willing to be interviewed by me. I haven’t scared the remaining ones away yet.

Speaking of scaring others, today’s interviewee is author Ogarita, no stranger to the art of terrifying readers, while armed with nothing but her bare words. Think I’m kidding? The opening picture on her website is of a lonely cemetery, in the dead of winter. My internet browser was afraid to open the page the first time, and now refuses to go back.

Here’s the interview:

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

Ogarita: I’ve noodled around with writing stories since I was ten years old and conjured a girl, dumped in a boarding school, who is transported (via a mysterious and never explained glowing rectangle) to a world combining elements of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain. I turned to writing daily about three years ago, after retiring from an active-duty career in the U.S. Navy.

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

O.: Most difficult? I always, always begin a story in the wrong place. A couple of novels ago I decided this just didn’t matter . . . for first drafts, at least. I save that pain for subsequent revisions, during which I suffer the recurring and depressing realization I will never produce anything as wondrously creative as the beginning of Nabokov’s Lolita. Regardless of one’s opinion of that story, the opening is fabulous writing.

The easiest part of writing? Everything other than beginnings.

P.S.: On your website, you’re known as Ogarita (not your real name), and the story of how you got that name is fascinating.  Is that family tradition of bestowing strange, secret, family names likely to continue to future generations?

O.: My family’s history is filled with bizarre names, among which Ogarita figures as fairly tame. This custom took a steep dive, however, two generations ago, when my grandfather abandoned the name Yakeley and renamed himself Robert. The love of eccentric names continues, however; throughout my childhood my mother expressed frequent regret she hadn’t named me Hepzibah. It’s possible this close call inspires me to write stories filled with fear.

P.S.: Ogarita it is, then. You’ve said you write stories of “ghosts and banshees, creepy houses and spooky cemeteries, stalkers and extroverts.” How did you become interested in writing tales of that type?

O.: First, discovering the best ghost movie ever filmed: The Uninvited, made in 1944 and based on Dorothy Macardle’s 1941 novel, Uneasy Freehold. When, three-quarters of the way through the movie, the double doors bang open . . . glorious terror! The book isn’t bad, either, although the secondary female characters tend to be a bit soppy. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House kept me awake at night for three days after finishing it, and I’m still not keen on holding hands in the dark. I’m always searching out well-written stories in which sympathetic characters find themselves inadvertently involved with the supernatural . . . and scared nearly to death.

P.S.: You call yourself a middle grade and Young Adult author. In what ways is that different from writing for a more general audience?

O.: A fair number of writers, and I include myself among them, claim there is and should be little difference between writing for MG/YA and adults, other than the former being a bit less overt in depicting violence, sex, and in using profanity/obscenity. These, however, are far from being hard rules. The characters in John Green’s collaborative book (with David Levithan), Will Grayson, Will Grayson, don’t hold back in terms of verbal obscenities. Nor does Stephen King dumb down the dangers faced by nine-year-old Trisha (in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), when she’s lost in the woods. Are Green and King writing for adults or middle-graders?

In my MG/YA ghost story novels I shoot for spinal meltdown moments, hoping to ruin the sleep of all my readers. That’s what I’ve loved since I was a kid and still do today.

P.S.: You have a story, “Captain Wexford’s Dilemma,” in the anthology AvastYeAirshipsAvast Ye Airships! Without spoiling anything, can you tell us a little about the story, and what inspired you to write it?

O.: The superheated steam produced by a ship’s boilers, properly controlled, creates enormous amounts of beneficial power. Controlling the steam, however, requires careful maintenance and the right materials—steel, for example—that can withstand the intense and high heat. In October 1990 the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) docked in Bahrain for repairs to a steam valve. A contractor mistakenly chose metal fasteners of brass, rather than steel, to fasten down the bonnet of a steam valve; when the ship got underway, the fasteners gave way and the ship’s boiler room flooded with superheated steam. Eleven men died because of a small, crucial, mistaken choice. Captain Wexford’s Dilemma allowed me to create and take control of a similar situation, but from that starting place spin a fantasy with a different outcome, one that I found emotionally salvific. And, because I have long worked in the field of religious diversity, humor crept in as the story revealed itself and Captain Wexford struggled to find ways to deal with a far less material challenge to the safety of her airship.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

O.:

  • Terry Pratchett. A genius who made Death one of fantasy’s most believable character.
  • Barbara Hambley. Those Who Hunt the Night (1988) a vampire-filled murder mystery, uses suspense and a sense of place exceptionally well.
  • Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, Stefan Bachmann, and Emma Trevayne. The Cabinet of Curiosities (2014) contains thirty-six inventive and beautifully written short stories. I read these, then decided I needed to explore this form; the result was “Captain Wexford’s Dilemma.”
  • Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. I Remember You (2014; 2012 in the UK) is the best ghost story published in the last five years, hands down. Like Stephen King, Sigurðardóttir isn’t afraid to allow her characters to develop before she turns loose the ghosts.

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

O.: I’m finishing the first draft of “The Lake Eerie Ghost,” a MG murder mystery/ghost story about a group of kids attending summer camp on a fictitious island in Lake Erie. There’s a haunted lighthouse involved, because I’m crazy about lighthouses. At the same time, I’m revising another MG story that I hope will delight and frighten: “Curse of the Banshee,” in which a young girl and her twin cousins investigate a series of near-fatal accidents and an ancient curse. Murder, mayhem, and spooks make each day of writing pure pleasure.

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

Ogarita:

  • Don’t let anyone, editors or readers, tell you the semi-colon has no place in fiction; this fabulous bit of punctuation has ably separated closely-related independent clauses since 1494.
  • Write or revise or outline every day. Every. Single. Day. Doing this has been a trial at times, but it has also improved my writing and kept at bay writer’s block.
  • Ignore those who say one’s best writing (or revising and outlining) is done early in the morning. I’m convinced early-morning writers are masochists.
  • Exercise. Walk, lift weights, bike, swim, do yoga, anything that keeps blood pumping and muscles toned!
  • Find or create a support group of other authors. A good group celebrates success, understands rejection, and keeps dreams alive, often with cupcakes.

 

Ogarita, thanks so much for that fascinating interview. My readers can find out more about Ogarita’s spine-chilling tales on Twitter and at her website.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:
January 21, 2015Permalink