An Interview with Author and Blogger Michelle Arch

imagequillTreeHouse: Is Archetype your first attempt at blogging? If not, what came before?

Michelle Arch: Yes, Archetype is my first and only blog. I didn’t think about the logistics of it much when I created it. I simply chose a WordPress template, and, within an hour, I had written my first post to the world. Then I sort of panicked. I had just committed myself to something I had no idea how to maintain. I posted a lot about Oscar Wilde back then.

TH: What initially drove you to create Archetype?

MA: When I originated the site in 2009, I had recently begun the dual English and Creative Writing graduate program at Chapman University and wanted to establish a virtual writing workshop or MAB (multi-author blog) for artistic experimentation. At the time, I was immersed in the process of literary coursework, reveling in each newly discovered or rediscovered text and learning to conduct scholarly research and master’s level composition. And, most importantly, I was writing fiction again and risking what seemed the ultimate rejection and ridicule by (gads!) sharing my work with peers and professors. I was a first-year MA/MFA student, and I was terrified and exhilarated and self-conscious and buoyed. It was glorious, and I had this inexplicable desire to share what I was experiencing.

TH: From where do you derive inspiration for content?

MA: I’m inspired primarily by literature and fear. I’m constantly reading classic fiction and poetry and stumbling across passages that seem impossibly resonant. I sometimes find myself actually holding my breath as the passage unfolds. I get so awestruck and emotional about such beautifully written validation that I have to post what I’ve unearthed. Most of the poems and prose I publish have timely personal significance. From my occasional struggles with insomnia and feelings of isolation to my simple delight in a book or summer peach, each post, like a journal entry, reveals some hidden aspect of my life, whatever that’s worth. My ever-present inadequacy demon is also a common Archetype theme.

TH: How much time do you devote to creation and maintenance of the site?

MA: Most people would probably be a little quizzical if they knew how much time I spent each week preparing posts, mining for corresponding images, maintaining the site’s appearance, and keeping the contest deadlines, calls for submission, literary events, bedside table books, and other site features updated. With a relatively small audience of subscribers and Facebook and LinkedIn connections, one could argue that my time could be more appropriately allocated. I can’t explain it; some innate force propels me to post at least every three or four days. And I have consistently done so for nearly five years. Those close to me know how distressed I become if I’m unable to post by the fourth day. It really has become a journal (and a journey) for me.

TH: You are a busy lady and a prolific writer, to say the least. How important is it to you to devote the time and energy to keeping Archetype going?

MA: First, I’m not sure how prolific I am as a writer, but thank you for saying so. I’m certainly trying. Part of that objective requires building a platform and establishing a readership, so my website has become a large component of that. Further, I like to think that every post resonates with at least one person besides me. If it does, then it connects me to that person. I’ve also realized through my blog how much I admire nineteenth century oil paintings and to which poets I’m drawn – like Christina Rossetti and Sara Teasdale. As I’ve shaped and defined Archetype, it has shaped and defined me as a writer. I simply can’t imagine ending it after all this time and effort. It’s truly a labor of love.

TH: Where do you see your blog headed?

MA: Now that I’ve completed the MA and will defend my MFA thesis in the fall, I’m thinking a lot about the next thematic basis and future of my blog. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t harbor a Carrie Bradshawesque fantasy of having all my “Best of” posts (personal commentary) published in a book someday (not to mention my picture on a bus and a closet full of designer shoes). When I first launched Archetype, I couldn’t foresee beyond perhaps a year of posting. I didn’t have a long range plan for the site or even a vision of an audience; I simply wanted a space in which to articulate the moments of joy and angst and Aha! I was experiencing and share the poems, passages, and images that have moved me in some grand way, a probable void accessible to everyone and accessed by no one. And here I am, nearly five years and six hundred posts later, both trapped and liberated by “an unseizable force” that impels some of us to observe and question and reflect and write in a silent abyss with no end in sight. I have many ideas and additional features I want to incorporate when the time allows. I plan to pursue a PhD in English or Comparative Literature, so that endeavor will provide a lot of content. (I currently have my GRE study list posted if anyone is interested.) For now, I’m actually pretty content just having it as a forum for my own random discoveries and thoughts and knowing that its quiet appeal is appreciated by a few others.

TH: Who are your readers? Do they comment/interact with you often?

MA: I only know about half of my subscribers personally. That group is comprised of former Chapman peers, authors I’ve met at conferences and other venues, colleagues, and my mother, who, incidentally, was an English professor and department chair until just a few years ago and wishes I would post more Shakespeare and Milton. I think the others are teachers and writers who have stumbled onto the site inadvertently and liked it. I really appreciate that small band of strangers and its ongoing support. I do get a fair share of comments and interaction, which I enjoy. I will say that most Archetype subscribers are loyal. Once they subscribe, they tend to stay subscribed. Either that or they’ve relegated my posts to their Junk mail file.

TH: What are the pros and cons of blogging?

MA: For a perfectionist like me, it can be maddening when the site changes my intended font or doesn’t post an image exactly where I want it. I’ll invest hours wrestling with a template limitation and ultimately losing. And I spend a lot of time proofing and editing to ensure every post is as flawless as possible. At first I was terrified to write anything that was personal or overly provocative; the permanence of the Internet can be inhibiting. But Archetype is about literature and writing and art and all the feelings those creative forms evoke; it’s not likely to offend. I did think long and hard before posting a painting of a nude woman reading in bed a few years ago. Knowing it would probably garner more views than my posts normally attract, I wanted to be certain that my reasons for posting it were purely artistic. But the image is so hauntingly beautiful, and it complemented the poem I was posting perfectly (“The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm,” reposted in 2013). It resonated with me, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Once I posted it, I realized that, as long as what I write and post are consistent with my core values, I don’t worry about what people will think.

TH: What blogs do you follow?

MA: I follow quite a few and have a growing list of additional sites to check out. The first blog I found and immediately followed was Irvine Valley College English and creative writing professor Lisa Alvarez’s The Mark on the Wall. Like I was on Archetype, Lisa was also promoting Orange County events and posting poems and images, as well as her own thoughts. Since we were both local, I reached out to her, and we have promoted each other’s blog ever since. I also follow my good friend Ian Prichard’s site At the Wellhead, my Chapman pal Ruben Guzman’s blog Literophanes, Orange County author DeAnna Cameron’s Et Cetera, etc., Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Pen on Fire, TreeHouse, of course, and several others.

TH: You often post about calls for submissions and writing contests on other sites. How important is it to you to assist other writers with submitting their work?

MA: I want Archetype to be a literary resource for aspiring writers. But, again, I only promote calls, conferences, and contests that appeal to me and seem like valuable opportunities, so the lists certainly aren’t comprehensive. I review a lot of websites, online journals, calls for submissions, seminars, and workshops before deciding which to promote. I push Glimmer Train and Tin House calls a lot, because many of their stories end up in Best American anthologies. I also advertise fiction and poetry readings and other local happenings, as well as prominent national literary events.

TH: An excerpt from your novel, Time of Death, won First Prize in the Fiction Writing Contest sponsored by The Editorial Department, Second Prize in the WestBow Press Writing Contest, and Third Prize in the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award competition at the 2012 Orange County Christian Writers Conference in Newport Beach. At this point, where in the creative and publishing process is Time of Death?

MA: It’s not that much further along than it was at that conference, I’m afraid. I was so shocked and excited about its reception that my motivation to finish the book soared after that event. The award from The Editorial Department was a lengthy review and critique, which was incredibly helpful. And I had detailed conversations with WestBow about self-publishing, which I decided isn’t for me at this time. But a few months after the conference, the momentum waned. Between my MA and MFA course work and my career, it was extremely difficult to find time and energy to write. At one point, I dashed off about forty pages and thought I was well on my way to finishing, but then the story got stuck. And that’s where I am today, trying to unstick the story. At least 150 pages of it comprise my MFA thesis, which is due in October, so that’s what I’m working on now.

TH: What initially inspired you to write the novel? How does the novel figure in with Archetype?

MA: The blog and the novel are pretty separate projects, but I do write about the challenges and anguish of novel writing on Archetype. I’ve also promoted Time of Death’s occasional successes on the site. For me, the process of writing a novel is the essential premise for Archetype. I think the fact that I can bemoan about the trials of writing (and my inadequacy demon) give it some credibility.

TH: Do you feel your blog posts have helped you craft your other writings? 

MA: Absolutely. I’m a guest columnist for the Orange County Register, and many of my columns are derivatives of blog posts. Still, each article needs to be adapted to the specific audience of that medium, so they often end up looking nothing like their earlier versions. I met the editor of Orange Coast Magazine a couple of years ago and was invited to send him some pieces, which, of course, I wanted desperately to do, but I didn’t have the time I needed to tailor an article for his magazine. With so little available writing time, I try to get as much mileage as I can from a piece. Archetype has also helped me develop my personal commentary voice, so my posts, columns, and essays have a consistent tone.

TH: How did you make the progression from blogging for yourself to writing articles/posts for other websites and blogs? 

MA: Honestly, that has been a combination of networking and sheer luck. I am so appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had to write for other websites and publications. Among TreeHouse, American Christian Fiction Writers, the Orange County Register, and other random forums, it seems I always have an upcoming deadline. In fact, I have more invitations to submit than I currently have time to accept. I’m hoping that, very soon, I can finish my thesis and organize my writing time so that I’m taking advantage of every possible opportunity – they’re definitely out there! Although, I’ll soon be busy studying for that pesky GRE, too…

Michelle Arch, Guest Blogger for TreeHouse

Michelle Arch

Michelle Arch is currently completing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Chapman University. She holds a Master of Arts in English from Chapman University, a Master’s degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre and English from California State University, Fullerton. Arch is a member of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Modern Language Association, and the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society.

Her current projects include a portfolio of short stories, poems, and critical essays, many of which explore themes of identity and self-definition and the study of mimetic imagery, and a novel. Arch has presented her work at the 2010 and 2011 Sigma Tau Delta International Conventions in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, the Sigma Tau Delta 2011 Regional Conference in Orange, California, the 2012 John Fowles Literary Forum, and the 2012 Big Orange Book Festival. Her work has also been published on the ACFW website and in the Orange County Register’s Ladera Post.

An excerpt from her novel, Time of Death, won First Prize in the Fiction Writing Contest sponsored by The Editorial Department, Second Prize in the WestBow Press Writing Contest, and Third Prize in the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award competition at the 2012 Orange County Christian Writers Conference in Newport Beach. To visit her website and blog, Archetype, go to http://www.michellearch.wordpress.com/.

Interview with Sandy Madsen, Author of Purple Mums

Sandy Madsen

Sandy Madsen

The TreeHouse editors were recently given the opportunity to interview Sandy Madsen, author of Purple Mums, on her work of nonfiction about rape survival. Stranger rape and the recovery from it are detailed in Purple Mums, not only by Madsen, but also by her spouse, children, and therapist.

Sandy Madsen is a public face and voice for the thousands of sexual assault victims who remain silent. She bravely uses her experience to educate the public about this crime, speaking to law enforcement personnel, social services and healing professionals, raising funds for victims of assault and the agencies that serve them, and demonstrating for other survivors that recovery can and does happen.

TreeHouse: How was the writing process for you? How long did it take you to complete the book?

Sandy Madsen: On my “10th” anniversary of the rape, I felt I had come full circle (on page 35 of the book you will understand this answer). As I do state in the book I will never have closure, but I did close a chapter. That was the day I thought about writing a book. It took nearly five years after the anniversary before I really got serious, as I had kept a journal of weekly feelings. The actual writing began 2 years prior to publishing. I always had an opening paragraph and a closing paragraph. I knew I needed quiet and no interruptions, so I went to a beach in Florida alone and wrote my chapters. I started and stopped so many times, as it was very painful to relive all those moments.

TH: What do you hope readers take away from Purple Mums?

SM: My biggest hope was/is that I can encourage survivors to report the rape (even if it happened many years prior to the reading of my book). There are thousands of survivors without any hope of healing. Therefore, this is a book of encouragement and hope.

TH: How did you go about devising the book’s structure? What made you decide on the format and to incorporate the perspectives of your family members and therapist?

SM: The structure was not hard for me once I decided to write the book. So many books have been written about the rape, recovery, trials, etc. The one thing I didn’t find was writings by the survivor, each family member, and the therapist. The rapist not only raped me that day, but my whole family. I wanted the book to explain how each family member needed help in healing. It also explains from the therapist how each one of us was affected.

TH: How has the writing and promoting of your book helped you heal through this painful experience?

SM: Writing the book was very painful, as it brought back visions and some memories that I had thought was stored away forever. Public speaking, TV, newspaper interviews kept me aware of most of my experiences and healing, but some deep thoughts were never discussed. On the other hand, writing gave me a refreshed feeling; there is so much more that can be done on the subject and it is very important to me to keep working as an advocate. I am very strong and truly have a gift for speaking publicly.

TH: In 2012, you were the winner of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s (NSVRC) Visionary Voice Award. This award recognizes the creativity and hard work you have put into helping end sexual violence. Did their validation of your efforts in this field make it easier for you to continue making your voice heard on this issue?

SM: Absolutely. Winning the award encouraged me to continue, knowing there are still so many survivors that need to report their rapes and start the healing process.

TH: Prior to writing and promoting Purple Mums, did you have any experience in writing and/or public speaking?

SM: Public speaking has never been an issue for me. I represented a large travel corporation and I spoke publicly many, many times to the media and newspapers, and gave speeches to large groups. I started speaking on behalf of rape survivors 3 months after my experience. I felt so much stronger after that first speech and knew I had found a calling.

TH: Do you have any advice or helpful strategies that you can offer for others who are trying to write about a difficult, personal subject?

SM: All survivors have had different experiences, backgrounds, support systems, etc. They all have a story if they choose to share with others.  Not everyone can write or speak publicly, but may have another avenue they can advocate.

TH: What are your plans from here? Will you continue to write?

SM: I don’t have plans right now to do another book. I am writing a few songs and hope to have them recorded in the not too distant future. I was a music major, so writing music comes easy for me and the words come from my heart. I recently joined the board of directors of the Sexual Assault Center in Nashville, TN and now my main interest will be involving my experiences and advocacy with the state legislators.

Purple Mums by Sandy Madsen

Purple Mums by Sandy Madsen

A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Purple Mums goes to the Sexual Assault Center of Nashville, TN. To purchase your copy and help this cause, please email Sandy Madsen directly at: deskmad@aol.com.

Part IV: Summer Reading Giveaway and Flash Fiction Contest!

Congratulations to author Ana Prundaru, the winner of Ellis Nelson’s Into the Land of Snows, our third Summer Reading Giveaway selection. For more information about Prundaru’s work, check out her artist page on the TreeHouse site. The response to this contest was fantastic, and we send our heartfelt thanks to everyone who entered!

Ana Prundaru’s haiku:

beneath the snow-palm
crouching like caged animals
balding trees shiver.

 

Isolation

The next selection in our Summer Reading Giveaway and Contest is Denise R. Stephenson’s Isolation.

To win this title, send us your best flash fiction story that begins or concludes with the word “isolation” and is under 100 words. We will publish the winning entry and provide the author with an artist page on the TreeHouse site. The deadline to submit entries is Thursday, July 17, 2014, by 11:59 p.m. Good luck!

To read more about Stephenson and Isolation, visit http://treehousearts.me/august-denise-stephenson/

What’s your art? To have your creative work featured on TreeHouse, submit it for consideration at artstreehouse@gmail.com.

Part III: Summer Reading Giveaway and Haiku Contest!

First, congratulations to Olivia G. of Irvine, CA, the winner of our second free Summer Reading Giveaway selection, Danielle Soucy Mills’ Tina Tumbles. Many thanks to everyone who entered!

IntotheLandofSnows_432Our next Summer Reading Giveaway selection is Ellis Nelson’s Into the Land of Snows.

Forget the summer heat! To win this selection, send us your best haiku (or other type of poem) that has to do with snow!

We’ll publish the winning poem here on TreeHouse and give the winner his/her own artist page on our site.

Email entries to artstreehouse@gmail.com. The deadline is Thursday, July 10, by 11:59 p.m. Good luck!

To read more about Ellis Nelson and Into the Land of Snows, visit http://treehousearts.me/2014/05/31/an-interview-with-author-and-blogger-ellis-nelson/

What’s your art?

To have your creative work featured on TreeHouse, submit it for consideration at artstreehouse@gmail.com.

 

Poems by Sreyash Sarkar

Read Sreyash Sarkar’s poems, “A Tibetan Epistle” ,
“The Escapist” and “Ashore”

Sreyash Sarkar Poems

 

Sreyash Sarkar is a poet, a qualified painter, a practicing Hindustani Classical musician and an aspiring Electrical Engineer. Educated in Kolkata and Bangalore, he has been a student correspondent at The Statesman, Kolkata from his school, South Point. Has been an active participant in various poetry and essay competitions in both Bengali and English and has won accolades by and far. In 2012, in an international poetry competition organized in memoir of Yeats, his poem was shortlisted among 40 other poets from all over the world. Besides, being a freelance writer for several magazines, he is the editor-in-chief of Kalomer Kalomishak, a bilingual magazine, which he founded in 2013.

Sreyash Sarkar

Sreyash Sarkar

Poetry, according to him, is similar to the entire process of macramé- An art of knitting of words. Being trained from an early age, in both classical music and Tagore-songs, he has imbibed in himself, a deep philosophical understanding of the Upanishads, Sufi songs and other forms of folk poetry. Tagore, has always been his raison détre and therefore had been an inspiration in his definitive understanding of Lalon Fakir’s songs. He had also got himself into painting, very early on, and his works have been particularly influenced by DuChamp, Abanindranath Tagore, Anjolie Ela Menon, Picasso and Ganesh Pyne. An aesthete of a sort, he loves gardening, ikebana, books, home-made Bengali dishes and watching films. He currently divides his time between Kolkata and Bangalore.

What’s your art?

To have your creative work featured on TreeHouse, submit it for consideration at artstreehouse@gmail.com.

 

Genetics-Based Grammarianism by Michelle Arch

In a world of tweeting, texting, chattering, status updates, desktop messaging, flash fiction, and the ubiquitous shrunken novel, rhetoric and the art of epic articulation, sadly, are no longer appreciated and extolled. Murky millennial jargon and cryptic acronyms have replaced the precision of entire phrases and sentences, leaving some of us to wonder if the writer is laughing out loud or sending us lots of love. We are called upon constantly to synopsize, abstract, and shorten our communication and creative expression to meet the limitations of tiny keyboards, available characters, and an attention-deficit audience, even in arenas once characterized by devotion to the written word.

Contributing to the fragmentation of written communication is a seemingly widespread disinterest in and disdain for linguistic constructions in favor of imaginative, less encumbered expression in which punctuation and capitalization are optional. As an aspiring grammarian and the daughter of an English professor and department chair, rules of syntax and grammar have always seemed rudimentary and aptly rigid to me. While I never struggled to grasp the apparent mysteries of the semicolon or the intricacies imposed by the apostrophe, I buy and pore over the rule books nonetheless, honing my skill and fueling my passion for writing that is, first and foremost, right. My writer friend Ian Prichard suffers from the same chromosomal affliction, which he has coined “genetics-based grammarianism.”

Those of us with GBG deem adherence to and mastery of grammatical imperatives to be the undisputed core determinants of good writing and satisfactory performance within, say, the context of a composition course and are puzzled and disturbed by the present disinclination to overwhelm a novice writing student with them. Science, mathematics, business, and other curriculums of absolutes have their determinants, as well, and allegiance to them is unwavering. Failing grades in these programs of study not only reflect inadequate functioning but serve to weed out, while composition teachers are pressured to pass all students, regardless of whether or not grammatical and syntactical proficiency is achieved. Whether this pressure is in response to the questioning of the value of formal rules, societal indifference to standards of excellence in writing, the contemporary watering down of the craft to make it more accessible, or a decline in college and university enrollment, the written product is compromised for the sake of the enterprise.

Because my college and university experience spans thirty years, I have perceived this shift in response to student writing personally. While writing assessment was once a decisive and matter-of-fact highlighting of grammatical errors and structural deficiencies, composition and creative writing teachers (and graduate students studying the teaching of composition) of late seem averse to allocating much time and energy to punctuation, agreement, and other mechanical constrictions, focusing instead on the strength and development of the argument or narrative plot primarily. Even graduate students in current English and creative writing programs criticize professors for marking grammatical errors, deeming the feedback – wait for it – immaterial.

Creative writing workshops, specifically, are hostile environments for participants who call attention to grammatical errors in a peer’s work. It has even been suggested that it is the editor’s job to catch “those problems,” as the writer should not be stifled by such trivial controls. It is a curiosity to me how students who truly fly in the face of language rules are interested in (and accepted into) English and writing programs in the first place.

Communicating well in writing is the ability to inspire, evoke, engage, and transform through words and syntax and rhythm. It requires the meticulous, unremitting selection of the precise word – and there almost always is that one perfect word – that conveys the author’s meaning, as well as intuitive choices about spacing and pauses and dialogue. It requires an investment of time and comprehension on both the reader’s and writer’s part and a commitment to legitimate communication. And it requires a respect for and love of punctuation and principles of usage that some of us, thankfully, were fortunate to inherit.

 

Michelle Arch, Guest Blogger for TreeHouse

Michelle Arch, Guest Blogger for TreeHouse

Michelle Arch is a guest blogger for TreeHouse and currently completing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Chapman University. She holds a Master of Arts in English from Chapman University, a Master’s degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre and English from California State University, Fullerton. Arch is a member of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Modern Language Association, and the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society.

Her current projects include a portfolio of short stories, poems, and critical essays, many of which explore themes of identity and self-definition and the study of mimetic imagery, and a novel. Arch has presented her work at the 2010 and 2011 Sigma Tau Delta International Conventions in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, the Sigma Tau Delta 2011 Regional Conference in Orange, California, the 2012 John Fowles Literary Forum, and the 2012 Big Orange Book Festival. Her work has also been published on the ACFW website and in the Orange County Register’s Ladera Post.

An excerpt from her novel, Time of Death, won First Prize in the Fiction Writing Contest sponsored by The Editorial Department, Second Prize in the WestBow Press Writing Contest, and Third Prize in the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award competition at the 2012 Orange County Christian Writers Conference in Newport Beach. To visit her website and blog, Archetype, go to http://www.michellearch.wordpress.com/.

 

What’s your art? To have your creative work featured on TreeHouse, submit it for consideration at artstreehouse@gmail.com.

The Cage by Sreyash Sarkar

 

Read “The Cage” by Sreyash Sarkar:

The Cage Sreyash Sarkar

 

Sreyash Sarkar is a poet, a qualified painter, a practicing Hindustani Classical musician and an aspiring Electrical Engineer. Educated in Kolkata and Bangalore, he has been a student correspondent at The Statesman, Kolkata from his school, South Point. Has been an active participant in various poetry and essay competitions in both Bengali and English and has won accolades by and far. In 2012, in an international poetry competition organized in memoir of Yeats, his poem was shortlisted among 40 other poets from all over the world. Besides, being a freelance writer for several magazines, he is the editor-in-chief of Kalomer Kalomishak, a bilingual magazine, which he founded in 2013.

Sreyash Sarkar

Sreyash Sarkar

Poetry, according to him, is similar to the entire process of macramé- An art of knitting of words. Being trained from an early age, in both classical music and Tagore-songs, he has imbibed in himself, a deep philosophical understanding of the Upanishads, Sufi songs and other forms of folk poetry. Tagore, has always been his raison détre and therefore had been an inspiration in his definitive understanding of Lalon Fakir’s songs. He had also got himself into painting, very early on, and his works have been particularly influenced by DuChamp, Abanindranath Tagore, Anjolie Ela Menon, Picasso and Ganesh Pyne. An aesthete of a sort, he loves gardening, ikebana, books, home-made Bengali dishes and watching films. He currently divides his time between Kolkata and Bangalore.

 

What’s your art?

To have your creative work featured on TreeHouse, submit it for consideration at artstreehouse@gmail.com.