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Michelle Arch: Writer and Blogger

Michelle Arch
Michelle Arch, Artist of the Month, March 2013

Michelle Arch. Artist of the Month, March 2013

 

 

Michelle Arch is completing her Master of Arts in English and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Chapman University. She holds 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/.
Tell us a bit about your novel, Time of Death. How would you describe the storyline? What are your next steps, publication-wise?
Time of Death tells the story of Fawn Evans from her awkward adolescence through womanhood and the sometimes subtle but often overt spiritual battle for her soul. During the years that follow a horrific accident, it becomes clear that she was spared for a reason, and it is up to Fawn to realize her intrinsic value and God’s plan for her life.
The title represents the moments of both physical death and spiritual death. My desire for this book is that it will resonate with young and mature adult readers who are lost or distracted and help them recognize their own divine purpose and destiny. It also reveals the crafty ways of the enemy and his desire to keep us adrift.
The storyline is rather long, and I’m focused currently on finishing the part that will comprise my MFA thesis. After graduation, I’ll be working on completing the rest of the narrative and, hopefully, finding representation.
An excerpt from Time of Death won quite a few writing awards. What made you pick that particular part of the novel to submit? Did it start out as a short story or was the excerpt a pivotal part of the work?
I’ve always envisioned this story as a novel. I have written some short stories, but I tend to want to delve more deeply into a character than that form allows. The Time of Death excerpt I typically submit is the accident itself and the hospital scene that follows, because it is so pivotal to the narrative. It’s also the first time we perceive Satan as a material antagonist.  Interestingly, Fawn is unconscious throughout most of the excerpt.
On your blog, http://michellearch.wordpress.com/, you share a lot of information about where other writers can get their work published. Is that something that’s important to you, supporting other writers? And do you receive any feedback from writers who have submitted to the places you suggest? 
Absolutely. I’ve met a lot of writers in Chapman’s program, at conferences, and through other activities and groups in which I’m involved, and we’re all telling very different stories from our own unique point of view. I think being supportive of one another comes pretty naturally to all of us attempting to do this hard, crazy, lonely thing.
I receive a lot of feedback regarding my posts on Archetype, although I don’t often hear about how submissions have worked out. My intent is to inform subscribers and visitors about the opportunities known for advancing the careers of emerging writers such as Glimmer Train and Tin House, as well as find and promote less prominent contests and calls for submissions.
You’re a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Do you write for children as well? 
I don’t write for children; however, SCBWI is also for Young Adult writers, and that is a genre that appeals to me. Because Fawn is only eleven in the early chapters of Time of Death and is sixteen at the time of the accident, I wasn’t sure initially into which genre the book would ultimately fit. I’ve since been advised that both the context and writing style are more suitable for older readers. I would now categorize the novel as new-adult fiction for coming-of-age and “cross-over” readers in their late teens through early thirties, but that could be because Fawn is in her twenties in the chapters I’m writing presently. As she ages, my perceived readership ages. One of my favorite novels is Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, in which the protagonist Dolores ages from four to nearly forty. While much of the novel takes place during her adolescence, it’s definitely not YA fiction. That’s how I see Time of Death evolving.
What are your plans for the future? Teaching? Blogging? Writing another novel, perhaps?
My immediate plans include finishing my Master’s in English and MFA in Creative Writing, completing Time of Death, and developing and maintaining Archetype. I’ve also just become a guest columnist for The Orange County Register’s Ladera Post, which will be fun. In addition, I’m planning to pursue scholarly publication of some of my nonfiction work and am just beginning to look into Ph.D. programs in comparative literature.
My long-range goals entail both nonfiction and creative writing, learning new languages, teaching, and travel that expands my perspectives of the human condition. I’m hoping to chronicle journeys to Russia, Germany, and Africa within the next five to seven years and incorporate some of my travel experiences and insights into my future fiction and nonfiction work.
To thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and work with us we would like to have you select a cause for us to highlight and support this month. Which cause do you recommend?
I’m passionate about Women for Women International (WfWI), an organization whose mission is to support women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights education, and small business assistance so they can rebuild their lives. The oppression and violence they endure is extraordinary. I’ve been privileged to sponsor women from both Afghanistan and Congo, and there’s nothing more rewarding than exchanging personal letters with women living such enormously different and difficult lives. Through WfWI, you can provide financial support, write letters, run to raise awareness…whatever you’re called to do. It really does make a difference to them just to know that Americans care about them and are working on their behalf. http://www.womenforwomen.org/
To thank Michelle for her time, we will also be promoting the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  Give them a “like” on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SCBWI  or visit them online at: http://www.scbwi.org//.
You can check out Michelle’s latest commentary in the “Best of” section of her blog Archetype at: http://michellearch.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/tis-the-good-reader-that-makes-the-good-book-ralph-waldo-emerson/

 

In July of 2014, the TreeHouse editors spoke to Arch again about her experiences with blogging. Read below for the interview: 

 

TreeHouse: 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…

 

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