Last month I had the pleasure and honor of being interviewed about the genesis, maintenance, and future of Archetype by the online journal TreeHouse: An Exhibition of the Arts. With the fifth anniversary of Archetype occurring this month and the six hundredth post targeted for early September, I thought I would publish the interview in its entirety here.
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 of 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…