P.E.I. writer Michelle Arsenault achieves her life dream of becoming a novelist
A new chapter
By Sally Cole
As a child, Michelle Arsenault spent hours in her bedroom writing short stories.
"I lived in a rural area without siblings and neighbourhood children to play with. At first I thought that my life was going to be boring because I was stuck out in the middle of nowhere. But soon my imagination would go wild," says Arsenault, who grew up in Cape Wolfe, a stone's throw away from O'Leary.
Using Barbie dolls to play different characters, she would work out fictional scenes and then scribble everything down in a book.
"I wrote my first full-length manuscript on a manual typewriter when I was 15. It was called That One Moment, about a group of teenagers whose lives would intertwine. I sent it off, but never heard anything back. As a kid I didn't know how to pursue things any further," says the writer whose luck has just changed.
Arsenault, who now lives in Moncton, has had her first novel published by iUniverse.
Fire is the compelling story of an unhappy young woman whose life suddenly changes when she joins a rock band.
Her recent achievement has been a long time coming.
"It didn't hit me until I had the book in my hand, it was pretty amazing, an incredible feeling of accomplishment," says Arsenault, who writes under the pen name of Mima.
Her good fortune began in 2008 when she enrolled in an online writing course through Winghill Writing School where she was matched with a mentor.
Award-winning fiction writer Joan Hovey took her through the phases of writing, helping her refine chapters while providing regular feedback.
After finishing the course, Arsenault revisited a manuscript she had written and had another look at it.
"It was about a girl who had joined this rock band. I thought if I wrote it again, I'd probably go about things differently. I would do more research about the music industry," she says.
Buoyed by the encouragement she had received and with a clear, thematic idea about how the plot and the characters would unfold, she rewrote the manuscript.
"This time it was not difficult. It almost flowed. The biggest part was the research. I had to do a lot of fact checking to make it credible. And then came editing," she says.
After it was published, she contacted her mentor to thank her for helping her forge her way through an unknown path.
Hovey was thrilled to hear of Mima's success.
"It was my pleasure to be Michelle's tutor. I thought her first draft of Fire showed promise. I'm delighted to hear that I helped her achieve that dream. But what I remember most about Michelle is her passion and ambition to publish her novel. I also remember her willingness to work hard and her openness to suggestion," says Hovey, during an Internet interview.
Arsenault also credits growing up on P.E.I. for helping her develop her craft.
While attending Westisle Composite High School she took an English course from teacher Paul Batchilder, now a Roman Catholic priest.
"His writing classes were always fun. I remember one of our first assignments. We had to read something, analyze it and write a research paper on it. When he passed it back, he made a point of saying how good it was in front of the whole class. It was one of the first times somebody ever encouraged me about something I had written. I remember the feeling," says Arsenault, who also immersed herself in the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery and teen novels like Sweet Valley High.
Batchilder remembers her writing.
"Because she had an obvious gift, I talked to her a little more about her writing and gave her the encouragement. It's something I tried to do with all the kids," says the former teacher who taught between 3,000 and 4,000 students.
Arsenault also credits her family.
"My mom (Jean Arsenault) and her friends were very supportive. I used to create newspapers using pictures from magazines and articles I'd written and they'd give me feedback on what I'd done."
In Moncton, Arsenault is busy dividing her time between her day job in a retail store and writing.
"I'm working on my next book. Expect to hear from me soon."
Up close and personal with Michelle Arsenault
• Favourite colour: Black.
• Favourite book: Barbara Walters Biography.
• Five things to take to a desert island: A laptop, her imagination, green tea, chocolate, music.
• Favourite food: P.E.I. lobster.
• Favourite film: The Crow.
• Favourite music: Nirvana, Alice in Chains.
• Website: http://fire-mima.webs.com/