Allow yourself to play, as children do, with art forms which are not your primary path. It can be liberating to try your hand at artistic disciplines which you are not attempting to master, per se. Years ago I began dabbling with paint as a way to free my literary brain. Many writers have sought solace in visual art; Henry Miller wrote, “To paint is to love again. It’s only when we look with eyes of love that we see as the painter sees.” Allowing oneself to create without the pressure of “succeeding” at it can be nourishing and inspiring.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Melia McClure.
Melia McClure is the author of the novels All the World’s a Wonder and The Delphi Room. After a childhood spent dancing and acting, she has been seen on film, television, and the stage of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Favourite acting memories include a turn as Juliet in an abridged collage of Shakespeare’s classic and a role in the much-loved TV series Stargate Atlantis. Film and theatre along with visual art are the three muses that inspire her writing. They kindle her fascination with the book-to-film metamorphosis. Her fiction is a confluence of magic realism, black humour, and abnormal psychology, opening unexpected backroads to elements of the metaphysical. Melia is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, where she was born. She now divides her time between Canada and Europe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I was born in Vancouver and grew up in the surroundings. I am one of three daughters. As a shy, watchful child, I escaped into a realm lit by the beauty of fantasy. My parents encouraged me to crack through my shell and express myself. I’m grateful that they valued the wonders of the imagination. I think they recognized early on that self-expression, whether that was me dancing to my parent’s music collection or making up a story, was soothing and uplifting.
As an infant and a very young child, I had a Hungarian nanny named Magda who spoke mostly her native tongue. I learned to speak Hungarian at the same time that I learned to speak English, and I served as something of an interpreter between Magda and my parents. I regret that I lost my Hungarian tongue long ago. The reason I mention this part of my childhood now is that a small tribute to Magda appeared, quite unexpectedly, in my novel All the World’s a Wonder. I am always amazed at how long-buried memories and filaments of the subconscious can surface and crystallize of their own accord during the creative process. The experience of digging up kohlrabi in Magda’s garden is still alive in me somewhere, although I don’t remember it, and I didn’t see Magda anymore once I was a few years of age.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I discovered the stage when I began ballet lessons at age six. Other forms of dance followed. A world of costumes and bright lights beckoned to my whimsical tendencies. At around the same time, my parents enrolled me in a drama workshop at a talent agency, thinking that such training would help me overcome my shyness. Although I remained quiet and bashful, performing gave me the chance to break through the hermetic seal of introversion, safe in the protection of a character. How ingenious! The workshop finale included a fashion show, and I became convinced that heaven must have a runway. I ended up signing with that agency and started auditioning for television commercials.
I also started writing stories at a very young age, and from my earliest school days, I received praise for my wordplay. I liked being in the “director’s chair” when I crafted a story, and I liked performing the characters in my mind without having to overcome the shyness to do it. I always envisioned writing a book one day.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
A few months before my first novel was published, I found myself in Singapore. Having rather a weakness for the romanticism of storied literary greats, I decided that christening my forthcoming publication at Writers Bar, located at the fabled Raffles Hotel, was a must. Writers Bar is an homage to the many literary icons who have graced Raffles Hotel over the past century and more. So, I could only hope, of course, that by raising a glass in the dust of their collective genius, some of their literary panache might land on me.
It was a poignant time, not only because I was on the verge of releasing my first novel, but because my most important mentor and one of my dearest friends, an immensely talented theatre director, actor, and writer who had championed my creative efforts, had died well before I was able to show him my book and tell him what his peerless presence had meant.
He was the only thing on my mind when I walked into Writers Bar. It was a quiet evening there, the lush environs a respite from the Singaporean swelter. In fact, I think I was the only one in the bar. Solitude suited my state of mind.
I sat in silence musing about my friend and mentor. Never had I expected to be in Southeast Asia, and at Raffles Hotel no less, at that particular moment, but I felt sure my friend was raising a glass on the other side of the curtain in approval. After a few minutes, a dapper waiter broke my reverie. As if on cue, at the exact moment that the words of my order exited my mouth, the silence of Writers Bar was cast aside by my dear friend’s favourite song, the song that was featured at his celebration of life and which I will forever intertwine with his memory.
In my mind’s eye I could see him smiling at the surprise and awe on my face. I lifted my glass in acknowledgment and gratitude. The idea that muses and mentors remain with us — as far more than simply memories — is ever-present in my life and in my work.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My novel All the World’s a Wonder, released this year, is the labyrinthian story of a modern-day playwright who is possessed by her characters, or, as she calls them, her muses. And when I say possessed, I mean they literally take over her body and mind and live through her, and when they’re not doing that, they are emailing her and demanding that she turn their life stories into hit Broadway plays. This novel is also the fraught recounting of one of those muses, a young woman named Maxine who is an aspiring stage actress in 1925 New York City, as well as the turbulent tale of the playwright’s very troubled psych doctor.
One of my aims with this book was to turn the novel form into a voice-driven live performance, with the reader as the front-row audience. I chose to mix prose with playscript, giving the reader a theatrical dimension through which to engage with the characters, a play within a novel, if you will. All the World’s a Wonder is in many ways a tribute to the theatre, and it belongs on stage. I would also love to see it as a film, and I am working on adapting it for the screen. Modern Manhattan, the gritty and glamourous theatre world of Jazz Age New York, and a tragic love story set on the Greek island of Corfu… It’s made for cinema.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Authentic people are always the most interesting. The people who are unafraid of their own vision of themselves and the world. I’ve met many fascinating artists of all kinds, many of whom endured tremendous adversity on the path to manifesting their vision. Art is love and love is what you do, not simply what you feel; many artists are accustomed to risking heartbreak and devastation to do what they see in the theatre of their mind.
But so many people who’ve captured my imagination were not artists, they were creators of daily life in one way and another. They were the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes. Magda, for example, my childhood nanny, who escaped Hungary but not before being unjustly thrown into prison. My mother once told me that every article of clothing Magda folded was perfectly neat, her skill honed by working in the prison laundry.
I remember the first time I was in New York. It was the sultry deep of summer, and I was staying in a tiny hotel room in the theatre district. There was only enough space for the bed, and I would jump up and down on it every morning because, well, why the hell not? I had a draft of my first novel in my pocket and a lot of wide-eyed wonderment. On most days I would see a housekeeper with an exquisite gem-eyed gaze. Her eyes were shadowed, though. Awake too long and have seen too much. We chatted whenever we met, and quickly bonded in the way that the transience of travel can allow. She asked me about myself, about acting, about writing, about my search for a publisher. One day she told me that she had always wanted to be on the stage.
“But things got in the way,” she continued. “Bad things.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wish that you — ”
“Don’t be.” She waved away my words. “So now I’m here, with a mop and a bucket. But I’ve got a few stories to tell. Maybe I’ll write them down sometime.”
“I hope you do.”
“Just remember something: People might want stuff from you, I mean, in a good way, your talents and stuff. So hear them out. But then you gotta take a quiet moment, and you gotta take your own advice.”
Two days later I moved out of the hotel. I didn’t see that woman again. I’ve always felt she indeed had many stories to tell, but whether she ever told them, I don’t know. In the years since I’ve thought of her urging me to hold my own counsel front and center in a world that sometimes seeks to derail the authentic voice. I’m grateful for the wisdom I found in a narrow New York hotel hallway. And I’m reminded that interesting people can be found in unexpected places.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
My experiences as an actor are integral to my process as a writer, and vice versa. When I write, I am a performer, striving to be a channel of the voices of my characters. As an actor, I create narratives for my characters that are not explicitly a part of the story, but which support the performance.
My novels are love letters to film and theatre; mixing playscript and screenplay with prose inspires me not only as I love the idea of a novel being a voice-driven theatrical performance, but because I like to pay tribute to storytelling as an oral tradition. Writing is meant to be read aloud. And well-honed dialogue sets a story ablaze.
Meditation can be a wellspring of inspiration. Long-obscured memories and impressions rise to the surface through regular contemplation. Surrendering to the eccentric meanderings of the subconscious will transport one to surprising and rewarding places.
The characters that break the surface of my conscious mind know far better than I do about where we’re going. So, I listen to what they have to say. As I was writing All the World’s a Wonder, one of my characters, the Doctor, announced that he was on Corfu because famed author Henry Miller had told him to go there. This was news to me. But I was willing to be inspired by the enigmatic and the unforeseen.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Bringing goodness to the world is not a matter of achieving “success” first, it is in and of itself the definition of success. It’s about small daily steps that offer healing and comfort in some way.
As an artist, I try to give back through mentorship, and through lending a hand to edit or provide advice on the projects of other creatives. Whenever I am fortunate enough to receive a letter from an aspiring artist, I take great care to provide as thoughtful and sensitive a response as possible. I am blessed to have received much encouragement on my path, and I endeavor to offer others the same.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I’ve been offered plenty of solid advice, though admittedly it can take time and experience to comprehend the importance of wisdom encountered early on. Here are several sage tidbits worth bearing in mind:
1 . I once had an acting coach who said something to the effect of “Throw your own party, don’t wait to be invited to someone else’s party.” In other words, a creator creates because they were born to do so; they don’t wait to be asked. Many creative people struggle with confidence, as well as the feeling that they must obtain permission from gatekeepers. In particular, many actors spend their time auditioning for other people’s projects and waiting to be “chosen.” Of course, it’s great to land a role, but at the same time, don’t hesitate to create your own work and ways to showcase it. This goes for artists of all stripes.
2 . Speaking of the struggle for confidence, self-doubt is the currency of an artist’s life. Embrace it and keep moving. Another acting coach I studied with for several years used to remind his students to “Do a positive inventory.” Reminding yourself of what you have to offer is simple but valuable self-care.
3 . That said, be open to feedback from trusted sources. It is possible to be discerning enough to accept well-intentioned criticism while remaining faithful to your vision. A writing mentor of mine once said, “Don’t wear all your jewellery at the same time.” She meant: Keep the writing clean; preserve your style (your jewellery), but don’t burden the text with too many flashy word tricks. As a lover of word acrobatics, I took this advice to heart, to the benefit of my writing. One stellar magic trick is far superior to a lot of smoke and flashing lights.
4 . To continue on the subject of writerly wisdom, here goes a mundane reminder: Master the language fundamentals. I spent quite some time editing a magazine, and in that capacity, I would receive queries from writers interested in submitting an article for consideration. It never ceased to astound me how many prospective writers would send emails full of grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors. Writing is not just about imagination and passion; it is about technical precision. Communicating ideas in a cogent and professional manner means having a mastery of the basics. In an artist’s life, no matter what the discipline, craft is integral to artistry.
5 . Allow yourself to play, as children do, with art forms which are not your primary path. It can be liberating to try your hand at artistic disciplines which you are not attempting to master, per se. Years ago I began dabbling with paint as a way to free my literary brain. Many writers have sought solace in visual art; Henry Miller wrote, “To paint is to love again. It’s only when we look with eyes of love that we see as the painter sees.” Allowing oneself to create without the pressure of “succeeding” at it can be nourishing and inspiring.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, “Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.” I would like to see knowledge of natural healing and access to community nourishment gardens spread everywhere. As I’m sure Magda would agree, children benefit from learning to grow their own food. Wellbeing is a state of profound harmony with nature. Those who are connected with the natural world are attuned to the primordial force which is the lifeblood of the imagination. Liberation from pharma, a connection to the Earth, and the empowerment of food self-sufficiency are missing for so many. Health freedom is essential to an empowered life. The value of the freedom to cultivate wellness of body and mind has been placed in stark relief over the last few years. People awakening to their own intrinsic power, which means awakening to the healer and the creator and the autonomous voice within, would change the world in an instant.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
The playwright and actor Tracy Letts is mentioned in All the World’s a Wonder. I saw August: Osage County on stage in New York and, like so many others, was amazed at the playwrighting virtuosity on display. I would love to converse with this gifted artist about all things theatre.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Readers can find me on X (@MeliaMcClure) and Instagram (meliamcclure.writer). I’m also delighted to be contacted through my website at meliamcclure.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you again, it was a pleasure.
Melia McClure: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.