In this series of interviews about the creative process, I’ll be talking to artists in all fields to discover the common traits of creativity and what, if anything, is different in each art form. I’d also like to discover what creative practices could be used by people who don’t consider themselves artists (in the traditional sense) and how creative thinking is fundamental to growth and creation in all aspects of life.
After obtaining an Art History degree from UMASS Dartmouth, Christine de Melo was hired by an American university to coordinate educational programs throughout Italy. In 2007, she settled in Florence to work as a tour guide. Visit her Amazon page for info on all her books, including Allegra, her latest set in 16th Florence.
What about your craft motivates you and what would you say is your forte? What do you think makes you good at this/curious about this aspect? Do you admire this aspect in others?
I love a good story. My Portuguese grandmother could keep me enthralled for hours with her fantastic tales. Luckily, I inherited her gift. When I worked as an educational tour guide in Florence, I performed “CPR” on historical figures and recounted facts in the form of exciting stories. I definitely admire anyone who can tackle topics like history, science, math, etc. and present them to the general public in a way that’s not only informative but also entertaining.
When the creative well is dry, how do you fill it? Do you have techniques you return to?
Writer’s block—the bane of every writer’s existence! I’ve learned to simply walk away whenever I get stuck. There’s always something brewing in my creative cauldron, so I have plenty of other work to do. For example, right now I have two audiobooks in production, I’m negotiating deals with bookstores, and I’m writing a new novel. I also do my own marketing and personally respond to each email received from readers. Sooner or later inspiration strikes—it always does. Also, I take a lot of walks in the countryside to clear my head.
How do you maintain your authentic self/voice? Does the constant comparison on and/or influence of social media help or stifle this?
I have finally arrived at that point in life where I’m comfortable in my own skin. This being the case, it’s natural for me to infuse my female protagonists with many of my personality traits, the most notable being rebelliousness and an aversion to patriarchal/religious oppression. “Write the book you want to read” has been my motto from the start of my writing career, so my writing style reflects my taste as a reader: concise rather than verbose, and clever dialogue to show rather than tell (keeping in mind that what isn’t said is as important as what is said). I also like suspense. Ultimately, maintaining consistency in voice and style is what makes an author’s books identifiable to readers, which goes hand in hand with branding/marketing.
Social media, when used correctly, can be a good thing. Featuring creative people on my professional C. De Melo Facebook page brings me pleasure (as many artists, sculptors, poets, musicians, writers, and dancers already know). Positive Karma is definitely a boomerang! On the flip side, I think social media can potentially harm new or young writers who haven’t yet developed their voices. They may be inclined to compare themselves to experienced authors or—worse—attempt to copy them.
When did you know that you had to use/explore your creativity in some way? Did/Does your family support/encourage you?
Despite being an extremely artistic and creative child, I was neither supported nor encouraged. The fundamentalist religion that I grew up in forbade college or any other “worldly” pursuit. At the age of 27, I finally took Shakespeare’s advice to be true to myself and never looked back. Today, many people in my family are proud of my accomplishments.
What happens if you ignore your creative impulses, i.e., if you don’t practice for a while?
Bad things happen—insomnia, depression, anxiety, to mention a few. When I get inspired to write a story, it’s like there’s a beehive inside of me and hundreds of swarming bees are demanding to get out. That’s the best analogy I can muster to illustrate my need to “release the creative kraken.”
How do you keep positive when an idea fails or when you get a bad review? How do you cope with the negative feedback?
Learn from it, brush it off, and do better next time. Legitimate criticism is actually useful because it fosters growth and sharpens skill. The secret to dealing with negative feedback and bad reviews is to distance yourself from your work and view your book as a product. Bury your ego in the backyard. If you want to be a professional writer, you need to develop thick skin and not take things personally. Everyone is entitled to an opinion of your work, and it’s none of your business what they think of it. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are crucial to authors, but I don’t obsess over them and I never engage with reviewers.
Have you collaborated with an artist in your field and/or in another art form? Was the experience worthwhile?
In addition to being a lone wolf, I’m an obsessive-compulsive control freak and a total workaholic. Unsurprisingly, I’ve never collaborated with anyone on writing projects. As far as my artwork, my pieces have been showcased in a few group shows in US art galleries.
Committing to creative work, given the often-meagre financial rewards, can make it a struggle. What have you done to overcome this? What advice would you have for someone starting out?
I wrote as a hobby for nearly two decades while working jobs that stifled my creativity. On a fluke, I self -published my first novel (SABINA) on Amazon in 2011 while working as a tour guide. I wrote other books, too, all the while keeping my “day job” for money. To my surprise and immense delight, SABINA hit #1 in Renaissance Fiction in 2014. A few months later, a literary agent found my book online and contacted me. I was briefly represented by a big NYC publishing house and, although it didn’t work out with them, that experience provided the push I needed to focus exclusively on my craft. In other words, I finally felt “good enough” to go for it. My advice is so cliché, but it’s true. Persevere. Keep writing. Dream big. The road is far from easy, but it’s so worth it.
What is the best thing about being a person who uses her/his creative skills? How does it enrich your life and help you in other areas?
Is there anything better than doing what you love and getting paid for it? To me, that’s the epitome of professional and personal satisfaction. When you love your work, that positive energy naturally spills into your personal life. My husband and I travel frequently and I am so grateful that I can write from anywhere in the world.
How do you view the role of the arts in society? The role of the artist? Do you have a “responsibility” as an artist?
My degree is in Art History so I see “the arts” as a visual language. Art and Society are mirrors reflecting each other, so it’s crucial for artists to express themselves honestly and—more importantly—freely. Historically, censorship and bleak societal landscapes go hand in hand. Political or religious oppression kills creativity as well as the spirit. The arts, in their various forms, are vital to the overall good health of humankind. The open exchange of ideas (verbal or in material form) stimulates the intellect and prompts conversation, which is the hallmark of a civilized society. My responsibility as an artist, a writer, a storyteller is to express myself in a manner that is truthful and, hopefully, poignant.