Melissa Marr doesn’t believe in writer’s block—and as a New York Times bestselling author perhaps known most notably for her “Wicked Lovely” series that has sold over a million copies to date and has been translated into 26 languages—her belief has served her well. The positive reader and critical reception of her books through the years prove the experienced storyteller’s creative process is working.
Writer in Residence Program
Mesa Public Library is helping aspiring writers improve their skills with a chance to meet with Marr as part of their Writer in Residence Program in partnership with Arizona State Library. Marr is one of the first authors of the pilot program at Mesa Public Library, which previously hosted Bill Konigsberg from March-May 2016 and Shonna Slayton from July-August 2016. Marr’s residency began on March 1 and goes through May 31, and in addition to holding scheduled consultation hours at the Main Library location and two sessions on May 18, she teaches beginning German longsword for women at the Red Mountain Branch.
Yes, you read that correctly—Marr is teaching German longsword. Marr lists historical swordfighting, Pilates and rock climbing as a few ways she exercises to clear her stress so she can concentrate if a project is stalled (not writer’s block.)
“There are days when a project moves slowly or stalls, but that’s usually the result of trying to rush the process, the business matters creating distraction, or approaching the novel with the illusion that this is a mystical process,” Marr said.
If a project stalls, Marr said she’ll exercise as mentioned above, move on to another project or research. “Being a novelist is both an art and a business. Treating it as if it’s a mystical journey is entertaining, but it’s not the path to success for most people,” Marr said.
Kimberly Belair, adult services coordinator at Mesa Public Library at the Main Library location, said she was mostly familiar with Marr’s young adult books given her background in teaching for 14 years. She said through her interactions with Marr, the author believes you should only write what you know—referring to the longsword classes and Marr’s status as a longsword practitioner.
How Marr became involved
Marr moved to Arizona last year and said one of the first things she did was go to the library to get her card and volunteer to teach a workshop. She described herself as an easy sell when she was asked about being a Writer in Residence a few months later.
Before the Writer in Residence program begins, nominations are solicited by the Arizona State Library from library patrons and staff, and authors who reside in Arizona, said Amy Ledin, project specialist at Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records.
“After the nomination period closes, we gather a selection panel of librarians, authors, and members of the literary community to review the nominations and select the top candidates for the residency and several alternates in the event that one of the selected candidates is unavailable for the residency,” Ledin said.
The residency offers consultation hours for aspiring authors and residents to sign up for appointments with Marr to get one-on-one guidance. Marr said her over 10 years of experience teaching at a university and as a full-time New York Times bestselling author combined give her the ability to offer editorial advice and industry insights. To facilitate this process for patrons, Marr said the library created an online appointment sign up form and her appointments for 12 weeks of the residency from March to May filled immediately.
“The key aspect of the residency for me as a working writer, however, is the ability to have a room with a lock and space to work without interruption. (That is the other reason for having set appointment hours, which was a trick I learned from my decade plus of teaching at university),” Marr said. “To write means guarding the work time. The residency provides space, silence, and a lock. Those are all invaluable.”
Marr said she advises authors who are starting out to be professional from the beginning and treat their writing like a job. As such, she said they need to track their expenses, block hours to work, and invest a portion of their profits directly back into the business.
“If you don’t behave as a professional, no one else will treat you as one,” Marr said. “That also means—and this is a hard truth for some people—actively writing, not merely talking about writing or planning to write.”
Belair said she thinks the residency is valuable for people to have one-on-one attention and a lot of the writers come weekly to work on their fiction or novel and can “bring it in and immediately get feedback from somebody who has been through it and who has experienced the process and I don’t think you can beat that kind of mentoring,” Belair said.
In addition, Ledin said the residency helps libraries support “the cultural value of reading and the consumption of literature, and the Writer in Residence in Libraries project adds to that value by supporting writing the creation of books, stories, and literature,” Ledin said. “This program gives access to high-quality creative writing education to anyone in the community, when such education can often be cost-prohibitive. We also get to promote and celebrate literary artists who live in our community by making them visible as an instructor at the library.”
Since the release of her first novel “Wicked Lovely” in 2007, Marr’s books have landed on USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, in addition to receiving starred Publishers Weekly reviews, and a Romance Writers of America, RITA in 2008 for “Wicked Lovely” for Best Young Adult Novel. Her diverse writing skills have led her to publish books for teens, adults and picture books for children as well as anthologies and short stories.
Boon to Mesa
“I think its been a boon to the community because we’ve had writing groups at our different branches, and we have people who are very interested about finding out more about the writing process,” Belair said. “To be able to have that and work in collaboration with the goals of library which is increasing literacy,” Belair said Mesa has a lower high school graduation rates and matriculation out of college. As a result, she said the Mesa City Council has been trying to bolster education and literacy among other social support services throughout the city.
“This is one of those pieces,” Belair continued. “To help bring about literature and literacy awareness in the community and really encourage people to start exploring options and challenge themselves to grow.”
Ledin echoed Belair’s thoughts about the residency program. “(It) overall adds value to Mesa and Arizona because it invests both in professional authors and in amateurs and hobbyists,” Ledin said. “The program helps develop a community where writing and crafting meaningful stories is valued, and where writers of all experience levels can connect and grow.”
Belair said her biggest hope for the future of the Writer in Residence program is that Marr will bring awareness of the program to more members of the community. She said she hopes as a result people will continue to come in and meet with other writers to gain what knowledge and expertise they can from each other to improve.
“Everybody had a different journey to get to where they are now, and I think it’s really important for them to learn that there’s no one right way,” Belair said. “So, they’re all going to struggle together and grow together, and the authors and writers that are here are willing to support them through that process. So, I’m very grateful for everything she’s done to bring people from the community in.”
Belair said this is especially true in part because of Marr’s strong social media following. Marr has over 32,000 followers on Twitter, 13,000 on Facebook like her author page, and about 11,000 followers on Goodreads, not to mention over 23,000 reviews and more than 363,000 ratings of her books by members on Goodreads.
Marr said what she does in a consultation or workshop is about teaching.
“It is separate from the profession of writing. Writing is my full-time career,” Marr said. “In truth, workshops and consultations take time away from my writing and the management of my business, but this is my home now, and I enjoy giving to my community.”
Marr is in residence until May 31 at the main location at Mesa Public Library, 64 E. 1st St. To learn more about the author and her books, visit Marr’s website: MelissaMarrBooks.com. To learn more about the Writer in Residence program at Mesa Public Library, visit: MesaLibrary.org.
– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.