Mentored by Gianna Russo
Lisa Rowan: I’ve been writing for various publications since I was 16, starting at my local weekly newspaper. I’ve mostly been a nonfiction writer, focusing on reporting, personal essays and service journalism.
But more recently I’ve been interested in doing more with fiction, especially lyric fiction and work that combines elements of poetry and prose. So much of nonfiction writing is about creating a narrative around characters or events that fosters emotional investment for the reader, and I aspire to take that skill over (to) fiction writing.
CP: What have you been working on since being selected as an Emerging Artist?
LR: I applied for this grant with an excerpt of a novel I’ve been working on since fall 2017, Sea Level. I proposed a work plan of fleshing out and refining the first of the book’s three portions.
Since receiving this grant, I’ve nearly doubled the number of pages in the first section of the book. Instead of doing a reading at our group exhibition, I’ll be presenting a video. I’m recording a chapter, audio-book style and will be presenting it with underwater imagery my friend (and) colleague Heather Comparetto is assisting me in creating.
CP: What has your relationship with your mentor been like?
LR: It’s hard to put it into words! Gianna acts like a mentor, tutor, friend, cheerleader and aunt all rolled into one. She understands the limitations of my daily life (as I have a full-time job, a small business and freelance obligations alongside this grant), but still pushes me to work toward goals in small, tangible ways.
CP: When you meet, what types of things do you work on?
LR: She spends a lot of time telling me to calm down. Which I often need. We spend time discussing my project’s plot and characters, which helps me formulate my ideas and get a gut check about how well I’ve created this world for my characters to inhabit.
We talk about managing my time and the wacky schedules writers maintain. Sometimes we talk about what’s happening in Florida or aspects of books we’ve read, just for idea generation and discussion.
CP: What have you learned from her?
LR: That writing is a way of life, not just a career. Slow progress is better than no progress. Goals evolve, as do the paths we take to achieve them. And I’ve learned to have more confidence in my writing and my progress. I’m already doing the work, as Gianna has reminded me.
CP: How has this mentorship impacted your art?
LR: I have a renewed faith in this particular project. When I applied for this grant I wasn’t entirely convinced I was cut out to write fiction. “It’s maybe a novel,” I would tell people, or “It’s a novel-length fiction project. Maybe a novella.” Now, I can say, “I’m working on a novel” with conviction. . .
CP: Has the relationship influenced you in ways you didn’t expect?
LR: I wasn’t expecting my mentor to be so open, engaging and invested in my development and well-being beyond my art. Gianna feels like a friend and mentor I’ve known for years, rather than one I met for the first time in June.