As Robert McKee said, “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” It takes time to master the craft, and more time still to devise a plot and characters that will keep readers engaged. And publishing? That’s another matter entirely. But as alumna Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli found out, it’s worth the wait and the work to see your books reaching readers. Read on for her journey from Humber School for Writers student to published author.
Tell us about your book, La Brigantessa. How did it come about?
When I was in my thirties, I became very interested in my Italian heritage. I was born in Italy and my family immigrated to Canada when I was three. I started kindergarten with no knowledge of English, but I learned quickly and became an avid reader at a very young age. In high school and university, I studied languages: Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, and German. We returned to Italy several times and I always felt this desire to learn more about the country of my birth. During a trip in 1998, I filled a suitcase with books about my native Calabria, the southern tip of the mainland. I wanted to find out everything I could about the land of my ancestors. I became fascinated with the post-unification period of Calabria (unification was in 1861) and the turbulent events in what is known as “The Decade of Fire,” from 1860 to 1870. It was a period where the southern peasants were rebelling against the harsh policies imposed by the newly formed liberal government, which were causing greater hardships and poverty for the landless labourers and forcing them to engage in a life of brigandage. Many peasants became outlaws and went into hiding, some of them accompanied by wives or lovers. They were pursued relentlessly by the law, who sought to wipe out these rebels and anyone who harboured them.
As I read about the often ruthless and unjust practices of the forces of repression, I decided to create a story about this turbulent era, with the view of illuminating the people, circumstances, and events that are currently resonating in the public consciousness as history is re-examined.
How did you find the experience of working with your writing mentor? What insight into your writing did you gain through the mentorship process?
I actually worked with my writing mentor in the Correspondence Program on a project previous to this one. The work-in-progress was a first novel called Crossroads, set in Italy in the early 1970s and based on a true story that had been recounted to me. It’s about a couple of guys in first-year university who are accepted as volunteers in an international earthquake relief mission. Their job is to help construct temporary housing units for the survivors. As they become involved in the mission, they discover evidence of criminality and decide it is unsafe to remain in the town. They plan their escape with a colourful taxi driver, but on their journey north to Rome, they encounter more trouble, followed by life-changing choices.
The mentorship process provided me with the opportunity to learn from a successful author—Richard Scrimger—who guided me in areas of character development, setting, plot, dialogue, pacing, and style in essentially every area as I worked to complete the novel. The knowledge I gained and the work I did in this project prepared me for the project I was to undertake next: the re-searching and writing of La Brigantessa.
How did your writing evolve from your experience with the Workshop in Creative Writing to the Correspondence Program?
I took the Correspondence Program in 1998! In September 1998, I began research for my historical novel. I was teaching half-time so I could invest in my writing. While I was teaching and researching, I was also writing short fiction and creative non-fiction in order to build up a publishing history. As more of my stories started to be published, I became eligible to apply for a grant. After several attempts, I was awarded an OAC Writers’ Works in Progress Grant in 2006 for La Brigantessa. This encouraged me to continue researching and writing.
I entered my first novel, Crossroads, in several contests throughout this time period. It was accepted three times for the second phase of competition, twice for a Canadian contest (Chapters/Robertson Davies Prize) and once in an American contest. Then I set it aside for a while so I could focus on the research and writing of La Brigantessa. I did, however, extract a standalone chapter from Crossroads for consideration in an anthology, and it was accepted and published in A Second Coming: Canadian Migration Fiction (Guernica Editions, 2016). I have recently submitted Crossroads to a Canadian publisher and it will be released in 2020!
Patience, persistence, and passion are essential to see your writing and publishing goals come to fruition! Every step you take leads you to the next step. One of the quotes I included at the beginning of La Brigantessa is from Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” My journey to publication has involved countless steps and each step (and experience) helped my writing evolve.
One of those steps along the way involved a trip to Toronto (four hours from my city of Sudbury) after being accepted to the Humber School for Writers’ Writing for Young Readers Workshop. My mentor turned out to be Richard Scrimger once again, and the weeklong program was fabulous! His morning sessions were so inspiring, humorous, and informative. And the afternoon seminars with other outstanding authors (Marie Louise Gay, Tim Wynne Jones, Frieda Wishinsky, Shari Siamon) and editors and agents were the same. This was another excellent investment in my writing journey! I was still working on La Brigantessa, but as a kindergarten teacher, I was also writing for children, and this workshop enhanced my understanding of the elements of writing and publishing for this particular age group. (I am very happy to share that one of my children’s stories has been accepted by a Canadian publisher and will be released in fall 2019. As per the contract, details will be forthcoming in the spring.)
By 2012, I had been published in ten anthologies, and I had submitted the third draft of La Brigantessa to historical fiction author Barbara Kyle for a manuscript evaluation. She provided invaluable feedback and I continued to work on subsequent drafts. In 2014, I found out about a Humber School for Writers workshop that was offered in Parry Sound, an hour-and-a-half away from Sudbury. I was accepted into this workshop led by award-winning author Joseph Kertes, who was also the founder of the Humber School for Writers and dean of the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the time. The instruction he provided, and the critique sessions with the other participants that concluded with Joseph Kertes’s comments, were very important as I worked on my final draft.
Having taken the Humber School for Writers Correspondence Program in 1998, followed by the Writing for Young Readers Workshop in Toronto in 2006, and finally the Creative Writing Workshop in Parry Sound in 2014, I gratefully acknowledge the Humber School for Writers as being an important part of my evolution as a professional writer. I retired as a teacher in 2015, and along with being published in 16 anthologies throughout the years, my historical novel was accepted in 2016 by Inanna Publications of Toronto (released in October 2018), two romances were published by Harlequin UK, a children’s book was accepted for publication in fall 2019, and my first novel will be released in 2020. It felt like a long and winding road at times, but my investments in The Humber School for Writers were worth it!
To learn more about Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli, connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or read this Sudbury Star profile. You can also read Rosanna’s “Why I Write” essay. La Brigantessa is available for purchase directly from the publisher, from Indigo, from Amazon, or from your favourite independent bookseller.