Liana Cusmano on Welcoming Readers to See Themselves in Catch and Release, Their Debut Novel
There is a quote attributed to Aristotle which says that "knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom". This idea—that self-knowledge opens us up to discover and understand more—is elegantly illustrated in Liana Cusmano's young adult novel, Catch and Release (Guernica Editions).
When Lucca falls in love with Adèle, she begins to truly understand not only her sexual orientation as a bisexual woman, but also her experience of mental illness and, crucially, the true dynamic of a relationship she had with a teacher in her high school. Insightful, tough, and honest, Lucca's story is deeply felt and presented through a nonlinear narrative lens that creates intimacy for the reader. Cusmano, a decorated slam poet and screenwriter who goes by Luca and BiCurious George, brings their fierce and cinematic eye to the page in Catch and Release, which is their debut novel.
Today we're speaking with Liana about the book, their process, and what Lucca's story needed to convey. Liana tells us about how important it was for people with experiences similar to Lucca's to see themselves in the novel, how a walk can be an essential tool in a writer's kit, and what they're working on next.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
Catch and Release is a coming-out and coming-of-age story about a young woman who must come to terms with her bisexuality, her mental health, and the unhealthy relationships in her life. It took several years to write the book; I wanted to tell an honest and engaging story about a young adult whose sexual orientation, mental illnesses, and interpersonal relationships all came together, so that people with similar experiences could see themselves reflected in the book.
Did your book turn out similar to how you original expected it to, or did it change through the writing process?
The book turned out similar to the way I expected it to and the way I originally planned it out. The narrative is recursive and non-linear, and so to help keep track of everything, I had a lot more charts and notes during the writing process than I originally expected.
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
The most memorable experience was asking friends and colleagues who are queer and/or writers to look over portions of the book early on in the writing process. I really valued their generosity, as well as their honest and constructive criticism.
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
In order to write, I need several consecutive hours solely dedicated to writing, with no other obligations or distractions. I usually take notes and sketch out the narrative in a notebook, before actually writing on my computer. I like to write at home or in a café or library, and when I get stuck, what helps the most is usually going for a walk.
What's your favourite part of the life cycle of a book? The inspiration, writing the first draft, revision, the editorial relationship, promotion and discussing the book, or something else altogether? What's the toughest part?
My favourite part is putting the narrative together, like a puzzle, and figuring out the most effective and entertaining way to tell the story. I also love the revision process, and making sure that every detail is just right.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a poetry collection.
Liana Cusmano (they/them/iel/lu), aka Luca and BiCurious George, is a writer, poet, spoken word artist and filmmaker. They are the 2018 and 2019 Montreal Slam Champion; runner up in the 2019 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championship. They have performed at Montreal’s Pride and in the "I See You" tour. A participant in the 2019 Spoken Word Residency Program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Liana has presented their work in English, French, and Italian across North America, Europe, and Asia. Liana Cusmano wrote and directed the film Matters of Great Unimportance (2019). They also wrote the film script for La Femme Finale, screened at the Cannes Film Festival (2015). Liana created «Peuple, Poésie, Politique» in the television documentary series Vivre ensemble (2021). Through writing that focuses on heritage, queerness, and mental health, Liana aims to help others feel seen and safe. They ran in the 2019 federal election and were Interim President of the Green Party of Canada (2020-21). A graduate of McGill University, Liana is a member of The League of Canadian Poets, The Writers’ Union of Canada, and the Association of Italian Canadian Writers. Catch and Release is their first novel.