The Scribbler is pleased to welcome Diana back as our featured guest this week. It will be her third visit, and hopefully, not her last.
If you missed the previous visits, please go HERE to read an excerpt from her debut novel – A Cry From the Deep. Her second visit was an interview and an excerpt from Sunflowers Under Fire. Please go HERE.
Today we are going to be discussing Diana’s captivating new novel – Lilacs in the Dust Bowl. A terrific follow-up to her successful novel - Sunflowers Under Fire.
Please go HERE to read my review on The Miramichi Reader for Lilacs in the Dust Bowl.
Let’s chat with Diana.
Allan: Welcome back Diana and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts this week. Before we chat about your novel, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself, hometown, family, what makes you happy.
Diana: Thank you for inviting me to be on your blog again. I live with my husband, Robert, in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It’s a lovely community of about 35,000 overlooking Discovery Passage and Quadra Island. As well, beautiful walks in forests are only a ten minute drive away. It’s a great place to write. I’ve been a member of a writers’ critique group here ever since we arrived 24 years ago.
I was born in Winnipeg, a great cultural city, and that was where we raised our two daughters. We were both trained as clinical social workers, and when the opportunity came to move west came in 1979—great jobs were opening up in Greater Vancouver—we took the leap. I worked for twenty-five years, counting my time in Winnipeg, as a family therapist in a variety of clinical settings. Because I’m such a curious person, and also because I burned out twice in my profession, I took breaks and developed some other skills, like becoming a professional actor and a freelance sport reporter for CBC television. I feel blessed to have dipped my toes in various fields of work. I have much to draw on for my writing.
What makes me happy now is doing things with Robert, whether it’s golfing with friends, cycling together, stretching with yoga and pilates workouts, walking in the forest, travelling, or watching a movie or sports on TV. And I sprinkle time in with our two wonderful daughters and families. My passion is writing, but I also enjoy painting, playing my violin and gardening. I feel very blessed.
Allan: The real treat of the two novels is the fact that the stories are a fictional account based upon your grandmother’s plight at the turn of the century, the difficulties she faced, the heartbreak and the love of family and resilience which kept her going. Has this been an emotional experience for you?
Diana: Yes, it’s been very emotional for me on so many levels. Baba—the Ukrainian word for grandmother—shared a bedroom with me for the first fifteen years of my life. She never talked about her past, so I only learned about what she went through from my mother, who was a natural-born storyteller.
Mom didn’t know everything that went on in Western Ukraine (then Russia) and later in Canada so I had to research those times. What I discovered—through Mom’s stories and the history I uncovered—was my baba’s incredible spirit and how much her faith had supported her in her quest to ensure her family was safe and secure. I recall crying at the computer when I wrote certain scenes. It was as if she was talking to me, guiding me to tell the truth of what she’d experienced. I also found myself laughing for she was a woman who had a good sense of humour.
Allan: Please tell the readers what to expect when they pick up their copy of Lilacs in the Dust Bowl.
Diana: This is Book two of Lukia’s Family Saga, but it can be read as a standalone. It’s an immigrant story and picks up where the first book, Sunflowers Under Fire ends.
In 1929, Lukia Mazurets and her remaining children make the arduous journey from their village in Volhynia (today’s Western Ukraine) to Winnipeg, Manitoba, just before the stock market crashes and the Great Depression begins. She’d been lured by the promise of rich and abundant farmland for a tiny fraction of what it would cost in then Polish-occupied Ukraine. Though she and her children are met with hardship, they persevere in what to them is a strange land with strange customs. Lukia also discovers love again, which takes some interesting twists. As well, her children, now grown, face new challenges of their own. Another love story brews, one triggered by an old folk tradition.
Lilacs in the Dust Bowl gives the reader a sense of what it means to be an immigrant in a new country, one facing its own questions of survival. It’s a heartwarming tale of one strong woman who keeps going, aided by her faith, because of her love and desire to take care of her family.
Allan: Is there a third installment in the life of Lukia Mazurets coming?
Diana: Yes, I’m working on the third installment now. It continues Lukia’s family saga on the Manitoba prairies as the world enters into World War II. The Great Depression comes to an end, but in its place, a new uncertainty arises with young men going off to war. As Lukia and her family grapple with these changes, problems on the farm threaten all that Lukia has worked for.
Allan: When we visit your website – www.dianastevan.com – and read the About section, we discover the varied and interesting life you’ve led. Considering your stories, are there characteristics of Diana Stevan in any of your characters? Do you see yourself in your novels?
Diana: Absolutely. I don’t know of any writer who doesn’t convey some of their feelings and thoughts into their characters. In my first novel, A Cry from the Deep, my concern about the environment showed up in my protagonist’s thoughts and actions. As well, her questions about faith were questions I’ve had myself. And in The Rubber Fence, the passion that Dr. Joanna Bereza shows for her work is a passion I had when I worked as a family therapist.
However, Lukia’s Family Saga—Sunflowers Under Fire and Lilacs in the Dust Bowl—took me in another direction. I felt at times that I was channeling the voices of my grandmother, mother, and uncles. So, there’s less of my voice in these stories.
Allan: We know when you are not writing, you are an avid gardener. Let chat about your Work-In-Progress (WIP) – Along Came a Gardener. Your website tells us – It combines her thoughts from her career as a family therapist with her love of gardening.
Diana: This is a book I’m anxious to get back to. I’ve discovered so many lessons in my garden, lessons that complement the ones I learned and imparted in my years as a family therapist. I’m fascinated by what Nature is trying to teach us. If only we would listen. We could learn much from the way plants co-exist—how and why they thrive or wither is very informative.
Allan: Favorite novels. Authors. Movie and dessert.
Diana: Ah, there are so many great books. Some of my favourites: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and You Went Away, a novella by Timothy Findlay.
Some of my favourite Movies: Casablanca, Pride and Prejudice, Moonlight, Moonstruck, Mudbound, The Godfather, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Terms of Endearment, Dr. Zhivago, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Scrooge with Albert Finney, It’s A Wonderful Life, Gone with the Wind, Cinderella, My Fair Lady, and my grandson Michael Stevantoni’s Salton Sea (available on Amazon Prime 😊)
Dessert: I’m not a big sweet person, but I like tapioca pudding and enjoy small pieces of cheesecake, pie and I love dark chocolate.
Allan: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Diana: I feel so grateful to have had a life, that exposed me to all kinds of work and people. It’s made me appreciate the diversity in our country. As we head into an election, I’m hopeful that we will continue to grow in kindness and tackle the problems in front of us with courage and ingenuity for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
Excerpts from Lilacs in the Dust Bowl.
(Copyright is held by the author. Use with permission)
The first excerpt takes place during the throes of the dust storms, when Lukia and her children and living on a Manitoba farm, in a house with two other families.
By April, the worst of the winter was over. A gentle breeze, coupled with the fresh smell of the earth awakening after a long sleep, brought renewed hope for a better year. The Karpinskys, who had threatened to leave in the spring, decided to stay. Prospects in the city were no better, they said. But as the days got longer and warmer, the three families faced new challenges. The improvement in weather also brought unexpected dust storms. Thick clouds of black dust swirled across country roads and through farmhouses. The air was so bad, Anna and Elena worried about their children’s lungs. Especially when one started coughing. It got so dark in the afternoon; lamps were lit two hours ahead of time. It seemed the sun had taken a holiday and wasn’t about to return until the dust clouds dispersed.
The three families did what they could to keep the dust outdoors. They covered up the edges of windows and doors with any rags they could find. Venturing out to feed the livestock, they covered their noses and mouths with handkerchiefs. Trips to the outhouse involved going with heads lowered to avoid eating debris as it flew around. Their eyes smarted from the dirt flying in, and they often had to stop and get the specks out before their eyes turned red.
Lukia found the air so foul it was impossible to work in the garden and the fields. The dust continued to blow until midnight. It blew with a rustling noise, as if all the demons had sprung from hell and released a long, raspy sigh together.
After days of flying dust, the storm abated but left behind dirty houses, dirty barns, dirty chicken coops—in fact, dirty everything that stood in its way. Lukia held her head in her hands and bemoaned her lot. What hell is this?
The second is later in the novel when Lukia is surprised by a visit from a local farmer.
Lukia was coming out of the chicken coop with a basket of eggs when she heard a car drive up their road. Harry, who was at the pump filling a few jugs with water, turned towards the sound of the approaching engine. It was a car she didn’t know. Her youngest son, always excited about any vehicle, picked up the jugs and hurried back to the house.
As the car came to a stop, Lukia recognized Orest behind the wheel of the shiny blue automobile. She was thankful that, having gone to church that morning, she had her good dress and beaded necklace on.
“Good day, Orest. What brings you here this afternoon?”
“I promised you deer meat.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“Yes, I did.”
He opened the trunk and pulled out a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a thin rope. It was as neat as his dress. He wore a white starched shirt with a striped tie, wool gabardine trousers, and a matching tailored jacket; even his shoes were polished.
Lukia said, “Orest, this is my son. Harry, this is Pan Parochnyk.”
Harry couldn’t take his eyes off the car.
Smiling, Orest said, “It’s a 1933 Chevrolet.”
“Harry’s learning how to be a mechanic. He’s working as an apprentice at a garage in Winnipeg.”
“Can I see the motor?” asked Harry.
“Harry, Pan Parochnyk’s only arrived and he has his hands full. That can wait.”
“It’s fine,” Orest said. He gave Lukia the package and opened up the hood for Harry to have a look.
Lukia clucked her lips, but Harry didn’t notice. He was busy inspecting the engine.
“Will you stay for lunch?” she said. “We just got back from church. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
“Thank you. I could use a bite.”
“Were you at church today?”
“You’re so nicely dressed.”
“It’s Sunday,” he said with a grin.
He followed her into the house, with Harry close behind, and took off his straw hat at the threshold. She took a quick glance in the mirror by the door. She fixed some strands of hair that had come undone from her bun, then went to the stove where a pot of borscht was simmering.
“Orest, please sit down at the kitchen table.” She took the pot off the stove. “Harry, unwrap the meat Pan Parochnyk brought.”
Lukia quickly wiped the crumbs off the oilcloth-covered table and got a bottle of homebrew out from the cupboard and some shot glasses. As she set the table for lunch, she noticed Orest glancing around the room. Breakfast dishes were stacked by the sink and a pot with bits of porridge on the bottom was on the stove. Tiny clumps of dirt speckled the floor by the door where they’d taken their boots off. She hoped he wasn’t judging her too harshly. What with feeding the livestock and getting dressed for church, she hadn’t tidied up beforehand, but that was the least of her concerns. Rather, she wasn’t used to men calling on her. The last time she’d had a man come around was in the old country. Mike had become so agitated when he learned his uncle wanted to marry his mother that he’d stood in the doorway, shaking. Now her son was seeking a girl of his own, so surely, he wouldn’t protest in the same way.
Thank you, Diana, for being our guest this week… and thank you for your stories. Wishing you continued success with your writing.
For all you wonderful visitors wanting to discover more about Diana and her novels, please follow these links: