Today I had the pleasure of interviewing the self-proclaimed Jill of all Trades; Diana Stevan. She is truly an amazing woman, and has accomplished so much in her life. Her next novel, The Rubber Fence, was inspired by her work on a psychiatric ward in 1972, and comes out in paperback and e-book on March 3th.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: I started writing in my early twenties. I joined the Manitoba Authors Association, scribbled some short stories, but didn’t bother publishing them. I did however publish a few newspaper articles on travel and fitness in Winnipeg’s major newspapers and ended up getting an honourable mention in a fashion essay contest for Flare Magazine (now defunct). I left writing on the back burner because I had children young and supported my husband to get his Master of Social Work degree. Writing, as you know, is an occupation with no guaranteed income.
Q: What inspires you to write? Do you have a muse?
A: Life inspires me. I have no trouble coming up with ideas for stories. What I have trouble with is managing my time and distractibility. Being a curious soul, I gravitate to all kinds of news and need to discipline myself to keep at my writing projects. I have a folder with story ideas and many full journals, but so far, because I have so much on the go, I haven’t referred to either lately.
Q: You call yourself a ‘Jill of all trades’ because you have done so many things. What job(s) have you found the most enjoyable? Which do you regret?
A: Good question. I can truly say that I’ve enjoyed them all, because of the people I’ve worked with and the knowledge I’ve gained from each experience. But of course, some were more enjoyable than others. I loved my job as both a school social worker and school psychologist at the Child Guidance Clinic in Winnipeg. I did a lot of family therapy back then and teamed with a speech pathologist to do some ground breaking work with families. I also loved professional modelling—especially the couturier shows and a memorable one I did in a concert hall with synthetic snow falling as we walked down the ramp. As well, the acting gigs gave me an inside look at some stars I admired, like Jack Lemmon, and Penelope Anne Miller.
As for what I regret. It was not the work but my behaviour. It was during the year I spent as a freelance writer broadcaster for CBC television’s Sports Journal, I wish I’d had the courage to stand up to a bully, my co-host for a national special, whose ego was massive. I regret that I didn’t fight back during the filming in Hawaii. Because of the circumstances and his rude and irresponsible behaviour, the program never saw air. I was a rising star on the network, so to speak, and obviously threatening to him. I had been a team player but learned very quickly that in the media, you have to be tough. I learned too late and decided to leave television behind and return to social work. What I did get out of this experience though was invaluable, the seeds of another story.
Q: Your family immigrated from Europe before you were born. What effect did this have on your life?
Dad came from what was then Austria when he was 2, and Mom came from what was then Poland, when she was 14. Both areas are now part of Ukraine. Because my baba (grandmother) lived with us from the time I was a baby, my first language was Ukrainian. And like all immigrant parents, mine wanted me to know a bit of the culture they came from. So I ended up learning how to read and write the language and some of the country’s history. Because of my roots and the fact that I also experienced prejudice growing up (even though I was born in Canada) it’s helped me appreciate those who are discriminated against. I have great sympathy and empathy for those who’ve suffered and been misunderstood because of their ethnic background, colour of skin, religion or sexual orientation.
Q: You published your debut novel, A Cry From the Deep, in October of 2014. Tell me a little about the book. Was it influenced by events in your life?
A Cry From The Deep was a story I couldn’t let go of. It’s a time-slip novel about a love so powerful it spans several lifetimes. When Catherine Fitzgerald, an underwater photographer covering a hunt for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada, buys an antique Claddagh ring, she is troubled by nightmares that set her on a path to fulfill a promise made centuries before. It’s turned out to be a unique book, in that it’s genre-bending and for that reason, difficult to know how to promote it. It has mystery, adventure, paranormal and romance.
The story was definitely influenced by an event in my life. As a child, I had seen a movie, I’ll Never Forget You, in which a scientist goes back in time, falls in love with a woman there, and then returns to find her in the present. So when I met with a fellow screenwriter, who wanted me to help him write an epic romance, one that had a theme of reincarnation, I was bitten. We parted ways without coming up with a story we could agree on, but I massaged those seeds in my mind and came up with my own twist. I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery of what happens once we’re gone. And I’m a romantic. So, I began to develop a story that encompassed both a bit of time travel and romance, brought in some psychics and a ghost into the mix, and of course a therapist who’s alternative. I met a number of those over the years in my practice. As for making my protagonist an underwater photographer, I have no idea how that came up, except I love snorkeling, fascinated by what lies in the sea, and also love photography. That meant a lot of research into scuba diving and salvaging, especially what’s involved off the coast of Ireland. Also, in the story the dive team is hunting for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada, which meant more research into these vessels and the time when they went down.
Q: You have also published a novelette called The Blue Nightgown. What inspired you to write it?
A: The 1950s inspired me to write it, as I was a teen back then. Compared to today’s open sexuality, the 1950s was a more innocent time, and yet, what was going on behind closed doors back then was not that different from what goes on behind closed doors today. I also grew up in a rooming house ‘For Girls Only’. As a teenager, the young women, who lived upstairs, were fascinating to me. I’ve written a few short stories about that period and plan to write more, which I then hope to put into a book along with The Blue Nightgown.
Q: You hope to publish your Baba’s (Grandmother’s) story, which you have titled No Time for Tears. Can you tell me a little bit about your Baba and what is in the book?
A: I’m no longer using that title, since I discovered there are too many books already with that one. I shared a bedroom with my baba until I was fifteen and yet she talked little about her past. Thankfully, my mother, who was a wonderful storyteller, left me with many anecdotes which I’ve now strung together with a lot of research. What struck me about my grandmother was her incredible strength and courage. She was a peasant farmer in what is now Western Ukraine, during WWI, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Polish Occupation. What she went through and somehow survived is an incredible story, one that I hope inspires many. It’s also about family and what one woman had to do to keep it together.
Q: If you could travel back in time to when you were a child, what would you tell yourself?
A: Enjoy these moments, the good and the bad, as nothing is wasted. Also, listen and learn. Value each person who comes your way. Each has a unique story to tell.
Q: What advice do you have for young writers?
A: Have faith in your own voice. If you have the passion to write, don’t let the naysayers change your mind. But do listen to those who’ve come before you, especially those who want to help make your voice stronger through craft and story. I’ve been blessed to be a member of a couple of writers’ critique groups. I don’t always agree with the criticism, but when more than one voice says the same thing, I pay attention. When you are close to your own material, it’s hard to see the flaws. It helps to show your work to someone you trust, not just friends and family who are supportive, but to those who can be more objective. When I wrote my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, I ran it through my critique group first and then before publishing, I hired both a macro (substantive) editor and a copy editor. To do less, I thought would be insulting to the reader. And I wanted to put my best foot forward. You owe it to yourself to do the same.
Q: What is one thing you want the world to know about you?
A: That I take a lot of lessons from nature and that I’m very lucky to have a good man at my side, one who supports my obsession to write.
For more on Diana Stevan:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/dianastevan.author
Amazon link for A Cry From The Deep: http://amzn.to/1Lmx7nq
Amazon link for The Blue Nightgown: : http://amzn.to/1Kaqdl4
Amazon link for pre-order of The Rubber Fence: http://amzn.to/1lBnb3e
A Cry From The Deep is also available on Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, Smashwords, Google Play, and iTunes.