GBB:What was the inspiration for you to write this story? What was your motivation to complete it? Were there defining moments that helped you along the way?
After an illness, I retired from my job as a postgraduate researcher and, not knowing what to do with my free spare time and being a native Ukrainian, I decided to improve my English language skills by writing stories. After reading an old history book about Ukraine, the idea of writing the novel, Wretched Land, was born.
Now the world knows that millions of Ukrainians died during the famine of 1932-33, and that Stalin and his collaborators instigated it. However, very few know how those who survived lived through hardships of three wars, revolution and three famines that raged in the country.
Therefore, I wanted to write a novel that reflects feelings, thoughts and dreams of one family who lived through all those times. I wanted to show readers how one can survive so many ordeals and still be able to love, to be loved, to have hopes for a better future and to feel happiness. The story is fictional but it is interwoven into the fabric of Ukrainian history.
In order to learn how to write novels I enrolled at Winghill Writing School where I met an amazing writer and a wonderful teacher Joan Hall Hovey. Her continuous support and encouragement helped me to start and complete my project.
GBB: Many writers do research or construct outlines before writing a story, take us through the process you used before you started writing.
I like to do a detailed plot outline and character descriptions before I start to write a novel. I did the same for Wretched Land. After that, I researched the historical facts, the settings, clothes, food and Ukrainian customs to stay true to described events.
During my research, I read testimonials of the Ukrainians who lived through the hardships of World War One, the Civil War and World War Two including the famines of 1921, 1932-33 and 1947, and discovered many hidden historical facts about the Soviet political regime under Stalin's leadership. One of his political errors was the forced land collectivization that seriously damaged the country's agriculture.
GBB: How did you come up with the title?
The title of my novel is Wretched Land. The main hero, Dmytro Verbitsky, loved his land, his country and after his father gambled away their estate, he dreamed about owning a plot of land. After the Socialist revolution, the government became the sole owner of all the land in the country. Nevertheless, they gave poor peasants plots of land, big enough for the size of their family, in their unrestricted use. However, when Stalin came to power in the former Soviet Union, he imposed the "collectivization" on the agriculture and confiscated all the land from the peasants. For the rest of his life Dmytro dreamed about independent Ukraine where would exist a private property of the land.
The title reflects the turmoil the Ukrainian peasants went through with the ownership of the physical land as well as it is a symbol of the suffering the country (land) experienced in the twentieth century.
GBB: Tell our readers what the setting or backdrop is for your novel.
Wretched Land is an epic novel with a panoramic backdrop of the Ukrainian countryside.Set in near-contemporary eastern Ukraine, it may, because of the exceedingly rapid changes during those times, read more like a fantasy. I assure you, however, from the perspective of the people who lived through those times, it was not. I have tried my best to remain true to the events and tone of the times.
GBB: Without giving too much away, can you give us some background on the major characters? Do you have a favorite character?
The novel was written from the point of view of the main heroes Dmytro and Khrystina, and it reflects their opinions about the situation in Ukraine. Dmytro was involved in the independence movement and therefore was informed about the people's oppression in the country. However, Khrystina, along with many other citizens who didn't have any outside information, knew only what the Soviet government let them to know about political life in the former USSR. The government glorified the life in the country and concealed the real rotten situations. There was no freedom of speech or even thought allowed. People were punished for the smallest transgression. To protect Khrystina, Dmytro kept secrets from her about the real situation in the country and about his involvement in the movement for Ukraine's independence.
My grandparents, whom I loved dearly and who lived in the twentieth century Ukraine and survived all those ordeals, are the prototypes of my main heroes Dmytro and Khrystina. Even though, I recorded some of the events my mom told me about their life during World War Two and two famines, it is not their story.
GBB:Can you give us a brief summary of your book?
The love between Dmytro, an impoverished aristocrat turned farmer, and Khrystina, daughter of a wealthy peasant, carries their family through the horrors of the early twentieth century that befell the Ukraine. As wars rage on and famines threaten their and their children's lives, Dmytro and Khrystina demonstrate their love and resolve, in the process teaching their children about compassion in the face of adversity.
Wretched Land will take readers on an unforgettable journey into the heart of a land and a people built on pain, passion, and hope for a better future.
GBB:Do you have a favorite part or chapter?
My favorite part is near the end of the novel where Dmytro has a conversation with dying Khrystina reflecting on their life together, their love, compassion and gratitude for each other and for their children.
GBB:Are there any anecdotal stories pertaining to writing this story that you would like to share?
During my research, I rediscovered historical events that even I was not aware of when I lived in Ukraine. In the former Soviet Union, you see, history was rewritten to show that everyone in the country supported the Communist ideals. I was surprised to find that the movement for Ukraine's independence was far more extensive than I had been taught to believe. As the Stalinist's "iron fist" regime gripped the country, many prominent Eastern Ukrainian independence fighters perished in the prisons and labor camps of Siberia and their family names and dreams were wiped out. Therefore, to preserve this historical event, I made my main hero, Dmytro, a fighter for Ukraine's independence.
GBB:With all the new genres out there today, what categories and sub category would you say your novel falls into?
I categorize my novel Wretched Land as an epic historical romance.
GBB:On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most difficult) what is the reading level of your novel?
Reading level of my novel is around 3.
GBB:What well known author would you compare your writing style to?
My favorite novel is Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. In reality, after reading his story and later a Ukrainian history book, I was inspired to write similar novel about Ukraine. As a writer and a poet, Pasternak was a genius. I am not sure if I may to compare my writing to his, but I tried to stay true to his style.
GBB:Other than your current novel what other books short stories etc. have you written?
This is my first novel. Besides my Ph.D. dissertation in nutrition and metabolism and a few scientific articles, I don't have any published works. I am a recipient of Anna Pidruchney Award for New Writers.
GBB:Are you working on any new projects?
Yes. I like to read romantic suspense novels and I decided to try myself in this genre. My next novel is Whispers of the Sea, which is also set in Ukraine. The novel is about the love between Ukrainian archeologist and an FBI agent, who came to Ukraine to investigate the smuggling from Crimea to United States of precious archeological artifacts by Russian mafia.
GBB:Is there a sequel or a prequel for Wretched Land somewhere out there in the future?
I think of writing a sequel to Wretched Land. Even though Ukraine became independent, the dreams about better life and a freedom to own land in the countryside didn't turn out the way its fighters imagined. Crime, corruption and racketeering flooded the country. There is much to tell about present situation in the country.
GBB:Do you have any media or book signing appearances coming in the near future?
The Canadian Ukrainian radio station "Nash Holos" is planning to record and air my interview.
GBB:Is there anything you would like to say to your fans or potentially new fans?
I wrote Wretched Land for those who enjoys real life adventures and for those who thinks that their life is not happy enough, that they are missing something that would make their existence more meaningful. So, grab a copy of my novel, curl up on a comfortable sofa with a cup of coffee, and join Khrystina and Dmytro in what I think you will find an ultimately heart-warming story filled with action, love and Ukrainian "true grit" that will open for you new avenues for happiness.
Thank you for your time. We wish you much success with your novel.
Global Book Blast: Mila Komarnisky InterviewBooktown Mayor
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