How much I LOVE Facebook! I get to meet so many people I would never even knew existed, let alone get to virtually-literally travel the world. Chrystyna K. Lucyk-Berger is an accomplished woman, who is another friend through mutual friends on Facebook.
Tonette, thanks so much for the invitation. Like you, I marvel at the networking possibilities open to us over social media. I, too, love interviewing fellow authors. I really enjoy learning about how their works develop as well as how they build writing and creativity into their lives.
(Let me add that Chrystyna is recovering from foot surgery done just this week. I offered to postpone the interview, but she’s a trooper , and got it to me yesterday!)
I have the feeling that your life is a good story in itself. Will you give us a quick sketch of it so far?
I am a first-gen American from Minneapolis, Minnesota. My parents, both Ukrainian immigrants, raised me to speak Ukrainian and English while growing up. When I hit my early twenties, I got interested in my family’s history. I knew quite a bit—we are not quiet people—but after my grandmother passed away, I sat down to talk to extended members of my family with the intention of writing it all down. I had just completed a minor in Journalism and getting all these amazing details—secrets, really!—was such an eye-opener. I structured that debut based on my paternal and maternal grandparents’ stories, and on a great aunt, who I felt really added to the whole. This was back in the day when Joy Luck Club was really hot for portraying family sagas from the women’s perspectives. But I didn’t just end up focusing on the women.
The process of writing Deep Wells, Burning Forests was one of many things that projected me towards focusing on historical fiction. It’s published under C.K. Lucyk because that was what I was writing my non-fiction articles under. Deep Wells… is more like a dramatic documentary as I’d used real documents from the Immigration Archives at the University of Minnesota. When I sat down to write the next novels—five years later, mind you—I wanted to separate myself from that “style” of the debut and launch a reputation in the historical fiction genre.
That said, it has been a looooong road to publishing my novels. I’ve been writing stories since the second grade (thank you, Mrs Sharon Davis) and have garnered several small awards and a bit of recognition. I worked as a journalist, as a magazine editor, and have developed my skills to actually train people to do the things I really believe in when it comes to communication. I’ve lived in Turkey, and Poland, and knew that Austria—after my first visit—would become my new home. I never set out on this path; it was really the journey that’s brought me here, a never-ceasing curiosity and desire to see what’s “just around the corner.”
Reflecting, I’ve lived many different lives. I’ve done so many different jobs, started so many different career ideas, from working with the disabled to raising hunting dogs. But in Austria, where I’ve lived for almost twenty years, this is where I’ve quite literally found myself. What I’m really good at—working with people—balanced with my passion for good storytelling. It is on this journey that I discovered the Reschen Lake reservoir, the basis for my most recent series.
I was hooked by the history when I started reading your Reschen Valley series. The Powers–That-Be suddenly drawing a line on a map and giving part of Tyrol to Italy was mindless. (They foolishly did this in much of Europe, i.e.: the creation of “Yugoslavia”, “Czechoslovakia”, etc.)
How did this area earn your attention?
I was traveling to South Tyrol with friends, who had invited me to an outdoor opera on Reschen Lake. When I saw that church tower, I was struck dumb. I wanted to know what happened. How? And my friends were poor historians. They said, “Something about Mussolini and Hitler.” That wasn’t even the gist of it. Mussolini and Hitler came much later on and were simply by-products of the plans that had already been put into place.
You mention the new borders were mindless. They were not. There was an awful lot of planning, and years before the European conflict broke out. I ask your readers now, how many of you know about the risorgimento? It’s the nationalistic belief that Italy’s borders had been pre-destined by Dante. I certainly had not heard of it before but there was a whole group of movers and shakers in Italy who were bent on achieving that. The nationalists were delighted when England, France and Russia came with a proposal in 1915, the secret Treaty of London, proposing, “Please help us to win the war.” “Sure,” the Italian nationalists said, “and when we win, we get these territories.”
After WWI, in Versailles, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was completely perplexed by Italy’s claim to territories inhabited by Slav and German speaking citizens. It was fully against his proposed 14 points! That’s another long and tragic story, though.
Here’s the thing: I place a lot of value on justice and righteousness, which is why so many of my stories are “establishment” stories – are you with us, or against us, kind of thing. And as soon as I smell underdogs in the situation, I am on it. It’s like the David and Goliath story, and in the process I discover how these situations bring out the best and the worst from people. And there you have it: the protagonists and the antagonists in my stories.
Did you base any of the characters on personal or family knowledge?
People might roll their eyes when I claim that the characters rose from the surface of the lake and took shape. Just like ghosts. It was roughly my third or maybe my fifth trip down there (I went at least once a year to South Tyrol after that first visit) and I was sitting on the edge of the lake, still wondering what had happened. I had just learned that seven villages had been destroyed and flooded for this amazingly beautiful lake. It’s four miles long! Back then there was really nothing that explained what I was looking at. No plaque, nothing. I got the information about the villages from a local. So, there I was, imagining who had lived there and those first characters rose like smoke to the top. I was also quite familiar with how incredibly valuable and coveted land is to my adopted countrymen. I knew I had one heck of a conflict for a book.
It took me years to put the puzzle pieces of the story together. My German was rudimentary at the time, my Italian practically null. But I dug deeper and deeper and from the research, “driver” characters formed. Driver characters are those characters that get to be, for example, Mussolini’s mouthpiece, or Hitler’s mouthpiece, or any other historical persona, which helps to form the events that happen to my main protagonists and antagonists. Today, there’s a display near the lake and a museum that shows exactly how everything had once looked and how the reservoir destroyed an incredibly lush and fertile valley.
The series is a seamless story concerning one family. Did you plan on it being a series? What is it about?
The story takes place in the severed province of the former Austro-Hungarian Tyrol. It begins about two years after WWI. Katharina Thaler is a young woman whose sole family is now her grandfather and her life is about running the remains of their dairy farm. The Italians have occupied this part of the province. One day, as she is out hunting for small game, Katharina finds footprints and blood in the snow. It leads her to a man, lying stabbed and left to die. First of all, she knows he’s not one of “theirs”, that he’s Italian, and she finds a war medal. She already senses that this is a sign of serious trouble. Saving his life thrusts both the man—Angelo Grimani—and Katharina into a labyrinth of corruption, greed and prejudice as the reasons for his presence on her mountain become clear.
And no, I did not plan on it being a series. In fact, at first, I planned on one huge book. Then it was three. Eventually, four. And then I wrote a prequel. And now it will be six in total. Then it’s really time to move onto something else. I have quite some stories burning on the stovetop for wont of getting their time.
What sorts of stories are on that stovetop, then?
I will be releasing a short story about a Ukrainian woman in Kiev, 1941. Plus the audiobook for the Reschen Valley Box Set in spring next year. As for writing, I’m actually “riding two horses” at once across the river, meaning I’m working on both the next Reschen Valley book and a wholly new novel that takes place during WW2 in the Sudetenland. The latter is an extension of a short story I wrote in February this year, based on an anecdote my girlfriend shared with me about her husband. I was so stunned by the story that I begged for permission to explore how—again, that question, how—something like that could happen. “Magda’s Mark” is my working title, though I might call it “The Godmother”. It will be released in a box set with ten other authors in May 2020, in time to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Liberation from the Germans. It might just be the most powerful story I’ve ever written.
After that, years ago I outlined a five-part series based on one of the most remarkable women in history. That will take readers to 16th Century Ottoman Turkey. I’m super excited about that one, too and there is a lot of research I am looking forward to doing, including another trip to Istanbul.
I love seeing on Facebook about your extensive travels; you certainly avail yourself to many of the opportunities in Europe. I imagine that most of the time, German and English will carry you through much of it. Do you speak or have ‘traveler’s knowledge’ of other languages?
I’m fluent in Ukrainian, German and English, and I can do some rudimentary Spanish and Italian, Polish, Russian, Croatian, Czech. I, mean, honestly? Once you know one Slavic language really well, the others are pretty easy to navigate.
Please tell us something about your favorite spots from all of your travels.
Absolutely and hands down, what I now call home in western Austria, is heaven on earth. We have the Alps, and Austria is exceptionally environmentally-conscious. Then there is northern Spain. I absolutely love Girona and Cadaques. I almost thought I would move to Ireland. Or to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. Most recently, I was in France again. I love the countryside, hate cities for long periods of time, so it says a lot when I claim that Rome, Paris and Lisbon are absolutely phenomenal. Leave me there for two or three days and I’m fine. After that, I get really stressed from all the impressions—the sights, the sounds, the smells. I take them in like a sponge and then become really, really overwhelmed. I need the outdoors and I need my quiet so our sanctuary in the Alps is really ideal.
What is a typical day or week like in your home?
Ha! I live for the untypical! I run my own communications training business. Where I live is kind of the Silicon Valley of mechanical engineering. It’s super prosperous and my clients require a lot of consultation on how to handle international business situations. I work with a team of trainers who offer every aspect of English training and I, personally, focus on communication and soft skills development training. In other words, not just what a person says, but how they say things.
I work from my home. My trainings take place for about 30 weeks a year, which is when I’m working full time acquiring projects, managing projects, giving trainings, and communicating with everyone from client to participants to my freelance trainers. The rest of my time—and this is year-round—I’m writing and doing things related to marketing, advertising, PR and communication in relation to my books. Holy cow is that a lot of work! For example, this morning, I was recording Chapter 10 of No Man’s Land, which will be out as an audiobook in spring 2020. Then I’ll walk the dog. Then I’ll pet the cat. I’ll throw wood into the stove and heat the house, make lunch, sit down, check my emails, my Facebook and other social media sites, see if I’ve got a new review or two on Goodreads, and check my book sales. I’ll answer emails. And then—hopefully—I’ve cleared my head enough to really produce some writing. I’m juggling a lot of aspects, including my incredible and hilarious husband. We’ve got a garden, a hut in the mountains we live in all year long, and our relationships with children, friends, and neighbors. We have a really awesome neighborhood on our mountain. I think part of the reason why it works is that most of us are separated from one another by 700 meters or more!
Is there anything you’d like for our readers to know about you?
I always wanted to be Grizzly Adams or Laura Ingalls Wilder, then later on I wanted to be James Herriot. Regardless of gender. In the end, I’m all three and none of them. I’m an exceptionally happy and grateful woman. I have loads and loads and loads of plans yet. After all, I only now turned 50.
Thank you for being my guest, Chrystyna K. Lucyk-Berger. Please tell everyone how they can learn more about your works:
Chrystyna lives in the western-most province of Austria, on the German and Swiss borders. By day, she is a professional communications trainer working with international companies. She moonlights as an author during her “busy season” and the other 3-4 months a year, she turns the tables and writes full-time, drastically reduces her training and teaching work.
Her latest series, RESCHEN VALLEY is based on the interwar years in the northern province of Italy, called South Tyrol. It is a Discovered Diamond, has received five stars in Reader’s Favorite, and has just won Box Set of the Year with the Coffee Pot Book Club Book Award site. Her books are available on Amazon, in paperback, and on Kindle Unlimited.