In the first of my series of chats with fellow authors, I’m finding out all about Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger, the author of the historical fiction series Reschen Valley.
Chrystyna is an American ex-pat living in Austria. She grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was studying to become a veterinarian before an English professor rescued her. The rest is history, or historical fiction, if you like. She also runs a business providing communication and coaching programs to local businesses, and takes great interest in cross-cultural impacts, a common theme throughout her writing.
The series takes place in South Tyrol, just located south of the Austrian border. It is a story about a Tyrolean woman who is fighting for her land after WW1, when her province is cut in two, one half remaining in Austria, and her half being annexed to Italy. When she discovers an Italian engineer, who has been attacked and left to die on her mountain, rescuing him thrusts both of them into a labyrinth of corruption, prejudice and greed. The series spans three generations between 1920 and 1961, and she has the last two to write yet.
When I asked her what it was about that time that intrigued her and motivated her, she asked me to imagine driving south from Austria over the Reschen Pass in the Alps and then crossing the border into Italy. The first thing you expect, she told me, are pizza and pasta stations, Italian signs, and Italian architecture. But that’s not what happens. It still looks like Tyrol with a few Italian names. In fact, everything is still in German and in Italian and everyone speaks German.
“Then it comes,” she says. “Spreading out before you, an unbelievably beautiful lake some four miles long and nestled in the Alps. The sight takes your breath away. You pass the first town and quickly come upon the next one called Graun / Curon Venosta. And then there it is. Off to the right, some 100 meters from the lakeshore, is a fully intact medieval church tower, sticking straight out of the water. My first reaction was, “What in the world happened here?” It took me ten years, and loads of building up my German language skills to find out. When I did, I was horrified that we never learned about this part of history. The Tyrolean-Italian conflict was a huge deal! And the pain of that history is still there, just under the skin, hot as embers and as volatile as gunpowder.
Chrystyna not only loves reading but writing the scenes between Angelo Grimani and the Colonel, his father. She says she taps into her dark side in those scenes, something she keeps very well under control and she hoped she only utilises to write her villains.
“I consciously set out to make each of my characters complex and three-dimensional,” she says. “I honestly believe that every person is simply trying to do their best. The world is paved with good intentions, they say, but it’s where you lay the pavement that determines whether you’re going to be remembered as a good person or a bad one.”
One of her other favorite parts to write was Chapter 10, which she calls the baby of the published book. When she sent the script to an editor last summer, she came back and said, “I just don’t think we’re invested in Katharina enough. What does she really want? Make us root for her.”
Chrystyna did not despair. On the contrary, she was really glad the editor had said something, because in all these years of writing Katharina, Chrystyna was frustrated and disappointed with her development.
“I’ve got a female character trapped in a day and age where she just cannot be emancipated,” she says. “On the contrary, her choices make her want to blend in as much as possible and it was irritating me that she was fading into the background. After I hung up with the editor and as I was driving to my other job, it hit me like lightening. I realized the answer was there all along. I just had to make it explicit. I knew what Katharina wanted and all I had to do was pull the threads forward and weave them. The new Chapter 10 managed to solidify that for me and I was able to pull her back in with great strength.”
Chrystyna is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Bookbub and Goodreads. She says that’s all she can manage for social platforms. All information about her books can be found on www.inktreks.com.