Today on my blog, I’m having a chat with historical fiction author Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger about her books, research, and latest projects. Welcome, Chrystyna.
Tell us about your books. What topics inspire you? Are there any particular settings that you’re drawn to?
My stories tend to focus on the things that make my blood boil. One of my greatest values is fairness, tolerance and justice. Combine that with my love for discovering stories beneath the surface of things, and you’ve got a writer who writes the institutionalized stories: join ‘em, leave ‘em or take ‘em down.
My Reschen Valley series is set in northern Italy, in the province that was once Austria, and is based on the building of a dam. The fascist regime destroyed the entire valley and displaced hundreds of German-speaking families.
Souvenirs from Kiev is based on my relatives’ histories during WWII in Ukraine and takes readers on a perilous journey from the Underground to the DP camps of Germany.
Magda’s Mark, which is releasing in a collection, The Road to Liberation, this May, is based on a true story about my friend’s husband. Her father-in-law was a district SS officer in Moravia. When his son was born, he was returned to the mother circumcised.
Now, can you imagine the repercussions? My first thought was, “Holy ****! Who had the cajones to do that —pun intended—and what had pushed that person to take that great of risk?” My next question was, “And when we are pushed that far, are we not just becoming ‘one of ‘em’?”
As soon as I start asking those questions, I know I have a story—or an entire book. Magda’s Mark started off as a short story but when I got invited to take part in the Road to Liberation collection, it was burning to be expanded into novel length. I’m so glad I tackled that. I loved going to the beginning and to the end of Magda’s story.
What inspired you to become a historical novelist and write about the Second World War?
I had no intention of being a historical fiction novelist. It just happened that way. First, was the project I undertook in my mid-twenties to record the events my relatives experienced in WWII Ukraine. After I was done with writing what would become an publishable piece of work, I drove down to South Tyrol—that area of northern Italy I mentioned above—to recover. I passed Reschen Lake as I always did, haunted by that steeple poking out of the water. But this time the community had set up an exhibit illustrating exactly how the valley had been flooded. I took a walk after that, and wham! Like spirits rising from the waters, I had a whole cast of characters hovering before me, just above where those villages had once stood. I took in a deep breath and thought, another historical? Really? But they all crawled into my Nissan Micra and accompanied me for the next ten years.
I’ve got two more books to go and when I hit the WWII years with the current WIP, I realised I still have quite a few WWII stories in me. Souvenirs…came out in January and to rave reviews! Magda’s Mark was written in parallel and releases May 5th. I’ve got at least two more in me that I will tackle after the current series.
How do you go about researching your books?
I always, always visit the places I write about. I’m grateful to be able to do that. I live in central Europe, so hopping into the car and driving to my locales is hardly a challenge. In January this year I visited Litomerice, Czech Republic with my friend and cover designer. She goes on these research trips with me because she finds them inspiring and enriching. The visit was a surprise. I had written ahead to some of the libraries and ministries requesting to meet with sources I needed. Litomerice is not a terribly small town but a number of people knew who we were when we arrived. They’re kind of excited that someone from America is writing about them.
How do you think fiction, especially historical fiction, help us learn about different eras?
I think stories help us to understand the past, the present and the future. We function on narrative as much as we do on air and water. Now, in my opinion, historical fiction and science fiction serve the purposes of helping us to understand ourselves as a species, and the societies we live in. Surely, we learn historical details from our novels, but these stories are character-driven. They should resonate with the reader. Otherwise, we are writing non-fiction. I made that mistake of not drawing the lines in my first manuscripts. I still read some historical fiction and think, uh-oh, the author is info-dumping and the characters—as one mentor of mine remarked about my first drafts—are just being moved around like pieces on a chess board. I even saw a play like that in London a week ago. I was at the theatre with Marion Kummerow, who also writes WWII, and the story took place in Austria from 1899 to 1955. There was so much info-dumping done by the characters through monologues, Marion and I would glance at each other in the dark and kind of roll our eyes.
What can we look for next with you?
I’ve got a number of audiobook projects in the works—three to be exact, but the virus is preventing us from moving further on certain aspects—and then I will be releasing at least Book 5 of the Reschen Valley series by the end of October and perhaps the last one in December or January. Then possibly a whole slew of non-fiction books for my other business, two more WWII novels, and then I’m switching to a series that takes place in the 16th century in the Ottoman Empire. It’s going to be a doozie. In either case, if I have to be quarantined for a long time, I have a thousand ways to keep busy.
Can you give us a teaser of Magda’s Mark?
When the German military rolled past Voštiny, they were on the road opposite the Elbe River. Magda and her mother were singing “Meadows Green” and threshing the wheat but at the sight of those black automobiles and grey-green trucks, their song dissipated like smoke into the air. Magda’s mother straightened, one hand on her headscarf, like a gesture of disbelief. No tanks. No marching soldiers. Just the caravan, moving on south, growing smaller in size but larger in meaning.
When she looked towards the fields, Magda saw her father and her two brothers also pausing, one at a time, to witness the Germans chalking off the Sudetenland boundary with their exhaust fumes. The Nováks’ farm lay within it.
Magda’s father faced the cottage, and an entire exchange silently took place between her parents.
Then the rumors are true, her father said with a simple lift of his head.
What now? her mother asked via a glance toward the river and the pursing of lips.
Her father lowered his head. We finish the wheat.
And with that, Magda, her two brothers, and her parents stuck their heads in the sand and went back to work.
Later, at midday, urgent knocking rattled their door. Everyone froze except Magda. She looked around the room, as if this was to be the last scene she should remember. Her father held the edge of the table. Her mother stood. She was straight and proud and beautiful with an open face, the kindest light-brown eyes, and full lips. Magda’s brothers sat rigid in their chairs. Each of their wives held a child. And her grandparents sat so close to each other on the bench against the oven that they might as well have been in each other’s laps.
The knocking came more insistently, and this time they stirred into action. Magda’s father pushed himself from the table and left the room. The rest were in various stages of trying to look normal. A moment later, her father returned with the village heads. With baffling lightness, he offered them Becherovka, as if it were Christmas, and shared a joke about a cow and a farmer—Magda could never remember the story or the punch line that had made them laugh so.
The Sudetenland, the village wisemen announced, was now part of the Third Reich. Hitler was protecting his people. And that was why none of the other countries called foul on breaching the treaty.
“But we will not go to war,” one village elder had said, “as we may have feared.”
“Imagine that,” Magda’s father had said abruptly, in the tone he used when angry.
Her brothers, however, had visibly relaxed. They shouldn’t have.
Where can we find you online?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is at www.inktreks.com
@ckalyna on Twitter
And on Bookbub and LinkedIn.
Currently, all of her titles are available KU, in ebook format and paperback.
All of her books will be available over all platforms in eBook and paperback by end of April, and audiobooks over the next few months.
Thanks so much for chatting with me, Chrystyna! I’m looking forward towards your next release.