So, what in the series is true and what has been “manipulated” for the sake of story in the Reschen Valley series?
Here’s a list of decisions I took in developing the world, the characters and the plot of this tragic story:
1. Names of Locations
The Reschen Valley is actually called the Obervinschgau Tal or Alta Venosta. That’s a mouthful, right? Which is why I changed it. 🙂 The Reschen Pass does exist. The town of Reschen, does exist. Reschensee (or Reschen Lake) does exist and if you are referring to it in Italian, it’s Rescia.
All of the villages, hamlets and towns retain their real anglicized names including Meran or Merano and Bozen and Bolzano.
2. The Characters and Places that were wholly fictionalized and how they got their names
The Thalers did not exist per se (pretty much nobody did, see below). And I didn’t know why, but from the moment I wrote the very first scene, I knew there had to be a dog. Five years later, I was interviewing locals from Graun and Reschen (including the descendants of the represented inn mentioned below) who remembered the flooding out of their valley. I said, “I don’t know why, but I feel there must be a dog in the book. The dog is important. What role did dogs play in your lives?”
There was a huge hullaballoo as they turned to each other and started talking about “the dogs”. “The dogs,” one explained when they’d calmed down, “used to get shot by the police if they were not tied up. Can you imagine? A farm dog? Even if it was just on your property! No leash? Bam!” It was clear that-for symbolic purposes-I was right about the dogs. I needed at least one. In Book 4, this will be even more present.
That leads some to ask certain questions: Yes, I was inspired. Yes, as I explain in other blog entries, I saw ghosts. I dreamt of them. There was something clairvoyant going on in the process of writing this series. Take it or leave it. I can only share what I experienced: there were some seriously spooky, weird, downright unexplainable moments. Right down to when I met my contact in Reschen and realized that I had seen him in a dream months before.
Back to who did not exist: Jutta Hanny, Fritz Hanny, nor Alois. The “mongoloid” was also something that “rose out of the lake’s surface” when that cast of characters crawled into my Nissan Micra (read about it here). Although, at first there was just a “fool” figure, and then I read something that happened in Vorarlberg, in Hohenems, by the Nazis, and I realized Alois’ purpose (Book 4). There was a journeyman who came through the valley in the Fifties or Sixties, according to locals. But I just asked those locals whether that was even plausible. Florian already existed on the page and probably inspired by a trip I’d taken to Nuremberg and found out about these master carpenters.
And the Post Inn was actually the Traube-Post, the name of which I wrestled with: I’d have had to translate it into Grape-Post and, to be honest, that did not work. First of all, in America, there’s a cereal of that name (well, kind of: Post makes a cereal called Grapenuts, the similarity was enough). Secondly, I don’t feel translating everything directly serves any great purpose, unless it does. 🙂 And sometimes, I just used the original language, a glossary of which you can find here. The Traube-Post still exists in Graun/Curon Venosta, right beneath St. Anna’s hill and chapel (and yes, the cemetery). It’s been relocated and rebuilt. You can go there and eat and say hello to Annie who was a child when the valley was flooded.
Here’s how I came up with the names for my characters: I visited all the local monuments and cemeteries and made a list. Italian and Tyrolean. One Austrian reader said, “There would be no name such as Hanny.” I grinned and said, “Is that so? Huh.” I did not tell her that there is a whole family buried in St. Anna’s cemetery with the family name of Hanny. I have learned to take such criticism as a duck would to rain: it just rolls off the back. Much healthier that way.
When my list was not sufficient, I did a search online for the most common names in Tyrol, in northern Italy, and so on. When I needed a new character name, I did not roll a die. I pictured what they looked like. I defined their characteristics. Then I tried the names out on my tongue. And when the name was right, it was right. And sometimes it wasn’t.
Angelo, for example, was called Pietro for quite some time. Until he didn’t “talk to me” anymore. I was trying to write Chapter 7 of No Man’s Land back in 2010 (yes) and I couldn’t get it started. Frustrated, I went for a walk, chanting, “Pietro, talk to me. Talk to me! You’re back from the Reschen Valley! What happens next?”
No response. (Which, for most of you, would seem logical.)
I met my writing group and told them the problem. One said, “Maybe he’s got the wrong name. What’s the character like?” I think I used the word, “flighty”, a weak defender of the valley’s rights, something about how he appears and disappears but is ever-present and my colleague said, “Stop! Pietro is certainly not right. Pietro is Peter, which means the rock. This guy is anything but solid. Try Angelo.”
Holy moly! It worked. I wrote that chapter that day! And Pietro became Angelo’s fatherly rock-solid figure.
What is in a name? Just about everything. You know the Colonel’s notebooks? That came up–all the details–in a free writing exercise when I tried out the Colonel’s christian name, Nicolo. Out of nowhere, there were these leather-bound notebooks, a whole safe full, every single one exactly like the other. When Angelo discovers them, he discovers the Colonel’s records about who’s who, who owes him what, who needs to be “checked-upon”. And all that with the key word: Nicolo. (As I write this: St. Nicholas keeps a list of all the good boys and girls, right? See what I mean??? This stuff is just weird! Subconscious, no?)
3. What about the characters that were real?
I can’t say, because I have a disclaimer stating that everything is fictionalized. But I can tell you what sort of characters came up in my research and I used particular ones in the series to “drive their historically-real agenda”, so to speak.
There was this guy, who was a lumber baron from Piedmont, who went into the newly annexed territories and just started chopping down people’s woods for lumber. Without asking. Without paying.
There was a count, who was later exiled, who led the German League. The German League’s activities were inspired by scenes from Verkaufte Heimat.
There was this guy, named Mussolini (who is mentioned more than enough times in the series directly, along with Hitler), whose manifesto and autobiography I read and there is one character in my series who pretty much spouts all that off to defend himself and his own personal agenda. Yeah, you’ll figure that one out pretty easily.
The electrical companies responsible for the Reschen reservoir were Edison Electric and, later, Montecatini Electric from the Lombardy region. In the series they are all owned by the Colonel and called Grimani Electrical and Monte Fulmini Electric (MFE).
There was a teacher who’d been shot in the April 1921 Fascist riot in Bozen (Bolzano). His last name was Innerhofer. I felt it was necessary to pay homage.
There were journalists, who had been fired, and newspapers that had been shut down by the Italians. In fact, the entire systematic oppression by the fascists and nationalists is accurately depicted according to historical records although, and I stress this, some events take place in different time periods in the series than they might have really for the purpose of plot and story. I did this as little as possible and only when necessary. Senator Ettore Tolomei definitely existed and plays a role in the series.
Some of the dialogues, especially those between the Colonel and Angelo or Angelo and Pietro have been inspired by the very real polarisation and political influences of America -and our world – today. Again, I say, historical fiction and historical depictions force a mirror up at you and ask, “How? How have we really changed?”
I have spent years (over a decade now) researching and travelling the areas depicted. I hold no position on the issues brought up though I do have a hard time, personally, seeing South Tyrol as “Italian”. That is simply the impression that has been made on me by the many visits and relationships established there (both Italian and Tyrolean descendants). The province fought hard for their autonomy and has succeeded in preserving its culture, its language, its right to be germanic. And that is so present, you cannot possibly feel that you have truly entered the Italy we know and love from movies, film, books and travelogues, not to mention our own personal visits. I do not feel I am in Italy until I have reached the Po Valley and beyond. Sometimes, in Meran and in Bozen, among the palm trees and cypresses, I do feel I am coming closer, but even there the Habsburg-influenced architecture keeps me from really feeling as if I’m anywhere near the Italian classical towns: think of the images of Pisa, Genoa, Venice, Verona, Rome. You will not feel that in South Tyrol. In that respect, the Tyroleans have certainly and clearly won.
There is much more to this history. It warrants the next two books I will be writing for this series. And it is a violent one. Our characters will no longer be able to dodge the political pogroms, they will see war, they will see violence, and they will revert to violence to fight for what they each–individually–feel is right. I hope to see you – and meet you – on that journey.