Yesterday I finished the first draft of Mata’s Story, a novella (at this point–I plan to revise it to novel length, the lower limit for which is 40,000 words. I now have 30,000) that tells parts of the story told in the Beyond the Blue Horizon series, about the adventures and fortunes of Otto Kerchner, Wisconsin farm boy who becomes a bomber pilot in World War II, goes on to command a bomber squadron in the Korean War and comes home to good times and bad in the small town of Pioneer Lake.
Mata’s Story had its start when Christopher Dixon and Jesse Greever, my wonderful publishers at eLectio Publishing in Texas, asked all their authors to write a story taken from their novels. I wrote “A Christmas for Mata,” about Otto’s sister waiting for him to come home on the train for Christmas, 1942. That account became Chapter 30 in the book, “A Christmas Apart.” Here’s a selection about Mata waiting for the train to come in to the station:
We lived south of town, and the train actually ran past our farm. I had to drive north to Pioneer Lake to the small station on the Milwaukee Roads line. Pioneer Lake was of course much small then, and all the shops had closed for Christmas Eve by the time I went through town. The day was overcast, with light fading fast as the sun sank behind the trees. I had to turn my car lights on the last mile or so.
I remember standing on the platform of the station, huddled against the cold in my cloth winter coat I had worn for ten seasons, turning my back to the frigid Wisconsin wind with my head down. We knew there would be no new clothing for us on the home front, or not much, so our motto was “Make it do, use it up or do without.” And we did.
I raised my head briefly, blinking back tears from my eyes caused by the wind. The train wasn’t in sight. Silly girl, I scolded myself. It wasn’t necessary to see it. I would hear the whistle of the steam locomotive long before it arrived around the bend.
I printed some copies of “A Christmas for Mata” and shared them with local readers, who reacted favorably. Then I thought of writing some other episodes from Mata’s point of view. I used limited omniscient for the books in the Beyond the Blue Horizon series, which meant that Otto had to either be present at an event or hear about it. Mata tells her stories to me in first person, which is easier to write, but also more personal.
I organized the book around a special day in each month, although I found that Mata didn’t always stick to the subject. She was 93 when I interviewed her, and if I’m writing about her as if she were an actual person, it’s because these characters have come alive for me. I never know what they’re going to do. I put them in a situation and then they act in a way that is true to their background and experience. It’s challenging, but also the most fun I’ve ever had.
After I revise the manuscript a few times, I’m going to send it to my publisher. I hope they’ll like it, and I hope readers will enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.