I was rooting through some papers the other evening in an attempt to be more organized, including one box in which I keep hard copies of almost everything I’ve written since about 1978. About 1990, I started keeping things on the computer, but I still made a hard copy when I wrote something and put it in my box. I estimate that between the pieces I wrote when I was teaching, two newspaper columns, choir devotionals for nearly ten years, two blogs and various miscellaneous essays and other work that can’t be categorized, I’ve written about a thousand pieces. Yeah, they’re short, most of them (about 750 words or so), with the exception of my novel, which runs to 80,000 words (about 315 pages).
Anyhow, I came across my first outline for my novel. It had the same title, but it had two story lines. It started with a writer for a New England travel magazine waking up in a motel room in the mid-West in September, 1999 and flashing back to his family, whom he has deserted. The story was to be how he made it with a false identity working low-paying jobs. Eventually (SPOILER ALERT!) he returned to his family. This story was to be interwoven by alternating chapters with the one I ended up writing, the tale of Otto Kerchner, the Wisconsin farm boy who grew up to be a bomber pilot in World War II. I decided to focus on Otto’s story. It just seemed to draw me in, and I knew everything that was going to happen to him. All I had to do was to write it down.
Even at that, there were some changes to the original outline I had sketched out. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that one character lives about three years longer than I had originally planned. That change was the result of a suggestion by a friend who felt that I wrote the character out too soon. She was right. (Thank you, friend who prefers to remain anonymous!) Then, I was going to have Otto die at the end of the book, in January, 1946. I came to my senses and decided to let him live so he could be in not one, but two sequels. So The Wings of Morning trilogy came about. I think I wrote in an earlier post on this blog about the planned books, which have tentative titles of On Eagles’ Wings Upborne and Beyond the Blue Horizon. There’s also Mata’s Story, the narrative told from Otto’s sister’s point of view.
In my mind and imagination, Otto is still alive, 93 years old, living in the house he and Betty built in 1946 by the Rice Lake Airport. He goes fishing with his grandsons and takes them flying, as well as teaching a lesson or two. Life is good for the old warrior and should you stop by the airport and he’s there, he’ll be glad to talk with you about flying. He is a real American hero and I’m happy to know him. I hope you will be, too.