About a month ago, I was pleased and honored to have my picture taken with “my Danny,” and to present him with a copy of the book I dedicated to him. This is Jacob Eckert, the man who told me the story of his early life in China, which I fictionalized in my latest historical novel, In a Foreign Land.
Jake has become a hero of mine. In his long life—he is 88 now—he has suffered many things that would have broken or at least discouraged a lesser man. But he carried on. He is wiry, hale and hearty, excited about life, gentle and kind. He speaks English, High German, Low German, Russian, Mandarin, and a smattering of Korean from his time in the Chinese Army during the Korean War. He has a black belt in Karate and still maintains a good sense of balance. And he loves to tell stories.
When my daughters were reading In a Foreign Land, they asked me which parts were true and which were made up. I’ll tell you what I told them: almost every event that happened to Danny and Luise is true, except the romance with Rachel. The characters of Dubrowsky, Phillip and Jasch come from the first book, Other Side of the River. Mi-sook is purely fictional. She was included for interest sake, but also because Jake told me about a colony of Koreans that had been resettled from North Korea to an area west and north of where he lived in northern China.
So if some events in this latest novel sound stranger than fiction, it’s because they are. I have included “the story behind the story” in the back matter of “In a Foreign Land” if you are interested in reading more about Jacob Eckert.
I’m glad I could publish this story independently. It would be a shame for it to have remained unpublished because “it’s too foreign a setting for readers to identify with.” I’ve had that feedback from agents in the past.
I am so thankful to Jake for telling me his story, to my dear friends and colleagues who helped in many ways to make this book better than it was before they read it, and especially to Marcia Laycock at Small Pond Press for her professional edit, Rik Hall at Wild Seas Formatting for his formatting expertise, and Fred Koop at Fred Koop Designs for catching my idea for a cover and making it better than I ever could.
To all indie authors out there: keep learning, keep working, believe that it can be done. And remember that there are still heroes among us.