My guest today is author Bonnie Johnston. Her life-long interest in history and genealogy provided material for research and narrative writing that evolved into writing an historical novel based on the life of her ancestor, Anna Margaretha Mallow. Bonnie’s debut novel The Dark Side of the Mountain was published in November 2014 by Soul Mate Publishing.
Bonnie, where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing? Two high school English teachers encouraged my English major choice. My grandfathers shared tales of Indian raids and gave us history quizzes. This raised my curiosity about my ancestors. It led me on a journey of research and writing.
When did you first start writing? Writing has always been a passion. Especially long letters to family members and narratives about genealogy. Retirement from teaching gave me the time I needed to organize the several book chapters I had written. I discovered interesting tales of my ancestors, like the Fort Seybert massacre in 1758.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? Stories and documentation of the lives of pioneer women, rare during the 18th century, had to be written. I chose to write the story of a woman who was captured with her five children at Fort Seybert by the Shawnee Indians. A point of interest is her son, my ancestor, an early Ohio settler, who returned from six years of captivity in Chillicothe, Ohio.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? The novel took two years to write and another year to find a publisher.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you? The process of writing and publishing has been long and tedious. Joy was found through the process because of connections with distant family who share my interest in the colonial period.
How do you organize your writing? I have no special process for writing. Some days I spend hours and other days I print out material and make notes. I do find that I prefer editing on paper with a black pen and then making changes on the computer.
What are you working on next? My second novel is about a woman who outlived three husbands, survived an Indian raid, lost her daughter, and was one of the first settlers in Dayton, Ohio. My third book, a collection titled Tales of Frontierswomen, will include a chapter about Anne Ballard, who was tied to a cannon in front of Jamestown during the Bacon Rebellion in the late 1600s. Another chapter tells the story of Sarah Pease, a Salem witch who managed to survive after a year in the Salem jail.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time? When there’s time, I play bridge and tennis with my husband. We travel to visit our children and grandchildren who live many states away. This fall I will be speaking at several groups about my novel and the subjects of my research.
The Dark Side of the Mountain excerpt:
In the mid eighteenth century, a young couple named Michael and Anna Mallow arrive in Pennsylvania, two of the many who have left the Old World behind in search of a new life. Michael is ambitious, he wants his children to inherit a better world, and he very quickly grows out of the original homestead, tempted to go further west, to distant western Virginia where the land grants are bigger.
His wife does not want to move. To her, the journey from Germany to Pennsylvania was sufficiently arduous, and she is frightened by the whispers of unrest among the native tribes. But an eighteenth-century wife has little say in the major decisions in life, so reluctantly she agrees to her husband’s plans.
Their new home is smack in the middle of the war brewing between the French and English, with the displaced local tribes joining the French in a desperate attempt to wrest their lands back from the settlers. White colonists are murdered, women and children are abducted, and Anna lives with a tightening noose of fear round her neck – until the day when everything she feared would happen does, with her carried off to captivity with some of her children while the younger three lie dead.
This is a fascinating piece of American history. Bonnie is fortunate to be part of this important legacy.
Question of the day: What most do you remember about American history?