Bonnie’s first novel, The Dark Side of the Mountain, describes the tragic life of her ancestor, Anna Margaretha Mallow, who survived the Fort Seybert massacre in 1758.
Unfortunately, stories of the women who settled this country and endured extreme difficulties and hardship during the French and Indian War and the Revolution are rare.
You may read more about this author and follow her on Amazon.
April: Thank you for being here with us today, Bonnie. Can you tell us about yourself and background?
Bonnie S. Johnston: After graduating from Miami University, Ohio, I taught English and raised three sons. I retired from the University of Cincinnati where I taught English and was the Director of the Writing Lab. For decades I had pursued my hobby, genealogy, and wrote narratives about my findings. The thought of writing a novel did not occur to me at that time, but eventually I began to think of other ways to present the information I had discovered about my ancestors.
April: How much research do you do?
Bonnie S. Johnston: Much of the research for novels about my ancestors was done over the years. I had a large collection of charts and graphs as well as notes about the families. When I decided to write an historical novel, I needed to research historical aspects of the time periods as well as life in general during the eighteenth century. I have searched for and found several primary journals about the French and Indian War that were extremely helpful in providing background. I spent much time reading other novels about the period, in particular Allan Eckert’s wonderful narratives with footnotes.
April: What draws you to the historical fiction genre?
Bonnie S. Johnston: I have always loved history and reading historical novels. When it became apparent that not many people were interested in genealogy and charts and forms, I began to think about historical fiction. I had discovered several ancestors who had endured tragic events and losses during the settlement of this country. One in particular, Anna Mallow, was involved in an Indian massacre in 1758. Her story fascinated me so I decided to tell her story. In the research process of the event, I discovered that Obama also descends from this family.
April: Why is the main character in your novel so special?
Bonnie S. Johnston: The subject of the novel The Dark Side of the Mountain was a tragic figure who was caught up in events she did not understand. After emigranting from Germany in 1749, she was taken by an ambitious husband to the frontier of Virginia where she eventually had five children. Before five years had passed, the Indians began to terrorize the frontier and she and her children were forced to a fort for safety. The fort was burned and she and her children were taken captive. Three of her children died, and she became a captive of the French. She endured so much loss and tragedy before she was returned to her husband.
April: Do you prefer eBooks or traditional print books?
Bonnie S. Johnston: I much prefer print books but eBooks are popular with many younger people. My novel is an eBook but will go to print this summer. In promoting this novel, I have had many people request the print copy and suspect it is because the audience tends to be older. In addition, this novel relates a real event and real families, many of whose descendants want a hard copy. Others want the hard copy for gifts. The genre and subject may appeal to a different audience than the audience that regularly reads eBooks.
April: Are you writing a series?
Bonnie S. Johnston: This novel may very well be the first in a series. I have many more tales to tell about my ancestors, women in particular. However, each novel would stand alone as one would not be a continuation of another. I am considering writing a collection of short stories about several women including Anne Ballard who was tied to a cannon at Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion in the 1600s. I have a second novel just about completed that describes the life of a woman who lost a daughter to an Indian attack and eventually settled Dayton Ohio in 1798.
April: What are you working on right now?
Bonnie S. Johnston: Currently, I am completing the editing on my second novel, hopefully to be published later this year. Then I am collecting information about four women who all had interesting and eventful lives in the settlement of this country.
A blend of fact and fiction, The Dark Side of the Mountain describes two turbulent decades in the life of Anna Margaretha Mallow, an extraordinary woman caught up in events she cannot understand or control. Moved by her husband to the frontier of Virginia at the beginning of the French and Indian War, she and her five children are forced to seek safety at Fort Seybert from the notorious Chief Killbuck, who is on a death march to save his people and culture. Surviving what becomes a deadly massacre, Anna and her children are taken captive and marched to the Ohio River Valley where she endures indescribable losses and change. Only courage and perseverance sustain her during his dark period in American history.
Excerpts from The Dark Side of the Mountain
By Bonnie S. Johnston
Published by Soul Mate Publishing November 2014
September 15, 1749
My name is Anna Margaretha Mallow, and I am nervously excited after weeks of unrest. I was christened Anna Margaretha but much prefer the shorter Anna. My husband Michael holds me tightly as our ship glides with the tide toward the port of Philadelphia. We dream of a good life ahead, and we dream of our own land where we can raise our children without fear of armies tramping down our crops or leaders constantly changing. I hope to have many children and live to see my grandchildren and perhaps great grandchildren. My unborn child kicks in excitement knowing the opportunities that lie ahead of us.
While her eyes burned from the smoke-filled room, Anna tried to suppress her fears. She did not understand the reason for Seyberts move nor did she want to hear more about the Virginia land. She wondered how could they possibly be better off than they were in the Tulpehocken Valley? After all, there were no churches, no close towns, few close neighbors, and endless land to clear. There was certainly no military protection, not that there was much here, but it just felt safer in the settled Tulpehocken Valley. Finally, bristling with unspoken anger, Anna breathed a sigh of relief when little Mary became restless, and the conversation lulled.
May 15, 1753
Once again, I have deferred to my husband, and so we have moved. I did not wish this move, but I am a loyal wife so I agreed in the end; to what purpose I do not know. I love Michael and trust him, but what if he is wrong . . . this time? What if this move is not a good one? Only time will tell.
As part of his campaign for vengeance, Killbuck envisioned the flaming frontier, the smoking ruins, the scalped bodies, and the cleansing of the earth of these hated usurpers. And he saw his people returning to the life they loved, the land they protected, the game increasing and thriving.
January 1, 1758
Today is the beginning of a new year. I have no idea what it might bring. The Indian threat is still with us and still more families have left, leaving no more than two hundred settlers in this county. We remain here, bolted in our warm cabin, while the wind wails outside. I doubt that the savages will bother us in this weather. I suspect they have enough problems finding food and feeding their own families. I pray this will be a better year but am not hopeful.
Anna thought of Killbuck. Epitomizing the threat, his image often played in her mind, and she feared him, that strong, ugly, dark Indian who could have killed her but did not. Why? She did not know, but she feared him above all.
April 1, 1758
Struggling through long and dreary days, Anna and Michael rarely spoke, and the children were unusually quiet despite their occasional fighting over objects and crying. On Michael’s orders, Anna could not leave the cabin which had become smoky, hot and oppressive. Her head constantly ached, and her eyes watered. For the first time since the ocean voyage, she put away her mirror, knowing that she no longer wanted to see her face for fear of what would stare back at her.
April 26, 1758
Killbuck was tired but relieved. He and his men were safely hidden a quarter of a mile west of the South Branch River upon which lay his first target, Fort Upper Tract. He was certain that no British scouts had observed his sixty men during their eight day journey from the fort that lay where the Ohio River began its course. Motioning to a nearby warrior, barely discernable in the blackness, Killbuck whispered, “Come. I will show you something.”
Leaving his tired comrades, he led the warrior stealthily through the dense forest to an opening where both could observe a dark ribbon of black winding its way below. The men stopped while Killbuck searched for his target. It took several minutes of silence before he noticed a glow emerging through the dark shapes lining the eastern river bank. “Firelight, the fort. There, you see. That is our target, the fort with soldiers. We will take the fort at first light.”
Anna watched the events unfold in slow motion, She heard the words of surrender; she saw Killbuck strike Jacob and heard the crack of a shot as Nicholas tried to kill the war chief. To her amazement, Killbuck still stood. It was then she was overwhelmed with the failure of it all. It was over, she knew.
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