Bonnie has kindly shared this wonderful article about the writing of The Dark Side of the Mountain, previously published August 10, 2015 for the Great Lakes Historical Novel Society.
Decades ago I began to research my ancestors, a time-consuming, but enjoyable hobby for many years. During the course of my findings I tried to interest my family in the information, to no avail. Few showed interest. After retiring from teaching English and directing the Writing Lab at the Blue Ash branch of the University of Cincinnati, I entertained the idea of writing an historical novel, believing that the format would be more appealing. The result is The Dark Side of the Mountain published in November 2014 by Soul Mate Publishing.
I had discovered fascinating women, women who endured hardships and loss, almost indescribable today. Those were the stories I would tell. I narrowed down my subject to Anna Margaretha Mallow, an Indian massacre survivor. I decided to describe two decades of her tragic life based on the research I had done.
The process of writing this novel, a debut novel, was more difficult than I imagined despite the historical information I had discovered. I found that I needed much more information about the colonial period and the French and Indian War. Complicating matters was the fact that Anna Mallow was German, may never have spoken much English and lived for three years with the French who spoke no German.
There were also discrepancies in her story, told mainly in second hand accounts. For example, most researchers believed that she had three children at the time of her capture at Fort Seybert in 1758. Eventually, I discovered the only firsthand account of the massacre, an ad placed by her husband Michael in 1765 for the return of their son. The ad clarified the number of children, five, and the surviving children, two. Anna lost three children during or shortly after the massacre and captivity of survivors.
The protagonist, the Delaware War Chief Killbuck, is remembered as a violent, cruel warrior who murdered innocent settlers during the French and Indian War. However, I discovered that he was a remarkable man and spoke several languages. I attempted to describe his point of view during this period when the Native Americans were enduring the loss of their ancestral land and the depletion of their food supply. He and other warriors of that time were making a last stand against the settlers who were flooding the frontier and showed no signs of stopping their westward movement.
After completing the novel, it took almost a year to find a publisher and additional months making changes with the help of an editor. I had made the mistakes many first-time authors make: too many long, narrative passages and telling, not showing.
Finally, the novel was published. It was my goal to describe not only the event, but also the courage and survival of a woman caught up in a war she did not understand. She left thousands of descendants, including the author and President Obama’s mother. It is important that the stories of these women be told.
Bonnie S. Johnston is a retired English professor and former Director of the Writing Lab at the Blue Ash Branch of University of Cincinnati. A lifelong pursuit of genealogy and history led her to write historical fiction based on the lives of her ancestors. Her first novel The Dark Side of the Mountain was published by Soul Mate Publishing in November 2014. A blend of fact and fiction, the novel is a compelling tale of Anna Margaretha Mallow who survives the Fort Seybert massacre on the frontier of Virginia in 1758. The notorious Delaware War Chief Killbuck destroys the fort, kills most of the adults and takes at least twenty captives back to the Ohio Indian villages. Set against the backdrop of the French and Indian War, only courage and perseverance sustain Anna during her captivity and tragic losses.