Superior Man Writes Historical Fiction Novel About His Ancestors – Superior Telegram
SUPERIOR — A fan of historical fiction novels, Superior’s Don Johnson wrote one of his own.
His book, “To Svarta and Beyond,” is 98% fiction, but he named the main characters after his great-grandparents, Johan and Sofia. He also settled it in Sweden during their lifetime in the 1880s.
The majority of the book traces a year in the life of the family as they move from farm to farm, including the crops they planted, the chores they performed and the livestock they they raised. Johnson, 76, said he researched the farming methods of the time, as well as the region’s railways, towns and geography to make them more realistic. For his great-grandparents, Johnson had few facts to work with, just their birth and immigration records.
Delving into his family’s genealogy inspired Johnson to write the book, which he compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series. He hopes it will inspire others.
“I didn’t read enough when I was younger. If I had found historical fiction earlier, I might have read more,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he started the book more than six years ago, but was prompted to finish it during the COVID-19 pandemic. He designed it with bigger type and wrote a story he would like to read. The process suffered a few setbacks, including when the computer containing the first 40 chapters crashed and had to be rewritten, but Johnson persevered. The book was published in December.
“I was pretty happy with it,” he said of the posting process.
Johnson, a longtime substitute teacher at Upper High School, donated a copy of the book to each of the English classrooms and the school library. He also donated a copy to the Upper Public Library.
In addition to supply teaching, Johnson is a driver for the Senior Connections Meals on Wheels program. He is a singer with the Duluth-Superior Harbormasters, a local comedian, and a volunteer who tends the community garden at Faith United Methodist Church each year. He added the author to his list of accomplishments.
The Superior Man is currently working on his second book, a sequel to the story that follows his grandfather, Charles, as he travels from Sweden to America in 1886.
The senior man said he enjoyed the process and wanted readers to know what happens next in the second book.
“I left them hanging when Charles got on the ship for America,” Johnson said.
With more family records to draw from, Johnson sets out to make this novel more realistic than the first. He spent a week wondering how Charles would have crossed the Ohio River, basing it on the transportation routes used at the time to make it more historically accurate.
“It’s made up but yet I wanted – if anyone was looking at it – to be a bit specific,” Johnson said.
He is currently about three weeks away from his grandfather’s next immigration trip from New York to Chicago. The route will continue to Ashland and Price counties, Wisconsin, where Johnson’s ancestors eventually settled. Most of the other family members followed Charles to America and were living in Wisconsin by 1894.
Reviews of the book on Amazon have been positive. Johnson said he hopes people enjoy the novel.
“I don’t think my goal is to try to educate people, although I think they can learn things from the book,” he said.
“To Svarta and Beyond” is available in print or as a Kindle eBook through Amazon.