Superior man pens historical fiction novel about his ancestors

The historical fiction book is loosely based on the authors great-grandparents in Sweden in the 1880s.

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Author Don Johnson of Superior holds the historical fiction book he wrote, "To Svarta and Beyond," while sitting at Big Apple Bagels in Superior on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. The book, which is loosely based on his ancestors in Sweden, was published in December.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — A fan of historical fiction novels, Don Johnson of Superior has penned one of his own.

His book, “To Svarta and Beyond,” is 98% fiction, but he gave the main characters his great-grandparents’ names, Johan and Sofia. He also set 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 one farm to another, including the crops they planted, the chores they did and the livestock they raised. Johnson, 76, said he researched the farming methods of the time, as well as the railroads, towns and geography of the area to make it 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 likened to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series. He’s hoping it will inspire others.

“I didn’t read enough when I was younger. If I’d 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 crafted it with larger print and wrote a story he’d like to read. The process has suffered a few setbacks, including when the computer holding the first 40 chapters crashed and had to be rewritten, but Johnson persevered. The book was published in December.

“I was quite happy with it,” he said of the publishing process.

Johnson, a longtime substitute teacher at Superior High School, donated a copy of the book to each of the English classrooms and the school library. He also gave a copy to the Superior Public Library.

In addition to substitute teaching, Johnson is a driver for the Senior Connections Meals on Wheels program. He’s a singer with the Duluth-Superior Harbormasters group, a local thespian and a volunteer tending to Faith United Methodist Church’s community garden each year. He has added author to his list of accomplishments.

The Superior man is currently working on his second book, a continuation of the story that follows his grandfather, Charles, as he journeys from Sweden to America in 1886.

The Superior man said he’s enjoying the process, and he wants to let readers know what happens next in the second book.

“I left them hanging when Charles got on the ship to America,” Johnson said.

With more family records to draw from, Johnson is focused on making this novel more realistic than his first. He spent a week puzzling how Charles would have crossed the Ohio River, based on the transportation routes that were used at the time, to make it more historically accurate.


“It’s made up but yet I wanted to — if somebody looked things up — be somewhat accurate,” Johnson said.

He is currently about three weeks into his grandfather’s immigration journey, following him from New York to Chicago. The route will continue to Wisconsin’s Ashland and Price counties, where Johnson’s ancestors eventually settled. Most of the rest of the family followed Charles to America and were living in Wisconsin by 1894.

Reviews of the book posted 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 edition or as a Kindle e-book through Amazon.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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