When local author J.A. (Joel) Arnold couldn’t get to the bottom of his ancestry, he tapped his imagination and up bubbled a historical novel.
His fascination with genealogy coupled with his lifelong interest in writing blended perfectly to turn a couple of elusive ancestors into the main characters of “Ox Cart Angel,” a mid-grade novel Arnold self-published last month.
“This is my first historical novel for younger readers,” said Arnold, who has also written mystery, suspense and horror novels. “I’ve been writing for a long time and have had five or six dozen short stories published in magazines and online.”
Some of those magazines include Cat Fancy, Weird Tales and American Road.
While “Ox Cart Angel” was written primarily with young readers in mind, Arnold has found that adult readers enjoy the novel, as well. It’s set in 1862, the year of the Dakota uprising.
“According to family lore, one of my ancestors was a Sioux woman from Pembina, N.D., who married a voyageur,” said Arnold, but that was pretty much where the information trail ended. “I couldn’t get past names and nationality.”
He did learn that the small town of Pembina, which lies near the Minnesota and Canadian borders, was important to the fur trade, as well as a significant stop along the famous ox cart trails of the 1800s.
“My ancestors from the area eventually made it to St. Paul,” said Arnold, “which was the destination of the long ox cart trains that hauled loads of bison furs.”
From there, Arnold’s imagination took over. “Although it’s basically an adventure novel, it also contains universal themes of bravery, compassion, loss and love,” he said.
The title of the book comes from the female character’s desire to wear her mother’s wedding dress on the journey with her father from the Dakota Territory to St. Paul. Along their travels, several people comment that she looks like an angel.
Arnold finished writing “Ox Cart Angel” in 2004. He found an agent, who shopped the novel around, but failed to find a publisher. He decided this year to self-publish the novel through a company called Studio City Media Endeavors.
Arnold did the typesetting and his wife, Melissa, a freelance graphic designer, created the cover.
While Arnold hasn’t done much promotion to date, he thinks he might like to promote the novel in shops and museums along the ox cart trail. The novel is available in both electronic and print form on Amazon.com.
Arnold has lived in Savage since 2003 with Melissa and his two children, Paige, 10, and Zachary, 9. He works full time as an accountant in Edina, but ideally would like to spend his days writing. In the meantime, he is working on a sequel to “Ox Cart Angel” that delves into the Dakota uprising.
“Ox Cart Angel” by J.A. Arnold
Claire Dumont and her father set out on a journey in 1862 from the Dakota Territory, hoping to catch up to the large caravan of Metis fur traders that left the day before. Their destination? The bustling city of St. Paul where Papa wishes to open a photography studio. But with only Bone Bag, their one-horned ox, to pull their squeaky cart, they soon realize they may have to make treacherous journey alone.
Braving bad weather, packs of wolves, dangerous river crossings, starvation and exhaustion, Claire and her father try their best to survive the deeply-rutted ox cart trails.