Gregg Sapp, a native Ohioan, is a librarian, academic administrator, and a Pushcart Prize-nominated author. Having written over 60 academic articles and some 300 reviews, Gregg published his first novel, Dollarapalooza (or “The Day Peace Broke Out in Columbus”) in 2011 with Switchgrass Books of Northern Illinois University Press.
Since then, he has published humor, poetry, and short stories in various literary journals, including Defenestration, Imaginaire, Kestrel, Zodiac Review, Marathon Review, and Writing Tomorrow, and he’s been a frequent contributor to Midwestern Gothic. His forthcoming book, Fresh News Straight from Heaven, about the life and folklore of Johnny Appleseed, will be published by Evolved Publishing in 2017.
Watch for Fresh News Straight from Heaven, a literary/historical novel, to come in the spring of 2017.
“I happen to believe that genius makes people weird,” the storyteller says, explaining how Johnny Appleseed could be at once so peculiar and so profound.
Between 1801 and 1812, Ohio and the Old Northwest territory was a brutal place where peace was fragile, living conditions were savage, and the laws of civilization were far away. Still, settlers staked everything they owned on the chance that they could build better lives for themselves in this new frontier. John Chapman – aka, Johnny Appleseed – knew this land better than any white man. Everywhere he went, he shared the “Fresh News Straight from Heaven,” which he heard right from the voices of angels who chatted with him regularly, that God had promised him personally that peace was possible through growing fruit.
Convincing people of that vision, though, was no easy task. Most folks thought he was mad. This land was populated by a miscellaneous assemblage of soldiers, scoundrels, freebooters, runaway slaves, circuit riders, and religious cultists. Ambitious politicians, like Aaron Burr and William Henry Harrison, had dreams of creating a new empire. Meanwhile, a reformed drunkard emerged among the Shawnee as a Prophet, who spoke with the Great Spirit, Waashaa Monetoo. Along with his brother, the war chief Tecumseh, the Prophet began building an Indian coalition to take back their land.
Even while the tensions mount, Johnny, with angels urging him on, skates blithely through the crossfire and turmoil, spreading his message, impervious to the mockery and derision being heaped upon him. Throughout his mission, Johnny is dogged at every step by Colonel Frank Bantzer of the Ohio militia. The two men share history with a woman–Sister Mona Junkin of a schismatic, all-female sect of the Shakers–whom Johnny befriends after she’d been betrayed by Bantzer.
Finally, Johnny’s faith is challenged when war breaks out in the land, leading to the bloody battle of Tippecanoe between Harrison’s army and the Shawnee Prophet’s warriors, and ultimately to the declaration of the War of 1812. A violent massacre near the northern Ohio town of Mansfield leaves its citizens terrified and vulnerable. In a desperate act of faith, Johnny promises the people that he can save them.
And thus Johnny dashes off on a midnight run, seeking to spread peace across a land on the brink of war. But, on his way, he must face various demons from his own past, settle old scores, and make things right. Standing in his way is an enraged Colonel Frank Bantzer. With many lives at stake, including his and Sister Mona’s, Johnny has to confront the ultimate test of his convictions.