It took years and dozens of rejections to sell the book. A Baltimore book publisher bought it in 1999 and published it in the spring of 2001.
The novel, a Civil War-era mystery centered in Franklin County, tells of a half-breed Native American girl from Fort Loudon, Pa., who falls in love with a wounded Union soldier. The story ends with the burning of Chambersburg, Pa., by the Confederates.
The same Baltimore publisher, PublishAmerica, bought Bonnell's second novel, "Dementia."
It is set in Antrim Township in 1899. The main character in the mystery is a young Antrim Township man who suffers epileptic seizures. He moves to Florida, meets and marries a dance-hall girl and returns with her to Antrim Township. When neighbors see his seizures they think he is possessed by the devil.
The book came out last month. Bonnell said he is about to start on an area book-signing tour.
Bonnell has started to write his third novel. Titled "Recollections," it will be somewhat autobiographical because Bonnell will pull on his own experiences as a teenager growing up in the Great Depression. It will be written in the first person, he said.
The book's main character is a 14-year-old boy growing up in Depression-era Antrim Township.
"There's a lot of supernatural stuff going on in the book," Bonnell said. "Also, I'm pretty familiar with that part of American history, especially the Spanish-American War period. I've read a lot about how life was back then."
Bonnell believes in the writer's adage of writing what one knows about. He has lived in Antrim Township for 33 years.
He said he decides how his novels will end, then writes his way to that ending. Sometimes he gets stuck in the middle, he said.
"Once you're into the plot you have to get out of it," he said.
Bonnell served for three years on a gunnery crew aboard merchant ships in the Pacific during World War II. He worked as an engineer in the research and design divisions at aircraft factories, including the former Fairchild Aircraft plant in Hagerstown. He retired from Grove after 19 years.
He is also an amateur archaeologist and a member of the local chapter of the state archaeological society. The members have had digs at the Renfrew Museum and Park in Waynesboro and at an ancient privy on Bonnell's property.