Category: First Editions Club (Page 1 of 7)

Author Q&A with Ed Tarkington

Original to the Clarion-Ledger. By Jana Hoops.

JacketNashville English teacher and wrestling coach Ed Tarkington releases his debut novel this month, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” after taking a circuitous route to add the title of “novelist” to his career accomplishments.

A distant cousin to Booth Tarkington, a best-selling literary novelist through the first half of the 20th century, the contemporary Tarkington says the memory of “Cousin Booth’s success left my father under the delusion that writing was a practical career choice. So I was never properly discouraged.”

Along the way, he earned a BA from Furman University, an MA from the University of Virginia and PhD from the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Florida State.

Tarkington’s formative years in Virginia shaped his early memories.

“I was born in Lynchburg, Virginia — not Lynchburg, Tennessee, the home of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, but, rather, of Jerry Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour. I grew up on the other side of town among the hypocrites and the sinners, also known as Presbyterians and Episcopalians.”

His career path to becoming a published author did not have a smooth start, he admits.

“Like a lot of young would-be writers, I floundered for a while,” he said. “I spent one year on a residential framing crew and the next teaching English at a small school in North Carolina, which I loved, but I wasn’t getting much writing done. I went to grad school at the University of Virginia to study literary theory, but scholarly life didn’t agree with me, so I ran off to Colorado to play at being Jack Kerouac. Eventually, I went back to school, enrolling in the Graduate Creative Writing program at Florida State.

“I fell in love, got married, started a family, and migrated to Nashville, where I now live, teaching and coaching, watching my little girls grow.”

A frequent contributor to, Tarkington’s articles, essays and stories have appeared in Nashville Scene, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Post Road, the Pittsburgh Quarterly, the Southeast Review and elsewhere.

How did you become interested in language and writing?

I had many wonderful teachers growing up, but, eventually, in high school, I had two who really influenced me in a transformative way: a really ambitious and successful theater director named Jim Ackley, and Patty Worsham, my AP English teacher, who is still pretty much my hero. Patty taught me to love Shakespeare and Yeats. She also encouraged me to write and helped me discover contemporary writers like John Irving, who, being both a writer and a wrestler, really inspired me. Jim made us all feel like we were good enough to be professionals; our advanced acting class wrote a play our senior year, and that experience made me think, “man, you can do this.”

Please tell me about the kinds of works you’ve had published in other media.

When I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time writing stories and sending them out to little journals, with little success. I took a brief stab at freelance magazine writing and flopped royally. So I decided to stick to teaching and novel writing and just hope for the best.

About a year after I moved to Nashville, Margaret Renkl, who is a really brilliant writer and editor here, had been hired by Humanities Tennessee to start up an online publication supporting Tennessee authors and book culture. Margaret was looking for contributors to the website, which they decided to call Chapter 16, because Tennessee was the 16th state to join the Union. Margaret asked me if I wanted to write essays and reviews for the website, and informed me that she would be paying for content. “Free book and a check?” I thought. “I’m in!”

I had no idea at the time that Chapter 16 would introduce me to this thriving literary community in Nashville revolving around Humanities Tennessee, the Southern Festival of Books, the Nashville Public Library and eventually, Parnassus Books. I got to connect with a lot of other writers and also get a byline in a number of different regional publications.

Is “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” your first novel? Tell me briefly about the story line.

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is my publishing debut, but not my first novel. I wrote another before, which was sort of a Cormac McCarthy, Robert Stone-type, a Southwestern noir. I worked on that book for seven years and had great hopes for it, but it didn’t sell.

By that time, I had been teaching high school and coaching for about four years. My life had gotten pretty tame; I had a hard time seeing my way back into the kind of world I’d spent the previous decade thinking and writing about. So I went back to my central Virginia childhood, drawing on memories and stories I’d collected over the years.

The narrator, Rocky, is a kid growing up in the small town South. He has an older half-brother, Paul, who is kind of the classic rebel-without-a-cause. Young Rocky idolizes Paul but doesn’t really grasp how troubled he is until Paul pulls a very cruel and vengeful stunt to lash out at their father and then disappears. Rocky’s childhood becomes defined by the absence of his beloved brother and by his involvement with Leigh Bowman, Paul’s ex-girlfriend, and with his new neighbors, who have an older daughter who sort of seduces young Rocky. Years after Paul’s disappearance, a grisly double-murder forces Rocky into a reckoning with the past and the present.

What inspired you to create this story? Is any of it influenced by any real-life occurrences in your life?

The primary relationship in the novel is between Rocky, the narrator, and his older half-brother, Paul. I don’t have a brother, but I do have a much older half-sister whose life has been utterly thwarted by mental illness. The pain and confusion I have always felt about what my half-sister’s illness did to her has haunted me for as long as I can remember. But I didn’t want to write a memoir or attempt in any way to “tell the truth;” I have neither the courage nor the authority to do so. So I turned my half-sister into a brother — Paul — and invented a narrator who is both at once the better and the worst parts of myself. I wanted to duplicate the feeling of growing up in the small-town South of the late ’70s and early ’80s, in a family that was both typical and strange, as most families tend to be below the surface.

The title of the book, according to the story, is a nod to Neil Young’s 1970 song of the same name. Was the story inspired in any way by the song, or was there any other connection?

When I first started imagining the characters and their personalities, I was listening to this music to help me find the mood and sensibility I was going for, and I just pictured Paul as a guy who idolized Neil Young. As I imagined him, Paul dealt with the pain of his dysfunctional childhood by identifying with Neil Young — or his idea, constructed from his music and his image, of what Neil Young was like.

As for the title — it just came sort of serendipitously. I was struggling to figure out what to call the book. Then one day I was driving to work listening to After the Gold Rush and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” came on, and I just thought, “Eureka! That’s it.” I hope if Neil ever hears about this novelist stealing his song title, he will take it as the gesture of admiration it’s meant to be.

How would you describe your writing?

My favorite writers are the ones whose styles are very fluent and inviting. I work hard to make the language both pleasing and natural — lyrical, but also accessible.

As a high school English teacher, class sponsor, literary magazine sponsor and wresting coach — not to mention a husband and father — how do you have time to fit writing into your busy schedule?

Early to bed, early to rise. And I mean early.

What approach do you take in teaching your students to write? What do you encourage them to do or not do?

I try to train my students to write as if they’re writing for a general audience instead of for a teacher. I want them to think about what it takes to catch and hold someone’s interest in the Information Age, when there are so many forms of content competing for our attention.


Author Ed Tarkington (Photo: Glen Rose/Special to The Clarion-Ledger)

Do you have other works already planned — or that you hope to be planned — for future release? In what genre?

I am hard at work on another novel. I expect to have a draft finished by the end of the year. While it is very different from “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” it’s written with the same kind of style and sensibility and will hopefully appeal to the same audience.



Ed Tarkington will sign copies of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” at 5 p.m. Thursday at Lemuria Books in Jackson.

Read More

In ‘Free State,’ notions of equality emerge from behind a black mask

Tom Piazza will be at the Eudora Welty House TONIGHT at 5:00 to sign and read from “A Free State”.

By Jim Ewing. Special to The Clarion-Ledger

WFES062284129-2Tom Piazza’s “Free State” offers a fascinating study on the nature of freedom in the guise of a thought-provoking novel.

Set in the years before the Civil War, “Free State” focuses on the chance coming together of a black man, who calls himself Henry Sims, and a white man, who calls himself James Douglass. Both are assumed names by characters seeking freedom and a new identity from the lives they were born into and their grim pasts.

Douglass is of Irish descent, the youngest son of a Pennsylvania farmer who chafed under the grueling chores of farm life and the physical abuse of his father and older brothers. He seeks freedom by joining a traveling circus and becomes enthralled by the burgeoning fad of minstrelsy — traveling troupes of musicians who adopt a grotesque rendition of Old South plantation life by performing in black face, or covering their faces with burnt cork. He rises in his musical ability and forms his own minstrel group in Philadelphia, Penn., a free state, which in America, it turns out, is not so free.

But it’s all theater, a masquerade, set for public consumption amidst an imagined tapestry of faux aristocratic plantation owners bemused by the “jollity” of enslaved blacks happily entertaining for their masters. Only the beauty of the music is real.

Why minstrelsy? “The practice of ‘blacking up’ had spread … to feed a hunger that had gone unrecognized until then,” Douglass reminisces. “ In it, we — everyone, it seemed— encountered a freedom that could be found there and there only. As if day-to-day life were a dull slog under gray skies, and the minstrels launched one into the empyrean blue.”

“When I first heard the minstrels,” he recalls, “…I felt as if I had been freed from a life of oppressive servitude.”

Thus, a white man finds freedom by impersonating a black slave.

Douglass’ façade meets horrific reality when he meets Sims, a runaway slave from Virginia, seeking to escape his master father and a slave hunter, Tull Burton, he has hired to track him down. Burton is evil incarnate, a fascinating study of the devil in human flesh, who delights in the torture of those he seeks. Like the society that imposes slavery and inequality even under the guise of democracy and commitment to human freedom, he is unrelenting and devoted to his cause of using the law to brutally enforce the codes of human bondage.

The story itself is absorbing as Douglass and Sims forge a tenuous bond and adopt a rational solution to both of their problems. Sims and Douglass attempt to pursue their love of music while supporting themselves in a world that twists notions of life and livelihood along the lines of race.

Their solution — for Sims, a black man, to assume black face in order to evade laws barring black people from public performance — exposes the theater of the absurd that was the antebellum South. In it, a white man could find freedom only by pretending to black; a black man could only find freedom by masking that he was black by pretending to be black.

The truth of this preposterous state of “freedom” finds echoes today as American society still struggles with issues of race and equality. The true face behind the mask is that the world limits freedom and equality no matter how devoted and pure one’s intention and desires may be, and that we all play out our roles in often absurd conditions to pursue a free state.

It’s an absorbing tale and a parable that exposes the incongruities of living in a democracy still colored by inequality.


Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, now in bookstores.

Devotion by Adam Makos

Adam Makos will be here TONIGHT at 5:00! We love this book so much that we’ve chosen it as our December pick for First Editions Club.

Let me start this blog off by saying this….

I don’t read non-fiction. Pretty much….never. Not at all. I can not sit down and read fact after fact about a topic; it just can’t hold my attention the way a fictional story can. I don’t like this, because I want to be able to learn about different things and I obviously have books at my fingertips to do so by working at Lemuria; but, non-fiction is just not my “go to”.

With all that being said…..Let me tell you about this non-fiction book that changed everything.

WFES804176583-2I’ve always been interested in World War I and World War II and the time period around those years. To be honest, I’ve just always been interested in the history of different wars (obviously more interested in those in which the U.S. were involved). I like watching movies based around war and there are times when I will watch documentaries as well. But, reading a history book wasn’t something I enjoyed.

However, I really feel as if Devotion has changed my outlook on reading about history. Devotion is an incredible story from military journalist, Adam Makos. As it’s stated on the cover, it’s “An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice” between two Navy carrier pilots during the Korean war. One of which is a white New-Englander who comes from a country club background (Tom Hudner), while the other pilot is a share-cropper’s son from Mississippi (Jesse Brown) who became the first African-American Naval pilot. Basically, Jesse was fighting for a country that sometimes wouldn’t even serve him in a restaurant. However, he found much more than just a job in the Navy; he found men that stood by his side no matter what.


Lieutenant Tom Hudner

Makos goes way beyond just slapping down facts on a piece of paper, he takes you into the intense lives of both Lieutenant Tom Hudner and Ensign Jesse Brown during their time in the Korean War by offering you a novel-like feel. He interviewed so many military veterans and used all of that information to make the stories flow together as one- so much so that it feels like you’re reading a novel rather than sectioned off facts about the war.

From what I understand, the Korean War is the Forgotten War, but Makos takes you right into the battlefield; from the Marines on the ground in trenches to Jesse and Tom overhead in their planes. I was definitely taken into the harsh conditions (temperatures as low as -35 degrees) when the Marines were near Chosin Resevoir; and there were moments when I felt like I was in the plane with Jesse or Tom trying to make split-second decisions. Makos included maps to help show the locations of each event, letters, and photos taken during this time as well as before (photos of marines and pilots with their wives, parents, siblings, etc). Having photos and being able to put faces on to the people being described made me become so involved in the story, that there were a few times while I was reading that I became slightly emotional.

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, first African-American Naval Aviator

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, first African-American Naval Aviator

Makos made me look at non-fiction in a whole new way. I was given facts and I was given true stories …and it was beautiful. This book was such a great way to take a look at history and to teach myself more about sacrifice, war, and one’s devotion to friendship. I feel like I’m going to have to keep sticking my nose in our history section from now on to see if I can learn a few more things.

Tragedy is comedy is drama: Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies Cover ImageIt is not often that I find myself losing sleep over characters in a book. Weeks after reading Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, Lotto and Mathilde’s story is prominent in my mind, and with Lauren’s upcoming visit to Lemuria, I’d like to share why this book was so powerful. When I talk about literally losing sleep, I mean that I was reading this book at 3  in the morning and was reading with my hand over my mouth because I couldn’t believe what was happening. Or maybe I could believe it. I’ll let you decide.

The title, Fates and Furies, reveals a lot about the book. In Crowell’s Handbook of Classical Mythology, the Fates are “Divine beings who determined the course of events in human lives.” They have been personified in many ways, but “as often as the Fates were associated with the end of life, they were active at its beginning.” The Fates are three women Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (allotter) and Atropos (unturnable), who, from the very moment of birth determine the thread of one’s life, and when to cut it.

The first section of Fates and Furies, labeled, simply, “Fates,” is told from Lotto’s perspective. We see that he is destined for “greatness” from his birth. While the story is told in omniscient third person, there are interjections in brackets, as if an unknown party is relaying information the audience, or reader, should know, but that could not otherwise be revealed through the characters.

For example:

Lotto loved the story. He’d been born, he’d always say, in the calm eye of the hurricane. [From the first, a wicked sense of timing.]

So…who is the narrator who decides to interject himself or herself into the story? Much like a Greek chorus, this narrator frequently divulges what the character truly thinks or feels contrary to their actions, or extemporaneous information—i.e., that it was a wicked sense of timing. Perhaps, it would not be remiss to say that these speakers are the Fates, and later, the Furies. The Fates could also be interpreted as the women in Lotto’s life—his mother, his wife, and perhaps his sister. Who destined him for greatness by naming him Lancelot? His mother. Who furthered his play-writing career by being the muse and behind the scenes editor of his plays? Mathilde. Perhaps, even, there is a Fate that cuts his life short, but you’ll have to read it to see if that’s the case.the-three-fates-photo-researchers

Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage. “Most operas, it is true, are about marriage. Few marriages could be called operatic.” Lotto and Mathilde, two opposites, whose marriage, as it unfolds, is a Greek drama. It is both tragedy and comedy. Lotto’s English teacher asks the students the difference between tragedy and comedy. One student replies that it is the difference of solemnity vs humor.

“False,” Denton Thrasher said. “A trick. There’s no difference. It’s a question of perspective. Storytelling is landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.”

This statement encapsulates the entirety of Fates and Furies. In a book that concerns itself with a failed Shakespearean actor who turns to play-writing, the book can also be read as a play.

Comedies, in the Shakespearean sense, often concern themselves with the ability of the characters to triumph over the chaos of life, ultimately ending in a marriage, representing the renewal of life and of second chances. From the Greek, komas (meaning “the party”) and oide (meaning “the song”) comes, kōmōidía, or the song of the party, of the reveling. At the beginning of Fates and Furies, there is much reveling, and one party begins where the other ends, often without much distinction, so the reader must be observant to know that a new party has started, and learn the characters that orbit Lotto and Mathilde in constant rotation. As the story continues, however, these revolving characters are whittled down to a main five: Chollie, Mathilde, Lotto, Antoinette, and another later character. So begins the switch to tragedy.

In tragedy, a character is doomed to an unhappy end, usually by fate, and the hero suffers from hubris or excessive pride, ultimately leading to his downfall. Tragedy is comedy is drama. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (a comedy where lovers are mixed up), there is a play within a play, the love story of Pyramus and Thisbe, which, incidentally is a tragedy. Pyramus and Thisbe cannot be together because of a family rivalry (an early Greek incarnation of Romeo and Juliet). They agree to meet under a mulberry tree. When Thisbe arrives first, she sees a lion whose mouth is bloodied from a recent kill, and in her hurry to runaway, she drops her veil. Pyramus enters the scene, thinks his beloved has been killed, and, rather than be without her, chooses to impale himself upon his sword. In A Midsummer’s Night Dream (5.1.261-270) the actor playing Pyramus cries:

What dreadful dole is here!

Eyes, do you see?

How can it be?

O dainty duck! O dear!

Thy mantle good,

What, stained with blood?

Approach, ye Furies fell!

O Fates, come, come,

Cut thread and thrum.

Quail, crush, conclude, and quell!

And while in the Greek play the lion has merely killed Thisbe, Shakespeare’s Pyramus goes on angrily to say that the lion hath “deflowered” his love.

And finally we enter the last section of the book, “Furies.” Also found in Crowell’s Handbook of Classical Mythology, the Erinyes, or Furies, as they were known to the Romans, were “female spirits who punished offenders against blood kin.” Crowell continues, “Whatever their precise origin, they reflect a very ancient Greek belief in a divine mechanism of retributive justice.” What we see in the last quarter of the book is Mathilde enacting revenge for past injustices—she is not just furious, she is fury.

I think that Lotto and Mathilde have entered the cannon of love stories all on their own, but it is also my opinion that they are Shakespeare’s Pyramus and Thisbe re-imagined. Tragedy is comedy is drama. From which lens are we seeing the drama unfold, and which one presents tragedy versus comedy? Lotto’s? Mathilde’s? The Greek chorus? Or the reader’s? Don’t miss this amazing, multi-layered story, and a chance to hear Lauren speak at Lemuria this Tuesday night at 5:00 in our main store!

Changes in FEC


For over two years I have enjoyed handling Lemuria’s FEC and OZ FEC. There is a ritual to it–reading the books months in advance; discussing with all of our booksellers which books we should pick and why; anxiously awaiting the books’ release date so I can finally talk with other readers about another great story; meeting the authors and hearing how the story came to be what it is; and mylaring, wrapping, and shipping over 250 books each month. Some of the books we’ve selected are now some of my favorite novels–Paper Lantern: Love Stories, The Son, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, to name a few. But all good things must come to an end.

This month, I am handing over the FEC reins to Hannah and Austen. Hannah has worked at Lemuria for the past 3 years and is the fiction room manager. Austen is a jack-of-all-trades; from coordinating our ship-outs to receiving all of our book shipments, he keeps the gears of Lemuria well oiled. Your book orders and reading habits will be in good hands. You can continue to email them at If you call the store, just let whoever you talk to that you are a member of the FEC; they will make sure your message gets to the right person.

I will still be at Lemuria for a little while longer, but I have cut my hours back so that I can teach English this semester at a local University. I’ll be moving to Tacoma, Washington in the new year and will join your ranks as a member of the FEC. I’ll have to get my Lemuria fix via the USPS.

Thank you so much for being a member of the club and giving me, and Lemuria, a community of book-lovers.

Happy Reading,


If you are not a member of our First Editions Club, but would like to sign up, please click here or call the store at 601.366.7619. We would love to have you.

Bragg’s ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’ Teaches Writers How To Write

By Jim Ewing
Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story should be included in every workshop on How To Write.

Jacket (6)Professors of English can point to its lyric prose that coils on itself like a snake. Political scientists and historians can find ample fodder for topics as diverse as the forces that brought the likes of Huey P. Long and Theo G. Bilbo to power.

Religious scholars and sociologists can refer to its accuracy in exploring the relationship between cultural conservatism and the moral implications of rock ’n’ roll. But readers are at once ensnared by the man Jerry Lee Lewis himself, whose music “made Elvis cry.”

As Bragg, a Southernor, well understands, we cannot fathom Lewis’s music until we have felt the lash and storm of his upbringing. Bragg traces Mississippi-Louisiana history from its violent, bitter beginnings of conquest, duel, slavery and song into the 20th century.

He paints the place with levees so tall “a man had to walk uphill to drown.” A cauldron of people, passions and violence, from Ferriday, La., to Natchez, Miss., to New Orleans, to Memphis, he lays out the landscape where Jerry Lee Lewis found form and substance, where gamblers and oil speculators, prostitutes and hoboes “came off the boxcars like fleas.”

Lewis’s rearing came amid the vast wealth of the few torn from the misery of the many dirt poor working people, great river floods, rampant political corruption, and The Great Depression’s soul-killing darkness — that spawned hungry children and heartbreak, whiskey, drugs and the devil eternally dancing in the shadows. Preachers and bootleggers sometimes were the same. They were his blood kin, as some of us admit are our own. They all knew they were sinners and The Killer seemed preordained to sing their songs.

Jerry Lee was born of the stuff of country legends, learning to croon at the knee of his father Elmo between his prison stints and sitting in a pew with his mother listening to the Pentecostals speaking in tongues.

885e64c67bedda87306decbcc5318Lewis credits a major influence Haney’s Big House, a black honky tonk in the Jim Crow South where white men feared to tread and “women toted straight razors in their underwear.”

“It’s where I got my juice,” Lewis told Bragg, giving his music its characteristic guts, grit and power.

Bragg details Lewis’s long march into greatness and despair: the honky tonks, women, pills, hit songs, fist fights, and scandal over marrying Myra, his 13-old-cousin — one of six marriages by the pioneer of rock ’n’ roll — some memories “like playing catch with broken glass.”

Along the way are music trivia gems, such as Lewis’s signature hit Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, supposedly written by a black man at a fish camp on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee while drunk and milking rattlesnakes.

Bragg’s genius is alternating laser observations about the man and his milieu with stunning word play wrapped in seemingly effortless but exhaustive research. Bragg proves himself to be a journalist’s journalist by turning painstaking reportage into art.

Bragg doesn’t just chronicle a man but a region, and leads us like a secular evangelist to reexamine our own songs and sins.

Of Lewis, Bragg reports: “He did some meanness, God knows he did. But the music — funny how it turned out — was the purest part.”

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating, and the forthcoming Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, Spring 2015. Jim is a regular contributor to the Lemuria blog. 

Kornegay joins the club

081913-Greenwood-Mississippi-257It has been a busy year for the indie bookstores in our state. Lisa Howorth published Flying Shoesan honest, bittersweet novel about an unsolved murder finally getting the attention it deserved- showing her customers at Square Books she knows how to write as well as sell books. Our fearless leader John put together a brilliant book of photographs with the help of photographer Ken Murphy to showcase what people from Jackson needed a reminder of: there’s something beautiful in our capitol city. Jamie Kornegay of Turnrow Books is now a member of this small club. His first novel Soil has just been released and I am quickly digging my way to the bottom of it.

Jay Mize is a smart but obsessive man who sees the writing on the walls that an apocalypse is coming; he’s just not sure which one yet. A farm is the smart way to save his family from the coming crash of civilization- unless it drives them away first. When he finds a body on the land surrounding his home, his mistrust of society leads him to quietly dispose of it. Unfortunately for him, the local deputy is out cruising for women in his Mustang and chasing his estranged wife. He might even try to solve the case. Far from being the traditional who-dun-it, this is a novel with a very clear sense of place and people. The kind of place where a warning shot to a man on your property can lead to conversation just as easily as a “hello.”

They say write what you know, and Jamie Kornegay shows just how much he knows about the web that ties small towns together and the secrets they have buried in their back yards. Come see him this Thursday at 5 and get a signed copy of Soil to find out for yourself if you want to learn what he knows: we are all a product of the land from which we came.


Written by Daniel 

The Orenda: The 2014 Lemuria Fiction Book of the Year

“We had magic before the crows came. Before the rise of the great villages they so

roughly carved on the shores of our inland sea and named with words plucked from

our tongues—Chicago, Toronto, Milwaukee, Ottawa—we had our own great

villages on these same shores. And we understood our magic. We understood what

the orenda implied.”

These are the very first words you read in The Orenda.  There is something menacing in the tone, something tragic.

JacketI read The Orenda in October of 2013 and since that time, I have found it difficult to separate my love for this book from my objective responsibility to customers when recommending books for to them.  Thankfully, this is the rare case that it doesn’t matter.  I can comfortably say that The Orenda is the best book released in 2014.  I can tentatively say that The Orenda is one of the best book ever released.

Okay, enough gushing.

The book takes place in 17th century America.  It follows a missionary, a young girl, and a great war bearer.  Joseph Boyden uses each of these expertly fleshed out characters to provide depth and clarity over the course of many years.  More than a year removed from reading the book, I find myself thinking of them.  I wanted more time between the pages of this world.  I’ve read the book twice now, and I can’t wait to read it again this year.

If I seem to be rambling, it’s because I can talk about this book for the rest of my life and still have so much left to go over.  Nothing is wasted in this novel.  Every chapter, every page, every word is vital to the story being told.  There is a candid cadence Boyden demonstrates that left me breathless.  The real treat of this book lies in its ability to be a literary classic and a page-turner at the same time.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden is the 2014 Lemuria Fiction Book of the Year.


Written by Andre

Guest Post: Gifford’s Up-Down reprises Sailor and Luna saga

Special to the Clarion-Ledger

barrygiffordBarry Gifford explains in the beginning of his new novel that in ancient cultures, it was believed that there were five directions: North, South, East, West and Up-Down, which represented the navel or center. It’s an inward direction that his protagonist, Pace Ripley, intended to go in order to explain his life, which at this point had extended six decades.

It’s a good thing Gifford provides this road map because without it, one might be lost as to what to make of the rapid twists and turns of Pace’s life — or, rather, this series of bizarre incidents that form an amoral (from the standpoint of organized religion) morality tale.

The lessons can be as obvious as the necessity to face one’s own fears and let go of old demons to the inexplicable which also serves up the point that life often just is inexplicable. Or, as Pace is told when awakened from a dream by a voice in the darkness: “God is a disappointment to everyone.”

Pace is the son of Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune whose tales titillated readers for decades. He was a minor character, noted for the predicaments life seemed to offer him. He wandered out of the S&L tales as a young man by going to Katmandu and then marrying a New Yorker.

875491_1779185_lzGifford’s Sailor and Lula became popular in the 1990s. Readers might remember the film adaptation of the first S&L book Wild at Heart (1990) starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern.

In that one, Sailor gets out of prison for time spent protecting Lula that resulted in a manslaughter conviction, while Lula’s mother tries to keep them apart (a thread throughout the books). They meet any number of odd characters and situations that involve quick deaths when the plot gets sticky.

By any other author, such deus ex machina might seem contrived but Gifford pulls it off, mainly because his characters are often so unbelievably believable that when the unbelievable happens, it just becomes as believable as the rest.

While Gifford’s plots are rather languid and often marked by the aforementioned quick deaths, the reader doesn’t suffer, as the observations and interplay between characters are quite juicy (sometimes R-rated).

downloadThat continues in Up-Down, which is subtitled “The almost lost, last Sailor and Lula story, in which their son, Pace Roscoe Ripley, finds his way.”

Sailor and Lula fans will love this book and hope more “lost” tales will be found!

Biographies of Gifford state that his father was in in organized crime, and he spent his childhood largely in Chicago and New Orleans living in hotels. If so, that explains much of the richness of his writing, offbeat characters and random violence.

For new fans, the entire series is compiled in Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels (Seven Stories Press, 2010, 618 pages, $19.95).

Gifford obviously knows a great deal about Mississippi, using place names and common characters throughout his S&L books. The stories may be the closest Mississippi has to the equally wacky Serge Storms sagas by Tim Dorsey, who peoples his characters in Florida.

The Up-Down can be seen as a coda to the S&L books, or even a koan of sorts, to underscore the fact that life is not logical or comprehensible and it can only be understood intuitively, experimentally. That, also, may be considered wisdom.


Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating, and the forthcoming Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, Spring 2015.

Barry Gifford will be at Lemuria January 28th at 5 PM to read and sign from his book, The Up-Down. 

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Building Castles between here and New Orleans

Written by Jim Pathfinder Ewing 

Meeting Katy Simpson Smith at a book signing and reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS, I was immediately captivated by her infectious smile, her sweet presence, her unassuming grace. She seemed baffled that her first book, The Story of Land and Sea, had excited such interest in the book world.
As the publisher HarperCollins describes it: Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, the novel follows three generations of family—fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave—characters who yearn for redemption amid a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love.
But it’s much, much more.
It was happenstance that I was at Lemuria at all, much less buying her book. I had stopped by to have some signed first editions put in mylar so they might wear better on the shelf, and Adie and Maggie who work there, asked me if I was coming to the signing. What signing? I asked.
They told me about this young writer, 28, who grew up in Jackson and was making waves with her debut novel. In Jackson? How could I not know her? So, I bought the book and stayed, and was the first person to greet her when she arrived. We chatted and I thought, hmmm, sweet lady.
Little did I know that the surface of this woman was like the ocean she described — smiles and laughter like jumping fish and mermaids — covering unfathomable depths where leviathans live unceasing and unknown.
Once I picked up the book, I was hooked.
Lyrical, poetic, masterful, each page is a delight. I found myself not worrying about the plot, each page its own reward. My thoughts about the book became a barely conscious narrative itself: 
I don’t want it to stop. She skirts through the puzzles of people’s hearts like sure fingers on combination locks, first left, then right, then left again, releasing understandings that roll through me like waves. 
Young and old, they are all the same: transparent to her in magical ways. I am mesmerized as the pages glide by, getting my sea legs in this voyage of discovery. I cannot put the book down.
As the chapters flow, and I take breaks now and then, to rest, recuperate, gather myself. I plunge back again and again; from sea to land, from land to sea, taking deep breaths, from a gathering intelligence of who is who and how, to knowing I was unknowing, only thinking I knew. I gasp as each chapter forms a sea change in the facets revealed about each character. 
In the first chapter, my feet on solid ground, I don’t like Asa, the grandfather. He’s a hateful, self-righteous man, through his clinging to religion. In the next, I see him as a young man, and my heart breaks for him; I am him. How did that happen? And I hate Helen, the mother, his daughter, for her cold, callous pretension; even, as before, I had felt the husband’s and the granddaughter’s longing and loss for her. Now, I see, I had only seen her as a ship on the horizon, her gallant sails, the dim outline, defiant and wonderful as she sailed into the golden sunset of memory. But wait! What’s this! Quick as a riptide, the roles change again. Helen, the mother, in love; Asa turning, turning … into what he will become.
We delve deeper and deeper, exploring, finding, shifting, changing.
As the pages turn and mount, I grow fearful the book will end, and where will I be? On sea or land? 
Now, having made the voyage, I am spent; in awe and slightly resentful. Like the father, a privateer, she has stolen my admiration. It’s a prize hard won. Enduring.
Since I met her at the book signing, and sat with her, and conversed, and heard her speak to an audience, I wonder: How can someone so young, this author, fathom so many diverse people, and present them in all their mystery and unconscious revelation?
I think back to the photo I took of her, so full of life and easy laughter; how can such depth of knowledge reside there? Her bright face, her youthful demeanor, are like the book’s cover: beautiful, well crafted, but the inner pages tell a different story: of love and loss, poignant hopes and crushing realities. Unless you take the time to hear her words in your own mind, you will never know certain secrets that are universal, hidden in your own heart.
It is a joy and a wonder to have a Jackson author of such talent. She could live and write anywhere. But she doesn’t, building her castles between here and New Orleans.
I look forward to her next book, on land, sea or air.
Here’s a story about her in the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Jim PathFinder Ewing has written six books, published in English, French, German, Russian and Japanese. His latest is “Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating” (Findhorn Press, 2012). His next book — about which he is mysteriously silent — is scheduled to be released in Spring, 2015. Find him on Facebook, join him on Twitter @EdiblePrayers, or see his website,

Page 1 of 7

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén