Category: Guest Post (Page 1 of 3)

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.

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Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Willie’s House

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Chris Ray

We always felt that the house chose us as much as we chose it. Carolyn and I had been to a couple of JoAnne’s parties, the last one being the celebration of the movie release of My Dog Skip after Willie died. I was always struck with how real their home felt, surrounded by genuine laughter, someone playing the piano, curiosities and ephemera, and of course, a library’s worth of books.

When JoAnne decided that the house was too big for her to keep up, I believe that she not only wanted to find someone to buy the house, but also to honor it. Which brings up an interesting challenge: how do you make a home yours, while honoring those who came before you?

We’ve tried to do both – and I think that Willie would be happy to see that the cats from the neighborhood still hang out in the crawl space. Curious literary fans still drive by slowly. There are dozens of assorted balls and sports gear scattered about the house, garage, and yard. In fact, our son John keeps a collection of baseballs in the same small closet where Willie kept his. And the books, my gosh, the books. They are everywhere.

We have Willie’s highway map of Yazoo County framed upstairs and a photo downstairs of Willie taken by his son, David Rae. And every now and then, we will find some odd treasure that Willie had hidden or misplaced. I think Willie would like the fact that our neighbors, Governor Winter and Dick Molpus, still tell Willie stories every time we see them. Dick told me recently that Willie would walk down to his house every Christmas to say hello as part of his “once-a-year exercise.”

But I don’t think Willie would want his former home to be a shrine. Or something too precious. I think he would appreciate that the paint is peeling here and there and there’s a patch where we just can’t get grass to grow. I think he’d be happy to see it alive, with the same kind of love and laughter that you felt and heard when he lived there.

To order a copy of Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy , call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or order online here

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: My dream of reliving the Farish Street of my youth

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Jimmie E. Gates, political writer/columnist at The Clarion-Ledger

When I was in my teens, one of my biggest thrills was coming to Farish Street in downtown Jackson.

It was the sight and sounds of a hustling mecca of black life. There were snappy dressed females with their hats. There were men dressed in classy suits, which made you think of The Apollo Theater or the old Cotton Club in Harlem. We had our Crystal Place on Farish Street, and for good measure, we had our Alamo Theater, which was a movie theater. I will never forget going to the Alamo Theater to watch Bruce Lee movies, Godzilla versus the Three-Headed Monster, and most of all watching actress Pam Grier in films.

Those were the days for me growing up. Farish Street was like a whole new world to me. There would be Mr. Armstrong selling Jet Magazines on Farish Street and vendors selling roasted peanuts in small bags and other items. The shoe shine guy, “Bear Trap,” would stay busy; there was a bakery/donut shop, but my favorite was the ice cream plant. Whenever we would be on Farish Street, we would always go by the ice cream plant. The ice cream man, whose name escapes me today, would give us ice cream bars. He would always be dressed in a white uniform and wearing a hat to match.

We would always come to Farish Street and shop. Although Farish Street was the mecca of black life in the 60s and 70s, many of the clothing stores and shoe stores were Jewish-owned.

I will never forget my Farish Street days. I don’t know when Farish Street began to deteriorate, but it probably occurred after the first mall opened in the city. Jackson Mall opened in 1969 followed by  Metrocenter in 1978. Farish Street stores and other stores began to leave the downtown area for the malls.

We longed for the bygone days of our youths; sometimes wondering if we can recreate those years.

I pass the empty shell of the buildings lining Farish Street today wondering if the hustle and bustle of the street will ever live again.

Decades have gone by since Farish Street was the place to go. There have been talk about reclaiming the area as an entertainment district, but the talk hasn’t materialized into returning Farish Street to its heydays.

I know others have their own fond memories of places and things in Jackson that were once special to them. Farish Street was that place for me.

There was a song by the late Luther Vandross  called “Dance With My Father” that was one of my favorites. The lyrics were based upon Vandross’ childhood  memories of  his late father and mother often dancing together. Vandross knew his dream could never come true when he wrote the song because his father was deceased. We all have our dreams; the dreams that would make us happy. Seeing Farish Street alive again with life and vitality would be a dream come true for me.


Ken Murphy will be joining us in the store all day today (December 23) and will be signing copies of all of his books!

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.

It’s University Press Week!

It’s University Press Week and we’re celebrating with this guest blog from Steve Yates. 

Surprise: You’re now the book editor at a major newspaper!

Today marks the beginning of University Press Week and UPM is very excited to once again participate in the AAUP blog tour. The theme for today’s posts is Surprise (which also matches the online gallery theme) and gives us a chance to talk about a venture that not only surprised us, but is also something we’re very proud of. 

The following post from Steve Yates, UPM’s Marketing Director, writes about the surprising results of a collaboration between our university press, an independent bookstore, and a daily newspaper. 

If you’ve visited a newspaper’s newsroom lately, there’s no escaping the devastation. Empty chairs, spotless, cleared desks, naked cables sprouting where monitors used to hum and keyboards once clacked—that march down rows of hollowed out cubicles feels funereal.

This is acutely haunting to me. All my nightmares have come true! At seventeen-years-old I was hired by the Springfield, Missouri, News-Leader(the largest newspaper in the Ozarks) as a sports writer and agate clerk, a part-time job that was nearly always full time except in summer.

When I came to Jackson to work at University Press of Mississippi in 1998, the only way to see my wife while we were both awake was to moonlight. I worked as a part-time copy editor while she designed and edited the business section at the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger.
My wife, Tammy Gebhart Yates, worked first at the News-Leader, and then at a succession of newspapers, the last a fifteen-year stint at the Clarion-Ledger. She survived several layoffs—one in which she was terminated then rehired the same morning—before being permanently let go in August 2013.

So I have mixed feelings about this surprise. Doing something for free that other, more qualified journalists once did for a living sometimes just doesn’t feel right. But then, really, before the Mississippi Books page came about at the Clarion-Ledger, nothing remotely like it had existed in the seventeen years I have been a subscriber.

Just before the Great Recession, one of our key bookselling partners, John Evans at Lemuria Books in Jackson, hatched an idea. Since I was in email contact frequently with all our Mississippi independent booksellers (and we have a lot of them) why not ask them to report a top ten bestsellers list each week? Call it, “The Mississippi Bestsellers List.” UPM could crunch the numbers and serve as the (mostly) dispassionate judge.

I was doubtful that a Gannett newspaper would go for it. And, sure enough, they didn’t back then.

Along came the Great Recession, and it seemed everybody (including my wife) was let go. In the turmoil, the newspaper’s then features editor Annie Oeth approached Evans for a meeting about something. But Evans began talking about creating The Mississippi Bestsellers List. When Oeth said yes to that, Evans said, well, okay, what about reviews by Mississippi writers writing about new books by Mississippians or about Mississippi? She said yes again.

Evans kept the good suggestions rolling, and by January of 2014, UPM publicist Clint Kimberling and I found ourselves part of a team editing and providing two full pages (and often more) of original, local content each Sunday on the Mississippi Books page, which appears both in print and online. Sunday circulation at the Clarion-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper, considered by the capital and much of the state to be the paper of record, tops 107,000.

When working on this project, I spend most of my time recruiting writers and matching them to ideal books. I lean on the team a lot for great suggestions, too. Kimberling writes articles, reviews, and crunches the sales numbers and streamlines the events calendar.

Liz Button’s April 2015 article about the project in Bookselling This Weekdescribes our operation most succinctly.

“Along with the bestseller lists, reviews, and interviews, the Clarion-Ledger’s two- to three-page Books feature… also includes exclusive columns from indie booksellers: Lisa Newman at Lemuria writes a weekly ‘First Editions’ column on rare and collectible books and fine bindings , and Clara Martin, also of Lemuria, writes her own weekly column about children’s and young adult books.

Every week, [editors lay] everything out to create an attractive spread, which includes periodic pieces by local freelance writer Jana Hoops, who interviews many of the big-name authors who come through Mississippi bookstores on tour. ”

Now former Clarion-Ledger reporter Jim “Pathfinder” Ewing regularly adds reviews and articles as well.

The project crosses a non-profit scholarly press with an independent for-profit bookstore and an affiliate of a gigantic, publicly held media conglomerate. Yet I find myself amazed and uplifted week after week. At the table when we gather, we are ego-less. We all want great content and a better book culture in Mississippi—nothing less, and nothing more.

Here are some examples of the voices we have brought to Mississippi book lovers lately.

From the chaos of a newspaper’s transformations, Kimberling and I now find ourselves part of a team running a book page every Sunday, a good in the world that did not previously exist. Once (and more properly) an agate clerk, I now find myself promoted to some weird kind of editor. No one is more shocked than I.


Eby’s “South Toward Home” pinpoints literary treasures

By Jim Ewing. Special to The Clarion-Ledger

61Gg+--6UeL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_If you’re looking for a sequel to the late Willie Morris’ “North Toward Home” in Margaret Eby’s “South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature,” you won’t find it. However, Eby’s “Home” is a fascinating travelogue of Southern writers’ home country— including Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harry Crews, Harper Le and Truman Capote, John Kennedy Toole, and Barry Hannah and Larry Brown.

As Eby notes, Faulkner didn’t write about the South; he wrote about Oxford —fictionalized as Yoknapatawpha. In the same vein, Welty wrote about Jackson, and John Toole about New Orleans.

“What makes a Southern writer,” she writes, “is not just the circumstances of his or her birth but a fierce attachment to a particular place.” Eby goes on to give vignettes about the selected Southern writers’ home towns, the places where they lived and wrote about throughout the Deep South. But they aren’t general overviews or a travelogue, per se; rather, they are unique attributes about the towns or the writers who lived in them as reflected by the physical surroundings.

For example, in Jackson, Eby chronicles Miss Eudora’s fondness for fried catfish and butter beans at the Mayflower Café on Capitol Street, and other local haunts. But she zeroes in on the now-open-to-the-public Welty House where, she writes, it’s less like entering another person’s home “than like dropping in to one of her stories.” The objects in the house — and particularly the garden — are masterfully linked to Eby’s obviously voluminous research in a seamless whole, so that Welty comes alive by presenting her provenance.

The formula is repeated in other authors’ surroundings, not the least of which is the absence of an extant home for Wright, who lived across town from Welty. Since his home has been torn down, she traces the trail he sets in his novel “Black Boy” from Natchez—his boyhood home — to Jackson to Beale Street in Memphis, where he also lived.

Eby describes the racism Wright encountered both before and after publication of his seminal “Native Son,” both in his books and contemporaneous accounts, as well as the physical surroundings that exist now. It’s an absorbing juxtaposition of the old and the new that raises profound questions about how race relations have changed and how they have not.

Some of Eby’s juiciest commentary involves Faulkner’s Oxford, where she says, some 50 years after his death, he is “more a part of the social atmosphere … than he ever was in his life.” There, “Faulkner is more than the mythical figure that brought home Mississippi’s first Nobel Prize for Literature. His legend is something like that of a bum uncle who died and revealed a hidden fortune — the very kind of uncle Southerners love to talk about.”

“Home” is a must-read for devotees of Southern writers and especially lovers of Mississippiana, if for no other reason, than the Oxford chapter.

She later returns to Oxford on the piece on Hannah (from Clinton) who described the place as “a United Nations with catfish on its breath,” and Larry Brown (from Yocona), since they were both associated with the place, and Lisa and John Howorth’s Square Books, a literati gathering place like John Evans’ Lemuria Books in Jackson. The tantalizing tales leave the reader yearning for more!

I would have enjoyed a piece about Morris and Yazoo City, especially since she notes that his “North Toward Home” served as an inspiration for her book, for its “warm, evocative” sense of place. Even so, without Yazoo’s inclusion, with her meticulous research and refreshing candor about the South, its places and writers, she does Willie proud.

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.

Guinn’s ‘Scribe’ launches him into Big Leagues of authors

By Jim Ewing                                                                                                                   Special to The Clarion-Ledger

51JagzLcXZL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Jackson author Matthew Guinn is moving into the Big Leagues of novelists with his second book, The Scribe.

A mystery that focuses on a grisly series of murders during the opening stages of the Atlanta 1881 International Cotton Exposition, a world’s fair precursor, Scribe has all the elements of the genre to propel Guinn to the top.

The protagonist, Thomas Canby, is a flawed and disgraced police detective and former Civil War soldier who creates as many personal complications in his life as he professionally seeks to solve. A compelling and complex character, Canby is an Atlanta native who joined the Union side for reasons of his own. Unraveling (and untangling), Canby’s life is as intriguing as the plot.

A theme throughout is Canby seeking to grasp the depth and elusiveness of pure evil, personified by a shadowy character who seems to outwit Canby and the leaders of Atlanta at every turn. But confront it, he does: including his own demons.

When I really saw it for the first time clean and clear it was not a shadow,” Canby confides. “No fleeting glimpse. It was in flesh, real as dirt and cold as gunmetal…”

Mystery surrounds Canby’s quest, as troubled and confused as the callous and boastful shallowness of Atlanta’s post-Reconstruction civic leaders who have discredited and reviled him. It’s hard to tell friend from foe — least of all his partner, Cyrus Underwood, the first black police detective in Atlanta (advanced by those leaders for political reasons though also despised by them). All are suspects. All are flawed as human beings.

It all works, masterfully.

As a historical novel, Scribe is well researched, displaying historical accuracy for the Atlanta area after Reconstruction ended. It has a believable plot with startling twists and turns that grip the reader; spot-on characters that assume lives of their own with dialogue that springs organically from their characters. It’s a gripping tale that will have readers gasping, both in suspense and in horror. And Guinn provides a deft weaving of clues and facts that build mystery and interest.

If there is a criticism to the book, its strength is its weakness. Scribe is rigidly plotted and tightly written — good things. But it could have added a dimension to the characters if there were more fleshed out flashbacks or vignettes to provide lasting word pictures of the main figures.

For example, Underwood is primarily seen through the eyes of Canby, and not given his own voice and motivation. (A future novel perhaps?) The love interest, Julia, has a history with Canby, but we do not know her thoughts or yearnings.

These are minor details that do not detract from the book and, arguably, could have slowed its pace.

Guinn, who also displayed skill of national note in the critically acclaimed The Resurrectionist (an Edgar Award finalist), now has attained with Scribe the distinction of being one of the most promising fiction writers in America today. It proves Guinn to be a bona fide heavy hitter in the genre of mystery writing.

If he can continue on this course, building a body of work of equal quality, he will find himself among a rare few of serious literary merit. It’s exciting to see his work unfold and eagerly anticipate new works from this Southern author Jackson can claim as its own.


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.

Meek’s ‘RIOT’ captures turmoil of Ole Miss 1962 integration

By Jim Ewing. Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Riotcover2-1-400x300Readers who pick up the large format book of photographs RIOT: Witness to Anger and Change should be prepared to be stunned and horrified. It graphically ushers the unwary into a world of violence and hate that could only have been captured by someone who was there during the racial madness when James Meredith became the first black student admitted into the University of Mississippi in 1962.

The narrative is revealing both in its raw honesty — as captivating as the photographs — and its nuance. It begins with Meek’s account. He was a 22-year-old Ole Miss staff photographer when the protest turned violent. He took more than 500 photos throughout that night and the next day, which form the book’s basis.

The riot began at dusk,” Sept. 30, 1962, Meek writes. “Bottles flew by me to strike federal marshals. Tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd. Bricks smashed into windshields and cars were set on fire. … bullets were flying. Snipers were on top of Bryant Hall, the fine arts center, and on the roof of the old Y building firing at the marshals. I counted a dozen bullet holes on the pillars and door facings of the Lyceum.”

The shots, bricks and mayhem was not at the hands of students, but from thousands of outsiders flooding in.

When it was over, two people were dead, hundreds were injured or arrested. But, added journalist and author Curtis Wilkie, who was a student at the time and writes a superb introduction to the book, “the reputation of Ole Miss was gravely wounded.”

RIOT is a well-crafted book that could stand alone with its stunning photography but it is immeasurably amplified by the insightful commentary by witnesses to the cataclysmic events. The photos are especially compelling as snapshots of a time and place that seems incomprehensible to today — or, perhaps, in some ways, chillingly not.

For example, in one sequence of photos, Meek captured scenes of a football rally the evening before the riot that appear as some bizarre KKK nightmare. In them, a cheerleader rallies the crowd before a giant bonfire and, in another, smiling majorettes wave a large Rebel flag as the band plays behind them. It was all wrapped up, football, politics and “winning” in one broad cloth.

As Wilkie recounts, at that rally, “the state was basically on a war footing and for the first time, the little miniature Confederate battle flags were brought out and distributed to the crowd.”

At the game itself, Gov. Ross Barnett addressed the crowd at halftime, extolling states rights and calling on every Mississippian to stand up to the federal government.

In the moments before the actual rioting begins, Meek recounts, a student played “Dixie,” another dressed as a Confederate soldier brandished his sword. “It felt like a pep rally until I heard the hiss of a bottle sailing over my head and saw it strike a marshal’s helmet,” Meek writes. A television station in Jackson was also cheering for action, calling “for Mississippians to take up arms and travel to Oxford.”

The reminiscence of Meek, who went on to become an assistant vice chancellor and professor, for whom the Ole Miss Meek School of Journalism is named, is particularly personal and revealing.

I grew up in Mississippi, a segregated society where African-Americans were virtually enslaved as second-class citizens,” he writes. When the National Guard showed up at Ole Miss, he adds, “they were as conflicted as I was.” But he was “about to be brought to terms with my previously unexamined racism.”

Ole Miss alumni or supporters shouldn’t expect any sugar coating from RIOT. While the event is “not remembered with pride at our alma mater,” Wilkie writes, RIOT is “an indelible reminder of our past.”

To the school’s credit, Ole Miss has never tried to whitewash the story. … The University of Mississippi confronted and eventually came to terms with the traumatic events,” he said, proactively seeking to champion diversity and racial healing. It’s a story that should not be forgotten, lest it be repeated.

As former Gov. William F. Winter said in RIOT’s afterword, courageous trailblazers like Meredith and slain Jackson civil rights leader Medgar Evers are owed a debt of gratitude by all Mississippians.

They freed us, too. All of us, black and white alike, had been victims of a cruel system of apartheid that kept us all enslaved,” said Winter, an Ole Miss alum who helped found the William Winter Institute of Racial Reconciliation at the university.

RIOT should be on the coffee table of every Mississippian, as a reminder of where we came from and where we need to go. And it should not only be displayed, but read, studied and remembered.


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, in stores now.

Wessman’s ‘Katrina’ gripping tale of Mississippi’s first responders

By Jim Ewing. Special to The Clarion-Ledger


1-KatrinaCvrwebNancyKay Wessman’s Katrina Mississippi: Voices from Ground Zero masterfully chronicles the heroic efforts of first responders in days leading up to Mississippi’s worst hurricane and its devastating aftermath.

Written with factual flair, Voices provides a gripping page-turner of the events leading up to the August 29, 2005, storm that builds in tension like the storm that came ashore with surprising and shocking intensity.

Described as a 250-mile wide entity of “pure evil,” the storm claimed 1,836 lives, cost upwards of $115 billion in damages throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, she relates, and churned a path of wind and water all the way to the Great Lakes.

But the focus of the book is on those who stepped up to confront the storm, prepare for it, survive it, and struggle to make the region whole afterward. Main players are listed in the beginning as Champions of the Storm. They include the federal, state and local emergency management teams, the local and state leaders, and volunteers. The book describes their fears, hopes and realities as they sought to help the region prepare and recover.

Many of the first responders of the coming storm were caught unawares when they were thrust into the enormity of the region’s needs, much like Joe Spraggins. Recently retired as base commander of the U.S. Air Force/National Guard facility in Gulfport, he accepted a job as director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for Harrison County. He was contracted to begin work Aug. 29, 2005.

But Spraggins, like many others, saw the storm quickly growing in the Gulf of Mexico and came onboard early, anticipating events and taking action before his official start date, learning by doing how to respond to the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history.

He, like many others on the Coast, watched in awe:

— The highest sea surge ever recorded in the Gulf coming toward Mississippi;

— Record river levels overcoming bridges designed for 500-year floods;

— Windows at Memorial Hospital of Gulfport crafted to withstand 300-mile-per-hour winds sucked out in showers of glass as patients huddled in hallways;

— The power shutting down and water cascading down stairways at the Harrison County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) headquarters that was built to survive the previously worst storm of Hurricane Camille in 1969;

— Harrison County EOC officials finding their options as Katrina hit of “hang on, swim, or drown.”

The tales of those in aftermath are astounding and too many to enumerate, including:

— Then-U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor a homeless person, his house destroyed;

— Emergency management leaders cut off from the outside world, without land lines or cellphone service, wondering why their pleas for aid were not being met, and then watching on a Florida command center’s mobile unit live feeds on CNN about rioting, looting and fires in New Orleans;

— A funeral home owner in tears because his morgue was full, contemplating having to put bodies on the sidewalk.

Volunteers went door-to-door in the most ravaged neighborhoods with physicians in tow, not knowing what they would find. Said one: “They had dead bodies and standing water in their houses. … There was no water, no bathroom, no food, and bodies everywhere.”

Wessman details these and many more events weaved throughout the book filled with tales of unparalleled valor and sacrifice, heartache, and even political intrigue that complicated the responders’ life-saving efforts.

Wessman said in the introduction that she decided to write the book in 2008 when she “realized that nobody had told Mississippi’s story, not really.”

While New Orleans got the headlines, the story of Mississippi taking the brunt of the storm seemed almost an afterthought.

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has also penned a book, America’s Great Storm, which is also being published in this 10th anniversary of the hurricane, that details the political and social effects of Katrina. Wessman’s Voices makes a great companion volume, as the title suggests, from “ground zero.”

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.

Gamers save the planet in ‘Armada’

By Jim Ewing                                                                                                                   Special to The Clarion-Ledger

JacketIf you enjoy playing space invader video games and have ever thought of yourself while doing so as saving the planet (and who hasn’t?), then Ernest Cline’s Armada is for you!

The premise is simple: Zack Lightman, a high school senior, is joyfully addicted to playing video games. In fact, after school, he even works in a video arcade where he and his gamer boss Ray spend more time playing games than waiting on customers.

As a result, Zack has cracked the Top 10 of players in the Armada game, where players seek to defend the Earth from squid-like extraterrestrials bent on the planet’s destruction.

Little does he know — but he soon finds out! — that the Armada game (which is a drone spaceflight simulation game) and its terrestrial companion Terra Firma, a land-based bot fighter game, are actually testing outlets for would-be real pilots!

In case this sounds remarkably like the 1984 film The Last Starfighter, Cline makes no bones about it, commenting on it upfront — along with references to every video game such as Space Invaders and Star Raiders that proceed along the same lines. In fact, Armada revels in its geekiness and exalts it, stringing references to films, games, TV shows, comics and the like with gleeful abandon.

giphy (1)Suffice it to say, if you loved Starfighter and grok references to Wolverines (Red Dawn), May The Force Be With You (Star Wars), and Klaatu barada nikto (The Day the Earth Stood Still), you’ll love Armada.

In pure critical terms, Armada is not likely to win any awards for dialogue, character or plot (after all, it’s essentially played out in every teen’s living room across America and accurately portrays that enthusiasm), but it’s a fun book and, yes, it has elements that keep the reader interested. 

Hewl-TankyThere is the love interest, for example, Lexis Larkin, who not only loves Zack’s geekiness but beats him at it, and is “hot,” as Zack puts it: “Her pale, alabaster skin contrasted sharply with her dark clothing — black combat boots, black jeans, and black tank top (which didn’t fully conceal the black bra she was wearing underneath). She had a spiky wave of black hair that was buzzed down one side and chin-length on the other. But the real kicker were her tattoos, one each arm: on the left was a beautiful seminude rendering of the comic book heroine Tank Girl, adorned in postapocalyptic rock lingerie and smooching an M16. On her right bicep in stylized capital letters were the words El Riesgo Siempre Vive …”

With that motto (“The Risk Always Lives”), gamers will know that Larkin is the equivalent of Private First Class Jenette Vasquez in the Alien vs. Predator games. She shares in his efforts to save the world, including Zack’s hide. (For older gamers, think of Sarah Conner in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.)

If you want to know what your teen is reading this summer, Amada is probably it. But, while Armada should find popularity among young people, it also provides nostalgia for older folk with its 1980s and ’90s references, especially its song list of 1980s rock ‘n’ roll hits that Zack plays while battling aliens. And it’s filled with witty observations: e.g., speculating on why the aliens attacked Earth. “Maybe they seeded life on Earth millions of years ago, and now they’re here to punish us for turning out to be such a lame species and inventing reality TV…”

It’s hard to judge if Armada is really science fiction or simply a gamer book, but maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s a romp; entertaining, fun, an adventure.

Keep_Calm_Because_the_Cake_is_a_Lie!It does, however, have a plot twist that’s bound to surprise. As the meme from the game Portal is weaved into Armada: The Cake is a Lie!


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.

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