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The Mississippi Blood Debut

 

The Mississippi Blood Book Tour

Mississippi Writer
Hewitt Clarke

 

A Hewitt Clarke's Mississippi Website Exclusive
by
Bill White

For those of you who don't know me from Adam, you might be interested to learn that I am the guilty party (mea culpa, mea culpa!) that designed the dust jacket for Mr. Clarke's latest book, Mississippi Blood, and the Webmaster of this website. Actually I'm being very generous when I say "designed", the dust jacket. More than having been deliberately designed, the jacket just sort of came together, with a suggestion here and a suggestion there, so it's hard to take full credit (or blame, as the case may be.)

However, having worked with the jacket became my foot-in-the-door to wrangle an invitation from Mr. Clarke to accompany him on the kick-off of his latest literary effort. The "Book Tour" as we called it took us over a large part of the low hills and piney woods of east Mississippi and I enjoyed every minute of it as did most of the Hewitt Clarke fans that showed up by the dozens (sometimes hundreds) at each book signing stop.

It was my privilege to wear a number of hats, (i.e. play a number of different roles) during the trip. Often (well, after the first few days when I got my bearings), I was the "Advance Man" showing up early and bullying the vendor's representatives into giving us more space, more tables, more chairs, more stuff in general, and to move it (whatever it may have been...) here, move it there and on and on. I learned early on that it's hard to annoy east Mississippi book sellers, but it can be done. I also learned that all were truly pleased to have Mr. Clarke in their establishments.

Later, during the tour, on a little investigatory jaunt to the side, when I explained that I had done the dust cover for Mississippi Blood as my reason be being present, I was told "Oh, I thought you were his [Mr. Clarke's] body guard." When we headed home for the evening, we all had a chuckle over that and Mrs. Clarke and I worked it out between us that if there actually were any trouble, I'd sit on the culprit while she pounded on him with the heaviest nearby object she could find.

Lastly, since Mr. Clarke is an important east Mississippi writer, I thought he should have an appropriate "entourage" so, since there was just the three of us, I immediately promoted myself to "entourage" and, thereafter, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke traveled with their entourage. Yes, we had a little fun, but mostly the tour was hard work, especially for Mr. Clarke who, if he didn't get writer's cramp while writing Mississippi Blood, he certainly had a clinical case of it after he finished signing over a thousand books in just ten short days.

Since we saw and visited with so many good, down-home folks and since it was my first trip of this nature, I thought you might enjoy (if you have a few minutes to kill) reading about our trials and tribulations along the road in east Mississippi.

Mr. Clarke autographs copies of
Mississippi Blood at the
Meridian VFW.

Even before I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, December 3, 2008, Mr. Clarke was already busy visiting friends and contacts in the area. On Thursday, he had a scheduled appearance for an interview on WMOX radio where he discussed Mississippi Blood and his other works of east Mississippi history.

We kicked off the book tour with a private signing on December 5, 2008 at the Stephenson-Delauncey Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Number 79 located on Old Highway 80 in Meridian. This VFW post is a great place with some very kind members, even the name of this post, Stephenson-Delauncey, has some very interesting historical context, but that's another story. I arrived shortly after  7:00 pm to find Mr. and Mrs. Clarke already there, along with about one or two hundred of their closest east Mississippi friends, and as busy as possible. The interest in the book generated by the three articles in the Meridian Star and the chilling and riveting story itself, had just about every one ready to buy a copy or two.

Signing copies of Mississippi
Blood
for his VFW friends is a
great pleasure but after the first
hundred or so, the
autographing hand gets weary.

By the way, if you missed the articles in the Meridian Star, the Meridian Public Library will be glad to let you read the back copies of the newspaper. The first article ran on November 27, 2008. It was written by Bill Smith of WMOX radio and covered part I of Mississippi Blood. The second, written by Ms. Carol James of the Meridian Public Library ran on November 28. The third article, ran on December 2, 2008 and covered the third part which is entitled "Retribution." This last article was written by yours truly but try not to hold that against me either -- I'm in enough trouble over the dust jacket.

We met some interesting and delightful people and enjoyed the fellowship and friendly conversations. I especially enjoyed listening to the many people who knew the Tiffees or someone involved in the story, recount their own knowledge of the actual events.

Meanwhile, back at the VFW,  the band got into the act with some excellent Country and Western music and some took to the dance floor to enjoy the evening. It was a great pleasure to meet some of Meridian's most prominent citizens, among them several had some direct connections to Mr. Clarke's books.  When I headed home around 9:00 PM, the party was "jumping." Mr. Clarke's book-signing hand was tired beyond belief and we had sold nearly a hundred books, one person buying ten books to give as Christmas gifts. If it weren't such an overused cliché, I'd say "a good time was had by all."

The Meridian Public Library
hosts Mr. Clarke

The next morning at 10:00 we were at the Meridian Public Library. Determined to get there a little early, I arrived about 9:40 to discover Mr. and Mrs. Clarke already in place, Mr. Clarke holding forth on all things east Mississippi with a large crowd gathered around listening raptly to every word he spoke.

The Meridian Public Library discussion had been set up for us by the Clarke's friend and library contact Carol James. She was a wonderful hostess and a great lady. Before we reached the actual book signing portion of the presentation, we had more than 60 people waiting and listening -- people trying to use the library for other purposes were standing up to do their research because we had most of the chairs in the building clustered around Mr. Clarke.

Mr. Clarks signs books at the
Meridian Public Library.

We were pleased to recognize a member of the audience, the sister of Peanut Griffin. Peanut was one of the principal players in the Mississippi Blood drama and Mr. Clarke presented his sister with her own personally autographed copy of the book.

Everyone has a story to tell
Mr. Clarke.

When the book signing portion of the presentation got under way the line stretched well into the library as the folks cued up to get their own copies of Mississippi Blood. We had to return to the vehicle twice to get more copies of the book because of the great response. The library staff, Ms. James and Mr. Kevin Chatham were essential to the signing, helping us with everything from the seating arrangements to hauling books in and out of the building. Ms. James even assisted Mrs. Clarke in passing out the copies of Mississippi Blood to the library patrons who had attended this special event and who were quite intent on not leaving without their own personal copy of the book.

Books-A-Million sells out but
are quickly restocking
Mississippi Blood.

That same afternoon, December 6, 2008 we arrived at the Meridian Books-A-Million store. Running a little late because of our very warm reception at the Meridian Public Library, we arrived a few minutes after noon. When we entered the store, Books-A-Million had already set up tables in the front of the store in anticipation of our arrival. Further, the line of people wanting to purchase a copy of Mississippi Blood stretched from the table in the front of the store all the way to the back wall of the business. When we left at about 2:30 PM we had sold all but 80 books that the store had purchased from Lone Star Press. We checked back in with the store on Wednesday to discover that the remaining 80 books had been sold out completely by Monday morning.

When I had arrived at the VFW on Friday night, Mr. Clarke said that he couldn't go anywhere in east Mississippi where people didn't have a story to tell him. If I had doubted him, I would have been proven wrong time and time again. Literally everywhere we went, even in the Books-A-Million store, folks would step out of line and sidle up to the table to share with him some jewel of family history or some idea for a story that needed to be presented in his next book. These tales were invariably interesting and much appreciated by Mr. Clarke.

Dancing Rabbit Press,
Philadelphia, Mississippi

We left Books-A-Million about 2:30 and headed up the road to Philadelphia, Mississippi where we stopped in at Dancing Rabbit Press at 402 East Beacon Street and visited with the proprietor Mr. Steven Stubbs. Mr. Stubbs, a writer himself, was a most gracious host and we hung out with him for a few hours while Mr. Clarke signed a few books. Mr. Stubbs' own book, "Duty, Honor, Valor: The Story of the Eleventh Mississippi Infantry Regiment" is an excellent history of the 11th Mississippi and I had an opportunity to read portions of it while we were there. If you're interested in this particular Civil War unit, it's a great read. Please visit Mr. Stubbs' website at http://DancingRabbitPress.Com, if you'd like to have a copy of this or any of his other publications.

Exhausted from our efforts, we returned to Meridian, had an excellent meal at one of Meridian's finest restaurants and I headed home to crash for the evening.

Sunday and Monday were off days, our next signing was scheduled for Tuesday, so, making the most of the down time, we traveled to Pachuta, Mississippi for a little research. A friend or acquaintance of the Clarkes had once owned some property in Pachuta and had asked Mr. Clarke to inspect an Indian mound on the property and advise her if it might be of any archeological interest. We arrived in Pachuta and with a little difficultly, found the property in question. For the next two hours we stomped around in the 26 acre site looking for some indication of the presence of an ancient Indian mound to no avail. On the way out we were accosted by a woman who indicated that she owned the property and wanted to know "what we were up to." After some explanations, it was learned that the property had apparently changed hands and we were asked to leave. Which we did without further adieu, however, our mission had already been accomplished in that if there had ever been an ancient Indian mound here, there were no remaining traces of it.

In any event, we had a pleasant drive home and detoured through Enterprise, which was a big Civil War city, Stonewall, with its' own charming history and up highway 45 back into Meridian. We had a great time and with Mr. Clarke riding shotgun in my rental car, I got chapter and verse on just about every historically significant place we passed. It was great! We even passed a house, nearer to Meridian, in which Mr. Clarke had lived as a child. We made an effort to visit there but no one was home and not wanting to get chased off of two properties in one day we retreated to the car.

Decatur Public Library chat
includes Bloody Kemper as well
as
Mississippi Blood.

However, when we went up an adjacent road that passed near the rear of the house, we were besieged with cats. Yes, cats. House cats -- short hairs, long hairs, short tails, long tails, no tails cats -- running and mewing and yowling to the vehicle. There must have been 50 cats running into the road, surrounding the car, no doubt thinking that we had brought kibble for the hoard and were wearing catnip underwear. They were all very well nourished and groomed and were obviously well taken care of, but it was a harrowing experience navigating back down the road with cats swarming around the vehicle. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a good day -- a great day, if you happen to be a cat lover.

Monday I spent a little time with my Meridian family, while Mr. Clarke dragged his now much over-worked self out of a peaceful sleep to arrive at WTOK TV at 5:45 AM for an interview that was to be aired later that morning, but on Tuesday it was "off to the races" again as we pushed on into book-signing mode. At 11:30 on Tuesday I arrived at The Book Exchange at 2113 Front Street in Meridian. When the signing began it was another banner day for Mississippi Blood and we sold a great many books and received a number of "insider" stories about east Mississippi events past and present. Because The Book Exchange has a special arrangement with Mr. Clarke, it is probably your best bet for finding a copy of Mississippi Blood in Meridian, at least until some of the other vendors have had a chance to restock.

"Holding forth" on east Mississippi history.
At Decatur Bloody Kemper is nearly as
popular as the latest effort,
Mississippi Blood.

Wednesday, December 10, it was up the road to Dekalb in Kemper County, Mississippi where we visited the Dekalb Public Library. We arrived at noon and found a very interested audience awaiting our arrival. Of course the conversation, as you might image, included Mr. Clarke's earlier book Bloody Kemper as well as the current publication and some of the information that was shared with us was simply amazing. Sales were very good and after the event we had lunch at a local establishment called the "Kountry Kitchen." The food was down-home southern cooking and although we arrived at closing time, we were served an excellent meal. From here we went to Scooba on another research expedition.

A few of Mr. Clarke's younger
fans at Mr. Discount Drugs
Number 2 talk east Mississippi
history.

On Thursday it was Don Waldron's Mr. Discount Drugs Number 2 at 4832 Poplar Springs Drive. This was a very small store and we really crowded it with all the book buyers and talkers that arrived for the signing. It was another great day and Don Waldron will have to restock his Mr. Discount Drug store with fresh copies of Mississippi Blood before he'll sell anymore books.

Mississippi Blood appeals to
fans of all ages, perhaps a bit
more to those who clearly
remember the story as it
happened.

Mr. Clarke was a few minutes late arriving at this location because he was detained at WTOK TV where he was taping his second interview. This time, instead of a 7 minute spot on the morning show, it was a full half-hour special. Check your local TV listings for the time and date the program will be aired.  It is, to be sure, worth watching.

On Saturday we began the final day of the book tour with a visit to the Decatur Historical and Genealogical Society. We were greeted by Dr. Harold Graham, the president of the organization and Melvin Tingle, the host of the long running television program, Mississippi Outdoors. Mr. Clarke spoke for about thirty minutes to the packed crowd and Mrs. Clarke was well occupied trying to keep track of all the books that went home at the end of the day with new owners.

Along the way, somewhere between the VFW and the stop in Decatur, it was learned that many old friends and acquaintances from Mr. Clarke's research days for The East End Tea Room usually assembled at least once a week, for breakfast at a local restaurant. A quick telephone call and a little coordination lined up a couple of extra hours to visit with these old friends.  We enjoyed breakfast with Sonny Cunningham, Kooker Riley, Johnny Steed, and Jimmy Harwell some of whom you'll remember from The East End Tea Room.  We had a fine time getting updated on the gang from the Tea Room and hearing a few new stories just begging to be written.

Mr. Clarke addresses the
Decatur Historical and
Genealogical Society.

After a brief side trip to Terry, Mississippi, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke layed over for the evening and headed home Sunday morning. As for me, well, I just flew in from Meridian and boy are my arms tired. Okay, that's just a little humor, but it's great to be back in Richmond! The "Meridian Expedition" as a certain Yankee general might have called it, was a great success and Mississippi Blood promises to be one of Mr. Clarke's most sought after books. You'll want to get your copy soon or end up like those "po' folks" who were tardy buying their copies of Thunder At Meridian and Bloody Kemper only to find that they now cost between $100 and $300 each, depending on condition, on the Internet.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to see us, even those who just wanted to get their other Hewitt Clarke books autographed, and those many wonderful folks with an east Mississippi story just begging to be told. Everyone is asking when Mr. Clarke's next book will be available and what interesting and exciting tale of east Mississippi he'll tell in it. The answer is...

Watch this website for further developments.

 

 

   

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