One Night In Mississippi

One Night In Mississippi

Posted on March 2 by Kyle in Interview
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Tell us about your book

In One Night in Mississippi, Warren Williams is a young man in Mississippi in the 1960's when his brother is brutally lynched. He watches helplessly from the courthouse steps as the men responsible walk free without having served a day in jail. Decades later, estranged from his family and drifting through life, Warren sees Byron de La Beckwith sentenced to prison for the assassination of Medgar Evers, 31 years earlier. Warren campaigns to have his own brother's case re-opened, which leads him to a fateful confrontation with Earl Olsen, one of the last remaining perpetrators of his brother’s murder.


How did you come up with the idea for this work

There were several real-life civil rights era cases which were re-opened in the early part of the 2000’s, resulting in a string of 60 and 70 year old men going to jail for crimes which they had long since thought they had gotten away with. The public reaction was split, with some saying justice had finally come and others saying it was doing more harm than good to re-open old wounds, and the reaction was by no means split along racial lines. The whole situation was fascinating to me, so I started crafting characters and a story around the scenario. Eventually, of course, the characters took over and it became more about the men involved than about the inciting incident.


Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work

While much of the story takes place across the backdrop of the civil rights era south, this story is not so much about race as it is about family relationships, and how they can be sometimes a blessing, sometimes a burden.  The relationships between Warren and his brother, and Earl and his father, are what drive their actions much more so than their backgrounds or their politics.  Warren and Earl are both wracked with guilt over how their actions have affected their respective families, and both have been running from the events that occurred on the evening of the lynching, though each in his own way.


How did you research your book

A lot of books and news articles, initially, but then I did make the trip to Mississippi to bolster my research.  I attended a meeting of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and spent some time at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I also drove around various parts of the state and was amazed at how little has changed in the rural areas. Not so much in terms of attitude - everyone I met treated me extremely kindly - but in terms of physical environment. The natural beauty and harshness, the squalor, the isolation - all of those elements have resisted change.


What's the best advice you've ever received as a writer

Don’t edit during the first draft. That may not be the best advice for everyone, but it was the advice that I needed to get going, otherwise I would still be trying to re-write the first paragraph for the hundredth time. In The Plague by Albert Camus, there is a character who dreams of writing a novel, but who instead amasses a stack of paper containing almost endless re-workings of the novel’s opening sentence.  It can happen! It's very freeing to turn off your internal critic during the first draft and just write what comes.  I heard someone say once that cooking is art and baking is science. I feel like you could say the same thing, substituting “writing” for “cooking”, and “editing” for “baking”. The two tasks have to be approached with an entirely different mindset, and I think it’s helpful to avoid jumping back and forth between the two.


Craig Shreve

author of One Night in Mississippi