Smith’s new book weaves through Union historyBy DEMETRIUS THOMPSON,
Fans of historical fiction, especially those with Newton County ties, will probably want to seek out Union native Johnnie Neil Smith’s new novel Beyond His Mercy,” co-written by his wife, Susan.
The book tells the story of his great-great grandfather, Lott Williams, who located the children of his murdered son-in-law and deceased daughter who lived in Cass County, Texas, and who then brought his grandchildren to live with him in Mississippi.
In doing research for the book, Smith found that one of the children, Tommy, who witnessed the murder of his father, still had several descendants in the Union area.
When they relocated, the family settled on a farm near the Neshoba County Fairgrounds.
“The interesting part is when I got into the story, I called Sue Addy, (the late Newton County Appeal Union columnist). She was a Lewis, and a descendant of one of the five children that were brought back,” Smith said. “So, I talked to her to find out what happened to these five children. I couldn’t get a lot of information, but Tommy, her grandfather, he was the one who saw his father being murdered. I started communicating with her. Thomas settled in the Dixon area, and come to find out, one of my classmates were descendants of Thomas.”
Smith contacted Addy’s sister, Nancy Franklin, to help gather all of the local descendants of Thomas at Addy’s former home on Sunday, Oct. 22.
Born and reared in Union, Smith’s mother was school teacher here and his father owned the Chrysler and Plymouth dealership. After graduating from ECCC, Smith then earned his bachelor’s degree at Mississippi College, and his masters at Southern Miss. Smith started the band program and the football team at Beulah Hubbard School in 1962.
He then moved to Georgia in 1968 and was in teaching and administration for 43 years in Mississippi and Georgia, while Susan was in education for 38 years.
In was while doing a common pastime that he first decided to pursuit writing.
“Back in 1994, we were flipping channels and couldn’t find anything interesting. I just made a statement to my wife, that I could probably write something better than what we were trying to watch on T.V., and she said, ‘well go ahead and do it,’” Smith said. “I had taught Mississippi history, Georgia history and American history and I love early American history. So, what I’ve done is I’ve dug out bits and pieces of my family history back into the late 1800s and made stories out of them. I take the facts and weave stories into them.”
Johnnie does the research and Susan fine tunes the narratives.
“My wife has an English background and is an avid reader, and she is my primary editor,” Smith said. She takes my stories and makes them into very readable novels so I give her a lot of the credit. So, when the novels go to the publishing company, they have very little to do because she does an excellent job and she writes a lot of the women’s’ dialogue.”
Since then, the couple has published four Christian historical fiction novels, “Beyond the Storm,” “Hillcountry Warriors” and “Unconquered.”
Smith, who now lives in Monticello, Ga., returns to his hometown and will be holding a book signing in the area in May, which will coincide with the UHS Class of 1957 reunion.
For more information about “Beyond His Mercy,” visit sunstonepress.com, or visit Smith’s Facebook page.