Writing, Publishing, Book Marketing: QA session with Joanna Penn
February 1994—Lynwood, Louisiana: Flaming crosses light up the night and terrorize the southern town. The resurgent Klan wants a new race war, and the Klansmen will start it here. As federal civil rights prosecutor Adrien Rush is about to discover, the ugly roots of the past run deep in Lynwood.
For Nettie Wynn, a victim of the cross burnings and lifelong resident of the town’s segregated neighborhood, the hate crimes summon frightful memories of her youth, when she witnessed white townspeople lynch a black man. Her granddaughter Nicole DuBose, a successful journalist in New York City, returns to Lynwood to care for her grandmother. Rush arrives from DC and investigates the crimes with Lee Mercer, a seasoned local FBI special agent. Their partnership is tested as they clash over how far to go to catch the racists before the violence escalates. Rush’s role in the case becomes even more complicated after he falls for DuBose. When crucial evidence becomes compromisethreatening to upend what should be a celebrated conviction—the lines between right and wrong, black and white, collide with deadly consequences.
No Truth Left to Tell is a smart legal thriller that pulls readers into a compelling courtroom drama and an illusive search for justice in a troubled community.
The following excerpt is reprinted from No Truth Left to Tell by Michael McAuliffe, released on March 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission of Greenleaf Book Group. Copyright © 2020 Michael McAuliffe.
Nettie glided along the sidewalk in her best dress, her mother’s creation that would soon be too small. That Saturday, however, the colorful outfit still fit and perfectly complemented her wide smile and earnest stride. The dress was spring blue with flower patterns bursting open into full blossoms, quite like Nettie herself.
She stayed out of the way of the white pedestrians inspecting her with what appeared to be a mixture of curiosity and irritation. “What’s that one doin’ here?” one woman asked as she passed by. So Nettie hugged the buildings as she moved, trying to disappear against the facades. There was something big going on in the square, but Nettie couldn’t see over or through the gathering, since she was just seven years old.
She had pleaded with her parents to go with her father from their home in Mooretown, Lynwood’s section for blacks, to a nearby town while he delivered a meal to a close friend who was gravely ill. At the last minute, Nettie’s mother had wanted one more item added to the delivery from a store on Lynwood’s downtown square—an establishment that served them only from the back door off an alley. Nettie was supposed to wait in the car, but despite her father’s admonishments, the strange and festive noises drew her out into the nearby crowd where she was protected only by her look of youthful wonder.
Lynwood’s civic core was comprised of an expanse of lawn with a massive oak reigning over the surroundings. Four perpendicular streets framed the lawn, and they had been closed for several hours so people could mingle without regard to sputtering cars. The attendees had obliged the gesture by swarming the entire area by midmorning. The day’s activities appeared to originate across the street nearer the tree, allowing the spectators along the periphery to wander about with more freedom. From where Nettie was she could see the crown of the tree, and she moved in that direction as if pulled by some invisible force.
The day was hot and humid. High clouds had gathered through the morning and darkened the midday sky, but the music played on and people chatted in small groups as if they were at an annual parish fair.
After several minutes of distant rumbling a sprinkle started, and it soon developed into cascading water pouring from invisible pots in the sky. The drenching dispersed the crowd into stores and under awnings. Deserted chairs and soda bottles lay across the lawn.
The scattering of the masses created large openings around the square. What was an impenetrable wall of people became a flat, open field of vision. The oak, of course, remained right where it had begun decades before as a sapling.
Nettie couldn’t run into any of the stores like the others caught out in the street during the rainstorm. So, like the oak, she remained standing, although now she had a clear view of the square. Her dress—dripping and heavy with water—would have distracted her in any other setting, but unanswered curiosity kept her searching the square for clues about the day’s festivities.
The oak tree had long, thick branches, like the heavy arms of a giant. A braided rope was slung over one of these arms, out about ten feet from the trunk. The rope was wrapped once about the branch and secured to a large stake in the ground. The other end of the rope was fashioned into a noose, and suspended from it was the still body of a black man. The man’s neck was grotesquely angled, and the feet were bare. His hands were bound behind his back.
Nettie leaned forward like she was about to rush toward the oak. But she neither ran away nor went to it. She stared up at what had been until moments before a living, breathing person. She was frozen in place and time—alone in the moment when her world changed forever.
Her father came running from behind and snatched her up with such force that the dress ripped along a side seam. He covered her with his protective embrace and spirited her away to the car that waited in the alley. They headed straight home using back streets and little-known shortcuts, the car not speeding despite the urgency of the situation. The trip to deliver the meal basket was abandoned as her father kept swearing that he’d never go to the square again.
Nettie didn’t look outside the car. She kept her head down and stared at one of the dress’s printed blossoms, the flower part of the pattern ending at the hemline to reveal her trembling knees.
Michael McAuliffe is the author of No Truth Left to Tell and has been a practicing lawyer for thirty years. He was a federal prosecutor serving both as a supervisory assistant US attorney in the Southern District of Florida and a trial attorney in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. In 2008, Michael was elected and served as the state attorney for Palm Beach County, leading an office of approximately 125 prosecutors. He was known for leading the ethics reform movement in county that resulted in the creation of a permanent inspector general, an ethics commission, and new ethics code. Michael and his wife Robin Rosenberg, a US district judge, have three children and live in Florida and Massachusetts. For more information, please visit https://notruthlefttotell.com/
To save the world and our future, Sigma Force must embark on a dangerous odyssey into an ancient past whose horrors are all too present in this page-turning thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author James Rollins that combines cutting-edge science, historical mystery, mythology, and pulse-pounding action.
For eons, the city of Troy—whose legendary fall was detailed in Homer’s Iliad—was believed to be myth, until archaeologists in the nineteenth century uncovered its ancient walls buried beneath the sands. If Troy was real, how much of Homer’s twin tales of gods and monsters, curses and miracles—The Iliad and The Odyssey—could also be true and awaiting discovery?
In the frozen tundra of Greenland, a group of modern-day researchers stumble on a shocking find: a medieval ship buried a half-mile below the ice. The ship’s hold contains a collection of even older artifacts—tools of war—dating back to the Bronze Age. Inside the captain’s cabin is a magnificent treasure that is as priceless as it is miraculous: a clockwork gold map imbedded with an intricate silver astrolabe. The mechanism was crafted by a group of Muslim inventors—the Banū Mūsā brothers—considered by many to be the Da Vincis of the Arab world—brilliant scientists who inspired Leonardo’s own work.
Once activated, the moving map traces the path of Odysseus’s famous ship as it sailed away from Troy. But the route detours as the map opens to reveal a fiery river leading to a hidden realm underneath the Mediterranean Sea. It is the subterranean world of Tartarus, the Greek name for Hell. In mythology, Tartarus was where the wicked were punished and the monstrous Titans of old, imprisoned.
When word of Tartarus spreads—and of the cache of miraculous weapons said to be hidden there—tensions explode in this volatile region where Turks battle Kurds, terrorists wage war, and civilians suffer untold horrors. The phantasmagoric horrors found in Homer’s tales are all too real—and could be unleashed upon the world. Whoever possesses them can use their awesome power to control the future of humanity.
Now, Sigma Force must go where humans fear to tread. To prevent a tyrant from igniting a global war, they must cross the very gates of Hell.
It’s 1905, and the Japanese victory over the Russians has shocked the British and their imperial subjects. Sixteen-year-old Leela and her younger sister, Maya, are spurred on to wear homespun to show the British that the Indians won’t be oppressed for much longer, either, but when Leela’s betrothed, Nash, asks her to circulate a petition amongst her classmates to desegregate the girls’ school in Chadrapur, she’s wary. She needs to remind Maya that the old ways are not all bad, for soon Maya will have to join her own betrothed and his family in their quiet village. When she discovers that Maya has embarked on a forbidden romance, Leela’s response shocks her family, her town, and her country firmly into the new century.
The next day my cheeks, my eyes, and my hair are as good as they’re going to be when Nash arrives just after breakfast. Instead of inviting us to his family’s for lunch, he is taking Maya and me to Gol Ghar. Everybody, from children to grandparents, loves Gol Ghar, but I wonder if he’s chosen the grain silo so that we will have an excuse to walk hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder up the narrow staircase. As Maya tells him about the good luck we’ve had with the training college’s opening, I study him.
Nash has always been beautiful: his dark skin smooth, his broad lips projecting softness, his lashes longer than mine with three coats of petroleum jelly. Beautiful, and somehow therefore gentle: the Chowdhurys have always been successful, and lucky, and generous. They have nothing to prove, and Nash, a diamond in this fine setting, even less so. And so though he’s always been tall, and always looked at each person as though they were the only one left in the city, he’s always struck me as laughing, comforting, with kindness to spare. In childhood, we hardly saw anything of him, but once we were formally engaged, he withstood the taunts of his classmates and often swung by with ices or samosas or the choruses of songs from the latest films. It was easy for him to love, and as all I’d ever dreamed of was loving someone back, he was perfect.
He’s changed: his lanky frame has tightened, straightened, and as he listens to Maya, I can see in the stiffness of his hands in his lap and of his toes, curled around the edge of his sandals, that he’s kept the tiniest portion of his attention for himself. He is still beautiful, but also…threatening? Is that the right word for the way he makes my body, still seated and composed, feel called to attention against any inclination of its own? His hair is longer, I see—his barber must only have shaved him this morning, rather than give him the accompanying trim—and this imperfection lets me catch my breath.
The carriage is pulling up to the Gol Ghar— our very own Round House, our silly English silo that once held grain and now serves as a pleasure ground for those of us too brown to make use of the club—as Nash responds to Maya’s exclamation that she’s more than ready for us to go back to school next week. “But surely…” he says.
When Nargis and Mawiyya do that to me in school—trail off in the middle of a thought there’s no chance I could finish on my own—it’s to mock me, but Nash doesn’t mock. I realize that while Maya and I have had numerous conversations about my post-marriage life and how to keep it as seamless a transition as possible, Nash and I haven’t had any. “Why don’t you run slightly ahead and check on the crowd?” I ask Maya with our shared look. We trail her, slowly, and I want to throw my arms around him again, but instead I say, “You know I won’t attend the training college from August if you or your parents don’t approve.” I start with what Maya would call a barefaced lie because I suppose that, all said and done, it’s the truth. November, really, is wedding season, but ours is to be held as soon as the weather settles. Some families need time to negotiate; ours will be efficiently put together as Papa has ceded complete control to the Chowdhurys since, as even Koyal Chachi would agree, there’s no chance of their taste being anything less than impeccable.
“Oh, no, of course I wouldn’t dream of stopping you!” he says. He actually stops, and turns to me, and reaches for my hands before he realizes, and stops himself. “Leela, I didn’t realize you wanted to become a teacher, but I should have guessed. You’ve read all of the great histories of Chandrapur, and your Sanskrit is far better than mine. I’ve no right or desire to stop you making the most of yourself.” “Well, that’s good, then,” I say. “Though if I’m being honest, I mostly just want to attend the school to make sure I’m able to see Maya every day. I’m not used to a joint household and I’m not sure I’ll be able to play a dutiful daughter-in-law without her as a sounding board.” I pause, but Nash smiles, and laughs. “And after suffering through a mixed education, I think it will be nice to have the chance to teach in the Hindu school whenever it opens.”
We have only taken a few steps, but already Nash stops, causing the mother and daughter behind us to bump into our calves and mumble apologies. “Leela,” he murmurs, so softly I have to lean in to hear, and the proximity is causing my heart to do a furious dance. But then he keeps walking.
“Leela,” he says again after a few steps. “When I was in Japan, at first it was terribly lonely. We tried to integrate, but without eating fish, we Hindu students found ourselves isolated in the canteen; without much money, additionally, I found myself unwilling to hole up and play cards with boys from Lucknow or Kanpur. I know you didn’t have it easy at Bankipore, either, with your father in trade.”
“But after the triumph against the West, it was as though divisions had melted away. Even when we were sent home, I knew I was coming back to something important, and the sight of you in that swadeshi sari running towards me solidified every commitment I’d hardly understood, before Tokyo, that I’d had. I’ve dreamt about you in red for years,” he says, and though I want to faint I press my hands to the wall and keep myself barely upright, “but for the past year, I’ve dreamt about you in white. I’m so lucky that my life partner shares my dreams, not only for us, but for the country.” Nash sees me faltering, and risks censure from the auntie behind us by steadying me, a hand to the small of my back. I am dizzy for so many reasons.
“I just cannot understand why there is no hesitation towards a communal training college that will only lead towards a communalization of the school system itself, when we’re fighting, desperately, against communalism!”
We have almost climbed to the top; I see Maya awaiting us, and when she catches my eye, she winks, but I can’t reciprocate. “It wasn’t a British initiative,” I tell him. “The Director of Schools wanted to keep us girls together, in fact, and then both the Nawab and the Maharani joined together to oppose him. There are surely more than twelve Hindu girls in Chandrapur who may have wanted to get educated alongside us, and soon there will be places, and teachers for them. Education can only help us.”
I am out of breath, but we’ve climbed Gol Ghar, and the view is rewarding enough to let me tear my eyes away from Nash for a minute. And thank heavens, because looking at this new Nash while he is deliberating is… no, not threatening. Unsettling, I decide on. I wink at Maya, and we play our usual game of identifying all of the best places: the fields, in the distance, past the river, where on the way to Gaya we always stop, much too soon, for the best roasted corn; the Rama temple with the most rambunctious monkeys; the Sikh gurudwara that is unquestionably our most beautiful building; the Khudabaksh library where the real scholars spend their days with microscopes, studying the beautifully illuminated manuscripts; the market, where one day soon we must go and see what Indian-made lingerie I will wear to start my married life.
Nash speaks up again, finally. “I’ve missed this place so much.”
There are the beginnings of tears at the corners of his eyes, and I don’t know what to say.
Maya never has this problem. “And didn’t you miss us, then? I didn’t get even one letter from you, Mister.”
She has cracked the gloomy spell, and Nash rifles through his bag until he hits upon a small wrapped package. “I thought you’d prefer the paper,” he says, handing it to her.
“You didn’t have to get her a gift,” I say, knowing what it has cost his family to send him away, and all for a trip with no degree certificate.
“But he did,” Maya says, as though he’d take it back, ripping it open willy-nilly instead of
properly, neatly. I lean over to get a better look, and am glad I did: he’s brought her stationary more beautiful than I have ever seen. The British have their formal, heavy paper to announce their galas, and I’ve coveted that often enough, but this is its opposite: thin, almost translucent, and sparkling, oyster pink with sea-green filigree adorning its edges. Maya is staring at it, and I squeeze her shoulders. “Oh, yes,” she says. “Thank you.”
She walks ahead of us on the way down, staring at it; it is a good thing, after all, that we’ve been here countless times before. Nash and I pretend to watch her, to stop her from falling off the edge, but really we are stealing glances at one another. “Thank you,” I tell him, and just for a moment, before our feet reach the solid ground, he takes my hand.
Reprinted from Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow with the permission of Galaxy Galloper Press. Copyright © 2020 by Rashi Rohatgi.
With the onset of one of the worst infectious outbreaks of our time, the Covid-19 Pandemic, or Corona-virus apocalypse as I call it, there’s a critical need for coping mechanisms. I live in the U.S., so I don’t believe we’ve seen the worst of it yet. The schools, bars, restaurants, YMCA, barbershops, businesses are all closed. The kids are home 24/7. Work is drastically reduced, although I do work in healthcare, but not on the frontlines of a hospital. The elderly population that I work with are the most vulnerable, so Assisted living facilities are either restricting non-essential personnel, or closing their doors completely. In other words, I’m pretty much stuck at home seeking ways to escape intractable boredom.
One of things that has helped me cope with depression, panic, heightened anxiety, and the madness of the world going to the pot, is music therapy. I’ve made several playlists on my device, but the one that’s saving me right now is named JACKED. It’s a list of 7 great songs by various artists and types of music. For the sake of space, I’ll split it in half and only share 3 songs here. Ready?
The first on the playlist is this…
Genre: Dance/Electronic Album: Atlas Shrugged 2018
There are no lyrics, just some background vocals with a sensational rhythm and great bass line. I can’t tell you how this makes me feel when I fire this one up on the headphones! There’s simple introduction with various electronics, voices, then….the bass line drops. BAM. Instant gratification.
*Call To Arms = 1: a summons to engage in active hostilities. 2 : a summons, invitation, or appeal to undertake a particular course of action. (Merriam-Webster)
The beginning of this playlist, JACKED, begins with a “Call to Arms”, a call to engage in active warfare. On a much deeper level, this is our actual situation in the midst of this global pandemic. An invisible enemy has attacked us with our pants down, daring us to respond. How will you respond? Staying at home all day doesn’t seem much like a call to action during wartime, but it is. We can’t fight this enemy head on. Our call to action is to retreat, distant ourselves, check on our loved ones, or those who are at greater risk of infection. I’ve been in the healthcare industry going on 20 years and I’ve seen firsthand what infectious diseases can do to the human body. It’s not pretty, trust me. To think we’re somehow immune or invincible to once in a lifetime pandemic is simply preposterous. Being smart doesn’t mean mass hysteria, or sustaining a sense of panic. However, strategy is everything in warfare.
Genre: Epic music, Symphonic, electronic, instrumental. Album: Magnus 2015
The group Audiomachine is as awesome as it sounds. Very professional, epic sound. In fact they’ve appeared on multiple trailers for blockbuster movies over the years. I found them over the last few years and simply can’t recommend them enough. This particular peace is just heavenly, majestic, however you want to phrase it.
*Providence = 1. a divine guidance or care. 2. b God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny.
In dire times such as this, certainly we need the divine guidance of God himself. God have mercy on us all.
Genre: R&B/Soul Album: Blended Family (What You Do For Love) 2016
I’ve always loved the magical voice of the wonderful Alicia Keys. Her ability to invoke emotions in me through her music is truly special. When I listen to this song, Blended Family I’m immediately transported into her experience of loving her family. You can find the story behind her inspiration for Blended family here. Alicia Keys shares her experience of her husband, producer Swiss Beatz, his children from a previous relationship, and their own children. Families can be very diverse considering all the dynamics involved.
Definitely in the midst of any crisis we need to seek the emotional support from those closest to us. I found myself reaching out to some members of the family I haven’t regularly spoken to in a while. Under the strict guidelines provided by the CDC, state and local authorities, social or familial interaction is critical.
I’ll share the remainder of the playlist, JACKED in the coming days. In the meantime. Stay safe, take care of yourself, reach out to others who may be in need.
This is the writing train signing off…until the next time.
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