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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

What You Leave Behind

Narrators: Joniece Abbott-Pratt,

Lynnette R. Freeman

Harper Audio

ISBN: 9780063322219

Publisher: William Morrow

Publication Date: 06/18/2024

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)



Award-winning author Wanda Morris returns with a powerful, haunting thriller following a lawyer who after the mysterious disappearance of a local landowner and the death of his sister just months before, uncovers a conspiracy that dates back to Reconstruction and persists in half the United States today.


Deena Wood’s life has fallen apart in the aftermath of losing her beloved mother, her marriage, and her prestigious job at an Atlanta law firm. She needs what the Geechee people of coastal Georgia call a “dayclean,” a fresh start.


She returns to her childhood home in Brunswick, Georgia, to heal. But her return is anything but the respite she thought it might be. To make peace with all her loss, she often drives through the city. One day, she unwittingly finds herself on the oceanfront property of a loner widower who is fighting to keep land that has been in his family since the end of the Civil War. He threatens her and warns her to never return. But shortly after, he disappears, and his very expensive property is quickly put up for sale. Curious about what has happened to the man, Deena digs into his disappearance and finds a family legacy at risk. What starts out as a bit of curious snooping, turns into a deadly game of illegal land grabs and property redevelopment in poor and rural communities with dark and powerful forces at work.


Without realizing it, Deena finds herself caught up in a nightmarish scheme that threatens her community and her family. She’ll need help and finds it in a close but unlikely source because she knows she must do whatever it takes to stop the sinister forces at play before she becomes their next target.






About the Author

Photo credit: Chatman Studios Atlanta


Wanda M. Morris is the acclaimed author of All Her Little Secrets, which has been praised by Karin Slaughter as “brilliantly nuanced” and reviewed by The Boston Globe, LA Times, New York Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seattle Times, and South Florida Sun Sentinel among others. It was named as one of the “Best Books of 2021” by Hudson Booksellers and selected as the #1 Top Pick for “Library Reads” by librarians across the country. It was selected as a Book Buzz Pick by Good Morning America, serialized in Entertainment Weekly and a Marie Claire book club pick. All Her Little Secrets won the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel and a finalist for 2022 Georgia Author of the Year for Best First Novel. It was also nominated for the Anthony Award, the Strand Critics Award, the Macavity Award and has been shortlisted for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize.


All Her Little Secrets has been optioned for a one-hour limited series on Showtime executive produced by and starring Emmy-award winning actress Uzo Aduba. Click here for more details.

Her new book, Anywhere You Run, was named one of the Top Ten Crime Fiction Books for 2022 by The New York Times. It was also selected as one of the Best Books of 2022 by NPR, Publishers Weekly, Amazon, and Library Journal. It has been named as one of “Fifteen Standout Historical Fiction Books to Read This Year” by Oprah Daily and received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist


Anywhere You Run won the 2023 Anthony Award for Best Historical Novel, the 2023 Georgia Author of the Year for Best Mystery, and the 2023 Lefty Award for Best Historical Novel. In addition, it was  nominated for the Strand Critics Award, the Macavity Award, and the ITW Thriller Award. Anywhere You Run  was also longlisted for the prestigious Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Prize.


Wanda is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Color and serves on the Board of International Thriller Writers. She is married, the mother of three, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.


Connect with Wanda






Exceptional Authors. Standout Books. Elevator Talk.

INTRIGUING QUESTIONS. INQUIRING READERS WANT TO KNOW. 

Behind the Book & the Author

with award-winning author,

Wanda M. Morris


Welcome to the third June 2024 #AuthorElevatorSeries! Joining us for the first time is a personal and fan favorite special guest, author Wanda M. Morris, with her third highly anticipated novel, WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND.

Award-winning author Wanda Morris returns with a powerful, haunting thriller following a lawyer who, after the mysterious disappearance of a local landowner and the death of his sister just months before, uncovers a conspiracy that dates back to Reconstruction and persists in half the United States today.


Join us as Wanda shares some fascinating behind-the-scenes exclusives from the book and up-close and personal fun moments from this talented author.


Welcome, Wanda!





Behind the Book


Q. Give us your best ELEVATOR PITCH for WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND?


What You Leave Behind is the story of a broken young woman who returns home to grieve everything she’s lost. When she learns that the deaths of two older people in her Gullah-Geechee community may be connected, she launches into a desperate search to unravel a sinister scheme that threatens the legacy and generational wealth of her community. And she has to do it fast because her probing into the matter has made her the target of the dangerous forces behind the murders.



Q. DESCRIBE your novel in three words or less.


A love story… with a couple dead bodies thrown in.



Q. INSPIRATION: The spark that ignited the novel (or series). Where were you when the idea came to you?


A few years ago, I was sitting in my bedroom watching the evening news and folding laundry. A story came on that stayed with me long after the new report ended. The reporter interviewed a woman whose home had been severely damaged by Hurricane Florence in South Carolina. The woman told the reporter that she was unable to get Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance for repairs because she could not prove that she owned the house, even though the property had been in her family for generations. The property had been passed down through her family for generations without a will. And because the property had been purchased several generations ago, she did not have a deed to prove she was the rightful owner. I didn’t know it at the time, but that news story would become the genesis for this book.



Q. HEIRS PROPERTY: A hot topic. Share with us more about this topic and its importance today?


Heirs property refers to a home or land that passes from generation to generation without a legally designated owner, resulting in fractured ownership divided among several living descendants in family. This is an unstable form of ownership and historically has made it easy for developers to acquire property. If the developer can convince just one heir to sell their fractional share of the property, it can force a court-ordered partition sale of the entire property, even if the other fractional owners are against the sale. Additionally, when a person owns property with an unclear title, it is difficult to secure mortgages and loans or to access repair money to improve the property. All of this severely limits a family’s ability to build generational wealth. Not surprisingly, heirs property is a significant problem in low and moderate-income Black and brown communities and in poor white Appalachian communities across the country. These communities typically do not have access to tax and estate planning services. It happens in both urban areas and rural areas in the United States. In Low Country regions of the south, a lot of heirs property was acquired by Black Americans after Emancipation. Land that had once been deemed unsuitable because of its mosquito-infested marshlands is now in high demand by real estate developers. Right now, in the state of Georgia, where I live, over $30 billion of generational wealth is lost in heirs property.



Q. CULTURE: Tell us more about the fascinating Gullah-Geechee culture.


The Gullah-Geechee community are direct descendants of formerly enslaved Africans brought to this country from West and Central Africa. Their ancestors toiled land that was treacherous in terrain and often infested with animals and bugs, so slave owners often left them unattended for long stretches of time. This enabled the Gullah-Geechee people to maintain many of their customs and traditions they brought from Africa. Things such as food, language, music, spirituality, and crafts. Today, it is a community rich in culture and tradition. Each time property is loss through redevelopment, the community becomes smaller and smaller, and all that history and culture is lost. There are initiatives underway to try to preserve the Gullah-Geechee community and its culture.



Q. FAVORITE THING: What is your favorite thing about the novel?


All the layers of love contained within this story. Although Deena’s life is strife with heartache and loss, there is a lot of love in her life. The love between a father and daughter. There’s the second chance love between Deena and Howie. There’s the love between Delilah and Jimmie. And undergirding all this is the love between the Geechee people and the land and water they are intimately tied to. It’s all these layers of love that help to strengthen and ultimately heal Deena from all her wounds.




Fascinating! Continue reading below for more up close and personal with Wanda.



Behind the Author



ZODIAC SIGN?

Virgo.


FAVORITE FLOWER?

Tulips.


FAVORITE COLOR?

Pink.


YOUR FAVORITE GO TO DRINK OR FOOD WHEN THE WORLD GOES A LITTLE CRAZY?

Dark chocolate.


MORNING/NIGHT PERSON?

Morning.


FAVORITE HOBBY?

I knit and crochet. It’s not only relaxing, but it helps me think through plot points when I’m writing my books.


FAVORITE HOLIDAY OR SEASON?

Christmas! I go the whole nine yards—the entire house decorated, matching Christmas pajamas for the family, and Christmas Eve cookie baking.


IF YOU WERE GRANTED 3 MONTHS OF UNINTERRUPTED WRITING TIME—WHERE WOULD IT BE?

A Coastal Seaside Cottage. I love the ocean.


DESCRIBE ONE THING ON YOUR DESK, CURRENTLY?

There is a picture of my children when they were very young. I’ve always kept it on my desk wherever I’ve worked. When I look at it, it reminds me of why I work so hard—to make the world a better place for them.


WHICH DO YOU ENJOY WRITING MORE: DIALOGUE OR INTERNAL THOUGHTS?

Dialogue. I think characters come alive when they are interacting with one another. I think dialogue is also important because the things characters say and don’t say is crucial to understanding who they are.


WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF A BOOK?

Characters.


ONE OF THE EVILEST CHARACTERS FROM YOUR BOOK?

Willie Jay Groover in All Her Little Secrets.


WHAT ARE YOU FREAKISHLY BAD AT?

Singing.


YOU WOULDN'T BE CAUGHT DEAD, WHERE?

Skydiving.


YOUR FAVORITE THING TO DO AS A CHILD?

Read.


IF YOU COULD GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF WISE ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

You are stronger and smarter than you think!


WHAT WOULD YOUR DAUGHTER (OR SON) SAY ABOUT YOU BEING AN AUTHOR, IF ASKED?

My kids think I’m cool now that I’m a writer.


WHO GIVES YOU THE COURAGE TO TRY NEW THINGS?

My children.


YOUR BIGGEST CHEERLEADER?

My husband.


DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE USING ONE WORD?

Blessed




THANK YOU, Wanda, for spending time with us today!

Thank you for having me!


 










Praise


"A single-sitting read! Morris brilliantly explores family ties, community injustice and haunting grief all in one fell swoop. This is the kind of thriller that keeps you thinking long after the last page."

— Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author


"What You Leave Behind is a masterfully crafted story about grief, family, community, and multi-generational injustices. It’s also a phenomenal crime novel. One of the best legal thriller writers since John Grisham, Wanda Morris keeps getting better and better.”

— Alafair Burke, New York Times bestselling author of Find Me


“Wanda M. Morris’s What You Leave Behind is a propulsive and unforgettable thriller that paints a haunting picture of a homecoming gone wrong. Readers will ride along with Morris’s protagonist, Deena Woods, as she uncovers a deadly mystery that could ruin her Georgia hometown - and her entire life - in a story that spotlights Morris’s deft characterization and razor-sharp plotting. What You Leave Behind is a one-of-a-kind novel that will keep you guessing.”

 — Alex Segura, bestselling author of Secret Identity and Alter Ego


“Morris displays an astonishing mastery of multiple literary forms. At this story’s core is a solid mystery, intricately embroidered with characters who seem to jump off the page. She also excels at weaving in elements of the paranormal and inexplicable, like an oddly benevolent Shirley Jackson. This tale is ominous at first, full blown at the finish…. Not to be missed.” — Booklist (starred review)

“With an engrossing plot that evokes the work of John Grisham, What You Leave Behind cements Wanda M. Morris as one of the most exciting thriller writers working today. You can’t help but root for Deena as she deals with personal issues, professional struggles, and a haunting encounter with a stranger that sends her down a dangerous path. What You Leave Behind is the perfect mix of mesmerizing thriller and emotional exploration of the question if you can ever go home again.”

— Kellye Garrett, award-winning author of Missing White Woman


“In What You Leave Behind, Morris expertly weaves together a beautifully soulful mystery rooted in history. This is a story that reminds us of how the past, present and future intertwine to inform and guide our lives. Drenched in folklore and compelling to the final page, this book stirs the connection between our ancestors and ourselves, calling us to action.“

— Erin E. Adams, author of Jackal


"Morris (Anywhere You Run) returns with a tense and topical legal thriller...Morris nimbly balances character and plot, anchoring the mystery’s big questions in the emotional lives of Deena and her fellow Brunswick residents. This entertains as much as it enlightens."

— Publishers Weekly


"A beautifully balanced novel that includes a foray into the world of the Gullah-Geechee people, the experience of grief, and the uncovering of a land grab, all wrapped up in an edge-of-the-seat thriller... Morris (All Her Little Secrets) has written a perfect novel for a book group, and it’s sure to be one of the best books of 2024."

— firstCLUE


"Two novels into her career, Wanda M. Morris has established herself among the biggest risk-takers in the crime genre."

 — New York Times





2024 Summer Book Tour









My Review


Bestselling author Wanda Morris returns following Anywhere You Run and All Her Little Secrets with her latest topical and powerful thriller, WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND.


The mysterious disappearance of a local landowner sparks a tenacious lawyer on a quest for justice and uncovers a deadly mystery that could ruin her coastal hometown. A conspiracy going back years in this moving multi-generational story of family, legalities, rights, heirs' property, community, grief, and injustices.


Deena Wood, a lawyer grappling with profound personal upheavals, including the loss of her mother, her marriage, and her esteemed position at an Atlanta law firm, seeks solace in her childhood home in coastal Brunswick, Georgia, and the loving Geechee people. On top of this, she is forced to deal with the woman her father married six months after the death of her mother.


However, she encounters some disturbing events when she stumbles upon the oceanfront property of a loner widower who has been fighting to keep the multi-generational land in the family since the end of the Civil War.


He thinks she is a realtor or works for a developer and threatens her with leaving his land and not returning. Shortly thereafter, he goes missing, and his property is quickly put up for sale.


Deena thinks something is suspicious and starts digging into the history, discovering that their family legacy is part of the conspiracy. A deadly game of illegally taking over land and property redevelopment, especially in the poor and rural communities.


Deena soon becomes immersed in this nightmare—a scheme threatening her community and family. How are these events connected? She must do what it takes to stop innocent people from losing their land and their family's legacies.


WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND is an essential and powerful book and a hot topic of today about heirs' property, which targets the blacks, poor, rural, urban, and other areas. From manslaughter, fraud, greed, and a desire for wealth had come at the cost of lives and destruction of the community.


Wanda beautifully writes of the Gullah-Geechee community, located in Georgia's low country. This community is rich in culture and threatened by developers trying to use their heirs' property to scoop up land. The land is valuable; some families have handed it down for years. It is now being snatched away by greedy developers who want to turn it into resort properties and more.


I enjoy how the author writes about important and timely issues and themes that make you think and how we can participate and be a part of the solution and its legalities, as she mentions.


Inspiring, thought-provoking, and rich in history, with a cast of well-developed characters that will linger long after the book ends. I also enjoyed how the author sprinkled "Interstitial" sections and letters from the mother to Deena were spellbinding. The journey of the main character and her road to self-discovery was empowering, discovering she was stronger than she knew.


"Grief is love, repackaged in longings and despair. But after the emptiness of it all wears off, the love remains."


Please read the Afterword; the inspiration behind the novel and the resources available. Heirs' property refers to a home or land that passes from generation to generation without a legally designated owner. Historically, an unstable form of ownership has made it easy for developers to acquire the property. When multiple people own the land, they can convince just one heir to sell their fractional share of the property and force a court-ordered partition sale of the entire property even if the other owners are against it.


HEIRS' PROPERTY: It is also imperative to know that when a person owns property with an unclear title, it is difficult to secure mortgages and loans to make improvements, thereby limiting the family's ability to build generational wealth. Some of these folks are rich in land but cash-poor. Some of these folks need access to tax and estate planning services, but there are non-profit organizations that can assist them.


Meticulously researched, the author tackles difficult topics and the fallout for real people and our communities. This topic is essential and timely, fascinating, and needs more awareness. I am delighted to see authors addressing it in their fiction and nonfiction books and how families are affected.


“This powerful haunting topical novel combines the best of Southern, Gothic, legal, mystery, suspense, historical, family drama, crime thriller, literary, paranormal elements, and more.... A MUST-READ!”

WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND, and all the author's books are highly recommended.


If you enjoyed WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND, I highly recommend reading John Grisham's Camino Ghosts, Terah Shelton Harris' Long After We Are Gone and Brea Baker's Rooted: The American Legacy of Land Theft and the Modern Movement for Black Land Ownership (all 2024). These four books also feature and highlight heirs' property.


Thanks to William Morrow and NetGalley for a digital advanced reading copy for an honest review. #CoverCrush



@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: June 18, 2024

June Featured #AuthorElevatorSeries


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