Black Hearts White Minds
by Mitch Margo


Black Hearts White Minds (A Carl Gordon Legal Thriller) by Mitch Margo. Jo Lena Johnson, Publisher at Mission Possible Press, shares audio book reviews from Black Hearts White Minds by Mitch Margo, listen here:  http://www.audioacrobat.com/sa/WH1DrKWL

 

The year is 1964 and Carl Gordon is an ill-prepared New York Assistant U.S. Attorney who has lied his way into a transfer to Stockville, Alabama, where he is supposed to monitor and enforce the Civil Rights Act. In a matter of days, the Ku Klux Klan takes aim at him, the outside agitator. Carl has agreed to represent Oleatha Geary, a black family matriarch who has inherited a mansion in an all-white, race-restricted neighborhood. Carl and Oleatha are engulfed in litigation that turns deadly. It’s anyone’s guess who will survive multiple assassination attempts, let alone whose integrity will remain intact.

Carl’s 12-year-old son, John, is unwelcome on Stockville’s white basketball team because of who his father is, and it seems there’s nowhere else for him to play. But ever-resourceful and impulsive Carl makes other plans for John, unwittingly putting John’s life, and the life of his new teammates, at risk. Ultimately, the young players don’t care as much about color lines as they do the lines on the basketball floor.  


 

Listen to Mitch read from his book Black Hearts White Minds:  http://www.audioacrobat.com/note/CPlHwp5k

 

Visit https://mitchmargo.com to explore your options to purchase the book. Black Hearts White Minds is available in print, Kindle ebook and audio book. Published by Mission Possible Press. Distributed from Ingram and Baker & Taylor. 

 

 

 


 

Black hearts and White minds?


Carl Gordon is nothing if not impulsive.

He’s a New York Assistant U.S. Attorney who tries to escape the nightmares of his wife’s death by lying his way to Stockville, Alabama to enforce the Civil Rights Act. He arrives unprepared for life in the segregated South, where the Ku Klux Klan controls the town. It’s not long before the Klan turns its attention to the outside agitator, him.

 

Oleatha Geary wants no part of it.

She’s the tough and tender Black family matriarch, who inherits a grand home in an all-white, race-restricted neighborhood called Northwoods. She doesn’t want the home, but she’s pressured by her adult children to fight Stockville’s most powerful white citizens.

 

Stockville, Alabama is about to explode.

It’s the summer of 1964. Stockville is Alabama’s 5th largest city and its powerful white citizens think they’ve got “their coloreds” under control. Not so fast. Segregation is crumbling. Nonviolent protests have started and a clandestine group of Malcolm X disciples is planning its revenge against the KKK.

Come decide for yourself…Black Hearts White Minds.

 

 


 

Sneak Peek at Black Hearts White Minds
A Carl Gordon Legal Thriller

 

July, 1964

CHAPTER 1

 

Carl Gordon peeled himself off the vinyl seat of his Mustang and stood in the motel parking lot, perspiration seeping through his polo shirt and chinos. He arched his back and stretched his legs by pushing against the concrete curb. He tensed his calf muscles. They still had some pop, even though he was nearly 35. The July afternoon Alabama sun bore down on his blond hair which was closely cropped on the sides with a pompadour on top. He looked back to his 12-year-old son, who was still sitting in the car, biting his lower lip and staring straight ahead.

“Let’s go,” he said to his son, who had only occasionally spoken since their breakfast in North Carolina. Carl winced as John pulled hard on the chrome door lever of the brand new car, climbed out and slammed the door behind him.

“I wanna go home,” John said.

“You’ve told me that at least five times in every state we’ve passed through,” said Carl.

“Hasn’t done any good,” said John, glaring at his father and dribbling his basketball so that the New York Knicks autographs his father got him smacked against the sticky asphalt.

“This is going to be home for a while so get used to it,” said Carl. He motioned for John to follow him to the front desk.

“Welcome travelers. Welcome to the Maker Oak,” said the clean-shaven motel clerk, his dark green suspenders clipping worn dungarees which extended over his belly.

“Thanks. We need a room for a few nights,” said Carl. “Where you from?” asked the clerk.

“New York.”

“You’re a long way from home. Just passing through?” “We may stay awhile,” said Carl, ignoring the bead of perspiration tickling its way from the side of his forehead down into his ear. The clerk nodded, looking them over like a school teacher surveying a transfer student who showed up unannounced.

“You got business here in Stockville?” asked the clerk. Carl swallowed and straightened his shoulders.

“I work for the government,” he answered.

“Good for you,” said the clerk. “The name’s Purcell Foley. Welcome to Stockville, Alabama, the Family Town of the South. That’ll be eight dollars a night for you and your boy, free local calls, no guests after ten, and no niggers.” The words flowed from his mouth as easily as the local weather report. He slid a brass key attached to a green plastic medallion onto the counter between them. “Room 6, two beds, fresh linens,” he said. Carl glanced down at John, who shifted uncomfortably behind him and gazed out the window.

“Let’s do two nights,” said Carl, reaching into the pocket of his damp chinos for his wallet. Carl handed the clerk a twenty dollar bill and picked up the room key, his eyes drawn to the WHITES ONLY neon sign in the window. The clerk removed four dollar bills from a dark green metal box and handed them to Carl. Then he opened a leather-bound guest book to a page held in place by a rubber band and set a ballpoint pen in the center crease.

“Sign right there,” said the clerk, pointing to the next available line. “I suppose Stockville’s going to be kind of quiet compared to Manhattan Island. But we got our positives. Veranda Lake has the best fishing in central Alabama. Hey son, do you fish?” John leaned in closer to his father, pressing his head between Carl’s shoulder blades, seeking refuge from his new reality.

“He’s shy,” Carl lied. “We might try fishing, but he loves basketball.”

“This is football country,” said the clerk. John sighed and Carl felt the disappointed exhale through the back of his shirt.

“Crimson Tide…Auburn, you heard of them up north?” asked the clerk.

“Of course,” said Carl. He smiled. Carl could handle sports talk in almost any locale.

“Room 6 is up that way on your right,” said the clerk, gesturing to the far end of the parking lot. Carl backed away from the clerk, nodding his head and smiling. John followed, his basketball pressed against his chest like battle armor. They let the glass door close behind them and the humidity moved in on them like a New York street gang. Inside, the clerk rotated the guest book so that it was facing him. He pressed his left forefinger just below where Carl had signed. With his other hand, he picked up the handle of the black desk phone and dialed. It rang once. Then twice.

“Bascomb,” said the voice on the other end. “Sheriff, he just checked in.”

Carl sat on the small wood-plank porch in front of Room 6 while John slept, pondering their first day in the deep South. He knew right then he was unprepared. His neck twitched every time that neon sign in the motel office window buzzed. He had lied to the Department of Justice committee that approved his transfer, telling them that his commitment to Civil Rights was sewn deeply into his moral conscience. He made up a story about befriending a Negro teammate while playing for his college baseball team. Carl reached into his pants pocket and drew out a small enameled pill box. He popped a Valium into his mouth and swallowed it without water. He walked into the motel room, stripped down to his underwear and lay motionless on top of the sheets of his bed until the drug kicked in.

On their third day in Stockville, Carl rented a furnished house on a tree-lined cul-de-sac just west  of downtown. The two-story stucco house had a ‘Bama-red front door and windows on all sides, four bedrooms, a modest kitchen and even had an upstairs sewing room, complete with a female mannequin and a trunk full of colorful fabrics. Carl figured he could make that his office. Carl saw it as a nice house, but all John saw was the basketball hoop in the driveway.


 


 

Praise for Black Hearts White Minds & Mitch Margo

“The early sixties are often thought of as a time of lost innocence. Margo reminds us that the era was anything but innocent in the American south. His novel rings with authenticity and his characters’ struggles in the fictional town of Stockville, Alabama foretell the problems we still face today. Stockville is not really so far from Ferguson.”

– Bill McClellan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

 

“As I read Black Hearts White Minds, I was reminded by turns of Harper Lee, Willie Morris, and John Grisham. Like Grisham, Mitch Margo is an attorney; like Morris, he’s a former journalist, and like Lee, his writing is evocative with a moral center straight and true. With our new president publicly insulting Civil Rights icon John Lewis and the new administration looking to reverse 50 years of progress, this Civil Rights era page-turner is a must read.”

– Richard H. Weiss, Former Daily Features Editor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

 

Black Hearts White Minds dives deep into the Civil Rights movement in the American South at a crucial time: 1964. But Mitch Margo sets his first novel in one Alabama town, allowing him to explore the era on a distinctly human scale through ordinary people and  not so ordinary events. The result is a book that feels personal, rather than monumental. Margo, a seasoned  lawyer  who  makes the law and lawyering an important but not overriding element of his story, has a knack for dramatic structure and a sharp eye for contrasting, engaging personalities. And his plot twists manage to be simultaneously startling and entirely credible, no mean feat.”

–Eric Mink, Writer, The Huffington Post

     

“While a work of fiction, Black Hearts White Minds transports readers to a time and place in American history, 1964 small-town Alabama, when the Civil Rights movement was slowly gaining traction, and segregationists, including the Ku Klux Klan, would stop at nothing to trounce the efforts of blacks and whites fighting for justice. Margo has crafted a narrative that is equal parts engrossing, heartbreaking and hopeful, populated with richly drawn, compelling characters, and an overarching essence that captures the enduring nature of the human spirit, no matter the obstacles.”

–Ellen Futterman, Editor, St. Louis Jewish Light

 

 


 

Intimate Conversation with Mitch Margo
 

 

A former reporter for The Detroit News and Los Angeles Herald Examiner and a syndicated columnist for 14 years, Mitch Margo is a native New Yorker and St. Louis trial lawyer. He's witnessed the clash of cultures which are woven into his first novel, Black Hearts White Minds.  Much of the story is drawn from his personal experiences, interviews, and hundreds of hours of research. He credits his eclectic law practice for a new storyline every few days.

As general counsel to the Missouri Valley Conference, and a former youth coach, Mitch has an insider’s view of basketball that enables him to write about it authentically. He's also a member of the Washington University Sports Hall of Fame, at one time holding the school record in just about every baseball statistic. He's proud of his days as a student/athlete, but hasn't lost sight of the fact that you can’t get too much farther from Cooperstown and still be in a hall of fame.

 

BPM:  Have you always been a writer?  Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I’ve enjoyed writing and reading for as long as I can remember. I’m a child of Watergate and that’s why I was drawn to journalism as a young man. But I also loved creative writing, which is what journalism has now become!


BPM:  You are a lawyer, how has that influenced you and your writing?

Most people think being a trial lawyer is what they see on TV -- lawyers making impassioned speeches in courtrooms to edge-of-their-seat jurors. Not so. Most of a trial lawyer’s communications are written in briefs and motions to the judge. 95 percent of all lawsuits are settled before trial. So being a persuasive writer is a great advantage and persuasive means succinct, clear and even entertaining. Most lawyers write in long, complicated, boring sentences. I assume that judges curse them and love me.

 

BPM:  Tell us about your latest book. What do you hope readers take away from it?

Black Hearts White Minds (BHWM) is a story about a time in history that few experienced and most would rather ignore. I wrote the book about the Civil Rights movement because I missed it. In 1964 I was nine years old and growing up in New York. After reading Black Hearts White Minds, I hope readers are left with the feeling that they’ve lived in the Deep South during segregation just like the characters. I hope they take away the frustration of the African American community that was constantly harassed and kept in a different form of slavery by a white power structure driven by money, power and ignorance.


BPM:  Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Carl Gordon is the main character, but really only one of the “important” characters. He drags his 12 year old son from New York to Stockville, Alabama to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act and he’s remarkably unprepared for what he is about to encounter -- the Klan, local law enforcement, the black community. But he’s also a great lawyer and a quick learner. He’s a hero in his own way, but no more so than Micah, a Black, self-taught intellectual auto mechanic who also happens to be the strongest man in Frost County, Alabama, and a disciple of Malcolm X. And by the way, Carl and Micah hate each other.


BPM:  Was there a real-life inspiration behind your development of characters?

Three of the characters are drawn from people I know or have known in the past. Did I mention I love those people? Think about it, they’re interesting enough to make a fictional character out of them alone. Now that’s a real life character! The rest of the characters are composites of people I’ve known, stories I’ve read and my imagination. I think all writers will tell you that there are ribbons of themselves running through their characters. That’s certainly true for me. Maybe that’s why writers become such good friends with the characters they create.
 

BPM:  How did you come up with the title for Black Hearts White Minds?

This book had more working titles than I can remember. I would list them for you, but one of them might just be the name of the sequel. (Spoiler alert!) My publisher, along with a focus group came up with Black Hearts White Minds and I love it. A Black Heart could be attributed to several of the characters, black and white. So could a white mind. “Black” and “white” have more than one meaning each, and nothing is just black and white.

 

BPM:  How do you find or make time to write?  Are you a plotter or a pantster?

I think you have to approach writing like a job, even if it’s a part-time job. You must sit at the typewriter (haha – computer, I mean) every day except Groundhog Day when you should watch the movie. But seriously, when I started writing the book I wrote for two hours most evenings after work. Then a friend/novelist told me she had a different approach. She wrote until she got to 1000 words and then stopped, even if she was in mid-sentence. I tried it and it was great. If you stop in mid-sentence, then you know exactly where to begin the next day. If you write until the end of a chapter, the next day you could be, like, ok, now what? … and sit there for an hour without typing anything.

 

BPM:  How much research went into sculpting this story with a legal thriller/historical motif?

Of course it all comes down to good writing and entertaining the reader, but in historical novels, research is make-or-brake important. You walk a fine line between historical accuracy and make believe. I did loads of research. I visited cities in the South, sought out interviews and went to libraries, but I don’t know how novelists did it before the Internet.

For me the most enjoyable part of researching the American south in the mid ‘60s was learning what I didn’t know. For instance, sharecropping. What an awful hoax that was. It really was just an unofficial new form of slavery after the emancipation. A black family rented a ramshackle house on a plantation, had to borrow money for seed, rented equipment from the landowner, always at usurious rates, with the promise that he could keep a percentage of the farming profits, which there rarely were because of fictitious expenses and “taxes” created by the white landowner. The black tenant-farmer couldn’t complain or question because then his family would be thrown out and no other white landowner would rent to him. It was a horrendous system to perpetuate white supremacy and black economic despair.

 

BPM:  You address some important social issues inside your new book. Can you explain why you have chosen this range of important topics?

I believe that if we could eliminate racism, we’d eliminate virtually all of our country’s problems. Really, all of them. Poverty, education disparity, police aggression, housing discrimination and even drug abuse. That may be a simplification, but I believe it.

 

BPM:  What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why? 

I especially liked writing the parts of the book where I’m able to be a smart ass without distracting from the storyline. Describing the elitist Northwoods neighborhood and its unofficial Mayor, Edith Spinz, was especially delicious. Bringing the African American pastor to life was so much fun because he was such a contradiction and so important at the same time. I like writing dialogue. I also loved writing about the kids’ relationships, because they’re kids and they don’t have to follow conventional rules. For the boys in BHWM, they weren’t concerned with color lines, only the lines on the basketball court. Kids have a lot to teach adults.

 

BPM:  Talk us through your experiences in sports and how they relate to it in this book. Why is team so important that you would make that part of this story?

More than any other experiences, team sports molded me into who I am. Teamwork means working with others to accomplish a shared goal. It means discovering what each other does best, and how to use that particular talent to win the game. This kid is a great rebounder, this one plays great defense. Not everyone can be the top scorer who gets most of the attention. By the way, this analysis works just as well for the NBA – can you say Golden State Warriors?


BPM:  Did publishing your first book change your thought process on writing? Was it a positive or negative experience?

Publishing a book is for a writer like crossing the finish line in a marathon is for a runner. I guess some writers are content to write for themselves, but I haven’t met any. When I started writing Black Hearts White Minds it was to someday publish it. I wanted it to be relevant to today’s reader. I had no idea, what with our current president and populist, by which I mean racist, resurgence, it would be this relevant. I can’t think of any moment in writing the book that I would describe as negative. The lessons I learned, the people I met and interviewed, the towns I visited – all amazing, positive learning experiences. And then, sitting down recreating it all in my own world, Stockville, Alabama? That was delightful.

 

BPM:  Was there an early experience where you learned that the written word had power?

When I was in high school I wrote a sports column in the local weekly newspaper. For the sake of being clever, I wrote a piece criticizing my high school football team. It caused quite a stir and that’s when I realized the power of publication. I look back on that as one of the cruelest and stupidest moments of my life. Great Neck North Blazer football team of 1972, I am so sorry, you deserved so much better.

 

BPM:  Share some of your writing goals. What projects are you working on at the present?

I’d like to publish a new book every two years. That would mean spending more time writing and less time practicing law. Or it could mean writing, practicing law, and no sleeping.

I’m working on the next Carl Gordon novel, and I’m also working on a story set in 2008 about a real estate developer who goes from wildly rich to bankrupt in a matter of days when the real estate market crashes. Actually, it’s more about his wife. Readers can keep up with my latest blog posts and upcoming events at https://mitchmargo.com.


 

 


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