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Hannah Nyala

Genre: Suspense, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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Quest for Survival In Hannah Nyala's LEAVE NO TRACE

Everyone may have a story to tell, but none could be quite so compelling as Hannah Nyala's. As a search and rescue tracker, a battered wife who fought back and won, and now a full-time author, Nyala's own life is as fascinating as fiction. Her first novel, LEAVE NO TRACE, is an astounding tale of survival and violence, love and redemption, as one woman struggles for survival alone in Australia's Tanami desert.

Growing up in rural Mississippi, Nyala's family were Christian Fundamentalists who "lived from the land," giving her "a wonderful education in the elements of survival from early on: butchering and dressing pigs and chickens…learning to work with large animals; reading the sky and the wind for trouble; living as much in the woods as in the house (or more, if I could swing it!)."

The strength and determination her upbringing instilled stood her in good stead years later as an adult, even as Nyala began to question some of the tenets of her faith, such as women's submissiveness. Nyala's own terrifying ordeal began when her abusive ex-husband Kevin started stalking her and their children. He kidnapped the children several times, threatening Nyala with the promise that anyone who helped her would be killed. It was during this bleak, desperate period, which she describes in her acclaimed, bestselling 1997 memoir, Point Last Seen, that she began search and rescue work.

"I started tracking during an 18-month period when my children were missing," Hannah says now. "The only contact I had from them would be an occasional phone call from my ex to torment me by letting me hear them in the background while he told them that I didn't want to speak to them and didn't love them, etc.… Not to put too fine a point on it, I nearly went out of my blessed mind. To forestall that, I volunteered for the NPS [National Park Service]—doing whatever they needed done—and wound up working on a SAR team. I went into tracking to escape people, I think," Hannah continues. "Ultimately, though, tracking brought me right back to people…in the most literal way imaginable. Following their footprints tied me to their souls. And helped me remember I was still alive—and mattered—which was something I'd forgotten during the years I was being battered."

All these experiences inform LEAVE NO TRACE, as well as the time she and her children spent in Africa's Kalahari and Namib Deserts, searching for safety from her ex-husband's psychotic hunt. LEAVE NO TRACE opens with Tally Nowata—a search and rescue ranger like her creator, working in Wyoming's Grand Tetons—stranded, alone, and in the middle of more miles of stark, baking, pitiless desert than she can imagine. Tally had traveled to the Tanami Desert with her lover, Paul O'Malley, for a well-deserved vacation. Leaving her at their campsite in the outback, he goes back to pick up supplies—and his ten-year-old daughter, Josephine, from the airport—and doesn't return. With her water supply running low, Tally sets off to find him. Turns out he's stumbled upon some vicious criminals—but Josephine is still alive, barely. Now Tally must use her tracking and survival skills to get herself and Jo out of the desert alive—and elude the killers tracking them.

"The dark nights of the soul Tally goes through, the triumphs, the crushing weight of struggling alone against viciously violent people and your own self, your weaknesses and your strengths (sometimes they're one and the same thing)…" Nyala explains. "Tally's stories will never be simply about adventure or mystery, but about the stuff deep inside us: the rough right along with the grand!"

And both the rough and the grand are very much in evidence in LEAVE NO TRACE. It's an utterly riveting read, leavened with humor and emotion, but suspenseful enough to make you forget to breathe. The heart of the book, though, belongs to Tally and Jo—two highly original characters who at first don't like each other at all. Josie transforms from a spoiled little girl who doesn't want to share her father with anyone, especially not another female, to become a heroine in her own right. Tally, who grew up with an abusive father, goes from being essentially alone in the world—estranged from her surviving family, bitter about the past and afraid to trust—to opening herself up to love, to her roots, and to the land. Tally's voice is compelling and unique—cowgirl spunk crossed with a wisdom older than her years, pain outweighed by determination. Far along on their trek, uncertain whether they'll make it another day, she thinks:

"The bird and the men and us, scavengers all, no need to fight the land, each gives its existence when needed, each takes in return, the whole an unbroken circle of life. I wish Paul could know me now, now that I carry the songbird's melody quietly within, now that I really have let go. The true survivor is one who has finally learned that survival itself is beside the point."

When asked how much of Tally and Josie is based on real people, Nyala replies, "They're both a complicated mix of my daughter and me… I'm deeply committed to nonviolence; my daughter isn't. I didn't witness my father beating my mother unconscious and leaving her for dead; my daughter did. My grandmother was Indian but not affiliated with any tribe; my daughter is registered Potawotomi.… All of us, however, tend to solve problems on the hoof, and to veer off the beaten path so much we have some difficulty getting back on."

Anyone who reads LEAVE NO TRACE will be happy to know it's part
of a planned series. In the next book, titled Freefall, Hannah reveals, "Tally's back in the States, still in the Tetons, working SAR, and grieving for Paul, but trying to get on with her life." When a villain she thwarted in LEAVE NO TRACE shows up bent on revenge, "she's thrown back into survival mode once more, only to find that the real threat comes from much closer to home." One thing's certain, though: Tally will survive, and in the process, enrich the lives of all her readers.

Excerpt from LEAVE NO TRACE

"When you get down to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on," Grandmother Nowata used to say. She never said what to do with the nausea that comes with hanging on to your own rope that tight. Or what you're supposed to
do if you discover your own neck in the noose. Pray for double joints from the waist up and squirm free if you can, I suppose. That is Oklahoma's answer for anything a gun won't solve.…

So here it is. Midsummer in the Tanami Desert of central Australia and Hell gone twenty below zero. Paul has disappeared and I am alone, have been for eighteen days, eight of them without food.…

This wasn't supposed to be about dying. It was supposed to be a vacation, a four-month furlough from a stressful job, visiting the man I love in a place I know nothing about on purpose. I came for fun, relaxation, sex, and companionship—and not necessarily in that order either. Before exiting the plane in Alice Springs, I'd never set one foot in a desert, never had a hankering to, wouldn't ever have done so if it hadn't been for Paul. I like trees and mountains and cold, rushing rivers. I like valleys tucked away in the shadow of tall granite walls, plants without spines, and freezing wind and rain. Deserts were too much like the plains—you can see for sixty miles in any direction either place and that's just too damn far—so I intended to leave them well alone and die someplace temperate and green and possibly wet. Now here I am in the middle of a hot, red, sandy land, staring death down the nose and gagging so hard it hurts, and all the stuff I came for is gone like it never existed. Even him.

What I know about desert survival you could put in a thimble and still have room for a big man's thumb, so what I think about my chances of surviving here are unthinkable. But I'm not a needy woman, clutching at any man in sight to help steer my boat or shoo mice off my terrain. I'm as capable of taking care of me as anybody, more capable than most. I'm worried about Paul, yes, but I can stand on my own two feet till he gets back, and he knows that as well as I do.

This is something I've never said to another living thing, but here I've taken to saying it right out loud several times a day. Convincing my own self maybe. Talking tough to keep the truth at bay.

Truth is, it's not working, because in spite of all my talk the last few days, I am a little unnerved at this exact moment.…

Where could you possibly be, Paul O'Malley? If I'd known you were leaving for more than four days, I'd have done it different. Hugged you goodbye. Said something profound. Stared after your truck. No. Gone with you. If I'd known then what I know now, I'd have gone with you for sure.

Or at least sent along another batch of letters
for home. Jed and Pony, they'll be waiting to hear from me. If I'd known I was coming here to die, I'd have said goodbye better and written every single day.

Ifs. I hate ifs. There is no fixing anything once it's over or before it arrives, and the word "if" just fools us into thinking there is. If I could somehow miraculously survive this place, I'd strike the word "if" from my vocabulary for good.

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