Today I have a very interesting interview with Andra Watkins, the author of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis. Yesterday, I featured a review of her book and you can read that HERE. It’s an amazing book so be sure to check out the interview. She even takes about her recent adventure in which she walked the entire Natchez Trace, in which she walked 15 miles a day, 6 days a week, for 34 days! And yes, she still has her feet. Ha!
Hi, Andra! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Luckily, you can sit at your computer for the interview. I promise I won’t make you walk here as you’re probably completely worn out from your groundbreaking walk along the Natchez Trace (Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee)! We’ll get to that later. How has the overall book launch for To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis been going for you this year?
Andra: I’m glad you’re letting me sit at my desk to answer your questions, so I can soak my aching feet. Overall, walking the Trace was an unforgettable way to launch my novel. I met some amazing people along the way, and I got to have an adventure with my dad at the end of his life.
Erin: I normally get together with guests (not really) for coffee or tea. But since I’ve decided it’s best you stay home and heal those blisters, I’ll just ask you what your favorite drink after completing your trek was? What are you drinking now during our interview? I’m going to plop down with a cup of regular coffee, 2 sugars and cream.
Andra: Gatorade became my drink of choice after each walk, including the last day. It was especially warm, and I sweated a lot. Right now, I’m drinking carbonated water. It’s the appropriate thing at 3 in the afternoon.
Erin: You’re doing better than me. I’d still be drinking coffee at 3 p.m. Ha! I am so interested in hearing more about your novel and your life. Let’s get started.
Q: Where did the inspiration come from for your novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis?
A: Meriwether Lewis died mysteriously at the age of 35. Some historians believe he committed suicide; others are sure he was murdered. We’ll never solve that mystery. I became fascinated with what he might have accomplished if he had more time. He had such promise and lived an exciting life. My novel is my attempt to give him another adventure, a different ending, to imagine what he might have done.
Q: It’s described as a mish mash of historical fiction, paranormal, and suspense. How do they all fit together in your book? Would it appeal to readers of both genres?
A: Why can’t fiction include a ghost from history mixed with a good dose of suspense? I hoped my book would appeal to readers of multiple genres (historical fiction, paranormal fiction, suspense fiction, and young adult fiction.) So far, readers have overwhelmingly said the book works, regardless of the genre they typically prefer.
Q: Meriwether Lewis, of course, navigated North America long before people had cleared it of its natural beauty. I was always intrigued by the documentation by Lewis and Clark of the foliage, flowers, animals, fish, rivers, etc. And of course, the whole Sacajawea story. I hadn’t realized, one, that he died the way he did, and two, that he was as young as he was!
Did you do a lot of research for the novel? What are some of the interesting things you found that prompted this book or you included (or didn’t include)?
A: I read everything Lewis wrote, as well as academic biographies and other novels about the different historical characters. My most interesting find was my bad guy, the Judge, who really lived and who was an enemy to Lewis (and to most everyone he met.)
Q: And the question you probably get asked a lot, so maybe my readers might ask it, is if the death of Lewis in 1809 was ever figured out?
A: While there were a couple of inquests in the 1800s with inconclusive results, the family’s petition to examine the remains for further clues was finally denied by the United States government several years ago. His death will likely remain a mystery for all time.
Q: How did you think people would respond, and how are they responding, to the fact that your book features Lewis after his death, on his journey? Did you include a lot of spiritual essence or is it more like an alternative history?
A: Readers respond to good stories, well-written. That has always been my theory about readers. I’m glad to see it playing out with To Live Forever. Whatever misgivings readers have had at the book’s start, they’ve cited in review after review that they quickly forgot them and got lost in the story.
The book isn’t meant to be spiritual. To write about Lewis in 1977, I had to use the paranormal device. It isn’t necessarily alternative history, either, because it’s fiction, my imagined take on what Lewis might have done if he’d been given more time.
Q: This is a unique story, but a great idea and way to tell the continuing story of such a high-profile historical figure. How did you create your characters?
A: I read about them for months. I listened to what they said in my head and wrote down what they wanted to do. We wrestled back and forth until I felt like they lived and breathed on the page in a way that was true to who they were when they lived.
Q: Strong independent women are always another favorite of mine in books. Have you thought about writing a novel featuring a woman in history? Who are some women that inspire you?
A: The sequel to To Live Forever includes a plucky, and completely forgotten, woman from history. I’m excited about digging deeper into her story and revising her sad end.
I’ve always enjoyed reading the letters between John and Abigail Adams. She was quite a spitfire. I also very much admire Anne Matthews, the current vice-president of Rotary International. She is a great example of selfless, strong leadership and a worthy role model for any woman.
Q: I love novelists who create unique and fresh literature and push the boundaries of conventional or mainstream fiction. You are quite literary. How did you learn to write? Have you worked on your craft or is it a natural gift?
A: Thank you. It’s great to hear that.
I’ve always been a writer. I think writing is in part a natural gift, but it takes a lot of work to deploy innate tools. I write every day. Even when I’m tired. Especially when I’m uninspired. Some of my best writing comes from the most unexpected places. Maybe that’s why To Live Forever is unique.
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors? Do any inspire you? What are some of your favorite books?
A: My favorite book of all time is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. My vocabulary improves every time I read any of his works. I’m also a fan of Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca is another favorite. To Live Forever really started to come together when I found The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A lovely, lovely book. It might not surprise anyone to learn that I’m a big fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Stephen King’s On Writing changed the way I approached the written word. I owe him a lot for what To Live Forever became.
Q: I like your list of things you like and don’t like on your website. I take it you also have a funny bone. Where is one place you’d like to travel, once you’re rested up from your own travels on the Natchez Trace?
A: I never met a destination I didn’t like. Seriously, I’d go anywhere. My next trip is to Franklin, Tennessee. I’m a featured guest of Landmark Booksellers as part of the Main Street Franklin Festival.
Q: Speaking of the Natchez Trace, why did you decide to walk such an exhausting route? You just finished it at the beginning of April, well, I am assuming you completed it? Are you the first to ever do it? Can you talk about it and tell us how what it was about and how it went? (and congrats by the way, what an achievement!)
A: I finished the walk on April 3. I’m the first living person to complete the walk as the pioneers did. 15 miles a day. 6 days a week. 34 days. It took the typical pioneer about a month, though they didn’t have the sleek athletic wear and modern conveniences.
I wanted to do the walk to launch my novel, to take readers into the world of the book. I also wanted to do it as a last adventure with my dad. He’ll be 80 in August. We never know how much time we have, but I wanted to spend five weeks with my father while he was still healthy enough to enjoy it. I didn’t want to look back and wish I’d done it when it was too late. Because the novel is about the relationship between fathers and daughters at its core, I thought this particular adventure was appropriate.
As to how it went, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The loneliness. The crazy drivers who failed to yield. The monotony. The foot pain. And of course, the diarrhea at the beginning of a day. I ran out of toilet paper and had to complete 13 miles stinking.
I’d do every single bit of it again.
I came away with a new respect for the men who walked that route year after year as a means to provide for their families, to survive the harsh climate of a burgeoning America.
Q: For readers that don’t know, what is the importance of the Natchez Trace to you and to your book?
A: The Natchez Trace is a 10,000 year old road that runs from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. Older than the pyramids. I became interested in the many layers of its history, from migratory route for buffalo to Native American settlement to the death of Meriwether Lewis. Every character that appears along the Trace has a historical connection to the place.
Q: What novels will you write next? Do you have any ideas or works in progress?
A: I’m writing a memoir about my Natchez Trace walk called Not Without My Father that will encourage readers to have adventures with their aging parents before it’s too late. It will launch November 1, 2014, and ARC’s will be available August 1. I’m also working on a sequel to To Live Forever that will launch March 1, 2015, with ARC’s available on December 1.
Q: Have you written any other books or stories previously?
A: My work is published in two anthologies: Echoes in Darkness and Precipice 13, both available at Amazon.
Q: Where can readers or writers connect with you? Have you or will you be posting about your walk?
A: I blogged about my Natchez Trace walk every day on my website at andrawatkins.com. I’d love to see everyone there. Readers can email me at readme(at)andrawatkins(dot)com. They can also follow me on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube and Goodreads.
Erin: Andra, thank you so much for doing this interview with me today. It was so great to talk to you and get to know the woman and the story behind the book. I wish you much success on your book and your new writing career.
Andra: Thanks, Erin, for giving me this time to sit down and soak my feet. I enjoyed meeting you.
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
World Hermit Press
Formats: Ebook, Paperback
Is remembrance immortality? Nobody wants to be forgotten, least of all the famous.
Meriwether Lewis lived a memorable life. He and William Clark were the first white men to reach the Pacific in their failed attempt to discover a Northwest Passage. Much celebrated upon their return, Lewis was appointed governor of the vast Upper Louisiana Territory and began preparing his eagerly-anticipated journals for publication. But his re-entry into society proved as challenging as his journey. Battling financial and psychological demons and faced with mounting pressure from Washington, Lewis set out on a pivotal trip to the nation’s capital in September 1809. His mission: to publish his journals and salvage his political career. He never made it. He died in a roadside inn on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee from one gunshot to the head and another to the abdomen.
Was it suicide or murder? His mysterious death tainted his legacy and his fame quickly faded. Merry’s own memory of his death is fuzzy at best. All he knows is he’s fallen into Nowhere, where his only shot at redemption lies in the fate of rescuing another. An ill-suited “guardian angel,” Merry comes to in the same New Orleans bar after twelve straight failures. Now, with one drink and a two-dollar bill he is sent on his last assignment, his final shot at escape from the purgatory in which he’s been dwelling for almost 200 years. Merry still believes he can reverse his forgotten fortunes.
Nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney is the daughter of French Quarter madam and a Dixieland bass player. When her mother wins custody in a bitter divorce, Emmaline carves out her childhood among the ladies of Bourbon Street. Bounced between innocence and immorality, she struggles to find her safe haven, even while her mother makes her open her dress and serve tea to grown men.
It isn’t until Emmaline finds the strange cards hidden in her mother’s desk that she realizes why these men are visiting: her mother has offered to sell her to the highest bidder. To escape a life of prostitution, she slips away during a police raid on her mother’s bordello, desperate to find her father in Nashville.
Merry’s fateful two-dollar bill leads him to Emmaline as she is being chased by the winner of her mother’s sick card game: The Judge. A dangerous Nowhere Man convinced that Emmaline is the reincarnation of his long dead wife, Judge Wilkinson is determined to possess her, to tease out his wife’s spirit and marry her when she is ready. That Emmaline is now guarded by Meriwether Lewis, his bitter rival in life, further stokes his obsessive rage.
To elude the Judge, Em and Merry navigate the Mississippi River to Natchez. They set off on an adventure along the storied Natchez Trace, where they meet Cajun bird watchers, Elvis-crooning Siamese twins, War of 1812 re-enactors, Spanish wild boar hunters and ancient mound dwellers. Are these people their allies? Or pawns of the perverted, powerful Judge?
After a bloody confrontation with the Judge at Lewis’s grave, Merry and Em limp into Nashville and discover her father at the Parthenon. Just as Merry wrestles with the specter of success in his mission to deliver Em, The Judge intercedes with renewed determination to win Emmaline, waging a final battle for her soul. Merry vanquishes the Judge and earns his redemption. As his spirit fuses with the body of Em’s living father, Merry discovers that immortality lives within the salvation of another, not the remembrance of the multitude.
Read an Excerpt HERE.
Buy the Book~
Author Andra Watkins, Biography~
Hey. I’m Andra Watkins. I’m a native of Tennessee, but I’m lucky to call Charleston, South Carolina, home for 23 years. I’m the author of ‘To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis’, coming March 1, 2014. It’s a mishmash of historical fiction, paranormal fiction and suspense that follows Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) after his mysterious death on the Natchez Trace in 1809.
eating (A lot; Italian food is my favorite.)
traveling (I never met a destination I didn’t like.)
reading (My favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo.)
coffee (the caffeinated version) and COFFEE (sex)
performing (theater, singing, public speaking, playing piano)
time with my friends
Sirius XM Chill
yoga (No, I can’t stand on my head.)
writing in bed
I don’t like:
getting up in the morning
cilantro (It is the devil weed.)
surprises (For me or for anyone else.)
Natchez Trace Walk
The Natchez Trace is a 10,000-year-old road that runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Thousands of years ago, animals used its natural ridge line as a migratory route from points in the Ohio River Valley to the salt licks in Mississippi. It was logical for the first Native Americans to settle along the Trace to follow part of their migrating food supply. When the Kaintucks settled west of the Appalachians, they had to sell their goods at ports in New Orleans or Natchez, but before steam power, they had to walk home. The Trace became one of the busiest roads in North America.
To launch To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I will be the first person of either sex to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did since the rise of steam power in the 1820′s. March 1, 2014 to April 3, 2014. Fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. One rest day per week. I will spend each night in the modern-day equivalent of stands, places much like Grinder’s Stand, where Meriwether Lewis died from two gunshot wounds on October 11, 1809.
I will take readers into the world of the book. You’ll see the places that inspired scenes and hear the backstories of different characters, with running commentary by my father, who’s tagging along with me.
I’ll also have a daily YouTube segment where I answer reader questions about the book, my walk, my arguments—I mean—interactions with my dad, and whatever readers want to know. Ask me anything at
Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/toliveforevertour
Tour Hashtag: #ToLiveForeverTour