Welcome to an interview with Andra Watkins, author of the forthcoming To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis from Word Hermit Press. To Live Forever debuted on March 1, 2014, the same date that Andra commenced to walk the entire length of the road where Lewis died, the Natchez Trace, all 444 miles of it.
Andra also has a very popular blog at The Accidental Cootchie Mama, where she writes about writing, traveling, her dad, MTM (her husband), boiled peanuts, and anything else that comes to mind.
Andra “sat down” with me for this interview some days before the full launch for To Live Forever.
M: Andra, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and for walking all the way from Charleston, South Carolina. That’s almost 400 miles. Your dogs must be hot and tired. Here, I made you a warm bath that you can soak them in while we talk. Please sit here and make yourself comfortable.
AW: Aaaaahhh. Incredible. My feet are perking up already.
M: Can I get you something to drink? Here’s a bowl of boiled peanuts we can share. I got them from a roadside stand about a mile from here. And don’t mind the cats. They just like to sleep on the back of the couch.
AW: Gin and tonic goes best with boiled peanuts. I won’t ask for a Thunderclapper. I had to sample too many versions to get it just right for my novel. I think I still have brain damage…..
M: Yes, I saw the recipe on your blog (smile). You know, I’ve been wanting to interview you for quite some time. I’m fascinated by the novel that you’ve written, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis. Now, on your blog, you describe it as thus: “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.” What possessed you to write an afterlife of Lewis?
AW: What if you lived an amazing life, but a few bad decisions at the end tainted how you are remembered? Maybe your story was so much bigger than people would ever be taught, but because the winners write history, few people outside the circle of history geeks will ever really understand all you accomplished or contributed. If you were given the chance to erase the end, to ensure that people remembered you the way you wished to be, would you take it? I gambled that Lewis would take that chance. He doesn’t know how he’s remembered, but he’s terrified that his actions at the end will relegate him to a historical footnote. He’s willing to risk total obscurity to change that.
M: And as part of the debut of your novel, you plan to walk the 444 miles of Natchez Trace, where Lewis died. What (in heaven’s name) has inspired you to walk the Trace? What kind of training are you doing for this walk?
AW: My dad is almost 80 years old. I wanted to give him an adventure to look forward to in the twilight of his life. When I pitched this to him, he was hooked. Because my novel is in part about a little girl who’s looking for her father, having Dad along made sense. To train, I’m walking. A lot.
M: How are your feet doing right now? Is the water still warm enough? There’s a fluffy towel next to you if you want to dry them off. Now, Andra, you have two stories published, that I know of: “A Man With a Satisfied Mind” which was published in Precipice Volume II, a literary anthology, and “Bad Deal” which was published in another anthology, Echoes in Darkness. [includes links to books] First, do you have any other publications? And, second, could you talk about these two stories, how they came about, and how they got published in anthologies?
AW: Not currently. “A Man With a Satisfied Mind” came from my imagining what it would be like to be trapped in Mammoth Cave after a visit there. “Bad Deal” is an excerpt from my novel. Both came about through connections I made by blogging. Cameron Garriepy is an awesome writer, and she invited me to participate in Echoes. I submitted the other story to Precipice, and the Write On Edge people selected it.
M: When you’re not training and writing and traveling, what else do you do? I’ll admit, I was happy to see on your blog that you like yoga, but that you don’t stand on your head. I’ve been practicing for several years and only once I did a headstand, but with help (my instructor held onto my legs). If you can picture me upside-down, practically yelling “Let me down! Let me down!” I was going quickly into panic mode. That was my first and last headstand. Shoulder-stand is about as inverted as I’ll allow myself now.
AW: Isn’t shoulder-stand the best? I like to eat, and I still enjoy hanging out with my husband. I’m really involved in Rotary International, and I’m proud of the work they do in the world.
M: What is a typical writing day for you? Do you set yourself goals like word or page counts? What needs to happen for you to say that you’ve had a productive and satisfying writing day?
AW: When I’m working on a book, I write in the afternoon and evening. I usually go for a walk late morning. If I write anything, I consider it productive.
M: Now, many of the authors I’ve interviewed and reviewed are self-published. Your novel will be published by Word Hermit Press. How did you come about to choose Word Hermit Press? What is it like to work with them?
AW: Word Hermit Press chose me. It’s been an amazing experience so far.
M: That’s wonderful! Do you have any advice for writers who aspire to be published authors?
AW: Be true to yourself and your goals for your writing. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself, to believe in yourself, to trust yourself.
M: Finally, Andra, your blog. It is hugely popular. On any given day, you can have 30-50 comments, and you post frequently, almost every day. How do you keep up with your blog and your followers? Besides the fact that your blog is very entertaining, many of your posts are humorous and include photos, what else might you attribute the success of your blog?
AW: My readers are a priority for me. They matter. I care about them. People care what they have to say more than they care about what I have to say. I have always operated my blog with that attitude. I hope my readers know how much I appreciate them.
M: Andra, it’s truly been my pleasure to talk with you today. Thank you again for taking the time for this interview, and for traveling all this way by foot. Although, now I think you’re ready for a new pair of shoes.
AW: I was honored to walk all this way. Thanks for having me.
Thanks to everyone for reading my interview with author, Andra Watkins. Be sure to follow her blog at http://andrawatkins.com/ and pick up a copy of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, check her other stories, both available as ebooks or paperbacks from Amazon, Echoes in Darkness and Precipice: The Literary Anthology of Write on Edge, Volume II
You can also follow Andra at: Twitter, Google+, and Facebook