Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Interview with Andra Watkins, author of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Andra Watkins to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her debut release, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Andra. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis.
I’ve always wondered what people who died too soon might do if they were given more time. What could someone like Meriwether Lewis, who died at 35, accomplish if he could choose a different ending? To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis was my attempt to answer that question, to redeem the end of his life, maybe even to give him an alternate ending.

The context of the book is extraordinarily unique. How did it originate?
I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction and biography, but I wanted to come up with new stories. To Live Forever gave me the ability to gorge on a particular period in history, while still weaving a new story for the characters. In the end, I wrote a book I’d always wish existed.

Historically speaking, what research went into To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis and did you discover anything particularly surprising while investigating material for the book?
I cite several of my sources in the book’s acknowledgements, but I drove the entire Natchez Trace, where much of the book is set. I find it most surprising that historians state definitively that he died a certain way. After reading everything I could about his death, I’m convinced we’ll never know whether the murder camp or the suicide camp is correct. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly stands out to you?
I can’t read the end of the book without having a very specific reaction. Happens every time.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
The playground scene, where Emmaline first realizes who the Judge is, was creepy to write. I wanted to capture the frenetic nature of a nine-year-old on a playground, a kid who’s there to feel carefree and unburdened because her life is the opposite, and juxtapose a very real threat halfway through. It was hard to insert the Judge into that scene. Getting the right balance on the scary man was really key.

What would you say is the central theme of Merry’s story? 
Merry seeks redemption for a life that he feels came up short. Like most of us, he’s looking for redemption in the wrong things. It’s only late in the book that he realizes what’s really important, and it’s only then that he can truly succeed.

Several of the supporting characters stand out to me. Jim Watkins, Hector de Silva and Talisa in particular, made quite an impression. Can you tell us a bit about them? 
Jim Watson is an homage to the character of Jim in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Hector de Silva is a nod to Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, who crossed the Natchez Trace on his expedition through Southeastern North America in the 1500s. Talisa acknowledges the role Native Americans played in the history of the Natchez Trace. Every ancillary character along the Trace harks back to the history of the place.

James Wilkinson, a man historian Frederick Jackson Turner called "the most consummate artist in treason that the nation ever possessed," serves as the primary antagonist of your story. How did you approach developing this character for your novel?
I read several biographies and one novelist’s interpretation of his character. He was the perfect bad guy, because he really was terrible in life. And, much like in life, he found ways to manipulate his afterlife, to twist the rules to his advantage, to operate in nefarious ways without getting caught. 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on? 
My goal was to write a book that a reader could not put down, that was fast-paced and turned pages, that maybe made the reader interested in history because of the uniqueness of the presentation. I was asked over and over again to sacrifice the very heart of this story so that it would be easier to slot and to sell, to make a ‘choice’ about a specific genre and write the book to fit it. Not many authors can say the book a reader holds in her hands is exactly what they wanted to write. I can say that. 

Does that mean some readers may not ‘get it’, may struggle with it or may choose not to read it because it isn’t a clear genre? I’m sure it will. Every good book has zealous fans and people who don’t get the hype. 

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
I’d choose the Hinkle twins, because they are an homage to Elvis Presley, who was born in Tupelo, MS, and his stillborn twin brother Jesse. I’d love to know what it’s like to essentially grow up one-half of a whole, and I’d ask them to show me how to make the perfect fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Authors are famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for writing their own experiences, friends and acquaintances into their narratives. Is there anything in To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis that sprung directly from your personal history? 
Are you asking me if my mother wanted to sell my virginity to the highest bidder when I turned 10? Absolutely not! 

The significance of the two dollar bill came from a family story. One of my cousin’s parents went through a rancorous divorce, and she was separated from her father. When she studied the etymology of money in 3rd grade, she wrote her name on a dollar bill and spent it in Louisiana. Several months later, her father got it back in change in Virginia. That moment shifted his resolve to try to regain custody of her.

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process? 
I’m a pantser. I can’t outline, because my characters talk to me, and I transcribe what they say. That means I rewrite a lot, but I don’t mind. I enjoy discovering my characters by what they choose to reveal to me. Also, I can’t write in the morning.

Two words: writer's block. How do you deal with it? 
I write every day, and I’ve never really had writer’s block. I’ve certainly encountered times when I didn’t feel inspired or when the characters in my head were quiet, but I either sit and write through those times or I take a walk and come back and write whatever comes to mind when I return.

Who are your favorite authors? 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Daphne du Maurier, Alexandre Dumas

What are you currently reading? 
Little, Big by John Crowley

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
I never met a destination I didn’t like. If I can travel to a place and hike, that’s a bonus. But I never enjoy being anywhere without my husband. Hanging out with him is my favorite thing to do.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate? 
Hahaha! I was always more of a tea person. When I met my husband, he introduced me to espresso coffee. We also call sex COFFEE, so in the end, I guess I have to come down on the side of coffee. It’s my husband’s fault.

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? Planning a vacation? Anything exciting and/or noteworthy? 
I just finished walking the 444-mile Natchez Trace from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN to launch my book. I walked 15 miles a day, 6 days a week, for 34 days. I’m the first living person to walk the Trace as the Kaintucks did. They sold their goods in New Orleans or Natchez, and because they couldn’t get home against the current of the Mississippi River, they had to walk home along the notorious Natchez Trace. 

With the advent of steam power, the Trace died. It was revived as a federal parkway in the 20th century. I finished my walk on April 3, and I’m excited that my effort is already garnering interest to address the current needs of the place. The Natchez Trace is older than the pyramids. It’s an ancient North American treasure. I hope my novel and my walk will make more people aware of its value.

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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.

I like:

   - hiking
   - 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
   - candlelight

I don’t like:

   - getting up in the morning
   - cilantro (It is the devil weed.)
   - surprises (For me or for anyone else.)
   - house cleaning
   - cooking

Website ❧ Facebook ❧ Twitter ❧ Goodreads ❧ Google+ ❧ Pinterest

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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 my website.

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Format: Print & ebook
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
Released by: World Hermit Press
Length: 310 pages
ISBN-10: 0615937470
Genre: Historical Fantasy

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Check out all the stops on Andra Watkins' To Live Forever Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Tuesday, April 1
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, April 2
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Thursday, April 3
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
Friday, April 4
Guest Post at Kincavel Korner
Monday, April 7
Review & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Tuesday, April 8
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, April 9
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, April 11
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Monday, April 14
Review at Book Addict Katie
Tuesday, April 15
Review at Cheryl’s Book Nook
Spotlight & Giveaway at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Spotlight & Giveaway at I’d So Rather be Reading
Wednesday, April 16
Interview at Kincavel Korner
Guest Post & Giveaway at Cheryl’s Book Nook
Friday, April 18
Review at Book Drunkard
Monday, April 21
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, April 22
Review at Bibliotica
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, April 23
Spotlight at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, April 24
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Friday, April 25
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Monday, April 28
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, April 29
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Wednesday, April 30
Review at A Bookish Girl
Thursday, May 1
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Friday, May 2
Review at Layered Pages
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

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