A Slip of the Lit. – Andra Watkins (Author Interview)

There’s a funny thing which can happen in this world between the wires – you can find that in spite of never having met the people you hang out with online, you get to know them very well indeed, and often have a better idea of the state of their heart and soul than the people who are close to them physically. In this case, though I have encountered a rather peculiar dichotomy in that my interviewee today was first known to me as a Real, Published Author, and when I reached out and asked her (stars freshly sparkling in my eyes) whether she would consider an interview on A Slip of the Lit, I had no anticipation of (and was therefore utterly delighted by) the graciousness and enthusiasm with which my request was received. Which just goes to show that either even Real, Published Authors are human too, or that Andra Watkins is a particularly stand-up gal. Or perhaps a combination of the two. Whichever way, I’m grateful. Let’s proceed:

Not Without My Father

*walks in, emanating confidence and competence, and sits down in the chair opposite Andra, legs crossed neatly at the ankles, ready to begin*

*promptly drops question papers and in the scramble to pick them up, knocks over Andra’s latte*
*Apologises profusely and scrubs ineffectively at the caffiene-drenched papers with the sleeve of her no-longer-pristine shirt*
Ummm…guess we’ll make this up as we go along then, right after I get you another latte (so sorry!).

I’ve just finished Not Without My Father – the memoir of five weeks you spent walking the Natchez Trace, supported by your dad – and I feel as though the book offered the chance to delve inside your thought processes and personality, as well as documenting your journey. You definitely affected me, and there are some moments which I could almost imagine were occurring in front of me, they were so effectively described. You’re an accomplished wordsmith, but when did you first realise that your writing had an effect on others?

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about death. Children have no concept of what it means to die. I was different. I lost a schoolmate to a brain tumor when I was ten.

He had a crush on me from kindergarten until he could no longer attend school. He followed me everywhere, telling me how much he loved me. In fact, he told my parents he was going to marry me when he grew up.

But he never got to grow up.

And like most people of any age, I never realized how final death was until I couldn’t tell him I was sorry for ignoring him, for mocking his sweet sincerity, for treating his adoration like a scourge. I wrote about how my mother forced me to stand over his casket and face him in death. I can’t remember any detail today but his lifeless face. Every time I pray, I ask God to tell him I’m sorry.

People called me on the telephone sobbing over that piece. Mothers wondered how I could tunnel into their deepest fears of losing a child when I wasn’t a mom. Months later, people still told me how much that story haunted them.

Wow! I can only imagine that a story like that would really tug at the heartstrings and speak into people’s core motivations and fears. You questioned your own motivation for completing the Nachez Trace walk, repeatedly, and in the end found answers which gave you peace, but as far as challenges go, what is the biggest you’ve faced with regard to writing and publication?

My writing and publication story isn’t unique. Google the topic, and one can read my story ten thousand times in what’s already shared online.

I’ll name my deepest truth and hope nobody hates me.

Americans have an obsession with celebrity. We don’t value talent. We sneer at hard work. We glorify mediocrity again and again and again. I’m not asserting that everyone who achieves fame is mediocre. Many celebrities are gifted souls who toiled endless years in the trenches to have what they have. But we aren’t interested in that. We want the shortcuts.

Look at how many books are being published by celebrities today, and one might understand how challenging my path is. I’m a writer. I need to write. If I go too long without bringing fake people to life, I become unhinged.

But I also have ambition, not to strip naked every night and wallow in my bottomless pile of money, but to touch readers with my words. To make them think about their lives and relationships. To burst from my stories, grab readers in a stranglehold and take them on unforgettable, even visceral, adventures.

It doesn’t matter that a handful of online folks I’ve never met claim my books are a worthy investment of both money and time. For someone without an established name or a vault of money to spend, I can only find the next reader by convincing existing readers to share my work, to endorse it with passion, to describe for anyone and everyone how my words make a reader feel.

In a world where we’re afraid to open our computers because the assault of information is like putting our faces in front of a fire hose set to STUN, my biggest challenge is finding a way to seep into the soul of readers who crave something different, yet try the loudest things hoping to eventually find something that lives up to the hype. Reader, if I’m speaking to you, please try my books. If they don’t deliver what I promised here, I’ll refund your e-book monies with proof of purchase sent to readme@andrawatkins.com.

Of course, I’ll take praise there, too. 🙂

I hope you get LOTS of praise! Positive feedback is one of the most encouraging things any writer can hear. Which writers would you praise? Do you have any strong literary idols who influence your writing?

Without the late Stephen Ambrose’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West, I wouldn’t be a writer. He reintroduced me to fusty, dusty history and turned it into a raunchy, flawed and glorious live-action movie in my own mind. I can’t wait to see the HBO special inspired by this book. It’s showing next year and is produced by Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Casey Affleck stars as Meriwether Lewis. If I could spend an hour with anyone on earth today, it would be Casey Affleck. As someone who’s spent years burrowing inside the head of Meriwether Lewis, I’d love to hear what that was like from another artist’s perspective.

I wept when Gabriel Garcia Marquez died. Some people deserve to make words forever. I cried because I can now only read what’s left of him over and over and over again. I hope he knows how much his talent means to me, how I hope the tears I bleed into his words somehow become one with him.

Elaine Stritch wasn’t a writer. She was an actress with an almost eight-decade career. I was lucky to snag a single seat at her one-woman Broadway show. It was March 2002, a few months before I encountered Stephen Ambrose and his book. Elaine Stritch strolled onstage in a white button down shirt and black tights. In less than sixty seconds, I forgot I was jealous of how she rocked that getup at almost eighty. She wove stories that transfixed five hundred people for two hours. I sometimes write to the cadence and rhythm of her voice in my head, and I use her as a role model for inhabiting every stage when I’m fortunate to snag a spotlight.

And to live by example, I worship at the altar of Brian Doyle (although that statement would make him squirmy.) Invest in his books. Convince libraries to carry them. Not only is he a gifted writer. He’s also a scribe who’s generous and caring. Dive into his stories. Give them pride of place and move them to the front of your To Be Read list. You won’t regret it

*stage whispers to Andra* You do know that this is YOUR interview, right? We’re meant to be promoting YOUR book, and you’re here recommending other people’s! Are you bonkers? I mean… (*blushes*) …dude, it’s your interview and you can do with it as you will, but shall we try to get people re-engaged with what YOU wrote? Why do you feel that ‘Not Without My Father’ is an ideal present for Father’s Day?

Plenty of stories celebrate parenthood. Mothers and daughters. Fathers and sons. Even mothers and sons.

But few books laser onto the father/daughter relationship. To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the last great book in that category. While Not Without My Father and even my novel To Live Forever are not in Harper Lee’s league, they are both books that throw confetti on dads. My books show how fathers sometimes struggle, bungle and fumble their roles, yet still end up being our heroes.

Not Without My Father is a love letter to fatherhood, to making memories we can hold in our hearts when our fathers are gone. Whether one is a father, has/had a dad or connected early with a stand-in for a dad who wasn’t there, readers everywhere should pick it up and read it between now and Father’s Day. I guarantee you’ll spark Father’s Day conversations you wouldn’t have otherwise.

I can vouch for your guarantee – it’s certainly given me lots to think about. One of the things I thought is, given you were walking 15 miles a day and exhausted at night, how did you write NWMF – did you make notes as you went? Write it all from memory once you got home? How did it work?

Five hours alone on a highway feels like fifty-five when repeated for more than a month. It’s the most solitary thing I’ve ever done. To pass the time, I took pictures. Those photographs became my journal. I wrote Not Without My Father from the scenes those images conjured when I scrolled through them. A slice of those pictures are now available as a paperback collection: Natchez Trace Tracks in Time. 

What unexpected obstacles and delights did you find in the process?

I found an unparalleled appreciation for duct tape and epsom salts, and I will never, ever be without toilet paper again.

I never knew how hard it would be to spend a chunk of five weeks in my own company. I never liked myself very much. I had to walk almost five hundred miles to learn to love myself, to accept my parents as they are, to realize we only have finite time to make memories.

Because my mobile phone didn’t have reception much of the time, I was forced to see the world, to experience moments, to appreciate the sights and scents and symphonies we often miss in a world blocked with screens. I don’t torture myself when I let my mind wander instead of reaching for my device. I still try to find ways to leave my phone behind and venture into the world without it, because I always return from those minutes or hours feeling vibrant. Powerful. Truly alive.

That’s beautiful, and very true. I think one of the things we lament (on Twitter or Facebook) is how much real Time gets frittered away in these gigantic forums, and how connections to others via wires will still never be as fulfilling as those in real life – the people we can hear and touch and see. That said, there is lots of damn good writing which is brought to us courtesy of technology, so I fancy we’ll never lose it altogether. Would you show off your writing and give us a couple of paragraphs to Make Us Feel!

I’ll give you a peek of the sequel to To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis. Please purchase Your True Love Lives: An Afterlife Journey of Theodosia Burr Alston. Available everywhere September 15, 2015.

“I couldn’t lose my father. Not so soon after my boy’s death. I, Theodosia Burr Alston, would perish if Aaron Burr no longer occupied my side of the scrim.

Another wall of water vaulted into me. I planted my feet and slid my body through its suffocating assault. On the other side, I sputtered into open air just in time to hear a shout from the lookout.

“Ship to starboard! Ship to starboard! We’re being rammed! Brace yourselves for collision!”

Before he finished his dismal declaration, the ship levitated and splashed into a churning whirlpool. Rope scissored my hands as rain lashed my face. We spun. And spun. And spun.

I closed my eyes and wondered whether I was experiencing death. If in its throes, we drilled ever downward to the earth’s center, beyond the furthest star, like my great-grandfather Jonathan Edwards used to pound from every pulpit. I scoffed at his mythical notions of heaven and hell, the saved and the damned.

Until my son’s chest finished its rattle and I closed his eyes myself. If I could see those eyes alight again, I’d believe any fairy tale. I peeled my hands from the railing and beseeched the sea to devour my body, to free my soul, to guide me to my son.

Rough hands ripped my shoulder seams, tore my sleeves. When I wheeled around to face my attacker, a bayonet sliced my bodice just below my breasts. Raindrops and blood soaked my palms as I fought to hold myself together.

An English accent emanated from a head haloed by the sun’s disk. I squinted to see the face of Death. “Sharks, they like their meat bloody.”

I didn’t have time to wonder when the storm ceased, where the marauders originated, what happened to the crew. Death picked me up and heaved me over the railing, into the water I claimed I never feared.

It slid over my head and embraced me in a bloody cloud. When I surrendered, a substance older than Time powered its way into my lungs. Currents teased me toward a glowing disc of light. I stretched into its fiery heat, closed my eyes and let hydrogen and oxygen smother me.

I drowned believing my unresolved death would give me the life I always wanted.

A world that included my son. I opened my eyes, expecting to find him there.

I found Nowhere instead.”

Wow! Okay, I’m hooked and want to know what happens next. HOW far away is the release date? Dang! Okay, in the meantime, how can we best support you as an author?

Authors want to communicate directly with readers. While readers may think following an author on Facebook or fanning them on Amazon or Goodreads helps an author, we don’t control those platforms. On Amazon and other retail sites, I never know who buys my books. I can’t send them a personal thank-you note. On Facebook, the ever-changing rules mean I constantly send out messages that may never be seen, let alone received.

Of course, buying my books, requesting them at your libraries, and actually reading and sharing them helps me find new readers.

But if you really want to know what’s coming, please connect with me directly. My e-newsletter zaps into your inbox every month-to-six-weeks. It takes less than a minute to read, but it’s the best way to find out how my books are performing, what books are coming and what I’m reading these days. I also give snippets and outtakes readers won’t find anywhere else. And if a reader ever takes a picture with me, they’ll likely see themselves there, too. Please click here to subscribe

SOLD! *subscribes immediately, gets email wrong, somehow manages to subscribe twice*

Well, WOW…Andra, thank you so much for agreeing to come on over. I feel as though this little feature of mine is beginning to find its star in the ascendent, courtesy of a ride on your coattails (though perhaps not the full 444 miles!) I hope that your words inspire all who come here to read, and that my wonderful people all subscribe to your newsletter to keep up with what you’re doing.

And Happy Father’s Day (in advance) to your wonderful dad, who AUGH! I can’t say too much or I’ll ruin next week when I feature Not Without My Father…NO SPOILERS. Just happy days.  Author Andra Watkins 2

Andra Watkins lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, Michael T Maher.

A non-practicing CPA, she has a degree in accounting from Francis Marion University.

She’s still mad at her mother for refusing to let her major in musical theater, because her mom was convinced she’d end up starring in porn films.

She’s the author of three books and counting. Her acclaimed first novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis was published by Word Hermit Press on March 1, 2014. Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time is a book of photography, shot during her 15-mile daily hikes on her 444-mile Natchez Trace walk. Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace is a memoir about her dysfunctional family adventure.

Connect with Andra:

Can you only do one? Please subscribe to my e-newsletter! Thank you!
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61 thoughts on “A Slip of the Lit. – Andra Watkins (Author Interview)

  1. Great, great interview on the part of both interviewer and interviewee!

    Andra, I think when I first recommended duct tape to you, you probably thought i was nuts! I’m so glad you bought some anyway, and used it! As many blisters as you got, the duct tape saved you 100x that number! 🙂

    Lizzi, as others who know Andra in the flesh (god, that sounds a bit dirty ;-)) have said, she is spectacularly awesome in real life. My weekend in Charleston with Andra and MTM was incredible! She’s as beautiful inside as she is outside.

    xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    • *doffs cap* You’re welcome.

      It only sounded dirty in our brains 😉 but I’m glad Andra’s as awesome In Real, and that you had such a lovely time with her and MTM. My experience of Andra so far is that she’s absolutely authentic, and that’s something I really value.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a testament to how much I respect you that I went straight to the store and bought duct tape. 🙂 No questions. Bought out their entire stock. I still blistered with the duct tape, but you’re right. I never would’ve finished without it.

      I’m looking forward to hooking up with you in the flesh in Atlanta soon. Messaging you about my next visit there.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I could share several more, but I sort of got carried away on those I already mentioned. 🙂 Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is exquisite. I love Daphne du Maurier and Jane Austen. I read Pride and Prejudice probably once a year, and Rebecca is one of my favorite all-time reads. Roberto Bolano was a genius. (Obviously, I’m partial to Hispanic writers.) Steve Martin’s book Shopgirl is exquisite. I’ve long admired the visceral quality of Joyce Carol Oates’ writing, though I gave her last book one star. I’ll always be grateful for Cassandra King’s generosity in reading and endorsing my debut novel, and I enjoy her Southern writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Andra, you are talented, genuine, accessible, and inspiring. NWMF has stayed and stayed with me, and now, after reading today’s excerpt, I know I’m going to have another gut wrenching adventure with Theodora Burr just like the one I had with poor Meriwether Lewis!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I think Merry turned out to be not so poor after all. 🙂 I miss his voice in my head. And thank you for reading and for saying such kind things. I’m glad NWMF hangs around. I wrote it hoping it’d change some lives.

      Like

  3. A wonderful interview! Having had the pleasure of meeting Andra in person I really understand her comment about hearing Elaine Stritch’s voice and cadence. Now when I read NWOMF I hear the words in Andra’s voice. 🙂 Thanks for the preview of Your True Love Lives. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. God I love this woman! I miss her terribly, too. I love it that I always learn something new about you, Andra. You are like a box filled with fun tid-bits and surprises. Can we talk about, “Your True Love Lives: An Afterlife Journey of Theodosia Burr Alston”, please??? You had me at “I couldn’t lose my father”. Such beautiful writing, as always. I cannot wait to delve into that story! Lizzi, move over Barbara Walters! You are a queen at interviewing in spite of the spilled latte. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I never know how to treat these characters from history. In my books, I try to give readers just enough to whet their appetites for offline research, but with Theodosia, I may have to do more. We’ll see.

      Fact: Theodosia Burr Alston was the only child of Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States in Thomas Jefferson’s first administration and killer of Alexander Hamilton in a still-infamous duel. He was indicted and tried for treason for his scheme to invade Mexico and set himself up as its emperor. Much of United States case law was shaped by Aaron Burr’s treason trial. It’s fascinating reading for a geek like me.

      Fact: Aaron Burr trained his only child as he would’ve a male child. Theodosia was the most educated woman on earth in her day. He taught her that she could do anything a man could do. He gave her full control of his household when her mother died early. He taught her to be fiercely independent. I wish I could’ve met her.

      Fact: Because of his progressive views on feminism, her arranged marriage has always stumped me. Many people assumed Theodosia would marry America’s most eligible bachelor of the day: Meriwether Lewis. They were great friends, and some people whispered that they were much more. They exchanged letters until he died. I’ve always believed she was the only woman he could’ve married, because she was his intellectual equal. I’m sure their conversations were fascinating.

      But Aaron Burr was a man with big plans who was always short on cash. Meriwether Lewis wasn’t a catch, because he didn’t hail from money. So Theodosia was married to a young buck from old Southern gentry – Joseph Alston of Georgetown and Charleston, South Carolina. (Yes, I can walk you past their Charleston house if you ever visit. And yes, I can take you to Brookgreen Gardens, their former plantation that’s now a massive sculpture garden south of Myrtle Beach.)

      Fact: Theodosia’s only son, Aaron Burr Alson, died when he was 10, a few months before his distraught mother disappeared at sea. She was headed to NYC to see her father on his forced return from exile in Europe. While everyone assumes she drowned, no one knows exactly how.

      I thought it would be fun to write about Theodosia in my oddball manner, because we have so few female heroes from history. Plus, TLF is such a guy-heavy book. It had to be, given its backcountry setting on the Natchez Trace. I wanted to do something very different with the sequel. I guess in a few months, we’ll see whether I’ll succeed. 🙂

      And I love you and miss you very much.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. “My books show how fathers sometimes struggle, bungle and fumble their roles, yet still end up being our heroes.”

    Excuse my french, and I mean the following in the best possible way, but FUCK YOU! Seriously. You made me tear up with that line. I’m not sure there exists a bigger fumbler, bumbler, struggler in the world than me. Yet my kids adore me. You just had to make me go and feel all human with all your being a talented writer and stuff. What is up with you and the whole “affirming the role of imperfect fathers” thing.

    I was having such a nice, pleasant-yet-robotic day then you had to go and remind me that I have emotions…

    Liked by 3 people

    • You really don’t know how many dads told me, “Nobody celebrates fatherhood these days.” I’m sure that isn’t exactly true, but we do spend more energy talking about Mother’s Day. I really hope this story celebrates dads like you, emotions and all. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • There does seem to be a certain passive celebration of fathers – the so-called Dad-privilege. When I show up at a restaurant, church-event, etc, with my kids and not my wife, people are so eager to help me and smile and me and let my kids get away with stuff that they would never let happen if their mom was around.

        But that doesn’t really make me feel proud of my role in my kids lives, you know? Maybe it should, but it seems more like a tool I can use to manipulate people rather than something that warms my heart.

        (Should I feel bad that my wife and I often leverage the power of dad-privilege to our advantage?)

        Liked by 2 people

  6. What a fun read. Andra is fast becoming a beacon for writers trying to navigate their own journeys, trying to find readers who want to be touched, enthralled, and wanting more. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the excerpt from True Love Lives is a gentle, yet captivating, hook that not many will be able to spit out. Me, for certain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hope the sequel lives up to the first. 🙂 It’s been terrifying to know To Live Forever has a bunch of new readers, and many of them aren’t going to get what I tried to do. The reviews so far are all over the place, but that’s how a writer finds new fans.

      The other day, I compared being a writer to running a gauntlet. We use that phrase as a cliche, but I don’t really think we understand what it means. An entire village lined up facing each other with several feet between them. They went out and picked up the biggest sticks they could find before they formed that line. Because they didn’t have enough food to feed prisoners, they positioned a prisoner at one end of the line and told them to run down its center while every person beat them with their sticks. If they made it to the end still standing, they had to turn around and do it again. And again. And again. They had to run the number of passes the gods divined, and if they survived, they got to be a slave and eat.

      I feel like every day is like that for me as a writer. I run the gauntlet. I have the shit beaten out of me. And I turn around and do it again.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I get the gauntlet thing. In some ways, it’s similar to making a living from music. Kind of like a routine where you do twenty pushups and have a Scotch. After a while, you’re sore and drunk.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Andra. I just purchased “To Live Forever” on my Kindle. Can’t wait to read it. It sounds intriguing. It’s so cool to “meet” an author, and be introduced to books I might not have otherwise heard of. I am still in awe of your walking. I cannot even imagine doing that.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you, Diana! If you’re halfway through NWMF, you’ve heard plenty about TLF by now. I hope you like it. Fiction is my passion. TLF was truly a book I had to write to read.

          And I still can’t imagine the walk. Ha. It was that hard.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Andra has taught me so much about community and connection — I think I hold some similar opinions about the inadequacy of social media — or at least, how it’s not used to its potential to actually connect people in a meaningful way.
    I’m a fan, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on her photo book, as well as the sequel to To Live Forever.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m looking forward to having a clean final draft of my sequel. Dang, I can’t stand to read stuff mid-write. 🙂 Do you have the same problem? I mean, I can polish and polish and polish, and I still find things to polish.

      And yes, social media is exhausting. Great for reaching out to people like you and Lizzi, but not great when everyone in your immediate life assumes it’s perfect for everything, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think so much depends on how you use it and where you find yourself. A lot of it seems to be happenstance and serendipity, as to whether you end up with people who you can enjoy being around or not.

      Like

    • I’ve always been a fan of soaking in the bath. I love bath products, but I used big plastic vats of the medical strength epsom salts on my walk. I still have a bag left, and I can’t bring myself to use it. Maybe I should split it up and give it away with rolls of duct tape and toilet paper. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ohhhh THANK YOU! I have such, SUCH fun doing them, and this book. Wow. It grabbed me and I read it in two, vast sittings. I’m gonna write it up next week but isn’t Andra FUN! I love that the real her here, and the her in the book match up…I’m now officially rambling and gonna be late but THANK YOU Diana, for such lovely feedback. And also I think you score FRIST! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was going to say FRIST, but since I’m new here, it felt a lil awkward. Thanks for saying so ☺☺ I love how you respond so quickly to replies. Have a wonderful day !!!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hehehe no you TOTALLY rocked FRIST! New is LOVELY and I don’t want you to feel awkward. FRIST can happen anywhere, by anyone 😀

          And thanks. You just caught me before work, so YAY! Heheh you have a great day, too 😀

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for giving a slice of your life to NWMF, Diana. It makes my heart flutter to read that you love it, so thank you for that as well. If there’s anything else you’d like to know as a reader, fire away! 🙂

      Like

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