Up Close & Personal with 'To Live Forever' Andra Watkins

Up Close & Personal is one of The Writer’s Life newest features. Here we feature authors who don't mind spilling the beans and telling what it's really like to write, get published and sell that book.  Today's guest is Andra Watkins, author of the historical fiction, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis.  You can visit her website at www.andrawatkins.com or follow me on Google+,Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads..  

On Writing...
I started writing creatively during the economic crash of 2008. I’d always written, but the crash, coupled with turning 40, left me unmoored, both professionally and personally. Over two decades, I had numerous technical articles published on business topics, but the shift back to creative writing was like going back to kindergarten. I had to learn how to write all over again.

On Being Published...
I still look at my novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis and can’t believe it’s mine. I wrote a real book. About a real person who lived like a champion and died too young.

On Publishing Industry…

The traditional publishing industry would do well to seek out entrepreneurial writers. Focusing on writers who can string together orgasmic sentences or writers who’ve won literary awards or those who’ve been included in literary journals won’t cut it in the 21st century publishing environment. To be successful, a writer has got to be an entrepreneur. He or she must innovate.

I went with Word Hermit Press, a small publisher, because I could stay nimble. I could take risks and try innovative, unusual things to promote my book.

Mistakes Along the Way...

I threw too much money away trying to win the Traditional Publishing Beauty Pageant. I wish I had invested more of that money in myself, in getting my book to readers faster.

On Marketing…

My book is a genre-bending mix of historical fiction, paranormal fiction, action/adventure fiction and magical realism. When anyone asked me where my book would go on a shelf, my answer was always, “Ummmmmm……”

I decided to write a book for readers, and that’s how I’m marketing the book. On March 1, I started walking the 444-mile Natchez Trace, a 10,000 year old road that runs from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. The book is set along the Trace, and I’m taking readers into the world of the novel. Fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. I am the first living person to walk the Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. I’ll finish in 34 days.

My walk gives me the ability to talk about my book all the time, without saying, “Why don’t you buy my book?”

On Goals and Dreams…

I want to make a living as a novelist, because I have more stories to write. I don’t care about being rich. I want the freedom and control to weave unusual stories that surprise readers, that turn pages and that delight me.

To aspiring writers, I say believe in yourself. Believe in your story. Invest in yourself and your story. Take risks on yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself and your story, why should anyone else believe in you?

About To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis:
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.

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