You’re a Mean One, Miss Kitty

The following poem is my version of Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, with a bit of inspiration from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. It explains what Kitty’s been up to lately, which I’ve hinted at a couple of times. (Yes, I know this is more appropriate for Christmas Eve. But you don’t want to wait that long, do you?) So, if you stopped by to learn who won the books in the latest giveaways (click here and here for the author interviews), check the end of the poem.

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, save Kitty—that louse!

While the children drew close to the warm fireplace,
Kitty took herself up the stairs to rob the place.

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But a child crept upstairs to observe her at work.
Yet Kitty heard her creeping, and turned with a jerk.

“Are you Santa Claus?” asked the sweet little tike.
“I’d like a Nintendo, and some kind of bike.”

“A Nintendo what?” asked the grumpy fake Nick.
“Nintendo’s a company. Please be specific.”

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“You’re not St. Nick!” cried the suddenly wise child.
“You’re grumpy and harsh; he’s sweet and warm and mild.”

“He sounds like a hot drink,” the would-be thief sneered.
“Take my advice. This Santa Claus? Well, he sounds weird.”

Kitty shooed the child off with a ten-dollar bill.
She returned to the sack she had hastened to fill.

But suddenly outside, there arose such a clatter.
To the window she raced. What on earth was the matter?

Sirens squealed in the distance—what a kerfuffle!
The window was shut; but the noise would not muffle.

She would be caught with the stuff she had stolen.
What could she say about a large sack so swollen?

So, she threw off the disguise, and then she made haste
Down the stairs with her usual cupcake at her waist.

“Oh children,” she said, “I’m a neighbor so near
I stepped through the window to visit you here.”

The child with the ten, not a word did she say.
She felt keeping mum made life better that way.

So, they gave Kitty cocoa and showed her a chair.
And soon, Kitty realized, she was better off there.

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Now let’s turn from a larcenous “Santa” to the winners of the books. As a reminder, I am giving away a copy of How to Share with a Bear and How to Build a Snow Bear by Eric Pinder, as well as Hard to Die by Andra Watkins and Our Justice by John Howell.

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The winner of Eric Pinder’s picture books is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jennie!

The winner of How to Die and Our Justice is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy!

Winners, please confirm below. Jennie, please email your snail mail information and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. (Amazon will not deliver without a phone number.) Andy, when you email, please include the email address you use with Amazon.uk. I believe you can only get the Kindle versions of Hard to Die and Our Justice through Amazon.uk. Hope that is okay.

Thank you to all who commented!

Book covers from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie. The Happy Places Shopkins Happy Home is a registered trademark of Moose Toys. Hello Kitty is a registered trademark of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

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Check These Out: Books for a Thrilling Christmas

Greetings! With me on the blog today are two authors already known to many of you: the fabulous Andra Watkins and the equally fabulous John Howell.

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They’re here to talk about the latest books in their series. Click here and here for series information.

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Hard to Die was published by Word Hermit Press. Our Justice was published by Keewaydin Lane Books. Stick around later for the giveaway info.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andra: 1. I’m afraid to answer FaceTime, because my parents like to call when they’re either naked or scantily clad.
2. Once I break the seal, I eat SweeTARTS until my mouth turns raw. I cannot stop.
3. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride. My husband thinks that’s inconceivable!

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

4. I love to meet my readers. The furthest I’ve traveled to meet a reader is Australia. She was delightful. But all my readers are.

John: 1. I have written a thousand words a day for seven days a week since 2012.
2. I began writing after turning seventy, five years ago.
3. I love to write poetry but won’t show it to anyone.
4 I live with my wife and three rescue pets on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind your series?
Andra: What if you disappeared? Or no one knew exactly how you died? And because nobody knew what happened, you couldn’t fully die?

I’ve always been fascinated with unresolved deaths. Somebody, somewhere, knew what happened, at least for a little while. Both Hard to Die and To Live Forever give real people with unresolved deaths new adventures. It’s speculative fiction at its ‘what if’-iest. If you’re skeptical about giving me a try, here’s what real readers say about this series:

“One of the most imaginative books I’ve ever read.” Jen Mann, NYT best selling author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat
“I LOVED this book!” Nicole Knepper, author of Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind
“Absolutely thrilling read!”
“My new favorite.”
Hard to Die is hard to put down.”
“Riveting.”
“One of the best reads I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“A magical tale.”

John: My sister and I were touring the Aircraft Carrier Lexington moored in Corpus Christi. [Photo below.] Our father was a naval aviator during World War II and served on the Lexington. We wanted to walk the halls and in some way get a sense of his experience. While standing on the flight deck, it occurred to me that this symbol of American military strength was unarmed and vulnerable to anyone who would want to destroy this treasure. Although my series is not about the Lexington, it did set the stage for the subsequent terrorist quest to embarrass America.

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El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Andra: Several books informed my Nowhere Series. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind was a white-knuckled tour through Barcelona. I loved the fantasy, the inventive ties to forgotten books, and the homage to the landscape. I hope Zafón taught me how to keep a reader turning pages.

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Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, is a slim gem of speculative fiction. His short afterlife tales are so tight and inventive. He first made me think about what an alternative afterlife could be.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is a grounded fantasy tale I wish I’d written. Gosh, the writing is gorgeous. I love how she chose to deal with loss, death, and the afterlife, all through the eyes of a mute little boy. I’d read this book over All the Light We Cannot See.

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John: I am inspired by Nevil Shute and his book On the Beach. I was impressed in the manner that he could make up a fictional situation and characters and craft the position so that it seemed real and did not have a happy ending. Kurt Vonnegut inspired me in several books by how he could use actual situations as backdrops to a fictional story. John Irving gave me the courage to write about whimsy, and did it with a boldness that allowed the reader to believe the appropriateness of a sometimes outrageous situation to the storyline. Finally, Andra Watkins continues to inspire me through her determination to bring her stories to life in spite of all challenges to her personally.

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El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently?
Andra: Keep writing. 2016 has been tough for many people. It’s been especially hard on me. I launched a book a week before the election while I was afflicted with a significant illness. I don’t think I need to tell anyone how that launch turned out. I’ve cried and raged and questioned myself ten thousand times, but in the end, writers must write, even when writing makes no sense. Especially when writing makes no sense.

John: A talented writer, Craig Boyack, wrote a post on how to add suspense to a story. Although sometimes we don’t think of adding suspense in certain situations Craig pointed out a way to add a small portion even though it has no meaningful outcome to the story. The reason I thought this was great advice is we often think of suspense elements as some core plot elements and not a way to raise the enjoyment level of a story. I think his opinion changed that concept for me.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andra: I Am Number 13 is the third book in the Nowhere Series. It will be available in Spring 2017. I have at least three more characters lined up for future installments, though I no longer say how many books that will be. These characters become their own very insistent people. Hard to Die wasn’t supposed to be part of my Nowhere Series. That’s how insistent Theodosia Burr Alston is. And the male narrator, Richard Cox, wasn’t in the first three drafts. I look at Hard to Die now and can’t imagine it without him.

John: I am currently wrapping up the editing on a book titled “Circumstances of Childhood.” It is a story about a guy who is very successful until he runs amuck with a Security Exchange Commission audit. He needs to rely on a childhood pal for help but the question remains can the friend help him. The book goes to beta readers in January.

I have also started a thriller about a couple who find a cell phone on the beach. The phone contains some valuable information encoded into the contact list. The guy who lost the phone has been punished and now the boss wants his phone back. The chief of police is right in the crosshairs since he turned the phone over to Homeland Security since he thought some of the photos looked suspicious. The first draft should be finished by May.

Thank you, Andra and John, for being my guests!

Looking for Andra? You can find her here and here.
Looking for John? You can find him here and here.

Looking for Hard to Die and book one in the series? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Looking for Our Justice and other books in the trilogy? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Another place you can look is your front doorstep, because I’m giving away a copy of Hard to Die and Our Justice to a commenter. The winner will be announced on December 15.

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What is Kitty up to? No good, I suspect. Stay tuned. . . .

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from their websites and Goodreads. Still image from The Princess Bride from moviereviewland.blogspot. Gulf of Mexico map from worldatlas.com. USS Lexington at Corpus Christi photo from tourism-review.com.

Take a Leap

Man LeapingEver been to a place with water so clear, you couldn’t wait to leap in? The Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios was such a place for me. As I contemplated what to write for Leap Day, I couldn’t help thinking of the waterfall there and how I leaped in. But this post isn’t about that trip, which happened several years ago, so don’t expect a travelogue or personal photos. 😀 But I’ll at least leave you with this one:

Dunn Falls

Happy Leap Day! What a great day to post! After all, February 29 only comes around every four years!

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You’ve heard people talk about making a bucket list—places to go or things to do before you die. Ever thought about making a leap list? I think of this list as things to do to help you live the kind of life you’ve always wanted to live. Perhaps a bucket list and a leap list might seem to be the same thing. But so many people make a bucket list for the future. A leap list includes things you can do right now. You don’t have to make a long list. Just decide to do one thing.

Maybe you’ve been on the fence awhile. Could it be time for you to come off that fence? Maybe you could . . .

Become a fighter for a cause. My mom’s surgeon became a doctor to fight against breast cancer. But at some point, she had to make a commitment to do what was necessary to be an effective fighter (i.e., go to medical school). What cause will you champion? How far are you willing to go to fight for that cause? Think of a simple step you can take to start. When you engage in a fight, expect to get knocked down sometimes. The important thing is to get back up and keep fighting. What do you believe in so strongly that you’re willing to keep going toe to toe in a scrap?

Boxer Kitty
Take a leap of faith. This could be as simple as making the leap from doubt to belief. Or it might involve doing something you’ve been afraid of doing, because you were afraid to fail. I can’t help thinking about my friend, Jill Weatherholt (many of you know her), who took a leap of faith by entering a Blurb to Book contest. You can read her story here.
Kick a habit. You don’t need a pair of rain boots or fancy sneakers to kick a habit. You just need willingness and determination that this time, nothing will stand in the way of your success. Don’t let your doctor be the one to force you to do it!

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Forge a new relationship or renew an old one. Perhaps you have an acquaintance whom you’ve wanted to get to know better. Or, perhaps a relationship has been interrupted in some way. Are you willing to be intentional about building or rebuilding a relationship? Make a memory as my friend (and a friend to many of you), Andra Watkins, talks about on her blog.
Try something new. Choose something you’ve always wanted to try. Or, return to something you loved before. As for me, I’d like to return to my art roots and take an illustration class. I’m a bit rusty!

When you’re about to leap off a diving board, do you tend to look behind you? While there are some dives that require you to stand at the edge of the board with your back toward the pool, generally you face forward before leaping off. That’s what we need to do when taking a leap. Looking behind at past failures might be a detriment to taking a leap.

Of course, taking a leap doesn’t mean throwing common sense out of the window! I don’t know about your mom, by mine used to ask, “If all of your friends leaped off a bridge, would you leap off too?” as a caution against giving in to peer pressure. So facing forward still means looking before leaping!

By the way, Marie of 1WriteWay, get ready to leap! You have won The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. Congrats! Please comment below to confirm.

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Leap Year image from prettylittleliars.alloyentertainment.com. Man leaping from thankingthespoon.com. Dunn’s River Falls from islandbuzzjamaica.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Writing for Children: “Real” Writing

Before I announce the winner of Andra Watkins’s photo book, Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time (see interview post here), you have to put up with a soapbox rant.

With this being Children’s Book Week, I’m reminded of conversations I’ve had over the years with people about writing for kids. Some conversations have been fruitful; others frustrating.

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When one questioner asked what I worked on, and I responded, “A novel for kids,” the follow-up question was, “When are you going to do some real writing?” Translation: “When are you going to write for adults?” Because adult writing is “real” writing.

I doubt anyone asked J. K. Rowling, “When are you going to do some real writing?” while she wrote her Harry Potter series. I can’t imagine anyone asking John Green that either.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against writing for adults. I’ve written books for adults. I simply prefer to write middle grade and young adult novels. It is a conscious choice. That is why my grad school program was Writing for Children and Young Adults. Catchy, huh?

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Still, I’m always amazed at some who have expressed the view that writing for children is somehow inferior to that for adults. After all, they’re kids, right? What do they know about quality? Those who expressed that view to me, cited books and movies with fart jokes and such to make their case, then blithely state, “This isn’t Shakespeare.” As if there weren’t adult books and movies with fart jokes (Dumb and Dumber; many Adam Sandler movies; click here if you doubt that)—creations many adults would label “as far from Shakespeare as East is from West.” Again, I am not putting these down. I have seen many Adam Sandler movies. But I sense a double standard here.

I’ve also heard people talk about how “easy” writing a book or curriculum for children is. In regard to curriculum writing, someone once asked me, “You get paid to do that?” I wish I was kidding. But that remarks harks back to the view that writing for children is somehow inferior, especially if my getting paid for it is a question in someone’s mind.

When in the midst of writing anything for a child, I think of a car seat. Why, you ask, would I do that? Consider how picky many parents are about car seats. They want the best car seat money can buy to keep their child safe. They wouldn’t dare buy something they assume is inferior. So why not have that same view about what a child reads.

Trust me: a child will think about the stories he or she has read a lot longer than he or she thinks about that car seat. Who among us is unable to recall a story that enthralled us when we were kids? More than likely, we can instantly name wonderful stories we read decades ago.

That’s why kids deserve my best efforts. The people I know who produce books for kids have the same viewpoint.

And lest anyone think that writing a book for kids is easy, perhaps you should take a look below at the Goodreads question-and-answer session with Jacqueline Woodson, who won the 2014 National Book Award, the 2015 Newbery Honor, and the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work—Youth/Teens for this book:

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Congratulations on winning the NBA award! What comes next for you?
Jacqueline Woodson I’m not working on anything right now. Brown Girl Dreaming took over three years and more than 31 revisions (I stopped counting!)

Woodson’s response shows an admirable dedication to quality. This is not to say that every book has to have that number of revisions. I’ve never revised a book that many times!

I’m also reminded of Markus Zusak’s most celebrated book: The Book Thief. In his TEDTalk (click here), he discusses his revision process for it. He has the same dedication to quality. His book, by the way, was a Printz Honor award winner in 2007 and was on the bestseller list for years.

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Okay. The soapbox rant is over. Time to give away Andra’s book.

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It is my pleasure to announce that the winner of Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time is none other than . . .

Than . . .

Than . . .

Than . . .

Naomi of Bmoreenergy!

Congratulations, Naomi! Please confirm by commenting below. Also, please email!

Journal and pen from cauldronsandcupcakes.files.wordpress.com. Children clip art from vinesspeechtx.wordpress.com. Jacqueline Woodson from autostraddle.com. studio360.org. Book covers from Goodreads. Markus Zusak from thehouseofbooks.com.

Check This Out—Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time

Howdy! Yes, I know that this is Children’s Book Week. I will happily address the theme of this special week at length later. In the meantime, it’s fitting that on the blog today is the child of Roy and Linda Watkins—the always gracious Andra Watkins.

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You probably know Andra from her blog and from her books: Not Without My Father, a memoir of her historic Natchez Trace walk (click here for the interview post) and her novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, both published by Word Hermit Press. She’s here to answer a few questions about Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time, the photo book of her Natchez Trace walk (March 1 to April 3, 2014). This book was published on March 15 (Word Hermit Press).

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As you undoubtedly recall, Andra’s goal was to be the first living person to walk the Natchez Trace—from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee—to promote her novel about Meriwether Lewis. Her father Roy served as her wingman. After I talk to Andra, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time, which debuted March 15.

El Space: What made you decide to release a separate photo book of your Natchez Trace journey?
Andra: I finished my walk with hundreds of pictures. I took them to pass five-hour days, and I planned to share them online with readers. As I posted them, readers kept telling me I needed to publish them as a complete book. It makes the perfect companion to both my novel and my memoir. While I don’t plan to publish additional books of photography, it is a quality stand-alone collection for anyone who loves the outdoors. I’m really proud of it.

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El Space: You’ve been talking about making memories for some time now. (Click here for one of Andra’s blog posts on making memories.) When you look back at the photos in this book, which memory stands out to you most vividly? Why?
Andra: My last day walking alone. People do solitary things, and so much of the time, we wish it away. I streaked through fifteen-mile days to finish, and I missed the magic of a solo highway trek. Midway, I lay in a daffodil field and realized I was wasting the lessons of my Natchez Trace walk. On my last singular day, rain splotched my face. I realized I was spending my last five hours alone. The Trace saw my thoughts, because at that moment, I came around a bend and encountered a muddy field spangled with thousands of daffodils. I squished into that field, oblivious to mud and thunder. I snapped a selfie with what’s become my favorite reminder to slow down, to experience Life, to notice minutiae: the daffodil.

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Photo copyright © Andra Watkins

El Space: Your photos always have so much life in them. What do you look for in a good photo op?
Andra: I learned from my architect husband. My best pictures happen when I look up, even if that means I’m lying flat on the ground to get the shot. I also like juxtapositions of light and shadow. Clouds versus blue sky. I have no professional training, and I don’t know how to use Photoshop. My pictures are minimally worked with filters and capture the truth of what I saw. I don’t look for perfection. I’ll leave that to people who know what they’re doing.

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El Space: Any advice for people who want to record their journeys through photographs?
Andra: Photographs are shorthand. Even when I decided to pen a memoir about my Natchez Trace walk, I used pictures to journal. I couldn’t stop to record conversations or deep thoughts, but I could snap photos. When I scrolled through them, I recalled the way my pinky toes turned into pulpy stubs. I remembered the hay fragrance that wafted from a field when a bull chased me. I felt the wind transmogrify my body into a funnel cloud. I don’t think people should experience the world by looking through screens, but they can capture memories they don’t want to forget. The key to the best shots, for me, is really seeing what’s happening around me, without first experiencing it through a screen.

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Thanks for stopping by, Andra!

If you’re looking for Andra, she can be found at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time can be found at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. I’m giving away a copy of Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time to a commenter. So, you know what to do. . . .

Winner to be announced on May 7.

Author photo courtesy of Andra Watkins. Natchez Trace cover from her website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Daffodils from brokenbullhorn.wordpress.com. Camera image from freepik.com. Sky photo from publicdomainpictures.net.

Why Do What You Do?

Today is the day that I announce the winner of Not Without My Father, a memoir by the awesome Andra Watkins. As usual, I’m going to make you wait for that announcement until the end, unless you prefer to be devious and skip ahead.

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Jordie’s personal plea. But he has to work here, so please use your own judgment.

Last week, I watched the 3D animated movie, Rise of the Guardians (DreamWorks 2012). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that movie. Maybe close to nine or ten times. As usual, I was touched by the mission of each Guardian (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Guardian-in-training Jack Frost): to guard the children of the world, and especially guard precious aspects of childhood like wonder and fun.

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I’ve written other posts about this movie, so I won’t go into the plot. You can look here for that. Suffice it to say that the movie caused me to think about my audience and why I write. The intended audience of my current project—teens—is a lot older than the audience for this movie. Still I have to ask myself: Am I a Guardian? If so, what, if anything, do I guard? Why is that important?

To answer that, I thought back over the recent encounters I’ve had with teens, many of which have been of the chauffeuring variety.

Teen: Going to game night? Can I catch a ride with you?
Me: Sure.
Friend: Can you pick up Caitlyn from school? She’s sick and needs to leave early. I can’t leave the office.
Me: Sure.

These car trips with teens have fostered long discussions of videogames or the kinds of videogames I would write if I had the opportunity to do so. (RPGs, by the way.) We’ve also talked about movies and books we’ve liked or disliked. Yet even the most innocuous conversation with a teen can sometimes lead to revelations of heartfelt needs as trust is earned. So these experiences reminded me that I’m a Guardian of their trust and the need for authenticity. This includes being open and real (in appropriate, parent-approved ways of course). And of course trust and authenticity need to spill over into what I write. I will quickly lose their trust if I’m a big, fat fake writing stories I don’t believe in, starring characters with the emotional depth of a raisin.

I also thought about my reason for reading, which dovetails with my reason for writing. I can tell you that in three words: I enjoy it. I like to be taken to different worlds to meet people I will grow to care about deeply. An author who thoroughly entertains me is deeply treasured.

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Who wouldn’t want the I-treasure-you response from a reader? But my reason for writing is more than just a desire to entertain someone, although I like doing that. No, I write because of the joy of creating something. If a reader enjoys the journey of one of my stories, it’s because I first enjoyed taking it. So, that makes me a Guardian of my own need to create.

I’ve mentioned many times that I usually watch the behind-the-scenes documentaries of shows or movies. I love hearing about the process of creating these works. The excitement of those involved is very infectious. Each time I see their enthusiasm and love for the material, I can’t wait to return to my own created world. This makes me conscious of the fact that I may someday inspire someone through my creations. (One can only hope.)

Why do you do what you do? Do you consider yourself a Guardian? If so, of what? While you give that some thought, let’s get to the winner of Not Without My Father by Andra Watkins—an author you can trust. But I don’t have to tell you that. 🙂

Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez alw-headshot-blog

That winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Naomi of Bmore Energy!

Congrats, Naomi! Please comment below to confirm!

Rise of the Guardians poster from teaser-trailer.com. Andra Watkins author photo from her website. Fantasy journey image from ipadwallsdepot.com.

Check This Out: Not Without My Father

Hello! You’re just in time to help me welcome to the blog the fabulous Andra Watkins, who is here to talk about her memoir, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace (Word Hermit Press), which debuts today!

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This awesome photo of Andra was taken on the roof of the Duomo in Milan by Michael T. Maher.

After I talk to Andra, I’ll tell you how you can have your very own copy of this memoir. So let’s get started!

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andra: (1) I’m married to the most patient man alive. I’ve been willing to write/say/announce that everywhere, something he’ll be able to hold over my head for all time. (2) I’m afraid of heights. Yet, I climb as many mountains as I can find. Life is empty if we avoid things we fear. (3) I don’t wear underwear, a fact that doesn’t need an explanation. (4) Writing books and flinging them out there is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever done. It’s sometimes hard to see what comes of that effort or what doesn’t.

El Space: What made you decide to walk the Natchez Trace?
Andra: During my research for my debut novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I discovered that no one had walked the Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. A 10,000-year-old footpath was paved over by the federal government in the 1930’s to make way for the automobile. No provisions were made for walkers along the Trace.

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I thought walking 15 miles a day for 34 days would be a fun way to launch a novel . . . which shows how stupid I am. I trained, but I never considered the toll pavement would take on my joints and tendons. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

El Space: How have people responded to your novel as a result of this grueling walk?
Andra: More people read my novel because I walked the Trace. Not as many as I hoped, but does that ever really happen for an author? We always want a few more and a few more and a few more. I think walking the Trace helped readers connect with the story in a deeper, more powerful way, because through my own self-torture, I immersed them in an ancient place. The Natchez Trace is one of our great treasures as Americans. I’m proud of how many people I’ve taught about a place we should all revere and cherish.

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book, besides the frustrating audiobook recording sessions?
Andra: The most challenging aspect continues to be finding new ways to promote my work and find a broader audience. My publicist queried over 600 outlets. It’s daunting to look at the return on that and see how few people actually open and read emails from strangers these days. Several national and international publications requested the book, but we’ve struggled to convert those connections into stories. There’s still time. But the competition for space is the Mount Everest of this business. I still haven’t cracked it.

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El Space: I loved your memoir, especially how you wove your dad’s story throughout it. How has this walk been a game changer for both of you?
Andra: I have a functional connection to both my parents as a result of this experience. For readers who struggle with dysfunctional family relationships, Not Without My Father is a roadmap to clarity. Readers won’t walk almost 500 miles on asphalt to find that epiphany. Instead, they’ll read the story and see how they can take an hour, an afternoon, a weekend or a week to Make a Memory with someone who matters. Through making this story, I realized the memories I make with my loved ones are what I’ll have when they’re gone. We all need a reminder to stop, to think, to embrace the moments that will matter, because life is finite. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee for anyone. I wove a collection of experiences with my parents that I’ll have for as long as I breathe. I turned “I wish I had” into “I’m glad I did” before I lost that opportunity. I hope Not Without My Father inspires readers everywhere to be the game changer, to embrace the messy glory of the relationships in their own lives.

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Andra and her dad, Roy

El Space: What nonfiction books, if any, inspire you?
Andra: I’ve never been a big reader on nonfiction, and I never, ever intended to write a memoir. Still, the nonfiction books that most inspired me are these: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose and Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach.

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I read Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and it changed the way I viewed history. In history class, we memorize facts, an exercise that turns historical figures into black-and-white non-entities or people we imagine as the color of money. I viewed history as a living, breathing thing for the first time, and it transformed how I saw everything. I experienced places by imagining how real people saw them. I read words and conjured the voices who wrote them.

I found Without Reservations at a time of transition in my own life. Alice Steinbach found herself divorced at mid-life, struggling to give meaning to her existence. She took a break from her life to find herself, and her experiences were profound. When I believed I might be single until I died, I embraced that book and started forging my own reality. Traveling on my own. Discovering what mattered. She probably helped me become the person my husband fell in love with. I really should reach out and thank her.

El Space: What are you working on now? Do you think you’ll write another nonfiction book anytime soon? Why or why not?
Andra: My book Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time will be available February 1, 2015. It’s a collection of pictures from my Natchez Trace walk, the perfect accompaniment to both To Live Forever and Not Without My Father. It will be available as an 8 x 8 paperback everywhere books are sold. I’m really proud of how it’s come together. People will be able to walk the Natchez Trace by turning pages. I hope the images are a tribute to an ancient, incredible place. And I guess it qualifies as a nonfiction book. So yes! I’ve written another nonfiction work.

I also have a short story coming in the spring. Hard To Die is a short prequel to To Live Forever. It’s set in New Orleans and Mexico City, and it follows characters from To Live Forever. I enjoyed a trip to Mexico City recently for research, and I hope it makes the story pop.

Your True Love Lives will be available Summer 2015. It’s a full-length paranormal romance. Set in England, it follows a group of Americans as they volunteer in a sailing-for-the-disabled program. I hope the book will shine a light on programs that enable disabled people to achieve mobility around the country. Several years ago, I was lucky to volunteer in such a program, and I met precious people who came out to sail, day after day, to feel like they could walk again, to experience memories they couldn’t grasp any other way, or to escape a bed.

And I Am Number Thirteen, the sequel to To Live Forever, will be available November 2015. Surprising readers is a tall order, but I’m excited about the drafts I’ve produced. The book will follow Emmaline Cagney into her life with her father, an achievement that didn’t quite turn out the way she hoped.

El Space: Woo hoo! Glad to hear there will be more books from you.
Andra: I guess I really avoided your question about writing another nonfiction work, though. At this point, I don’t say never. If I find another true story that might inspire readers to change their own lives, to embrace people who matter, to Make a Memory, I would absolutely write it. I’m happy to use my own stupidity as a means to inspire others to avoid the same mistakes.

Thanks, Andra, for being my guest today! And thanks also to those of you who stopped by. You can find Andra at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Not Without My Father is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans where Andra will appear on January 21. But one of you will win a print copy of Not Without My Father. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on January 20.

Author photo and photo of Andra and Roy courtesy of Andra Watkins. Natchez Trace map from touringdepot.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com.