Monday, January 19, 2015

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with Andra Watkins, author of Not Without My Father

Andra Watkins lives in Charleston, South Carolina. 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. In addition to her writing talent, Andra is an accomplished public speaker. Her acclaimed debut novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis was published by Word Hermit Press in 2014.

Her latest book is the memoir, NotWithout My Father: One Woman’s 444 Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace.

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About the Book:

Title: Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444 Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace
Author: Andra Watkins
Publisher: Word Hermit Press
Pages: 240
Genre: Memoir
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Can an epic adventure succeed without a hero?

Andra Watkins needed a wingman to help her become the first living person to walk the historic 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. She planned to walk fifteen miles a day. For thirty-four days.

After striking out with everyone in her life, she was left with her disinterested eighty-year-old father. And his gas. The sleep apnea machine and self-scratching. Sharing a bathroom with a man whose gut obliterated his aim.

As Watkins trudged America’s forgotten highway, she lost herself in despair and pain. Nothing happened according to plan, and her tenuous connection to her father started to unravel. Through arguments and laughter, tears and fried chicken, they fought to rebuild their relationship before it was too late. In Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace, Watkins invites readers to join her dysfunctional family adventure in a humorous and heartbreaking memoir that asks if one can really turn I wish I had into I’m glad I did.

For More Information

  • Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444 Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Welcome to PUYB Virtual Book Club, Andra!  I am thoroughly loving your new book, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace.  I am a lover of hiking so this is right up my alley.  Can we begin by having you tell us why the urge to walk 444 miles and how long did it take you?

Andra: In researching my novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I discovered no one had recreated the pioneers' walk of the Natchez Trace in our lifetime. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, packs of men floated their goods down the Ohio and Mississippi, sold everything, and walked home on the Trace. They covered 450 miles in a month.

I thought it might be fun to launch a novel by honoring the walk of those forgotten men......which shows how stupid I am! I trained for three months to walk 15 miles a day for 34 days. On a paved highway. With speeding cars. In spite of blisters and blinding pain, I finished on schedule.

Your father accompanied you on this journey.  Can you give us some of the highlights with having him there with you?  Was there a lot of daughter/father bonding going on?

Andra: I've always had a challenging relationship with my dad, but in his 80th year, I was determined to connect before he was gone. He was my last choice for a wingman, with his gas, self-scratching and sleep apnea machine. I mean, what mid-life adult wants to share a room with a parent for five weeks?

We argued. A lot. We had our various physical breakdowns, and we didn't always know how to shepherd each other through them. But we laughed a lot. Dad told me stories and revealed parts of his psyche I'd never seen, which was very special and surprising. In five weeks, we made memories that I will treasure forever, even after he's gone. I'm so glad I took the time to make those memories.

How did you talk him into going with you?

Andra: First, I tried the "help me launch this novel" routine, but he was NOT interested. Because I have a Southern gothic father, I shifted to use his personality against him. I painted a picture of him wandering into every small town dive and diner, full of crap food he could eat without Mom's knowledge and brimming with strangers who'd never heard his stories. While I walked my daily 15 miles, he could regale people with the Roy Show, and wouldn't that be fun?

Of course, he couldn't say no.

What were some of the dangers you encountered during this long journey?

Andra: I was almost mowed down by a speeding car. I barely escaped a bobcat attack and an abduction attempt. When I trudged into the woods for a potty break, I don't know how many snakes were coiled there, watching.

What did you discover about yourself at the end?

Andra: Even the stupidest of ideas are worth seeing through to the end. In the process of shredding my feet, of losing my dignity, of destroying both body and spirit, I hope I found my father. And, I hope I created a road map for others to read, follow and make a memory with a loved one before it's too late.

I guess the million dollar question is would you do it again?

Andra: I would do a long-distance walk again. Absolutely. Probably not the Natchez Trace, because I've done it. When I can cobble a month or six weeks together, the Spanish Camino may be what I do.

What’s next for you, Andra?

Andra: In addition to touring for the launch of Not Without My Father, I'm also promoting a book of photography. Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time is a photographic accompaniment to my walk of the Natchez Trace. It contains images from my 34 days, both glorious and ugly.

In 2015, I have three other titles debuting throughout the year. Hard to Die is a novella prequel to To Live Forever, and it's coming Spring 2015. Your True Love Lives is a paranormal romance set in an English sailing-for-the-disabled program, coming just in time for beach reading. And I Am Number 13 is the sequel to To Live Forever, launching Fall 2015. I hope to be here for each of them! Thanks for having me!

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