Andra Wakins is a native of Tennessee but calls Charleston, South Carolina, her home for the last 23 years. She is the author of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, 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.
You can visit her website at www.andrawatkins.com or follow her on Google+,Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads.
Can you tell us what your book is about?
Explorer Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) has been stuck in Nowhere
since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother
in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross
his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an
old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em.
Why did you write your book?
Meriwether Lewis made me. No? Okay. I always wondered what people might
do if they had more time. My ponderings about Meriwether Lewis became To
Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from
To Live Forever is absolute fiction, but I used the history of the Natchez Trace
to imbue the characters with life. I used a starting point, like that Elvis Presley
was born along the Trace and he had a twin brother who died shortly after
birth, and I used that to build two characters.
Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you
discover it as you write?
The characters tell me what to write. I write it. We argue about how much
of it won’t work. In the early stages, that’s really how it happens, so I guess I
discover the story as the characters reveal it.
Your book is set along the Natchez Trace. Can you tell us why you chose this
place in particular?
Meriwether Lewis is buried along the Natchez Trace. That starting point
informed the book’s locational path from New Orleans to Nashville.
Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
The Natchez Trace is a character in my story. I hope it breathes and sighs and
gallivants as much as any person in the book.
Is it hard to get a mishmash of historical fiction/paranormal/suspense book
I always heard that I had to come up with a unique premise to get a traditional
publishing deal. When I developed a unique story, all I heard was, “I don’t know how to sell that. Could you change it this way or that way?” So, yes. This book was rejected by just about everyone you can name.
Is it hard to promote a historical/paranormal/suspense book and where do you
Book promotion is about making people care. I’m walking the 444-mile Natchez
Trace from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN from March 1 to April 3 in an effort
to make people care. I will be following the footsteps of the pioneers, the
first person of either sex to make this trip since the rise of steam power in the
1820s. I will walk 15 miles a day. Six days a week. I will take readers into the
world of the book, and I hope I’ll learn some things about myself along the way.
Maybe a few people will want to read the book because of my effort. We’ll see.
Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?
I sit at the computer and write anything. Even if it’s gibberish. I also find it
helpful to take a walk and listen to what my characters have to say.
What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you
Which holiday is your favorite and why?
I still love my birthday, because it comes around every year and reminds me to
live life, to savor it.
What is the most pivotal point of a writer’s life?
For me, it was the moment when I realized I had to write. It didn’t matter what people thought of it or whether anyone read it. It was a compulsion, a need, a craving.
What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?
If you don’t believe in yourself and your story, don’t expect anyone else to
believe in it. Believe in yourself. Invest in yourself. Stop throwing money at
people who only exist to take it and put that money into making your story
live, into getting it into the hands of readers, into living the dream you’ve had
for perhaps your whole life. My goal is to come to the end of my life with no
words unread. It’s up to me to make that happen. No agent, no publisher, no
publicist, no anybody-but-me can believe in myself and my story more than I
Believe and do. That’s my advice to any fiction author.
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.