For Amazon indie author Andra Watkins, it all began at the age of thirty-three when she read Stephen Ambrose’s Pulitzer Prize winning story, Undaunted Courage. It was a completely different story about the Lewis and Clark Expedition that she never learned in school and one that most certainly captured her attention. “Imagine my surprise when I read Undaunted Courage! [Lewis and Clark] were screwing their way across North America, sleeping with everybody, and contracting venereal diseases they treated with mercury. Who wouldn’t want to know more about such a crowd?” Watkins said. “I learned the mystery surrounding Meriwether Lewis’ death in Undaunted Courage. Suicide or murder at only thirty-five? We’ll probably never solve the mystery. Because of his unresolved death, I wanted to write a new story for him, something that might give him another adventure.”
And thus her first book, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, was written. “I used historical conflict to craft a new story: a rollicking paranormal, historical, action, adventure novel most readers love,” Watkins said. Three months before her book was published, Watkins chose to walk the very path the famous Meriwether Lewis nearly completed before his mysterious death to promote her story: the Natchez Trace. The 444-mile walk was quite a feat to take on and one Watkins was not prepared for. “It was a harebrained idea to draw attention to the novel, something I was convinced would sell thousands of copies. I congratulated myself for being smart and clever… I was an idiot,” Watkins said. “I thought readers would enjoy an inside look at the book’s world, where I took them to various sites in the book and answered their questions via YouTube. I had NO FREAKING CLUE what I was getting into.”
Though it was most certainly a challenging journey, Watkins completed the Natchez Trace and wound up writing another book while promoting her first: Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace. Both books are not part of a series nor do they need to be read in order. One story is fiction while the other is non-fiction, but the two complement one another. She never believed she would write a memoir and, therefore, she never kept a journal while she walked the Trace. “About halfway through my Trace walk, I realized Dad and I were having a universal experience, something that might speak to others and change lives. I crafted the memoir using the daily pictures I snapped. Someone else was walking the Trace a few months behind me, motivating me to put the book together in a few months. I wanted to get my story to market before anyone else,” Watkins said. “I finished the walk on April 3, 2014. Advance copies of Not Without My Father went out by mid-October 2014. The book was published January 15, 2015, less than a year after I completed the walk.”
“Gosh, I still can’t believe I finished! I don’t have any residual pain from walking the Trace, but the walk changed my destiny. The biggest impact of the walk is my motivational talk. I schedule numerous appearances around the country, challenging audiences and groups to make memories. I’m determined to convince everyone to turn ‘I wish I had’ into ‘I’m glad I did’ before it’s too late. The Trace walk gave me a passion to inspire others. I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet everyone I can.” Watkins said. “I meet aspiring authors all the time and I serve as a mentor whenever I can. I encourage authors to consider all options for bringing books to market, but in the end, rejections no longer have to mean they will never be published. Every time I make a new book, I learn more about crafting stories and reaching readers. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and I wouldn’t have it without Amazon and KDP.”
So far, Watkins’ books have been published through Word Hermit Press, a small press that uses Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to bring books to the market. What is wonderful about this small press is that they take care of the layout, cover design, and various formats of the books they publish. “I have almost total control over my books, but I’m responsible for convincing readers to buy them. Nothing worth achieving is easy. I certainly have my moments of distress, but when I compare the KDP process to my traditional publishing contract in South Korea, I’d choose KDP and Word Hermit again and again and again,” Watkins said.
While her journey on the Natchez Trace was a long one, Watkins’ journeys do not stop there. She still continues to travel and write and her family is her inspiration. “My husband is my favorite person. It’s sappy, but I couldn’t reach for my dreams without him. I stood him up on our first date. He married me anyway. Since we got together, we’ve traveled the world on a strict budget. I never met a destination I didn’t like. My favorite city I’ve visited is Copenhagen. The destination at the top of my to-visit list is Tokyo,” Watkins said. “Most people ask about my parents. My dad is healthy. He sells books every day. ‘The Dad Book,’ what he calls Not Without My Father, made his life at eighty. He gets up every morning and finds new strangers to buy his story. My mom is also better than ever. To say the trip improved our relationship is an understatement. It probably made our lives complete.”
The near future holds many wonderful opportunities and trips for Watkins. She spent time in Portland, Oregon this past month speaking at libraries, civic clubs, and reading groups. In March of 2017, she will be journeying to Cuenca, Ecuador to be on the faculty of the Cuenca International Writers Conference. And on November 1 of this year, the sequel to To Live Forever is released: Hard to Die. “It creates an afterlife adventure for Theodosia Burr Alston, ill-fated daughter of Aaron Burr,” Watkins said. “For anyone familiar with Hamilton: An American Musical, ‘Dear Theodosia’ is the child Aaron Burr serenades. In early 1813, she disappeared at sea. She was only twenty-nine. I can’t wait for readers to get to know Theodosia in Hard to Die!”
Watkins loves to connect with her readers directly and her bi-weekly newsletter gives her readers an inside look to all things Watkins. Anyone can subscribe to her newsletter and when they do, they receive a free set of limited edition Natchez Trace postcards along with other things. On top of writing and speaking to others, Watkins still loves to hike on mountain trails. “My most recent jaw-dropping trek was to the top of Cadair Idris in Wales, a three thousand foot elevation gain and loss. People ask me if I’ll ever do the Appalachian Trail, but I’m more interested in the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. At least I know what I’m getting into, right?” Watkins said.