Book Blast For Not Without my Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace by Andra Watkins

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hello Everyone! I hope that you're all having a wonderful day today. I am delighted to welcome Andra Watkins, author of the memoir Not Without my Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace to Emeraldfire's Bookmark. Ms. Watkins will be going on a Virtual Book Tour with Pump up Your Book! lasting through the middle of April. This is also my seventeenth Book Blast post ever, but I still hope that I do Not Without my Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace by Andra Watkins justice.

Not Without my Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace:

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 an 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.

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Meet Andra Watkins

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, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444 Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace.

Connect and Socialize with Andra!

Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace Excerpt:



When Dad followed Miss Ethel to the grand entrance of Hope Farm the next morning, Alice and I tiptoed through the kitchen. I lingered at the back door, listening to Miss Ethel describe her shock at the pricelessness of the urns on her mantle. “A museum curator from New Orleans almost had a stroke when he saw magnolia branches in those things. ‘But they’re vases’ I told him. He mopped his brow with a hankie and retorted that if I ever wanted to pay cash to send a child through medical school, I could sell just one of those vases. I keep ’em up there with nothing in ’em these days. Sad.” The grandfather clock chimed the half hour. “Well, let’s move on.”

Alice cleared her throat. “Andra. We’ve got to go.”

I shut the door and tramped down the back stairs to the car. Popping the trunk, I grabbed a value-priced tub of water and hoisted it onto the bumper. “If you work the nozzle, I’ll hold my CamelBak for you to fill it.” Alice pressed the white button on the jug while I tried to keep the pouch’s opening underneath. Water trickled from the white spout, like a hose with a kink. Alice cradled the container and shook it. “What’s the matter? Why isn’t any water coming out?”

We fiddled with the nozzle to make sure it was open all the way. When that didn’t work, we peered through the clear plastic sides to spot obstructions. After numerous adjustments, we pressed the button to restart the flow. Our collective machinations slowed it from a trickle to a drip.

“It’s going to take ten minutes to fill at this rate,” I fumed. “Is there something else we can do?”

We twisted the white cap on the other end of the unit. When nothing happened, we held either end and shook the container. I was ready to drop-kick the thing across the yard just as Alice clamped the sides with her elbows and squeezed. Water streamed into my CamelBak, a somewhat normal flow. “I can’t believe we’re two college graduates, and we can’t figure out how to make this thing work.” I laughed to mask a shudder along my insides.

What was I doing? My walk was nothing more than a mid-life lark to stave off failure.

I thought a lot about failure during my training. When my career evaporated, I barged into a local outdoor store and bought a $100 pair of Salomon sneakers on credit. I walked across bridges and wondered how to rebuild a consulting practice I didn’t enjoy. On lonely marsh pathways, I cried when I considered new beginnings. I poured frustration and despair into legs and feet and told Michael movement was changing my outlook.

Until I awoke one morning with a sore ankle. A swollen foot.

“Did you twist your ankle on a walk, Andra?” Michael lay next to me in bed and massaged puffy skin.

“No. I don’t remember doing anything to it. My ankle just looked like this when I woke up.”

Michael picked up his phone. “I’m making you an appointment with Stephen.”

Stephen Khouri. Our chiropractor. While he adjusted college sports teams, he also took mortal patients like me. I sat in his office and watched him work tanned fingers around my ankle.

“It’s dislocated. How much did you say you’re walking again?”

“I’ve got to walk 444 miles in thirty-four days.” 


“Less than two months from now. I start March 1.”

Stephen’s mouth dropped open. “And you started training when?” 

“A couple of weeks ago.”

“How many miles are you doing at a time?”

I only knew it wasn’t enough, but I pretended mental calculations. “Eight miles?”

He scratched the fuzz on his head. “Other than the ankle, you’re in great shape, Andra. You’re keeping up your yoga practice, and it shows. I want you to come in once a week, and I’ll adjust it. Really, injuries like this are pretty common among my athletes.”

“I’m not an athlete.” I shifted my 150-pound body on his table and rested my arms on my forties paunch.

“You’re walking fifteen miles a day for thirty-four days?” I nodded.

“You’re an athlete. Now, let’s take a crack at that ankle.”

I lay facedown and gritted my teeth through bone grinding on bone.

Nobody ever called me an athlete.

Except Dad.

My father made an effort to change my mind about my athletic abilities sometime in my sixteenth year. When Mom bought a badminton set, Dad was the only person I wanted to play. Our birdies didn’t flutter. They zoomed back and forth across the net. I stood in the Southern twilight, scratching mosquito bites, oblivious to everything but the thrill of beating my father at a game that required true athletic skill.

I always thought badminton gifted me with some coordination, but maybe Dad helped me find what already existed within myself.

I blinked into the steamy Mississippi morning. Why was I thinking about badminton when I had a book to launch? Four hundred and forty- four miles to walk?

Because walking across three states in thirty-four days required another level of grit.

Several other levels. Maybe an entire quarry.

I unfolded a map of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Its twelve sections reached the windshield when I opened it flat. Air from the vent mimicked ripples in the landscape. A bold line of highway snaked north, with eastward turns south of Jackson and near the Alabama state line. Meriwether Lewis stared at me, near the fold at the top of the third section, acknowledging my pilgrimage to his grave. An average of three days per section.

Eternity yawned before me. At the beginning of any project, I always struggled to partition it into sections. I crumpled the map and threw it in the back seat. If I finished, would anybody care enough to read my novel? “We’re here.” Alice steered us into a pull-off. We stared at two stone pillars bisected by a wooden sign.

Natchez Trace Parkway. Brown and yellow. Green and white. The beginning of everything.

“Well.” I gripped the armrest to combat dizziness. Blood bansheed through my ears. But when I looked at Alice, I smiled. One of those fake smiles, like Mom and I always used when we wanted to pretend everything was fine.

Because everything was fine. Really.

I dragged my eyes back to the window. “If you just take a couple of pictures of me in front of that sign, I can get started.”

Green eyes blurred with every heartbeat as I trudged to my first marker. Four hundred and forty-four miles was a long way to walk. Doubt gripped my insides, choked my ribcage, rebelled against air, but when I turned, I struck my usual pose: Mouth yawning open in a round O. Black pants. Gray shirt. Eyes wide. My toddler smile.

For most of my life, faces masked truth. In that instant, I wanted to take refuge in the car and drive home. Back to Michael. To failed normalcy. I didn’t know what I would do with my life, but I couldn’t imagine anyone reading my words or caring about my walk. I couldn’t fathom making a wage from the written word. I could get a job at Starbucks and stop my nonsense, my draining of our household in a pursuit of a stupid dream. I-

“I think these will work.” Alice returned my phone.

For a second, I wavered between jumping and not jumping, between the first step and total flight. When I saw the trust on Alice’s face, I stood a little taller, banished doubt and took my phone. “I’m sure they will, but just in case..." I scrolled through them. “I guess I should post one, right? Let everybody know I’ve started?”

“Yeah.” Alice waited while I played with my phone, fighting to see the world through screens when experience magnified layers. Cemented memories.

“Okay. This one. Done.” My mouth its widest. Fingers splayed. Me at my silliest.

Silence engulfed me.

Without anything to hide behind, my eyes sizzled to life. “I can’t believe I’m crying.” I swiped tears as Alice pulled me close. With a hug, she whispered, “Most people would never take five weeks to just walk. Alone. Through scary, remote, even dangerous places. You’re here. You’re doing it. Don’t wish it away. Promise me you’ll savor it, okay?”

The ground blurred, a lens out-of-focus.

How many souls passed there in 10,000 years? One of them whispered.

“Get moving, girl.”

May you read well and often