I remember that first email from Andra Watkins. She said she'd seen me across a room at a writers' conference in Myrtle Beach, but with all the comings and goings we never connected.
We live in Charleston, a relatively small world made smaller by social media, so it wasn't strange that she reached out to me. It's like we knew each other even though we didn't.
She asked me if I'd like to join her on this writing journey. Be partners. We met for coffee and we made it official. We worked on our book drafts and met once a week. We became friends. Because of her, I made it through that first draft that had been limping along for quite a while. Because of her, I showed up to the page when I would have otherwise avoided it.
That was nearly four years ago. I can hardly believe it when I type it. Four years! And during these past four years, Andra has shown up to the page every day. She writes daily on her blog and in the private, unpublished documents on her laptop. Every day, she shows up.
Today, Andra is walking. I mean really walking. On March 1, she began a 444 mile trek...covering the length of the historic Natchez Trace trail from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. 15 miles a day. One month and then some.
Andra's doing this to publicize her recently released novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis.
I just finished the book, and I'm amazed.
Let me just go ahead an admit that I fell asleep in history class. I've heard of Lewis and Clark, and I know they had an expedition. But before Andra started telling me about this novel, I can't say they'd ever crossed my mind.
Now, Meriwether Lewis feels like an old friend. I want to hug him. And I want to hug Andra. Because what she did here, just, wow.
In To Live Forever we learn that since Lewis' mysterious death, he's been stuck in Nowhere, failing assignment after assignment, trying to move beyond this eternal nothing. But why does he keep failing? What does he need to learn?
On his final assignment, Lewis lands in New Orleans in 1977 and finds himself in the path of a 9-year-old girl who's running from her prostitute mother and a crooked judge who's trying to catch her and make her his own. The girl needs to get to her daddy in Nashville, and Lewis knows he's the one to save her.
They travel the Natchez Trace, where Lewis must face old ghosts and come to terms with what it really means to live forever. Does the measure of our life boil down to our successes and failures, or is it something else?
Here's the greatest thing about this book... the thing that I love most: it embodies the essence of Andra's spirit. Everything I know about her and the way she chooses to live her life (emphasis on live), is the heart and breath of this book.
I'll leave you with a couple of things: First, one of my favorite quotes from To Live Forever:
I experienced it all, Emmaline. It's the only way to live. Knowing you could die any minute makes you wring the life out of every day you get.
And, then, one of my favorite videos from Andra's Natchez Trace adventure. TP or not TP? THAT is the question.
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