Do you have a haunted place?

Actually, I have more than one haunted place. Characters call to me through the twisting corridors of time. They pick the locales, and they nag and wail and banshee until I weave the stories they want revealed.

For Hallowe’en, I’m highlighting one of my haunted places.


Probably even more so since the latest series of earthquakes reduced so much urban fabric to rubble. But Mexico City is built on the ruins of the mighty Aztec nation. Its governmental palace in the Zocalo is constructed from Aztec stone. The beige in the Spanish building below once grazed the sky as pyramids.


As did the stone in Mexico City’s central cathedral.


James Wilkinson, the villain in my Nowhere series, died of an opium overdose in Mexico City. James Monroe sent Wilkinson to Mexico to help shape the nation in its break with the Spanish crown. The author of the Monroe Doctrine wasn’t shy about meddling in the affairs of neighboring nations, especially if the outcome meant a stronger United States.

Wilkinson was happy to play both sides if he ended up with a vast swath of Texas. Before he died, Mexico’s leaders agreed to give him millions of acres of prime Texas land.

How would the United States map appear today if someone hadn’t given Wilkinson too much opium?

Wilkinson was initially buried in Mexico’s Baptist church near the city center. Its dome is visible above the colorful buildings in the picture below.


When Wilkinson died, he was renting a house near the city’s horse track. Sprawl consumed the horse track long ago. City layers tease the ghosts from before. Urban planners preserved the racetrack in this circular city park and roadway.


Wilkinson would’ve strutted across this square many times in his perambulations. Workers exhumed his bones in the mid-1800s.


Today, he rests in a mass grave in the Mexico City National Cemetery. AND THAT’S WHERE READERS MEET HIM AT THE BEGINNING OF I AM NUMBER 13……….

Read more about Mexico City National Cemetery HERE.

Haven’t been to Nowhere? Get my books HERE.


As promised, today I’m sharing a DELETED SCENE FROM MY UPCOMING NOVEL I AM NUMBER 13

/May 31, 1986/

My father died today and took my whole adulthood with him. I idled in front of Nashville’s Parthenon, its concrete columns wavy through the lens of my tears. I found him there when I was a lost nine-year-old girl. My prostitute of a mother kept us apart for two years, but her manipulative voodoo couldn’t counter the our magic. I ran away from her New Orleans brothel and finally embraced my father under Athena’s watchful gaze.

“Justice,” she whispered. And it was just.

For nine years, Dad was the engine of my life. He helped me with my homework and listened to my frustrations with school cliques. During sophomore year, I started a charity project to assist refugees overseas. Dad gave the first donation and asked his friends in the country music business to help. When I won a scholarship to Vanderbilt, his bragging extended to strangers at neighboring restaurant tables or at the mall. He was even prouder of me for deferring college a year to work with refugees in Honduras.

He wouldn’t die and orphan me on the day I graduated from high school. It wouldn’t be right.

I pried my shaking hands from the steering wheel and shuddered. I didn’t want to believe Dad’s body vaulted over the dashboard and smashed through the windshield of his red pick-up, a single-vehicle accident on the Natchez Trace about seventy miles south of Nashville. What was he doing on that desolate stretch of highway? Did he misjudge a turn? Or did he swerve to avoid an animal? Could it be something even more nefarious, like another driver running him off the road?

I stepped from my gray Honda Civic and approached the Parthenon on shaky legs. “Let him be here,” I whispered. Salt stung my cracked lips.

“Please, please let him tell me what happened.”

Knowing what caused the accident wouldn’t change its outcome. Rescuers found him near the mangled remnants of his truck, but it was in better shape than he was. It took them two hours to separate his corpse from the oak branch that impaled his mighty heart and shredded his torso from throat to pelvis. Sometimes, Death reveled in making a gory spectacle of his work, but why did he have to choose my dad for such a tasteless show?

The Greek temple’s hulking shadow stretched across the lawn. Dad was waiting inside. He’d tell me why. Before his essence evaporated like steam over a hot spring, he’d explain why he left me too soon. Whatever he said wouldn’t grant me peace but it might give me the will to trudge through life alone, one last bit of magic before I graduated from high school and crossed into adulthood.

But as I pounded up the steps and threw my weight into the colossal door, I wanted more than little-girl fairy dust. I lasered onto Athena’s gold-rimmed eyes and forced my knees to stop knocking together. My shouted wish pinged off the walls of the empty room.

“Give me my father!”

I didn’t feel the thwack of my knees on marble, and I swatted away the stars that swam through my sight lines when my forehead hit the floor. Prostrated in front of her, my fists burned with every fresh pound into stone. Its pattern glistened through my tears. Maybe if I inflicted enough pain on myself, I could bring back my father.


I flopped onto my back and reached toward the light touch on my shoulder. Athena gave me my father the first time I asked her nine years ago.

I knew she wouldn’t disappoint me.

But before I melted into Dad’s embrace, I gazed into the bird-like eyes of Uncle Teed. My father didn’t touch me after all, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t here. Crabbing away from him, my ravaged face grew smaller in the mirror of his shined shoes. I welded my hands to the iron gate surrounding Athena. Her golden skirts shimmered like falling water. I swore her eyes followed me. I dove into their bottomless center. Words ground through clenched teeth. “Please. You gave him to me once. Right here. In this room. I was nine, and I asked you to bring him to me, and he walked through that door. You can do it again. I know you can. Let me talk to him just one more time.”

Uncle Teed’s gravelly voice knifed through darkness. “Emmaline, what happened to Lee’s a goddamn shame. I know you’re busted up. Hell, I am, too. But I sure am glad he ain’t here to see you like this, groveling on the floor in front of some idol decked out with whore paint.”

The worsted wool of his custom suit scratched my bare arms. I elbowed him in the ribs and shook free of his embrace.

“She gave him to me. When I was nine. Don’t you remember?”

“I recall picking you up on the Natchez Trace and dropping you outside there, you and that idiot you was with.”

“Don’t you call Merry an idiot. He’s my lifetime hero. He plucked me from a rainy alley when I ran away from my mother and brought me all the way from New Orleans. No matter how hard it got, he never left me, not even when the Judge came after us and tried to take me back to my mother.”

Uncle Teed waved his stubby arms and rolled his hawkish eyes. “And then Merry killed the Judge right outside here and vanished, only nobody ever found a shred of blood or a body. Please, spare me the billionth telling of that tall tale.”

“I’m not making it up.”

“Grief drives people crazy, girl. I get why you’re coming unglued and all. Hell, I loved Lee, too.”

I turned to face Athena and scraped my ragged edges into a pile at her boat-sized feet. The space was quiet enough to hear Athena breathing. I listened to her steady non-pulse and waited for my father’s shade to latch onto her and let me know he was there. Magic didn’t work when we gave up on it. I closed my eyes. Full lungs burned against my rib cage. I emptied my mind of everything but the sound of Dad’s voice vibrating through the void.

After an eternity of empty nothingness, Uncle Teed sighed and sank onto a bench a couple of feet from me. Stale breath sputtered through my lips. I slumped against the iron railing and wiped my cheeks with the backs of my hands. “You don’t understand, Uncle Teed. I really believed this place, this room, might still hold some of the magic that brought us together the first time.

And if it’s still lingering in the corners, I hope it’ll let me tell Dad how much I love him.”

“Aw, Emmaline. He knows. He always knew. You were the center of that boy’s galaxy. And if he were here right now, that’s what he’d tell you.” He held out a manicured hand. “Now, come on. You got to buck up, graduate from high school, make Lee proud.”

His palm squished against mine. I wobbled to stand alone in a world without my father in it. No last words. No magical goodbyes. I forgot to hug him when I bounded through the kitchen on my way to school this morning. We didn’t know his distracted “have a good day” would be his final words to me.

But as I crawled into the passenger seat of Uncle Teed’s Porche and watched the Parthenon fade into Nashville’s West End, I knew I didn’t need to walk across a stage and turn a tassel to morph into an adult. I became a grown-up the second magic failed to bring my father back to me.


Want to visit Nashville’s Parthenon? Find out how HERE.

Haven’t read Hard to Die and To Live Forever? BE READY FOR I AM NUMBER 13! Get the first two books in my Nowhere series HERE.

gap year


When I was a teenager, I wanted to study abroad. I’m sure a gap year existed, but taking a year off between high school and college never occurred to me. Besides, my parents weren’t fans of my living with foreign strangers and getting up to they-didn’t-know-what.

Novelists can take a gap year anytime.

We can write these “I wish I hads” into our characters and educate readers about volunteer opportunities. Whether you’re a teen considering a gap year or an adult with influence over a teen’s life, you’re going to want to read I Am Number 13.

What would you do if you were orphaned at 18, the day you graduated from high school?

In I Am Number 13, Emmaline Cagney loses her father in a freak accident. As far as she knows, her mother is dead, but why would she want to go back to her anyway, right?

Her mother was a predatory monster.

Em decides to fulfill her commitment to a gap year volunteering with Nicaraguan refugees in Honduras.It’s 1986, the year the Iran Contra Affair mushroom-clouded into the headlines, but in May, most Americans were oblivious. What did a few purported communists and contras in Central America have to do with the typical American life?

Like a lot of people, Em knows little about the fight for Nicaragua. She believes shifting her focus to people who’ve lost everything will help process her grief. After graduation, she heads to Central America. The story opens with Em buttoning down a small refugee camp in the Mosquitia jungle while staring down the eye of Hurricane Paine.

Yes, there was a Hurricane Paine.

Gap years require kids to grow up fast, and Em rises to the challenge. But when she realizes she isn’t who she thinks she is, it’s already too late…….James Wilkinson is determined to use her to rule Nowhere for eternity.

As the book moves toward its final version, I’ll share a scene here-and-there. COME BACK TOMORROW FOR A DELETED SCENE FROM I AM NUMBER 13.

Here’s how you can help me:

  1. Did you take a gap year between high school and college? Do you know someone who did? I’d love to hear your stories. Please drop your experiences in a comment on this post or send a message to readme(at)andrawatkins(dot)com.
  2. Did you or someone you know study abroad at any age? Tell me about it! See contact instructions in item 1 above.
  3. If you could still take a gap year, where would you go? How would you volunteer? Please share your wish list in a comment, or follow the instructions above to contact me privately.

Want to read more about gap year programs for teens? Head to Go Abroad’s website HERE.

Haven’t read my novels Hard to Die and To Live Forever? GET THEM HERE.