Monette native authors “Pilgrim Strong”
Steve Watkins, formerly of Monette, can add the title of author to his list of accomplishments. His first book, Pilgrim Strong, is a memoir/travelogue filled with his own 40 day, 500 mile pilgrimage experience in 2015.
Watkins, the son of Margaret and the late David Watkins, graduated from Monette High School in 1984. He went on to graduate from Arkansas State University in 1988 and has a Masters Degree in Mass Communication.
The book was inspired by Watkins' pilgrimage and the people he met along the way. Walking 500 miles across Spain with nothing but a backpack and pair of shoes was quite an undertaking for Watkins.
The pilgrimage was the ancient path of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. This is the burial site of the remains of James, apostle of Jesus.
The Camino de Santiago is the territory James used to spread the good news of the Gospel. Pilgrims have walked the Way for more than a thousand years. Its basis is the Catholic Church, but pilgrims from all walks of life make pilgrimage on the Way today.
“The pilgrimage takes hikers across three distinct geographic regions and several climates including mountain ranges, extensive barren flatlands and rain forests,” Watkins said. “The book is an account of my pilgrimage, something that is foreign to most people in the United States today.”
Watkins planned the pilgrimage for almost three years and the book took two years to write. It was a very consuming project.
Watkins is not unfamiliar with training for walking/running long distances. Before going on the pilgrimage he was walking 50 to 60 miles a week.
“There is no possible way to get your body ready to walk 100 miles a week,” Watkins said. “I did the best I could and took it one day at a time. It was tough to get acclimated to the mountain range. I am accustomed to walking the Arkansas Delta flat lands. It is not only distance but elevation that made the pilgrimage more challenging."
Watkins' background in journalism helped him throughout the project. He has interviewed more than 15,000 people and the art of conversation proved to be handy when he was in a distant land surrounded by people from all around the world. Several book chapters are dedicated to the people he met along the way and their personal stories.
“Interviewing is a skill that comes in handy wherever you are in life,” Watkins said. “I was also walking the Way during a time when there was worldwide interest in the U.S. elections. Lots of people wanted to know my opinion about that which I was happy to express.”
Watkins said writing a book is different than writing for magazines and newspaper.
“Reporting news is straight on factual, or at least it should be,” Watkins said. “The reporter takes him/herself completely out of the story. Writing a book is giving a personal account of an experience, and you are using all kinds of techniques to draw readers in, bring them alongside you, keep them interested, and motivated to keep reading. In many ways as an author you are painting a picture for a reader. You bring them into an experience with words. It is not as easy as it sounds and it required a major shift in my usual style.”
Watkins plans to undertake a new book next year. Readers can stay informed by following his Facebook page called Pilgrim Strong.
Pilgrim Strong can be purchased on Amazon or at Watkins blog page pilgrimstrong.com.