Books and Bookish Things
Feature Article: Interview with Amanda Skenandore
There are many writers out there–in the great and grand world of books. It is my hope to help you filter through the myriad of writers and uncover some of the gems I have discovered. My first interview is with Amanda Skenandore. I discovered her work while looking for covers for my own book, Finding Jane. Her recent release, The Second Life of Mirielle West, caught my eye, and the rest is history. (No pun intended.) Amanda is no novice to writing historical fiction. She has written three sweeping, epic novels to indulge your reading passion. You just have to read the reviews to know she has found her footing in the literary fiction world. Amanda was kind enough to answer some questions about her, her work, what makes her tick, and why she has a pet turtle. I hope you enjoy…
What is something about you that would surprise someone once they get to know you? For example, I’m a twin, and I’m really into aliens. Weird, right? So, what’s your hidden passion, or that is unusual about Amanda?
When I was eighteen, my family and I got lost overnight in the Rocky Mountains and had to be airlifted out by the Colorado National Guard. I should say as a caveat, I grew up in the Rockies, and really, my family should have known better. But we were following a trustworthy map erroneously connecting two trails that didn’t actually connect. We got lost–stranded really–in this canyon between the two trails. I was so grateful for the rescue, I baked several pies and mailed them to the National Guard members. Now I’m a stickler for staying on the trail (no matter what the map says) and always bringing extra water.
I write upmarket fiction, but I have a thriller sitting in my head. Why did you choose to write historical fiction? Do you write other genres? And if not, what would yearn to try?
The first book I wrote (but never published) was actually a fantasy novel. I’ve also toyed with writing romance. Paranormal, historical…I’m not sure what would come out. But for now, I’m sticking with historical fiction. I’ve always loved history–but not the dry stuff of textbooks. I like to learn about how people lived, what their daily lives were like, how they navigated the problems of their day. For me, historical fiction can bring the past to life in a way nonfiction can’t. And there’s so much of the past that’s still with us, shaping us, shackling us. I think it’s important we recognize that and try to learn from it.
People always ask me if I am writing about me and my life. I only wish my life was that exciting…to be 29 again, with a great career, travel through time, and meet a handsome English gentleman. Where do your characters come from?
My stories generally begin with a place or era I’m interested in exploring. For example, with my latest novel, The Second Life of Mirielle West, I read a tiny, nonfiction book about a leper hospital in Carville, Louisiana, and became consumed by this little-known place and era in history. So I read more: memoirs of people who had been locked away at the facility, textbooks, and articles about the disease. I knew I wanted to share what I was learning with readers, and slowly a story took shape in my mind. The characters grew out of many people–real people–whom I read about, but they weren’t based on anyone in particular.
Which of your books is your favorite? (I know, that is like asking a mother which child she likes best…)
My first book, Between Earth and Sky, is probably my favorite, because I worked on it the longest. You must believe in a story to stick with it long enough to find an agent and a publisher. For six years I wrote and revised it. People told me I should give up. Move on. But I couldn’t. I believed it was a story worth telling. My favorite character, though, is Effie–the heroine of my second novel, The Undertaker’s Assistant. Unlike my other characters, who grew out of the story, she came to me fully formed, and the story grew around her.
Another unfair question, but if you had to pick one book you loved the most, for whatever reason, what is the book?
That’s so tough! There are lots of books I love, and many more I admire for their literary style. But if I were going to be locked in a cave forever and could only bring one book with me, I think it would be The Age of Innocence by Edith Warton. There’s so much subtly to the novel. Each time I read it, I discover something new. And it always touches me. I feel deeply for the characters, even when I’m not entirely sure I like them. Not that you asked, but Persuasion, Harry Potter, and To Kill a Mockingbird were all close seconds.
What are you working on now?
My next novel, The Nurse’s Secret, comes out in June. Set in 1880s New York, it is about a thief on the run who hides out in the last place the police will think to look for her–America’s first nursing school at Bellevue Hospital. And I’ve just started working on a novel about a troupe of medicine show performers who get caught in the Galveston hurricane of 1900–a storm that killed more people than any other natural disaster in US history.
Why do you have turtle as a pet? There must be a story behind that…
I’ve always loved reptiles. My first pet was a chameleon. Later I had snakes, a newt, and frogs. (Okay, some of those are amphibians.) Lenore–that’s my pet turtles name–has been with us for fifteen years. She’s fun to watch roaming around in her cage, and she responds to my voice. Sometimes we take her to the park and let her roam there too. But overall, she’s really low maintenance, which is nice when you’re planning a short vacation. She’s actually a male turtle, but we didn’t know that when we bought her (neither did the pet store owner), so we keep calling her Lenore.