Interview with Amanda Skenandore, author of The Undertaker's Assistant

Hey all! Today on the blog I am super excited to be sharing my interview with Amanda Skenandore! She is currently on blog tour for The Undertaker's Assistant and graciously answered some questions for me. My review of this fascinating historical will be up later today. Be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of the post for a chance to win a copy!

Hello Amanda and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Undertaker’s Assistant!

Thank you for having me!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m originally from Colorado, but I now live Las Vegas, NV with my husband and our pet turtle, Lenore. When I’m not writing, I work as a registered nurse at a local hospital. My first novel, Between Earth and Sky, came out last year. The highlight of my debut years was winning the American Library Association’s Reading List Award for Best Historical Fiction. My second novel, The Undertaker’s Assistant, released in July. The book follows the story of Effie, a young freedwoman who earns her living as an embalmer, as she seeks out her past amid the growing violence and racial turmoil of Reconstruction-era New Orleans.

What inspired you to write The Undertaker’s Assistant?

I wanted to explore Reconstruction. It’s a period of great historical significance, but one that’s often treated as merely a footnote to the Civil War. I also wanted to explore the nature of death and dying in an era when that experience was often more frequent and intimate than we know today.

What research did you undertake when writing The Undertaker’s Assistant?

Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. It was particularly important for this story as I was writing about an unfamiliar era and a culture that is not my own. I read books about Reconstruction and listened to online classes by some of today’s top scholars. I went to New Orleans and visited archives and museums. To get a sense of voice and perspective, I read essays and stories written by black women authors of the nineteenth century. In the 1930s, as part of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), thousands of former slaves were interviewed about their experiences. I read several of these interviews too. It’s an amazing collection available through the Library of Congress.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Undertaker’s Assistant?

I hope they take away a greater understanding of this era and an appreciation for the struggles of those who lived through it. Reconstruction is more than carpetbaggers and corruption. It was a time of great strides toward justice and equality, and also a time of great violence to undermine those strides.

What was your favorite scene to write?

My favorite scene to write was one surrounding Mardi Gras. It’s the first social outing my main character Effie takes in the New Orleans and is unlike anything she’s experienced. I enjoyed researching early Mardi Gras traditions and imaging the varied sights, sounds, and smells Effie would have encountered. Mardi Gras in the 1870s was part celebration, part political rally, and part melee. The hand-stitched costumes and horse-drawn floats were not only mean to dazzle but to convey a message: carpetbagger-rule was coming to an end. It’s a tumultuous scene for Effie, one of both excitement and injury.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

The most challenging scene to write was a conversation scene between the two main female characters early in the novel. Ostensibly, they have very little in common, yet are both somehow drawn toward friendship. Such characters can easily become “frenemies,” but I wanted to avoid that trope. It’s a scene heavy in subtext, and it took several drafts to get it right.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I loved writing stories, even as a young girl. In junior high, a friend and I would pass stories back and forth to each other between classes instead of notes. But it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, waking up every day to a job I hated, that I really examined my life and my passions and decided I wanted to be a writer.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

I get up and starting writing first thing. I don’t check my email or social media until several hours later when I take a break for lunch. Then back to writing. I save chores and any nonessential businessy things (emails, promotion, etc.) for the evening when I find my attention is focused. On days when I’m working in the hospital, I’ll bring my laptop with me and go from work to a cafĂ© or coffee shop to write for a few hours. If I go straight home, I’ll just end up in front of the TV.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

Now that I’m often writing under deadline, my greatest challenge is time management. It’s easy to get sucked down the internet rabbit hole and spend half a day researching different types of horse-drawn carriages or how to operate a wood-burning stove. And promoting the books I already have out also takes time. To make sure I’m spending enough time writing, I use daily word count goals and carve out specific chunks of time in my schedule. When I get to something in the story that needs more research, I highlight it so I can keep writing and come back to it later.

Who are your writing inspirations?

I love Hilary Mantel and Jesmyn Ward. Their writing is both inventive and beautiful. And Kristin Hannah. She’s got such command of story. I recently read THE NIGHTENGALE and was blown away by her skill.

What was the first historical novel you read?

I think it was probably, NAYA NUKI by Kenneth Thomasma. I wasn’t a strong reader as a child, but I read that book half a dozen times.

What is the last historical novel you read?

I just finished AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION by Alyssa Cole and loved it. It’s a sizzling combination of historical fiction and romance that shows a fascinating side of the Civil War: African American Union spies in the Confederate South. The story is fast-paced, richly drawn, and thought-provoking.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I’m a travel junkie. I toured the U.S. and Europe with the group Up With People after high school. I spent seven months in college studying abroad in Sichuan, China. Nowadays, I tend to travel closer to home. One of my favorite spots to visit in the summer is Cedar City, UT to attend the Shakespeare Festival. My husband and I have been almost every year for the past decade.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

Historical fiction brings history to life in a way that textbooks cannot. It’s easier to appreciate the modern relevance of past events when we see them through the eyes of everyday people—people whose hopes and desires and imperfections aren’t all that different from our own.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

I love regency and Victorian-era fiction, but I’m open any period as long as it’s a good story.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

I enjoy anything that takes me outside—swimming, biking, gardening—and the simple pleasures of good friends and good food. And, of course, I love reading. Historical fiction, but other genres too.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a novel set in the 1920s about a mother who’s ripped away from her family when it’s discovered she has leprosy. She’s sent to live at the Federal Leper Hospital in Louisiana, hundreds of miles from her home. There she struggles with the reality of her disease and fights to return to her family. It’s a story about society’s alarmist reaction to a feebly contagious disease and our inhumanity in the face of fear. But it’s also a story about love, friendship, and healing.

Oh wow, that sounds like a fascinating read - I can't wait! Thank you for stopping by today!

The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore

Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Kensington Publishing Corp.
eBook & Paperback; 304 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience--and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.

"The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.

Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Praise for Amanda Skenandore and Between Earth and Sky

“Gripping and beautifully written, Between Earth and Sky tugs at the heart with its dynamic heroine and unique cast of characters. Though this novel brings alive two historical American eras and settings, the story is achingly modern, universal and important.” --Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of The It Girls

“Intensely emotional. . . . Skenandore’s deeply introspective and moving novel will appeal to readers of American history, particularly those interested in the dynamics behind the misguided efforts of white people to better the lives Native American by forcing them to adopt white cultural mores.” --Publishers Weekly

“A masterfully written novel about the heart-wrenching clash of two American cultures . . . a fresh and astonishing debut.” --V.S. Alexander, author of The Magdalen Girls and The Taster

“By describing its costs in human terms, the author shapes tension between whites and Native Americans into a touching story. The title of Skenandore’s debut could refer to reality and dreams, or to love and betrayal; all are present in this highly original novel.” --Booklist

“A heartbreaking story about the destructive legacy of the forced assimilation of Native American children. Historical fiction readers and book discussion groups will find much to ponder here.” --Library Journal

“At its heart, this luminous book tells a Romeo and Juliet story. But Skenandore’s book is so much more than a simple romance. This novel examines the complex relationship between love and loss, culture and conquest, annihilation and assimilation.” --Historical Novel Society

About the Author

Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. Between Earth and Sky was her first novel. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Readers can visit her website at

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, July 23
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, July 24
Review at Coffee and Ink
Review at Reading the Past
Interview at Jathan & Heather
Review at Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Thursday, July 25
Review at Jennifer Tar Heel Reader
Interview at Let Them Read Books

Friday, July 26
Review at Orange County Readers

Saturday, July 27
Feature at Donna's Book Blog

Monday, July 29
Review at Macsbooks
Review at CelticLady's Reviews

Tuesday, July 30
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Melissa Reads

Wednesday, July 31
Review at McCombs on Main
Interview at Jorie Loves A Story

Thursday, August 1
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review at Clarissa Reads it All

Friday, August 2
Review at Based on a True Story

Saturday, August 3
Feature at Mama's Reading Corner

Monday, August 5
Review at Bibliophile Reviews

Tuesday, August 6
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Review at LadyJ's Bookish Nook

Wednesday, August 7
Review at A Bookish Affair

Thursday, August 8
Review at Comet Readings

Saturday, August 10
Feature at What Is That Book About

Monday, August 12
Review at Cover To Cover Cafe

Tuesday, August 13
Review at Reader then Blogger
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, August 14
Review at Amy's Booket List

Thursday, August 15
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two signed copies of The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on August 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

The Undertaker's Assistant

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Passages to the Past
All rights reserved © 2013

Custom Blog Design by Blogger Boutique

Blogger Boutique