Thursday, July 25, 2019

Blog Tour Q&A: The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore

Please join me in welcoming Amanda Skenandore to Let Them Read Books! Amanda is touring the blogosphere with her new historical novel, The Undertaker's Assistant, and I recently had the chance to ask her some questions about her inspiration and the challenges and rewards of writing this book. Read on and enter to win a copy of The Undertaker's Assistant!

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 . . .


Hi Amanda! Welcome to Let Them Read Books! 

Thank you for having me on your blog! So happy to be chatting with you.

What inspired you to write The Undertaker's Assistant?

I was inspired to write The Undertaker’s Assistant because I wanted to explore Reconstruction—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 kind of research did you do to bring Reconstruction-era New Orleans to life in your novel?

Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. It was particularly important for this story as I was writing about an era I initially knew very little about 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, and I read several of these interviews too. (It’s an amazing collection. Here’s the link:

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of writing this novel?

Finding first-person accounts of the era was the most challenging aspect of writing the novel. Women’s voices are underrepresented in historical collections and narratives, black women’s voices especially. Even the FWP interviews I mentioned above, helpful as they were, must be considered through the lens of the interviewer (often a white male) who transcribed them. They were also recorded 70+ years after Reconstruction began, so the nature of memory comes into play too. In the end, however, I was able to create a voice for Effie that felt genuine and authentic.

The most rewarding part of writing The Undertaker’s Assistant has been twofold. I learned so much, not just about history, but how that history affects society today and my own privileged place in it. Yet even as my life has been vastly different from my character Effie’s, there’s much of the human experience we share. Writing those parts of Effie’s story—her search for love and friendship and belonging—were rewarding too.

Do you have a favorite scene in the novel?

One of my favorite scenes is the Mardi Gras parade. It’s Effie’s first social outing in the New Orleans and is unlike anything she’s experienced. I enjoyed researching early Mardi Gras traditions and imagining 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 meant to dazzle but to convey a message: carpetbagger-rule was coming to an end. It’s a tumultuous scene for Effie, one of joy and fear, excitement and rebuke.   

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a historical 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.

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


The Undertaker's Assistant is on a blog tour!


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


  1. Love this interview! Thank you so much for hosting Amanda & her blog tour!

    HF Virtual Book Tours


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