Five Questions with Amanda Skenandore

January 25, 2022

Amanda Skenandore
Photo by Christine Battad

Amanda Skenandore, RN, BSN, CIC, is an infection prevention nurse at Summerlin Hospital and the author of three historical fiction books: The Second Life of Mirielle West, The Undertaker’s Assistant, and Between Earth and Sky. In 2019, she was honored by the American Library Association’s Reading List Award for Best Historical Fiction.

Can you tell us about your writing and nursing backgrounds?

I’ve been a nurse for 14 years. Initially I worked as a NICU nurse, but learning about the rise of multidrug-resistant organisms inspired me to pursue infection prevention. I’ve been working in that field for seven years.

As for writing, even as a child I loved dreaming up stories. But I didn’t get serious about writing until my late twenties. When I decided to give professional writing a real go, I read every book I could get my hands on about the craft. I attended conferences and joined writing groups. Still, it took seven years and two novels before I finally found a literary agent and publishing house interested in my work. Now I have three published books and a fourth coming out this summer.

What has inspired the topics of your books?

I write historical fiction. My books are inspired by stories and voices left out of the traditional narrative of history. I’ll see an old photograph, visit an out-of-the-way museum or read something in the back pages of a newspaper and think, “Hey, how come I never learned about this in history class?” If there’s relevance for today’s reader — and I believe there often is — then my mind immediately starts swirling with story ideas. 

Can you tell us about your most recent book, The Second Life of Mirielle West?

The story is set in the 1920s about a Hollywood socialite who’s unexpectedly diagnosed with leprosy, a disease for which, at the time, there was no cure. She’s ripped apart from her family and sent to live in isolation at the national leprosarium in rural Louisiana, hundreds of miles from her home. There she must battle not only the disease but also the crippling stigma it carries, and somehow find a way to make a new life for herself.

Even though I’m a nurse, before writing this book, I knew almost nothing about leprosy (which today is preferentially called Hansen’s disease). I knew nothing about its incidence in America and the laws that condemned those with the disease to lifelong quarantine. I knew nothing about the toll the stigma had on patients’ lives and the lives of their families.

Yet despite the tragedy surrounding the disease, I found hope and perspective in writing the story, especially as our own modern-day healthcare crisis unfolded. I hope readers find the same. 

Are you working on anything currently that you can share?

My new book that comes out this summer is about the history of American nursing. Today, nursing is among the most trusted professions. But that wasn’t always the case. Until the late nineteenth century, nurses were untrained and often illiterate. Hospitals were over-filled and squalid. Only the poor chanced a visit while the wealthy enjoyed on-call medical care at home.

The Nurse’s Secret takes the reader into New York City’s famous Bellevue Hospital in 1883, just as this is beginning to change. Anesthesia allows for more humane operations. Minute organisms — invisible to the naked eye — have been discovered. And a new breed of professional nurses is at work on the wards. Educated onsite at the hospital’s new training school, these women are bright, industrious and well-mannered. They strive to heal the sick while earning an honest wage.

Una Kelly, however, has less wholesome motives when she comes to the Bellevue training school. A thief on the run, she needs someplace to hide where the coppers won’t think to look for her. Years living on the streets have made Una scrappy and self-reliant, but fitting in among her prim classmates will prove her most difficult con yet.

What else would you like to share with our readers?

Both professions — nursing and writing — have enriched my life, albeit in different ways. Nursing is more analytic and concrete while writing taps into my creative, out-of-the-box impulses. They each allow me to use my brain in unique ways, which I love. I encourage others to seek out what makes their hearts sing.