By Paul Atreides
Many outsiders have often considered Las Vegas to be a cultural wasteland. And that extends beyond the museums, art galleries, or professional stage offerings like ballet, opera, or theatre. That misconception includes literature, despite the Black Mountain Institute and indie bookstore The Writer's Block (both hosting numerous events), the NPR magazine Desert Companion, the New York Times 2019 article, "Vegas as a Literary Hub? You bet," and… well, authors.
Rather than blaming it on the other grand misconception that "nobody buys books and reads anymore," let's look to the fact that the major media outlets in our fair city don't cover the locals. Even though one quite famous New York Times bestseller lives in the valley, but this isn't about her.
This is about acclaimed author Amanda Skenandore, whose fourth historical fiction novel, The Nurse's Secret, will be released by Kensington Press on June 28. I sat down with her to not only talk about the new novel but to discuss the process and the experience.
Skenandore again draws on her occupation as a nurse with this latest book to delve into the history of nursing: How did we go from conscripting convicts to the image of Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale to the latest of angelic saviors through COVID-19? As she puts it herself, "False images hurt everyone in all walks of life and professions."
Yet, she warns that the adage "write what you know" needs to be approached with caution. It's important not to make assumptions and not take things for granted. Especially with historical fiction, research is important. Skenandore uses the Library of Congress and field trips to the locations she writes to add atmosphere—the sights, sounds, smells, and sense of place to immerse the reader. She says it also helps more fully develop her characters by "giving them places and things to interact with." Another shocker for those Vegas naysayers! —the University of Nevada, Las Vegas library is a treasure trove.
We couldn't avoid the latest hot topic plaguing authors: cultural misappropriation. Her second novel, The Undertakers Assistant, my favorite thus far, has a Black protagonist facing struggles in New Orleans during the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. How she tackles writing "others" shows she takes all due care to get the details right and utilizes sensitivity to readers. "It's important to have 'own voices' out there telling their stories, and important to amplify those voices, but there's room for authors to write outside their identities too."
She regaled me with having watched an interview with Dustin Hoffman about his work on Tootsie, the 1982 film which garnered more than a handful of awards, wherein Hoffman reflects upon donning the female character. He realized he'd dismissed so many women over his life because they weren't attractive. So, Skenandore finished, "It's about artist growth, too."
Skenandore has just been signed to another two-book contract with Kensington Press. So, of course, I had to know what's next. "A sort of Medicine Show woman, kind of like the snake oil salesmen we see depicted in movies and television. This story will take place in the aftermath of the 1900 Galveston, Texas hurricane, which is still the deadliest natural disaster in the country."
To prove my point that the literary scene is alive and well in Las Vegas, The Writer's Block will host an "in conversation" event (and signing) with fellow historical fiction author Connie Hertzberg Mayo on September 9. In the meantime, The Nurse's Secret is available for preorder at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and Amazon.
For more information about Amanda Skenandore and her novels, visit amandaskenandore.com.