A loud whack brought silence to the room. Alma flinched and glanced up from her stew. Miss Wells stood at the end of the dining table, her ruler flat against the wooden surface.
“English only, children,” she said.
“But the Indians still don’t know any English,” Alma mistakenly said aloud.
Miss Wells turned and flashed that crooked-toothed smile Alma had come to hate. “Then they should refrain from speaking altogether.”
-Excerpt from BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY
Blurbs about BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY
“Sweeping, epic, heart-wrenching, and powerful . . . This thought-provoking novel illuminates the plight of Native American children and the planned destruction of a culture and a people. It’s a well-written, carefully researched, compelling novel for anyone fascinated by this hidden piece of our history.” —RT Book Reviews
“A beautifully written debut, BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY is an eye-opening reminder of the United States’s attempt to assimilate and oppress Native Americans by stripping them of their identity and culture, and the tragic aftermath that left them lost between two worlds. This novel is, by turns, brilliant, heartbreaking, and haunting. I wish I had written it!” - Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of The Life She Was Given
An Interview with Amanda Skenandore
Amanda Skenandore’s debut historical fiction, BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY, was released on April 24, 2018 by Kensington.
Question: Please describe what the book is about.
Amanda Skenandore: BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY is coming of age story set at the tragic intersection of white and Native American culture in the years following the Indian Wars. The main character, Alma, is the only white child at the “savage-taming” boarding school run by her father. The school was intended to assimilate the children of neighboring Indian reservations. Instead, it robs them of everything they’d known—language, customs, even their names. As an adult Alma must reckon with the school’s destructive legacy; with love, racism, and betrayal; and the sacrifices made in the name of belonging.
Q: Where did you get the idea?
AS: I came across black and white photographs from the late 1800s of Native American children dressed in military garb. My mother-in-law, herself a Native American, explained they were pictures of boarding school students, taken from their homes and stripped of their cultural identities so they might assimilate into white society. I had never learned about this dark and tragic part of US history and wanted to bring it to light for others.
Q: What’s the story behind the title?
AS: I’m terrible with titles. The story went through two working titles before my agent and I settled upon BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY. I didn’t love the title initially and thought the publisher might change it, but my editor really liked it. Seeing it now on the cover of the book, I’m glad that’s the title we went with.
Q: Tell us about your favorite character.
AS: My favorite character is Askuwheteau. He meets my main character, Alma, at the “savage-taming” boarding school run by her father. I love Askuwheteau for his bravery and conviction. Yet he’s vulnerable too—a little boy so far from home and all that’s familiar. And he’s imperfect, the way we all ultimately are.
Q: If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
AS: If I could spend a day with one of my characters it would be Hįčoga. Of all Alma’s friends, she’s the most fun-loving and sanguine. We’d sneak out into the night, as she and Alma do, to dance and sing and eat stolen apples around a bonfire.
Q: Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?
AS: While I endeavored to make the story as true to history as possible, Stover School for Indians is a fictitious place and all my characters are likewise imagined. The circumstances of Askuwheteau’s life after leaving Stover were inspired, in part, by the real-life experiences of a Lakota man named Tasunka Ota, who attended the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in the 1880s. My hope in writing this story was to bring to light his struggle and those of the many Native American children whose lives were damaged or destroyed in the name of assimilation.
Q: How long did you take to write this book?
AS: I began writing BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY in 2012. It took four months write the first draft and another four years to revise and edit. After I found an agent and publisher it was two years (almost to the day) that the book was released.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this book?
AS: Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. It’s not only reading history texts and biographies, but also visiting museums and cultural sites. It’s trying foods your characters might have eaten and walking the streets where they would have lived. It’s watching documentaries and talking with language experts. It’s learning how to lace a corset and start a fire in a coal-burning stove. These were all part of my research process for BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY.
Q: What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
AS: I removed entire chapters during the editing process (and added others in). I merged characters and reworked the sequence of the narrative.
Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
AS: I’m a plotter. I outline my entire story—scene by scene—before I sit down to write. That’s not to say that things don’t change as I write and revise, but the overall story arch usually remains intact.
Q: What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
AS: I love the research phase of writing because history, especially the quirky details of day-to-day life in bygone eras, fascinate me. I also really enjoy the revision process. It’s both creative and analytic. It’s where that lump of coal of a first draft becomes a diamond.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
AS: As much as I enjoy the revision process, it is also the most challenging for me. I struggle to fend off complete despair (this novel is terrible and needs so much work!) while at the same time not give into laziness (this novel is fine the way it is and doesn’t need another pass).
Q: Can you share your writing routine?
AS: I work part-time as a registered nurse and unusually write on my days off. I like to have several hours of interrupted time to devote to my story. When I’m under deadline, however, I’ll go to a coffee shop or library after my shift at the hospital and write then too, even if just for a few hours.
Q: Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
AS: I make a deal with myself whenever I get writer’s block: Just sit down and write for 30 minutes. I also remind myself it’s okay to write a crappy first draft. That’s usually enough to get the words flowing again.
Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
AS: The process takes a lot longer than you think, but it’s worth it.
Q: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
AS: I have one unpublished novel that I wrote before BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY. It was fun story to write, but I don’t expect it to ever be published.
Q: Do you have any writing quirks?
AS: Whether in my home office or at a coffee shop, I like to write facing a window. Were it not for the glare of sunlight on my computer screen and 115-degree heat of Las Vegas summers, I’d write outside.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
AS: I work part-time in a hospital as an infection prevention nurse. I live in Las Vegas with my husband and our pet turtle, Lenore.
Q: How did you get into writing?
AS: I’ve always been a daydreamer and lover of writing, but it wasn’t until my late twenties when I took a short-story class that I decided to make a real go of it. I quit my day job and wrote a novel (not a very good one). I queried it to several agents but got nowhere. I found another day job and kept writing. I read craft books, joined a writers group, attended conferences. Eventually, after several years and numerous revisions, my second novel sold.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
AS: I like spending time outside—gardening, biking, playing Frisbee golf—and visiting with friends, preferably over a good meal.
Q: Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
AS: I’ve written several grants for my local writers group.
Q: Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
AS: Growing up in the mountains, we got very poor TV reception (two or three channels on a good day). So one of my guilty pleasures as an adult is watching reruns of 90’s music videos.
Q: Which book influenced you the most?
AS: A few come to mind: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Q: What are you working on right now?
AS: I’m working on a story about an undertaker’s assistant set in New Orleans during the waning months of post-Civil War Reconstruction.
Q: What’s your favorite writing advice?
AS: “Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.” – Ann Patchett
Q: The book you’re currently reading.
AS: HUNGER by Roxane Gay
Amanda Skenandore's Biography
Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and infection control nurse. In writing BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY, she has drawn on the experiences of a close relative, a member of the Ojibwe Tribe, who survived an Indian mission school in the 1950s. When she’s not writing or chasing germs, Amanda gardens and volunteers with her local writers group. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and their pet turtle Lenore. Readers can visit her at www.amandaskenandore.com.
Links to Amanda Skenandore