JENNIFER SKUTELSKY: THE INSPIRATION OF GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS CAME FROM A PHOTOGRAPH
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Jennifer Skutelsky will release her second book Grave of Hummingbirds on January 1. The novel was described as “Stunning mystery”, “Captivating”, “Wonderful,” by the readers. The debut title by our next guest Tin Can Shrapnel was an Eric Hoffer Book Award finalist.
It’s a great pleasure to introduce at Land of Books Jennifer Skutelsky.
– Jennifer, what is your book Grave of Hummingbirds about?
– Grave of Hummingbirds is the story of two men who love the same woman. Her death affects them differently: one immerses himself in the past he shared with her, while the other, in an effort to reconstruct her likeness, becomes a killer. The novel is set in the Andean highlands and explores themes of repression, love, grief, and redemption, while the story pivots around the haunting and rituals that take place in a remote village nestled in the mountains.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– Inspiration for the story came from a photograph I saw in a magazine while sitting in a doctor’s office, of an Andean condor tied to the back of a bull. The image has always stayed with me and still springs to mind at odd moments. I knew it wasn’t going to let me go until I explored its significance, and years of research followed, with the characters, setting, and plot developing around it.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– It was important to me to be culturally sensitive, and to work off a synthesis of universal sensibilities, to explore the common frailties and strengths that make us human, regardless of our origins. Crafting the novel became less about writing what I knew, than building a fictitious world I knew very little about.
– Tell us something more about your main character Dr. Moreno? Is he close to someone from your real life?
– Gregory Moreno is the main protagonist, and he bears almost no resemblance to anyone I know. He came to life in my mind and slipped onto the page in his own right, often taking me to places of his choosing rather than mine. He has qualities that resonate strongly for me personally, though: a capacity for deep compassion, love, and rage that at times makes his life unbearably painful.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– Time, where Grave is concerned, is difficult to quantify. While the story’s core has been steadfast, the novel has been through many edits, with elements of the plot shifting, and scenes being cut or expanded upon. It went on to become my MFA thesis at San Francisco State University in 2011.
– What the readers will find in the memoire Tin Can Shrapnel?
– I was living in South Africa in 2008 when mobs of South Africans attacked people from other African countries: refugees and asylum seekers, in a wave of xenophobic violence that displaced more than twenty thousand people. After working with foreign nationals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and other countries to alleviate the crisis, I wanted to tell their stories, to place on record what had happened to them. Tin Can Shrapnel is a story of chaos and courage, and missing children, and I believe it’s a story of universal truth.
– You have background in very different realms: ballet, marketing and visual arts. Would you tell us more about your past?
– I’ve been involved in the arts for many years, with writing the most consistent and persistent endeavor. I had a small ballet studio and outreach program in Johannesburg, where much of my focus centered on unraveling unsound muscle memories and building new, healthy ones. I also wanted to give people who couldn’t afford to study ballet, the opportunity to do so. Where visual art is concerned, I’m incredibly happy when my hands are buried in clay. Marketing had much to do with making a living to support my need to create. Strangely, ballet, visual art, and writing, have common threads; they’re all process oriented, requiring leaps of faith; creative engagement on a vulnerable level that ironically demands degrees of confidence and authority; and each ideally rests on a foundation of technical acuity.
– Who are you?
– I’m a mother. Raising my daughter has been the most rewarding and significant thing I’ve done. In a crowd, I tend to seek out the animal in the room, whether that’s a dog, cat, or goldfish, and I dislike bullies. My cats have never hunted anything, but my Pekingese once caught a field mouse. She didn’t hurt it, though, and I was able to give it a new home. My bio claims that I’m both a softie and a warrior, and that about sums me up.
– What are your writing habits?
– I don’t have any. I marvel at the writers who do. I don’t find writing easy—it demands discipline that often eludes me. When characters take shape and come to life, it gets easier because they take over, in much the same way a dance or art piece does in the process of choreography, painting, or sculpting. Wrestling with characters, and the process of relinquishing and reclaiming control, is the catharsis that needs to happen for me to write from the heart, which is my aim. Of course, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum.
– Are you satisfied by the sales/pre-sales of your books?
– I’m grateful to Little A and Amazon for the marketing and promotion of Grave of Hummingbirds. Being chosen for Kindle First was an honor, and the rankings have taken me on a wild ride. I’m trying to let the numbers be, and I avoid watching them too closely. The best way to do that is to work on the next novel.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– I’ll be doing some interviews, a podcast, and an event at a bookstore in San Francisco, once the book launches on January 1st, 2016. There are conferences coming up that I hope to attend, and in the meantime, I use social media to share news of the book’s journey.
– When we will see your next novel and would you unveil something more about it?
– The ‘when’ part of the question is tough to answer. I’m working on Grave’s companion book, which I hope to complete in the first half of next year. The rest is almost as mysterious to me as it is to you.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– Perhaps a good question to explore might be whether the world needs any more novels. The less obvious answer is no; there are already too many. Some are formulaic, obeying the rules of templates that constrict, rather than promote or encourage innovation and experimentation. My answer, however, is yes, we will always need stories…as language evolves, as diversity becomes more a feature of sharing than separation, and as we continue to seek ways in which to connect and communicate. The world will always need more novels.