Friday Night Drinks with… Joan Schweighardt

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Welcome to November! It’s Friday again and I’m away at the moment, so I am fully relaxed and in a sociable mood. the perfect time to have Friday Night Drinks with another fabulous author. Tonight I am delighted to welcome to the blog… Joan Schweighardt.

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Welcome, Joan. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Caipirinha! It’s a Brazilian drink, consisting of Cachaça (a spirit made from sugarcane juice), lots of fresh lime, and sugar. I generally stay away from sugar, but this is a special occasion.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Since I’m starting off with a Brazilian drink and hoping you’ll join me and try one too, let’s go to Brazil. I know a great river/rainforest guide down there. He calls himself Carlos the Jaguar: He has a small boat and he takes tourists up and down the river, or he did, in the days I want to remember (pre COVID and pre all the mining and drilling that’s been going on forever but has really picked up in the last few years). Anyway, it’s a lovely night and the river will be as smooth as glass and the banks will be alive with the songs of insects and frogs, and, every now and then, curious screeches we can’t identify. 

Our river boat

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

How about two Scots? I’m thinking Anne Donovan and Thomas Lipton. I’ve only read one of Anne Donovan’s novels, and but it was wonderful and I intend to read more. The one I read, Buddha Da, begins with this line: is “My da’s a nutter.” It’s a coming of age about a girl (the narrator) whose happy-go-lucky but none-too-spiritual father comes home one night and announces he’s going to take up meditation at the local Buddhist center. 

As for Thomas Lipton, he was actually born in Ireland but moved to Scotland very shortly thereafter. Here in the U.S., we really know him these days for his tea, but he was a very famous man back in the 1920s, here as well as in the UK, a large-hearted man who quit school at the age of 13 to help his parents run their Glasgow grocery shop and whose marketing genius made all of them fabulously wealthy. He didn’t sit on his money either; Lipton was a renowned philanthropist, always giving to the poor, and he made sure his employees at the various businesses he came to start (some in the U.S.) were fairly paid. (One of my fictional characters in my recent trilogy worked for him, so I have this firsthand.) He loved the sea, Lipton did, and he participated in the American Cup year after year—and never won. But he won the hearts of sea lovers everywhere with his personality and generous nature. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m writing; I’m always writing. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I’ve always worked on my own projects, but I also made a career writing for other people. I’ve written for newspapers, PR companies, corporate clients and several private clients who had stories to tell but neither the time nor inclination to do so themselves. I’ve recently finished the trilogy I referred to above, and now I’m putting together an anthology with several other writers and completing a non-fiction about my younger sister, who died almost four years ago.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

By 2000 I had three novels published, and I had a friend who had written a brilliant novel, better than anything I’d ever written, but hadn’t been able to find a publisher for it, even with an agent. It bothered me so much that I decided that I would start a small publishing company and publish not only her novel but books for other people who were being passed over too. I told my friend I was going to publish her, and she was thrilled. And then I woke up a few mornings later and thought, What have I got myself into? What do I know about publishing, other than that I’ve had stuff published myself and I’ve done a bit of freelance for publishers? And how could I have forgotten that I’m really shy and suffer from imposter syndrome and seldom step out of my comfort zone?

Long story short, I did it, because I’d made a commitment. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud that I actually became a pretty good small publisher. The authors I published got interviews and book reviews and won awards. At some point the distributor I was working with went bankrupt (this is the challenging part), owing me and several other client publishers a lot of money. I found another distributor, but I could never get back on my feet, and so I shut down my little publishing company five years after I’d started it. Publishing was a roller coaster of an experience, especially since I freelanced for clients the whole time I was publishing. I learned so much—about myself, about the industry, even about unique ways to recover from a relatively big financial loss. I never regret doing it.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I’d like to see my recently completed trilogy become a Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever series. I wrote a story bible based on the three books and offering my vision of how they would work in a series, and I sent it to the one person in the film world that I have indirect access to. He liked it enough to ask me (indirectly) to send the three books, which I did. I’ve got my fingers crossed, though I know my chances are slim to non-existent.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I’m excited to see what my next big fiction project will be. I’m always happiest when I’m writing fiction. I’m waiting for the universe to point me toward it, so I don’t have much to say about it at this moment in time… which is fine, since, as mentioned above, I’ve got some nonfiction projects to keep myself busy.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

My favorite place is the South American rainforest. That’s why we’re sitting here, with Carlos the Jaguar making our caipirinhas and Thomas Lipton and Anne Donovan chatting away about the highlands. Another favorite place is Ocracoke Island, which is one of the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, and the only one that isn’t connected to the others by road. You have to take a ferry to get there. I’ve been to Ocracoke many times, in many seasons, with many different people. On my bucket list is the chance to stay there for a full month, in a big rental house from which friends and family can come and go, during the off season when it’s not so crowded.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

When I was a kid we were poor and my father could never make ends meet with his machinist job alone. So he did work on weekends for the supermarket we lived near, retrieving grocery carts people walked off with and picking up trash in the supermarket parking lot with a long stick that had a nail at the end of it. Oh was I embarrassed to see him out there, in his big army coat when it was cold, picking up other people’s trash and shoving it into a cloth bag he carried on his shoulder. I didn’t want anyone to know I was related to him. 

We live near an arroyo that has a bike path on one side and a dirt trail on the other. We walk our dog on the dirt trail, and it is always filthy, everything from candy wrappers to burger bags and soda cups to the tiny liquor bottles the night hawks leave behind. Once a week I take my trash grabber and a paper bag and pick up all the trash. My father is no longer among the living, but I always imagine he’s watching me, amused because I tried so hard not to be like him. And I always say something corny like, “Turns out I’m my father’s daughter after all,” in case he’s listening from the great wherever, to let him know I miss him and I don’t mind being like him one bit. 

That’s such a lovely sentiment! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst is a wonderful story about a linguistics professor who tries to teach his dog to talk because the dog was the only witness to his wife’s death. Parkhurst never tells the reader what the poor professor is feeling; she only tells us what he is doing—and that has more power to make us feel his emotion than if she had spelled it out.

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A poignant and beautiful debut novel explores a man’s quest to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death with the help of the only witness — their Rhodesian ridgeback, Lorelei.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I can drink as much as the next woman, so I don’t anticipate a hangover. But if I get one, I’ll take an aspirin and spend the day on the sofa with a book.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Maybe a nice hike in the mornings, and then back to the sofa with a good book, whether I’m hung over or not, in the afternoons. 

Sounds perfect. Joan, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me this evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The latest books by Joan Schweighardt, The Rivers Trilogy includes the novels Before We Died, Gifts for the Dead and River Aria. You can buy the book as a Kindle boxset here. All three books work as standalone novels, but to sum them up collectively:

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In 1908, two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the Hudson River docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, to seek their fortunes tapping rubber trees in the Brazilian rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the fact that the Amazonian jungle will take most of their crew and that saving the life of one brother will require leaving the other behind.

The trilogy follows Henry Ford’s plot to desecrate the rainforests and own the rubber trade, the impacts of World War I and prohibition on daily American life, and, finally, the journey of a talented young soprano who travels in the latter part of the 1920s from her birthplace in Brazil to New York City, where she struggles to make peace with her Irish American father, while establishing herself in the world of metropolitan opera.

Joan Schweighardt is the author of nine novels, two memoirs, two children’s books and various magazine articles, including work in Parabola Magazine. She is a regular contributor to Occhi Magazine, for which she interviews writers, artists and filmmakers. In addition to her own projects, she has worked as an editor and ghostwriter for private and corporate clients for more than 25 years. She also had her own independent publishing company from 1999 to 2005. Several of her titles won awards, including a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers,” a ForeWord Magazine “Best Fiction of the Year,” and a Borders “Top Ten Read to Me.” And she has agented books for other writers, with sales to St. Martin’s, Red Hen, Wesleyan University Press and more.

Her most recent work is the Rivers Trilogy—Before We Died, Gifts for the Dead and River Aria—which moves back and forth between the New York metro area and the South American rainforests from the years 1908 through 1929.

You can connect further with Joan via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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