My special guest today is Joan Schweighart author of 'Before We Died'
By nmurray, Jun 26 2018 02:20PM
Hi Joan, thank you so much for being my guest today. Please tell everyone about yourself and your new book 'Before We Died'
What is your novel about and when does it release?
Before We Died tells the story of two Irish American brothers who leave their jobs as dockworkers in New Jersey in the year 1908 to make their fortune tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest. It is very much an adventure story, but it is also character driven with a strong focus on the relationship between the brothers, the impact various challenges have on them, and the ways in which psychological struggles can change a person generally—all unfolding against the background of the rubber boom, a fascinating historical event.
Before We Died will be published in paperback and e-book versions in September, 2018, but the Kindle version can be preordered now.
How did you come to be interested in the rubber boom?
I make my living as a pen for hire. Over the years I have researched and written about everything from plumbing to astrology to inspiration to murder. Sometimes the subject matter I am asked to write about inspires me to the point where I can’t let it go even after the project is completed and in the client’s hands.
This happened with the rubber boom. A local publisher asked me to speed-read some of their backlist books and write a paragraph for each that could be used on their website. One of these books was a slim diary of a rubber tapper working in the South America rainforest during the rubber boom. I didn’t even know there had been a rubber boom! It’s possible that I had gone through my entire life to that point never giving a single thought to where rubber came from before we got the synthetic kind. I found the rubber tapper’s story fascinating. I found the descriptions of living in the deep jungle fascinating. It was kind of like I opened a door and fell into another world.
Have you ever been to the rainforest yourself?
I have been in love with rainforests—as presented in books and movies—since I was a little kid, devoted heart and soul to Tarzan and Jane. But I never wanted to spend time in one because I am afraid of insects and snakes. I changed my tune when I got hooked on the rubber idea. I began to look for organizations that bring people into the deep rainforest, and I found myself a good one. My husband (who is an environmentalist and also a photographer) and I traveled with a group of sustainability enthusiasts and translators into the rainforests of Ecuador, where we stayed with an indigenous community with much to teach “Northerners” on any number of subjects, including, of course, taking better care of the planet. The experience was life-changing.
By the time we returned I was ready to create my own rubber-tapper story. I started making an outline, and also reading every book I could find on the rubber boom, Manaus, Brazil (which was the headquarters for the rubber industry at that time), the flora and fauna of the rainforest, the indigenous people that were affected by the boom, life on the docks of New Jersey at the turn of the century, and much more. I was so deeply invested that I began to dream about rainforests and the rivers that run through them at night. I promised myself that when I finished the first draft of my novel, I would reward myself with another trip, and I did, this time to visit Manaus and then to boat down the Amazon and the Rio Negro rivers with a guide to see rubber trees, and a lot more. My book, over time, grew to become a trilogy.
Was it hard to write a first-person novel in the voice of a turn-of-the-20th century Irish American dockworker from a rough immigrant neighborhood?
It was at first, but I did lots of research about the slang the Irish immigrant community generated when they first came to America, and I think I got it down. My narrator’s language is “colorful” in places, but I thought it was more important to be authentic than to be politically correct. I myself don’t cuss much. But my narrator is a young high-spirited dockworker who would have reveled in the vernacular of his times. Who am I to take that away from him? The second and third book (both in various stages of completion) are narrated by women.
Speaking of women, are there any in Before We Died, to offset all this male élan?
Yes, there is Nora, the love interest of both brothers, and thus the impetus for some of their sibling rivalry. Although she only makes appearances at the beginning and end of the story, she is never out of mind. (Nora narrates Book Two, which will be entitled Gifts for the Dead.) And there are several other women in the scenes that take place in the city of Manaus, two of whom turn up in all three books.
Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Yes, if you think my “Rivers” series might be your cup of tea, please consider signing up for my newsletter at www.joanschweighardt.com (bottom of the landing page). I promise not to bombard you with book news, just the three announcements to mark the three book launches.
Thank you Joan, your book sounds facinating.
You are able to pre-order Joan's book at Amazon. Please click on this link https://www.amazon.com/Before-We-Died-Rivers-Book-ebook/dp/B07FG78F85