Hello everyone, I’m very happy to welcome Joan Schweighardt to the blog today! Joan is the author of nine novels which include two children’s books, two memoirs, and various magazine articles and is a winner of the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” award, ForeWord Magazine’s “Best Fiction of the Year,” and a Borders “Top Ten Read to Me.” Her most recent work is the Rivers Trilogy, a historical fiction series (that I am thoroughly enjoying I might add) that spans between 1908 to 1929 moving between the New York metro area and South America. The series follows two different groups of people, the first two books following Irish American brothers as they try to make their riches in South America by rubber tapping, the journey and adjustment home, and the third follows a young woman who travels from Brazil to New York in hopes of finding success in the opera world.
I am so lucky to have Joan on the blog today where she tells me what she found about the history or rubber tapping so interesting, how her travels helped her writing, what she’s working on next, and much more!
In the Acknowledgements for Before We Died you mentioned reading a diary by a rubber tapper that sparked your interest in the history of rubber tapping. What was it about the topic that interested you?
Nothing happens in a vacuum. The book I read spelled out the many hazards of gathering rubber in the rainforest. It whet my appetite to know more about the industry generally. So I read a book about Henry Wickham, the British explorer who went to South America and smuggled out thousands of rubber tree seeds and brought them back to London before the South American rubber boom really got going. These rubber seeds were eventually planted on plantations in British territories in Southeast Asia. Once they began to produce, the rubber industry in South America came to an abrupt end. I wanted to know what happened in the interim. It wasn’t all there for me nice and neat in one book. I had to read many books to put the whole story together in a way that satisfied my curiosity. I became totally immersed in the material.
I also understand you travelled to the Amazon and Rio Negro, as well as on the Pastaza River in Ecuador as part of your research. What were your favourite moments of your trips?
The first trip was to Ecuador. We traveled by van with a small group of sustainability advocates and interpreters throughout the Andes for several days and then flew (in two very small planes that didn’t have windshield wipers because when it rained they simply didn’t fly!) from the town of Shell (named for the company that tried, unsuccessfully, to establish an oil drilling site there) to the middle of the rainforest. For miles and miles and miles we looked out the windows and saw nothing but green, except where the brown river snaked through. We landed on a narrow dirt strip surrounded by jungle and walked to a kind of gazebo to await the indigenous tribal members who would be coming for us in their canoes. The rainforest can be very noisy, but it can also be perfectly quiet. It was quiet when we arrived. We mulled around, all of us too bewildered by the intense beauty of our surroundings to speak above a whisper, marveling at trees and plants and armies of blue morpho butterflies. And then we saw the canoes coming for us. We were leaving one world, one way of living, one way of experiencing ourselves as creatures of the Earth, for another. It felt sacred to me then, and it still does now when I think back on it.
In Brazil, we spent eight days and nights on the Amazon and Rio Negro in a small boat with a private guide. It was May, the end of the flood season, and the rivers were so swollen that we were able to canoe through the channels that cut through the forest canopies. Again, it was the the feeling of being totally embraced by nature that stuck with me.
Throughout the book Jack uses a lot of slang picked up from his Irish immigrant parents and his home in Hoboken in a way that sounded very natural. Did you have to do any research for early 1900’s slang to get Jack’s voice right?
Oh, I did a ton of research. I bought some books on slang in New York during the early 1900s and slang in Irish American communities, and I found some good articles on the Internet. The whole time I was writing the first book in the trilogy, which has the most slang in it, I was talking slang in the house, to get the hang of it. So was my husband. It was great fun.
Are there any other lesser known historical events you’d be interested in writing about?
That’s what I’m always on the lookout for, the lesser known historical moments. The rubber boom was perfect, a gift. Right now I have one idea in my head but I’m not hooked yet. We’ll see where it goes.
Do you have a project you’re currently working on? If so, what’s it about?
I just finished writing a short nonfiction manuscript about my sister. I am also working with a colleague to put together an anthology. This is a big project involving many other writers and it’s great fun. And, I am working on a collaboration with a friend. We are co-writing a suspense novel, which is a fabulous experience, something I’ve never done before.
Thank you so much for dropping by and thanks to The Next Best Book Club for making this all possible! The Rivers Trilogy is out now and can be ordered online through Amazon or your favourite bookstore, it’s a series you don’t want to miss!