Friday, October 23, 2020

A Chat with Joan Schweighardt, Author of 'River Aria'

Joan Schweighardt is the author of River Aria, which is both a standalone novel and the third book in a trilogy, as well as other novels, nonfiction titles, and children’s books. She is also a freelance writer and ghostwriter. Currently touring the blogosphere, she’s here today to discuss her novel, her series, the themes in her work, and her research conducted in South America. Visit her at


Tell us about your book! What is it about and what inspired you to write it? 

River Aria is narrated by Estela Hopper, who, as a ten-year-old girl living in the impoverished fishing village of Manaus, Brazil in the early 20th century, is offered a twist-of-fate opportunity to study opera with an esteemed voice instructor. During her years of instruction, Estela, who is talented, passionate and dramatic by nature, dreams of leaving Brazil to perform in New York. But as her beloved instructor is not able to convince the managers of the great Metropolitan Opera that they should bring on a mixed-race immigrant who grew up on the banks of the Amazon River to become an elite performer, Estela accepts what they do offer, a position in the sewing room, and leaves Brazil on a ship with her cousin JoJo in the year 1928.

The challenges that befall Estela and JoJo in New York are plentiful. Estela’s father, an Irish American who came to her village nearly twenty years earlier (at which time she was conceived), has a plan for what her life should look like once she is settled. Her relationship with JoJo changes drastically when he learns he was lied to about his own parentage, and again when he takes a dangerous job working for the owner of a speakeasy. And of course her personal challenges of finding some modicum of success in a place like New York are not only enormous but crushing to her once robust sense of self.

River Aria is a standalone novel, but it is also the last book in a trilogy that begins in 1908, in Manaus. Basically what happened, historically speaking, is that after the invention of the automobile, rubber, which had been used previously for things like shoe soles and manufacturing parts, was suddenly in extremely high demand. The Amazon rainforest is full of rubber trees, so entrepreneurs from all over Europe rushed to Manaus, which is centrally located on the Amazon river, and made it their headquarters for the rubber industry. There was nothing there, so they had to build their own mansions, hotels, restaurants, schools, and they built them all with the best materials, imported from Europe. But in 1912, rubber trees that had been planted on British territories in Southeast Asia began to produce, and the industry in South America came to a standstill. All the wealthy Europeans fled, and the amazing structures they had built to accommodate them were left to decay—which happens quickly in a region on the equator surrounded by rainforests. The centerpiece of their architectural achievement was the Teatro Amazonas, a magnificent opera house the rubber barons hoped would entice the world’s most elite performers to come to Manaus. The rubber boom was my inspiration for the entire series, but the Teatro Amazonas inspired River Aria.

Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?

I have published all three of the books in my “rivers” trilogy with Five Directions Press. Five Directions is a “by invitation only” publishing co-op. I feel very fortunate to be with them. As you might guess, the idea of a co-op is that everyone pitches in to ensure that each author’s book is as good as it can be. Decisions about what books to publish are based not on what the founders feel is likely to be a big commercial success but on the founders’ collective idea for what makes for a great read. All the authors at Five Directions are talented storytellers. I am in great company. 

How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing it, or did it come later?

As noted above, my inspiration for River Aria was the opera house in Manaus, Brazil, and as the story unfolds on or near rivers (the Amazon and its tributaries in Brazil and the Hudson in New York), River Aria seemed like the perfect title. Also, in many ways the story is itself an aria. It has an aria’s characteristics: it’s told in one voice, and it’s quite dramatic. 

Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like? 

We have a cover designer at Five Directions Press. I worked with her in the designing of the first book in the trilogy, called Before We Died, and we decided that we could keep the same basic design for all three books, varying the colors. I love the design, which features lush tropical leaves and bird of paradise flowers,  and given that all three books touch in someway on the lushness of the Brazilian rainforest, it’s a good fit.

Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?

Courtney Hall is one of the founders at Five Directions Press.

How was your experience working with the designer? 

Good; she is very professional. In fact, she has a day job designing covers for a large book company.

What has been the readers’ response to your cover? 

Readers seem to love the covers. A lot of people have commented on them.

What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer? 

If you will be overseeing your own cover design, you can take your time and check out the work of multiple designers. But if you are working with your publisher’s designer, remember she or he has a limited amount of time to produce a great cover for you. Go in with some idea of what you want and what you don’t want.

Anything else you’d like to say about your book?

I’m grateful for the space you’ve allotted me to talk about River Aria and my publishing process. Thank you.

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