Author Interview: ‘Before We Died’ by Joan Schweighardt

About the Book:


In 1908 two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the docks of Hoboken, NJ to make their fortune tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, malaria, extreme hunger and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the psychological hurdles that will befall them. BEFORE WE DIED, the first in a three-book “rivers” series, is a literary adventure novel set against the background of the South American rubber boom, a fascinating but little known historical moment.


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“An exciting fictional account that explores the very real issues around the consequences of greed and misunderstanding between cultures. Schweighardt’s story happened with rubber tappers a century ago; it continues today around oil, lumber, cattle, soy, and the mining of crystals and other resources. This book, besides being a good read, is a wake-up call!” —John Perkins, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Before We Died explores the complexities of the relationship between two Irish-American brothers who embark on an Amazonian adventure fraught with peril. With her signature blend of literary elegance and heart-thrilling suspense, Schweighardt weaves an enticing, early-twentieth-century tale of passion, greed and sacrifice which will leave readers reaching for the next novel in the Rivers series!” —Kristen Harnisch, International bestselling author ofThe Vintner’s Daughter and The California Wife

“Before We Died is an impeccably researched and engrossing story that reads so quickly you hardly notice how strong and pervasive the underlying themes are. The story pivots around the abuses of power, greed and exploitation, around cruelty and empathy and what makes a human. Though historically powerful in the context of this particular story, these concepts remain deeply relevant to the world we live in today.” —Magdalena Ball, Compulsive Reader

“With great skill, Schweighardt brings to magnificent life the colors, smells and sounds of Amazonia in this compelling tale of love, loss and honest men butting heads with privilege and greed.” —Damian McNicholl, author of A Son Called Gabriel andThe Moment of Truth

 “…compelling characters that throb with vibrancy and passion… The story conveys an epic scope, taking the reader across countries and also the vast inner landscape of human desire where the hunger for meaning and love intersects with the suffering of loss and redemption. Beautiful and enthralling…, impossible to forget.” —Rocco Lo Bosco, author of Staying Sane in Crazy Town, Ninety-nine and other novels, and co-author of The Age of Perversion: Desire and Technology in Psychoanalysis and Culture

“Original, beautifully researched, and frequently shocking…  The novel’s narrator, Jack Hopper, is the perfect guide—bawdy, brutally honest, brave, and sometimes overwhelmed… An adventure story that takes you into the steamy heart of the Amazon jungle as confidently as it explores the passions and confusions of the human heart…, will leave you breathless and wanting more.”  —Julie Mars, author of A Month of Sundays: Searching for the Spirit and My Sister and Anybody Any Minute and other novels

“ Schweighardt draws her glorious characters with such skill and affection that we are immediately pulled into their world—Jack and Bax, brothers, Irish, longshoremen whose loving but grieving Mum sends them into the grueling world of turn-of-the-century South American rubber industry on the advice of an old Italian fortuneteller. The author transports us to a fascinating, hardscrabble, well-researched world, and compels us to want to live there for every word of her story. I just love this story.” —Lynn Vannucci, Publisher, Water Street Press

“An unforgettable expedition. . . Superb! ” (Four out of four stars) —


Book Trailer:

Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

I was painfully shy as a kid. I started writing in my early teens because I could express myself without the self-consciousness that overcame me when I tried to express myself verbally. I wouldn’t say I’m shy anymore, but I’ve grown to love the writing process. I make my living as a “pen for hire,” writing, editing and ghostwriting for corporate and private clients. When I have free time I work on my own projects. I love the work I do for clients, and I love the work I do for myself.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I am at my desk at eight each weekday morning. If I have work for a client, I do that first. If not, I work on my own stuff. I take about fifteen minutes for lunch and then return to my desk until about two, at which time I go to the gym. Some people don’t enforce rigid schedules on themselves. I personally do better with a rigid schedule…on weekdays at least.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

When I was a younger writer, my ideas came from events in my own life or in the lives of people I know. That doesn’t mean that most of what I wrote was autobiographical. I might take one central incident that I was very interested in and work out from there, putting it in a completely fictional context. These days I am more interested in historical events. My new novel is set during the rubber boom that occurred in Brazil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before I could write the fictional story I wanted to write against that background, I had to do extensive research, reading everything I could find (on the rainforest, the rubber boom, and several other subjects related to the story) and also visiting Brazil and other areas of South America. I like this kind of project because it forces me to immerse myself in a different world, for a long period of time. Before We Died is my second historical novel. After the first one, I just got addicted to that larger, more intense writing experience.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

For me it’s different with every book. With this one, I began making notes about how the book might go while I was still in research mode. By the time I felt I had done enough research to beginning writing, I had a pretty good outline, and I had come up with a cast of characters. And because I had a specific historical setting to drop the characters into, I had “help” in creating the plot.

But I don’t always write that way. I wrote a novel called The Accidental Art Thief, for instance, without any idea where I was headed. As each chapter was wrapping up, I tried to think of the most surprising ending possible, and that would point the way to the next chapter. It was kind of an experiment to see if I could write something worthwhile that way. The interesting thing is that when it was done I found that I’d included many issues that are important to me in what is otherwise a wild zany story. It was really fun and I liked the way the book came out.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

I always have a hard time deciding what genres my books are, so I call all my stuff general fiction. Before We Died could be considered historical fiction, or adventure fiction, or literary fiction, or commercial fiction, etc. It gets kind of complicated because while all the labels work, none is spot-on.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

My story calls for a very diverse cast. Some of the characters are Irish American and some of the characters are Brazilian Portuguese, and some are caboclos, which are Portuguese who also have some indigenous blood. The two brothers at the heart of the story are Irish Americans who were raised by Irish-speaking parents, so they would have to be able to move back and forth between Irish slang, Irishisms, and American English. Their love interest (yes, they are both in love with the same woman), a second-generation Irish American, could be played by someone like Sarah Snook, whose coloring would be perfect. I love the Irish actor Cillian Murphy (most people know him from the series “Peaky Blinders”), but as he is too old to play either of the brothers, I’d have to cast him to be their father, even though it’s a small part. I have no idea who could play the brothers. But I will think on it…

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I love to read. I don’t have a single favorite nonfiction author, but I have a lot of favorite novelists: Carolyn Parkhurst, Tana French, Celeste Ng, Victor Lodato, T.C. Boyle, Dave Eggers, Kate Atkinson, Jane Smiley, for starters.

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

At this time I’m reading Spontaneous Evolution by Bruce Lipton for my non-fiction, and I’m about to start the novel Graveyard Clay, by Ó Cadhain, Máirtín and Liam Mac Con Iomaire, probably because I’ve fallen in love with everything Irish since all my research on Before We Died and I’m not ready to walk away yet.

9: What is your favourite book and why?

I have different favorite books at different times. I’m going to say The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. This is a story about a professor of linguistics who decides he must teach his dog to speak after he learns she was the only witness to his wife’s death. Parkhurst never tells you that the professor, is sad or angry or missing his wife. Instead she describes only his actions, what things in his house hold his attention, what habits he acquires after his wife’s death. She does this so well that the reader “feels” the narrator’s heartbreak deeply. It’s just magnificent.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

Fall in love with your subject matter. And don’t be one of those people who do one draft and call it done. Do many drafts, and make improvements each time. If you come to chapters that you just don’t want to have to read through again, ask yourself why. Is that chapter a little boring? Does it go on too long? Put the manuscript aside for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. Show it to fellow readers and/or writers who will tell you honestly what works for them and what doesn’t. Not all their advice will resonate, but some will. And if three or four people say the same thing, maybe it should be resonating even if it’s not.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?  

I have an “opt-in” box at the bottom of the first page of my website, at I will be sending announcements to the people who leave their email addresses there, to let them know when Before We Died is out and also the two other books in the series, Gifts for the Dead, and River Aria.


Twitter: @joanschwei


About the Author:

Joan Schweighardt is the author of five novels, and more on the way. In addition to her own writing projects, she writes, ghostwrites, and edits for individuals and corporations.

1 Comment

Filed under Author Interview, Reading Nook Blog Posts

One response to “Author Interview: ‘Before We Died’ by Joan Schweighardt

  1. Pingback: Series Book Blitz: ‘Rivers Trilogy’ by Joan Schweighardt | Reading Nook

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