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Series Book Blitz: ‘Rivers Trilogy’ by Joan Schweighardt

Series Title: Rivers Trilogy

Book 1: Before We Died

Book 2: Gifts for the Dead

Book 3: River Aria

Author: Joan Schweighardt

Publisher: Five Directions Press

Genre: Fiction

About the Book:

Two young men battle corruption, the forces of nature, and their own weaknesses (including the issue of their love for the same woman) in the deepest part of the Brazilian jungle. 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.

About the Book:

Jack Hopper is holding tight to his secret, though it gets heavier by the day. Nora Sweeny is tired of suffering losses and ready to improvise. Their relationship, based on Jack’s lies and Nora’s pragmatism, builds against a background that includes World War I (as experienced from the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey) and escalates when Jack and Nora travel together to the rainforests of South America seeking closure for a life-shattering event that occurred years earlier. Equal parts romance, adventure, and psychological suspense tale, Gifts for the Dead shines a floodlight on the characters’ deepest yearnings and greatest fears.

About the Book:

It’s 1928 and Estela Euquério Hopper, an ambitious young woman from an impoverished area of Brazil, has landed a job at the NY Metropolitan Opera House, though only to work in the sewing room. Her good fortune is due in part to a unique and rigorous education provided to her (and a handful of other “river brats”) by a renowned educator and operatic vocal instructor from Portugal. The other part is due to the fact that her father is American. She hopes to make it from the Met sewing room to the Met stage, but there are three huge obstacles standing in her way: her father, her cousin (who has been kept in the dark regarding his own parentage), and the wild, anything goes, often violent temperament of New York City herself.

Add to Goodreads:

Before We Died

Gifts for the Dead

River Aria

Purchase Links for all 3 books:

Amazon – UK / US

Links to posts on Reading Nook:

Author Interview for Before We Died

Book Blitz for Gifts for the Dead

Excerpt from River Aria:

Context: 1928. Manhattan. Estela, who grew up in Manaus, Brazil, a city that rose to splendor during the rubber boom only to fall into decay when the boom ended abruptly and all the rubber barons fled, has arrived in New York—a feat made possible for a mixed-blood girl in those times only because her father is American. Estela, the narrator of River Aria, is to work at the Metropolitan Opera House, albeit in the sewing room. Her first viewing of the grand structure leads her to recall how—thanks to a twist of fate—she came to study opera in the first place, in the vestibule of the Teatro Amazonas, the great opera house built by the rubber barons back in Manaus.


We were river brats back then, all of us. We could pull hooks from piranhas blindfolded. Our skinny brown arms could bail water out of boats, and out of the shacks we lived in when they had to, night and day. We ran off to the jungle on school days whenever we heard the call—all of us, leaving our teacher with not the least idea how to punish us. We knew what vines contained fresh water, and we carried knives to cut them. We weren’t afraid to eat termites when we couldn’t find fruit. We wore our only shoes only on Sundays, when we raced one another up the hill to what used to be the rich people’s province and prayed at Igreja de São Sebastião for protection for our manioc gardens and good health.

But when Carlito Camilo first saw us, scurrying over the docks like rodents, he didn’t see river brats at all. Carlito Camilo saw what no one else could have possibly seen: the world’s next generation of elite performers. He gathered us around him at once, and while he fed us the colorful candies—Wine Gums, he called them, though they contained no wine at all—he carried in his pockets at all times, he told us he could teach us music, and more. He could teach us languages, poetry, myths and legends from parts of the world we had never even heard of. As he had already amassed as much wealth as he thought he would need to last as long as he thought he should be allowed to live, he wanted no payment either—which was excellent, because none of our families could have given him a single centavo. I was the first of a dozen or so river brats to commit myself to his program. I was nine then, almost ten.

Were it not for Carlito Camilo, I would not know the difference between an aria and a soup spoon, nor would I care. I’d be sitting down at the docks with Mamãe, content as a bôto, singing river stories and repairing nets, or I’d be up at the restaurant with Tia Louisa, serving cachaça to men who never tired of trying to look down my dress when I bent over their table. I would still believe our bumba meu boi, an elaborate, loudly sung, foot-stomping performance that told the story of the life and death of an ox, was the highest form of entertainment ever conceived. But the truth is, I first went to Carlito Camilo not because I ached to learn but because I heard he would be giving his lessons in the lobby (the city commissioners would not allow even the great Senhor Camilo to instruct in the theatre proper) of the Teatro Amazonas. And I wanted to see the inside of the Teatro Amazonas, badly, even if it was only the entrance. 

The Teatro Amazonas had been at the heart of my fantasies since I was very small. At night, when I turned into a beautiful princess like the ones in the stories Mamãe sometimes told me, it was in the Teatro Amazonas that my prince and I danced. When I was Iara, the half-fish river creature, it was to the Teatro Amazonas that I dragged my scaly tailfin seeking the prince whose kiss would render me human at last.

I pulled open the heavy doors and entered the lobby of the Teatro Amazonas on the day and time Carlito Camilo had scheduled for me. He was there, sitting on a marble bench against the wall all alone. His sour look turned at once into a smile and he got up to greet me, but when he saw that my eyes were all for the marble floors, the crystal chandeliers, the frescoes and statues, the ornate carvings on the ceiling, he sat down again.

Carlito Camilo waited patiently, perhaps for a full five minutes, to have my attention. Then he asked me to sing for him.

Standing there in middle of the grand lobby of the Teatro Amazonas, I could not have said if I was asleep or awake. I was barefoot, and wearing a shapeless stained shirt that fell below my knees, beneath it only my underwear. Were you nervous? everyone would ask later. I had no answer. There was no room in the moment for contemplating the state of my nerves.

I sang a folk song my mother had taught me, about a child who disappears in the jungle and returns years later, a grown man with his arms laden with gold. He offers the gold to save his people from starvation, but it’s not enough for them. They want to know where he found such a hoard and if there was more. And they don’t believe him when he says there was no more and that he found it years earlier, when he first lost his way, and it had taken all this time to find his way home with it. So the men of the village leave their wives and children weeping and go off themselves to search for more gold, and not one of them ever returns. The song was a simple one, simple rhythms based on mostly whole notes.

Carlito Camilo watched me expressionlessly all the while I sang, and then for another moment afterwards. Finally he said, “That was a story I didn’t know, a good choice, garotinha. I think you must be a girl who sings all the time. Is that true?”

I shrugged. I didn’t sing all the time. Sometimes I slept and sometimes I ate, and I could not sing sleeping or eating. Nor did I sing in school, except to myself. But otherwise, yes. Who didn’t sing? We were all songbirds in Manaus. Even the gruffest old fisherman could be coaxed to sing a river song when we gathered together for festivals or late some nights, when Tia Louisa locked the restaurant’s front door and opened the one in the back.

“Now let me ask you,” he went on, “are you a smart girl who learns quickly?”

No one had ever asked the question before. I nodded.

Carlito Camilo got up slowly from his marble bench and approached me. “You have a good voice, but I want to ask you: what do you feel when you sing, garotinha?”

What kind of a question was that? I shook my head the other way. I didn’t know what he wanted from me.

He patted his chest with his fingertips, hard and fast. “In your heart, garotinha! In your heart! What do you feel in your heart?”

He wasn’t frightening me, but I could see he was looking for a specific answer, one I didn’t happen to have. Senhor Camilo was a short man, but I was a child, so he seemed enormous looming over me like that, his jowls aquiver. He bent over even more, until our faces were almost touching, though his was at a peculiar angle. Now he tapped my chest with his fingertips, lightly. Softly, slowly, as if each word was meant to survive all on its own, he asked, “Does your singing ever make you feel like you have a little red-throated hummingbird in here?”

Now I saw what he was driving at: the little tremble that happened sometimes when I sang very loud. All at once I was overwhelmed by the fanciful notion that Carlito Camilo was a king, and I was a princess, and that was why we were there in our castle, standing eye to eye, talking about my heart. Typical of all adults, he was trying to make me understand something I already knew!

“Sing for me again,” he said, straightening but not moving away. “Sing very loud.”

“What would you like?” I asked.

“A note. A single note. AHHHHHHH!”

I sang it: “AHHHHHHH!”

“Keep going, keep going,” he cried. “Louder, louder. Deeper, deeper, from the inside out.”

I sang louder. He shouted over me, “That’s good, that’s very good! Breathe, and keep going! Open your throat!”

I did what he asked.

“Now do you feel it?” He was bending over me again, shouting in my face. His breath smelled like the Wine Gums he kept in his pocket. “Do you feel the o pássaro in there?”

I nodded, my mouth still wide open; I was still singing. I didn’t want to stop. I was nearly screaming in his face. AHHHHHHHHH… I almost laughed, thinking of the look Mamãe would have given me if I sang in her face like that. But Carlito Camilo only watched me with wide round eyes and a slight smile on his plump jowly face. He straightened, slowly, the way older people sometimes do. I was still singing. AHHHHHHHH. His expression became stern and he gestured, one hand slicing over the top of the other. I stopped singing at once.

“Now, what do you feel, criança?” he shouted.

“Everything,” I shouted back at him. And I could see I’d made him very happy with my answer, so I threw my arms out and shouted it again. “EVERYTHING!”

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.

Social Media Links:

Website: www.joanschweighardt.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/joanschweighardtwriter

Twitter: @joanschwei

Instagram: www.instagram.com/joanschweighardt

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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.


Add to Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US



“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) —OnlineBookClub.org


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 www.joanschweighardt.com. 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.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/joanschweighardtwriter

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.

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