The Story behind ‘River Aria’ by Joan Schweighardt


You know the hand of serendipity when you see it.

During a period of time when I had finished one novel but not yet come up with an idea for the next, I found myself in that boring no woman’s land where the creative spirit begins to shrink because it doesn’t have an outlet. I was four years living in New Mexico by then, and since my freelance load—most of which had come from sources in New York—had dried up a bit as well, I decided to reach out to local publishers to let them know I was available for any writing/editing/book-related work they might have. One of them called to say they needed someone to read their backlist books and write up short descriptions for their website. This was right up my alley. And I loved the publisher (Synergetic Press) because all of their books were concerned with “unique and paradigm-shifting ideas in subjects such as ecology, sustainability, cultural anthropology, consciousness, and social change.”

One of the books I read for them was a short and heavily-annotated true story based on the edited diaries of a rubber tapper working in the Brazilian rainforests in the early 20th century. I knew nothing about rubber tapping at the time and I found the descriptions of the work and the comments about the beauty and dangers of the rainforest fascinating. I had always loved rainforest stories (I’ve been a Tarzan devotee since childhood), and I liked to think of myself as a rainforest advocate—though I had never done more than make a few small donations to save-the-rainforest organizations. Nor had I ever spent time in a rainforest, mostly because of my fear of insects and snakes.

One night during this time, I found myself watching a PBS special in which a journalist traveling in the South American rainforest was interviewing indigenous people in a region that had been devastated by oil drillers. The journalist asked a shaman what “northerners” could do to help and the shaman answered that they (we) could change the dream.

Change the dream: I loved the sound of that. I googled it and it turned out to be the tagline for an organization (Pachamama Alliance) that was working to provide legal assistance to indigenous people in South America whose lands and rivers were threatened by oil companies. The indigenous community they were most involved with was reciprocating by allowing Pachamama to bring small groups of visitors to spend time with them and experience their way of life.

You know the hand of serendipity when you see it. Bugs or no bugs, I signed up and had a life-changing experience deep in the rainforest and came home with a great idea to begin a story about two brothers who leave their jobs in Hoboken, New Jersey to become rubber tappers. The more I researched the greedier I became, so I took a second trip, to visit Manaus, Brazil, which was the hub of the rubber boom in the early 20th century, and to travel on the Amazon and Rio Negro in a small boat with a private guide to see, among other things, rubber trees. I became so immersed that I began to dream rainforest. I finished the first book, called Before We Died, and wrote a second, Gifts for the Dead. And still there was more to say.

River Aria, the third book the trilogy, marks the end of a long and very intense literary journey.

The series…

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. Visit her at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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