The Writing Life with Historical Novelist Joan Schweighardt



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 
websiteFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

INTERVIEW:

What got you into writing? Years ago I discovered that writing is a very good way for a terribly shy girl to express herself. I stayed with it. I studied literature in college and found jobs where I could write. Eventually I found myself with a career as a freelance writer and ghostwriter. All the time I’ve been writing for a living, I’ve also been writing my own books. 

What do you like best about being an author? My husband is a photographer. When he has his camera with him he is single-minded and full of confidence. I think he is taking a picture of a tree, but when he gets home to his computer and uploads it, I see he has taken a picture of a tiny leaf ant walking on a small section of bark. Being an author is like that for me. I can narrow my focus down to what interests me most. It is one good way of exploring the world.

When do you hate it? I can’t say I ever hate it, though some writing sessions go better than others.

What is a regular writing day like for you? I am the queen of routine. I do the same thing every day. On weekdays, I get up, have something to eat, walk a couple of miles, and sit down at my desk. I seldom write on weekends. I have different routines for Saturdays and Sundays.

Do you think authors have big egos? I don’t see why there would be more big egos among writers than other communities. In fact, I would think people running things—politicians and CEOs of big companies—would have bigger egos. I don’t know how big my ego is. I have no idea how to measure it. No one has ever accused me of having a big one. 

How do you handle negative reviews? Most reviewers are thoughtful enough to point out what they don’t like in a book without putting down the work in its entirety. I respond to reviews like that thoughtfully. However, I don’t care for mean reviews or stupid reviews. One person who reviewed one of my books gave it one star because she thought it was going to be a third-person narrative and when she opened it, she realized it was a first-person narrative. That’s plain stupid. If you open the book and it doesn’t jive with expectations you’ve formed by looking at the cover or based on your previous reading history, don’t read it. If you think you’re buying a horror book and it turns out to be a romance, that’s not the author’s fault—unless their description was dishonest. More likely you didn’t do your homework. 

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author? People usually want to know what I’ve written. I like to talk about my work, but I am also a curious person, so it gives me an opportunity to ask them about their work too.

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break? Because I have had to fit my own writing projects in between projects for clients, I seldom look a gift horse in the mouth. When I have time to work on my own projects, I do. Even if I don’t feel up to creating new text, I can always go back and polish something I’ve written previously.

Any writing quirks? I try different dialogue options out loud, with the intonations I think the characters would use. And I use my iPhone microphone to email myself ideas when I’m away from my desk. I doubt either qualifies as a quirk, but it’s the best I can do. James Joyce wrote lying on his stomach, in bed. Friedrich Schiller kept rotting apples in his desk drawer, because he found the odor inspiring. Now those are quirks, especially Schiller.
 
What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?
I really never had that problem, probably because I always wrote for clients as well as having my own projects. But if I were advising a younger writer, I would tell her to stay away from people who minimize anything she is passionate about.  

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate?  No. I love to write and I love to read, and for me the two go hand in hand. 

What’s on the horizon for you?  River Aria is the last of three books in a historical novel trilogy. I have been utterly immersed in this series for a number of years. Because some parts of the trilogy take place in the South American rainforest, I have made two trips there. I’ve read lots of books as part of my research. This project has been intense and very enjoyable, and I think it will be hard for me to turn around and start on another novel right away. I’m thinking of taking a nonfiction break in the meantime. I hope to write something about my sister, who died a few years ago. 

Leave us with some words of wisdom about the writing process or about being a writer. 

If you love to write, write. If your writing is not as good as you would like it to be, write more, and watch it get better. And read. Read all the time. 




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