Coincidence is neutral, serendipity has a good outcome.
Joan Schweighardt, a New Mexico-based author, joined Leah to talk about her love of serendipity and how allowing serendipity to play out led to her trilogy of novels. The River trilogy is set between the worlds of Hoboken, New Jersey and the jungles of South America during the rubber boom of the the early 1900s, the third book River Aria is now available.
Follow Joan online on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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- Balloon Fiesta
- Colorado Green Chili
- Charles Goodyear and rubber vulcanization
- The Three Princes of Serendip
- Chance and chance alone...
- Human Library project
“Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Hi, my name is Joan Schweighardt, and my favorite thing is serendipity.
Welcome to the Finding Favorites podcast where we explore your favorite things without using an algorithm. Here's your host, Leah Jones.
Leah Jones 0:18
Hello, and welcome to Finding Favorites. It is Sunday, November 7th. I was so excited to come on this week. Oh, I'm your host, Leah Jones. I was really excited; I thought it was going to come on today and tell you I got my booster shot. Because I thought I was scheduled to have it at 3pm today, and then I double-check my email, and it's not until next weekend. So, that was a surprise, and I might just try and go in this week and do a walk-in somewhere because I really need to get it settled before chemotherapy starts on Friday. This weekend, one of my dear soul sisters came to Chicago for the weekend to help me organize my life ahead of chemotherapy. If you're new to the podcast, I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer this summer. I have had a lumpectomy. Many, many many biopsies, breast reduction, which is technically Oncoplasty, because it's plastic surgery connected to cancer.
Leah Jones 1:26
Now I am healed enough from that to start chemotherapy. So, I started on 12 weeks of Taxol on Friday, the 12th. A friend came up this weekend, and we bought a new cozy chair, new cozy sweatpants, pillows. I made my chemo bag my friend, William Pacholski - he did my episode about Great Comet. He sent me this really funny tote bag that says, "Chemo shit." So, we made my "chemo shit" bag, and my "chemo shit" backup box of over the counter medicines, prescription medicines, throat lozenges, Queasy Pops -- all these wonderful things that my friends have sent me.
Leah Jones 2:21
This week, my coworker sent me a box called "Rock The Treatment," which is an amazing organization I'd never heard of before, that sent this very cool, *very* cool box of Tetris-level -- packed with skincare, Queasy Pops, cozy socks, coloring books, colored pencils -- with all these wonderful items. So I'm really, again grateful to friends who are, and family, who are taking care of me and making sure that this all goes well.
Leah Jones 2:56
I don't know, the sun is going down, it's 4:30 in the afternoon. Daylight Saving Time either started or ended this morning, "Spring Forward, Fall Back," I don't understand how it goes. I still don't. I've lived in states that changed their time since I've been 18, and I don't understand it. This week, we're talking with author Joan Schweighardt. She is an author of the "River" series. The third book in the trilogy is out, and we are talking about a lot of things -- but mainly about serendipity. The concept of serendipity, where it has played in our lives. It's a really lovely conversation. I hope that you pick up a copy of her books and learn about this -- it's this amazing historical novel set at the peak of the rubber trade. So, enjoy this conversation with Joan Schweighardt. Get your booster, get vaccinated, wash your hands, wear a mask and keep enjoying your favorite things.
Leah Jones 4:24
Hello, and welcome to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones. And this is the podcast where we learn about people's favorite things and get recommendations without using an algorithm. This fall, this winter, we continue to talk to authors who are having book launches. We've talked to memoirists, we've talked to novelists, and today, we are talking -- *I* am talking -- I'm really excited to be on Zoom today with Joan Schweighardt. Joan is based in New Mexico, she has published I believe nine books, but novels, memoirs, children's books. She's here today to celebrate her trilogy, the "River" trilogy, which we're going to talk about a little bit, but Joan, how are you doing this afternoon?
I'm doing great. Thank you so much -- it's great to be here.
Leah Jones 5:11
It's great to be here with you. Now, you are in the beautiful state of New Mexico, right?
Yes, I am. Albuquerque.
Leah Jones 5:18
In Albuquerque. Is it hatch green chile season yet?
It's actually Balloon Fiesta season, or week -- it's only a week long. So balloons have been flying over the house all week.
Leah Jones 5:40
Oh, nice. For three years, I lived in Durango, Colorado. So, that was my time in the Southwest. The Target was in New Mexico, was in Farmington. And the airport was in Albuquerque. In the southwest, driving four hours to get to the airport is really nothing. And going over a state to go shopping is also just so normal. Your sense of space and time in the Southwest is really different than it is in the Midwest, where I live now.
Where are you now?
Leah Jones 6:19
I'm in Chicago.
Oh, in Chicago. Okay.
Leah Jones 6:21
Yeah. Very, very different than from Durango. Did you grow up in New Mexico?
No, I actually grew up in New Jersey, which people usually discover once I start talking -- it's something I couldn't shake entirely. But I grew up in New Jersey. I lived on the East Coast all my life. I lived in Florida in Fort Lauderdale for a while. And then most recently, before New Mexico, I lived upstate New York. Then I came out here to visit somebody, and fell in love with the area and stayed.
Leah Jones 7:02
Yeah, I really -- Albuquerque and -- New Mexico is such a beautiful state. When you grow up, I think in the Midwest or East Coast, it's really hard to imagine the vastness of the space, even. Hi, Cowboy.
I thought you were having an earthquake.
Leah Jones 7:31
Nope, it's just one of maybe three cats you might meet today.
I have a dog someplace around here, he's not in the room at the time.
Leah Jones 7:41
But I really think it's hard to imagine. The color palette of the Southwest is hard to imagine when you're growing up in the Midwest or on the East Coast, and it's such a stunning landscape.
Yeah, it takes a while to get used to the lack of greenery. As much as we had upstate -- upstate where I lived, it was a kind of rural area. Tt was only about 80 miles out of New York City, but it was still rural. And every year, we had so much rain all the time. And every year, the trees were coming closer and closer; they really were. And it seemed suffocating at some point. It was great to get out here, but then I really missed how green everything was. Now I'm used to the yellows and the browns, and I really love them. When the light hits them at a certain angle -- my husband is a photographer, so he talks a lot about the light here. And the light is really unique and wonderful.
Leah Jones 8:41
What are some of your favorite foods that you've discovered since moving to New Mexico?
Unfortunately, I'm not able to eat as much cheese as I would like, or otherwise eating, tacos and burritos every day. But I love hatch chili, which you mentioned earlier. Other than that, just basic Mexican and New Mexican foods. As I said, I don't get to eat as much of it as I would like.
Leah Jones 9:17
I remember when I moved to Durango, the first time I was at a restaurant and I ordered chili and they asked me if I wanted red or green chili. I was just like, "What? Chili is only red. What's happening?" And I got a bowl of green chili, just not having any frame of reference, and it was so good. It's just not something you can get up here, and that's something I miss.
I'll have to send you a jar. I always ask for Christmas -- which is red and green combined. But, I've been in restaurants when I first moved here where they would say "Do you want Christmas?" I was like, "I always want Christmas."
Leah Jones 10:03
"Do you have a gift?"
Leah Jones 10:09
Yeah, the gift of delicious soup. So Joan, you mentioned -- we were talking about COVID hobbies, and I was telling you how this podcast came to be. And you said that you've been editing an anthology. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Or do you want to not jinx it?
Sure, I can talk about it. So my co-editor, her name is Faye Rapoport DesPres. I realized that we both knew a lot of other writers, traveling through the book world for many years. I'm a freelance writer, so I know, writers through freelance. I've worked for publishers, and I've also met a lot of writers just through writing my own books and projects. And Faye has the same journey, but in a different area. So we started talking about putting together a book on touch, because during COVID, that was the one thing -- it actually started before COVID. My sister died three years ago, and my sister was schizophrenic, and she would not endure anybody touching her. So I grew up never hugging my sister. I sat by her bedside when she was dying, and I did not touch her. Even though she was in a coma at the end, in hospice, I still didn't touch her because we didn't have that kind of relationship. I had a friend, it was actually a client, whose sister was also dying. And her sister was a hairstylist, and she had degrees in dental hygiene, and a lot of things that are hands-on.
So, they had this very different relationship where Linda would go over and give her sister, while she was dying, a pedicure and a manicure and do her hair and hug her. I was very interested in the subject of touch, and then COVID happened, and everybody was interested in the subject. We invited all of the really great writers and poets that we know to contribute, and everybody liked the subject matter. So not everybody, but mostly everybody that we invited, contributed.
We wound up with a lot of really wonderful poems and essays and stories about touch; we have one story from deep-tissue massage therapist. So, we have that kind of touch, we have people talking about how touching is more about -- you can touch somebody through music, and you can touch them. We have people who talked about touching animals, horses, dogs, and getting what they needed during isolation from that. So a little different variation. We have a mom whose son has very severe OCD, and cannot be touched even by his parents. If you touch him on his left side, you have to touch him on his right side with an equal weight, equal intensity. So, all kinds of really wonderful things.
Leah Jones 13:28
Well, I hope that a publisher sees the need for a book like that; I think the art coming out of this stretch of time is going to be really fascinating. The things that we need to talk about, that we need to write about, that the absence of, the over presence of, I think it's gonna be fascinating.
Right, and looking back and seeing how we've changed as a result of this.
Leah Jones 14:02
I think a lot of people have stories about their parents or grandparents and people in their family who grew up in the Great Depression. My grandpa kept a room of canned goods, just out of that fear of being a young person during the Great Depression and kept the cans so long that they started exploding.
Leah Jones 14:26
He turned my dad's childhood bedroom into a pantry, and was not looking at expiration dates. Well, until the pressure required him to look at them. Either that, or it was when they were moving to Florida and there was -- there might have been a conversation about like, "We're not moving the canned goods to Florida." I'll have to ask my parents about how that went. But I think we all have those family stories of our family members who grew up in global times of trauma, and how it impacted them.We don't know, in 20 years, what are the behaviors we're going to take with us?
Especially for children had all that time off from school. Socialization.
Leah Jones 15:20
So, you have been out talking to people about your trilogy. So it's the "Rivers" trilogy. And it takes place during during the rubber boom, is that correct? In South America?
Leah Jones 15:48
So, tell me a little bit about this trilogy. First of all, I have to say, I'm obsessed with the covers, and I want the covers as wallpaper in every room of my house. I love the covers.
Oh, I'm so happy that you like them.
Leah Jones 16:06
Where did this trilogy come from? Was it originally a going to be one book and you realized, "There's too much story here, I've got to break it up," or was your goal a trilogy?
No, my goal was -- all right, actually, the thing I'm going to tell you about my favorite thing, I kind of have to identify as being responsible for the trilogy in the first place. So, should I just go ahead and tell you now?
Leah Jones 16:30
Go ahead and tell me now, and then we'll really get into it after we talk about the book.
All right, my favorite thing is serendipity. I love when there's the feeling, and a lot of people might argue that it's not really anything concrete, but there's the feeling that you've been pushed onto a certain path. I was kind of between novels; I'd written a novel that I really enjoyed, there's all different levels of engagement with any artwork. You might paint the painting that you're enjoying, but you're not really in love with it. But I had finished a novel that I really enjoyed working on. And, I was waiting for something to inspire me about what I was going to read next. A local publisher asked me to do some freelance work for their publishing company. She wanted me to take some of their back list books that had been published a while ago, and read through them, and read reviews and notes about them, and then put together just a paragraph for each book that they could use on their website.
One of the books was an actual diary written by a rubber tapper in 1908, in South America, in the jungle. A relative of his took the diary as it was, and annotated it and added some pictures and edits and whatnot, and put it together, and this company published it. That was one of the books I was asked to read. It's very short. It must have been 80 pages, 75 pages. It awoke in me a love of of the jungle. The jungle is a very dangerous place, and it's also an incredibly beautiful place. And I just loved the book. I couldn't I couldn't stop reading it. So I fell in love with this book about a rubber tapper, a diary of a rubber tapper, that might be the only diary and existence of a rubber tapper, as far as I know,
Leah Jones 18:38
There might be some letters home, but I imagine they're brief.
And a lot of people didn't survive; it was a really dangerous thing to be doing. So it was in my head, this thing about rubber tapping. I started thinking it would be interesting to write my own book about rubber tapping, and have my *own* characters go off to South America and do this incredible thing. Around the same time period, I was watching a PBS special wherein a journalist went to South America to talk to tribal people there. Previously uncontacted, but recently contacted people about what can northerners do? What can people do to help to stop the drilling that was going on and leaving byproduct behind that was killing the fish and the animals in places where these people lived, and really harming the people and just ruining their way of life completely.
The person was talking through interpreters, the person he was talking to --I think he was a shaman -- said, "We can change the dream. We can change the dream." I thought, "What does that mean? What does it mean to change the dream?" That's seem so profound to me, so I Googled it. It took me to a website called Pachamama Alliance, which is an organization that takes people into the deep jungle to meet with indigenous people and learn about their lifestyles in return for Pachamama Alliance providing legal services, so these people can fight off the oil companies in their lands.
So I signed up, and I went into the jungle, it was life-changing. We traveled all over the Andes. At the end of the trip, the last five or six days, we took two small planes, there were only, I think, eight of us all together. The planes were so tiny that you could only take a few people at a time. We flew into the deep jungle, and we landed on a dirt airstrip in the middle of the jungle. Then the indigenous people who we were going to stay with came down the river, and we got onto the boat with them, and we spent days with them. We participated in some ceremonies with them, it was just life-changing. I'm getting verklempt talking about it. Then when I came home, I was like, "Okay, I'm writing a novel that takes place in the South American jungle, and has something to do with rubber tappers," and I just went crazy and started reading everything I could find.
I say it was a moment of serendipity. Well, it was actually a decade of serendipity, because I was so engaged with the project. So I wrote one book, and then my people who went into the jungle, they were all from Hoboken, New Jersey, so they come back from the jungle and so it's not only about jungle with the three books together, it's the jungles, it's Hoboken and Manhattan, of course, the river, and back and forth. So it's two groups of people on two different continents and their movement back and forth. That's a very long answer to your question.
Leah Jones 22:11
Oh, I didn't think it was a long answer at all.
Leah Jones 22:17
I think that's really interesting. As I was going through your site, some of your books have magical realism; are these more historical fiction, would you say? Or do these have some magical realism? Is there a genre that these belong to?
I guess it's historical fiction. I don't think what's meant there are some magical moments and they mostly happen in the jungle and having to do with the indigenous people there. Hmm. But, it's not a lot of magical realism. There's also a lot of historical stuff in the book. The second book in particular, takes place mostly back in Hoboken, and World War One had a *huge* impact on Hoboken, which I didn't know when I chose Hoboken. Another moment of serendipity.
I chose Hoboken because I was there visiting somebody and I needed a place for my characters to be from. I thought, "This is a great place and it's near where I grew up," so, I chose it. But when I started researching, I found out that Hoboken played a huge part in World War One -- the Doughboys left from the docks in Hoboken to go to Europe. So the shipyards in Hoboken were owned mostly by Germans. And when we got involved in the war, the Germans got kicked out of their own shipyards. And they were exiled, and we took them over. And we used them for people to go back and forth to Europe. So, there was a huge impact -- German businesses closed down. The Germans weren't trusted -- everybody was afraid that they were going -- these are German-Americans we're talking about -- but at that time, people were afraid that they would sabotage ships. They told everybody who lived within a half a mile of the Hoboken Harbor that they had to move if they had any German ancestry, get out of their homes. One thing led to another, and I wound up with three books worth of story.
Leah Jones 24:28
Wow. That's really exciting. What's it been like to launch during COVID? Or did you did you flight these out, or did you drop them all together?
Oh, no. The first one came out -- they came out a year apart. So, the last one, "River Aria," came out during COVID. So, I didn't do any readings or anything like that.
Leah Jones 24:58
But you've got readers invested in the story and I'm sure excited for the end of the trilogy.
People who read the first two, mostly bought the third one, as well.
Leah Jones 25:12
I really enjoy novels that can give you a slice of -- I mean, one of the reasons we read novels is just to be transported into a world we don't know. And that doesn't have to be fantasy, right? It doesn't have to be dragons and witches for it to be a world we don't know. It can be an industry, a time, a place. So, I love this idea that you're going from the familiar of Hoboken, New Jersey, into the jungle, but in an industry most of us don't know anything about, in a time we didn't live through. So that is -- I am intrigued.
Well, I knew nothing about the rubber boom. I thought that rubber got made in factories; I had no clue. And when I stumbled on it, because of reading this book for the freelance job that I had, I didn't only learn how rubber is extracted from trees, I learned about what Manaus, Brazil -- Manaus is kind of -- the Amazon River is flowing from the ocean, from the Atlantic into the heartland into the middle of the Amazon rainforest and Manaus, is the furthest place that you can get where the water is still deep enough that big ships can be there.
Manaus necessarily became the headquarters for the rubber boom. It was a sleepy fishing village -- before then, there was nothing there. So, that became part of my research. And the second trip, when I finished the first draft of the first book, I went to Manaus to see the architecture there. Because what happened -- all these wealthy European people came in with the idea of becoming rubber barons, once it started. There was not a great need for rubber historically, until cars. So as cars were invented, now, we needed tires. So, everybody was hot to get rubber. So savvy Europeans, and some Americans, realized that going into Manaus and setting up a hub where you could bring in rubber, have people go into the jungle and bring them rubber, would make you a lot of money. So they did that. But they weren't content to live in the infrastructure that was there. So, they built amazing buildings. They were making so much money, so fast, they built a very famous opera house, which becomes central to my third book. They tried to bring in performers, and they were all getting malaria.
Leah Jones 27:56
Manaus has its *own* extremely rich history all having to do with the rubber boom. What happened was there was a guy who stole thousands of rubber seeds, an English guy, right before the rubber boom started. Then took the rubber seeds back to England, and they were planted in English territories in India, and they began to produce, so the rubber boom only lasted a short time. As soon as the rubber plantations in India began to produce, the entrepreneurs just left. They got up and they left very quickly. Which left all the people in Manaus, who were poor to begin with, without jobs. All of a sudden, all the people that had changed their lives were gone. It was a really, really rich history and --
Leah Jones 28:55
-- so a real a boom and bust.
Right. Intuition was that you couldn't go into the jungle and make a plantation. Henry Ford tried to do it. But, there was a blight with the trees in the South American jungles so that one tree would catch it from the next, if you put them close together. The only way to extract rubber was to go into the jungle and find trees far apart. They were growing far apart, which was really dangerous, because you encountered everything --snakes, spiders, starvation, malaria.
Leah Jones 29:33
Wow. It's such a rich industrial history. I just knew that -- I have a vague idea of when people learn how to Vulcanize rubber. I know that was important. And then petroleum, I believe, gave us synthetic rubber for tires? And that as a whole, rubber as a natural product, as a plant-based product, kind of came to an end. That's my Trivial Pursuit understanding of the rubber industry.
You know more than I knew before I started, but it's really interesting. Charles Goodyear had a moment of serendipity because he was -- rubber in its natural state, natural rubber in its natural state, changes with the weather. It kind of melts when it's hot, and it stiffens up when it gets cold. He knew that it was going to be a really important substance, but he couldn't figure out how to make it so that it was weatherproof. And he accidentally dropped a blob of rubber, the story goes, on the stove, and it immediately was weatherproof. And so, that's how that came about, that was his moment of serendipity.
Leah Jones 31:16
So you've tipped your cards already, that your favorite thing is serendipity. For you, was serendipity, that as an adult, you came to understand it as a concept, and then you looked back and you were able to see moments that had been serendipitous? Or was it something you were introduced to young and you more actively seek out? What's your relationship to the idea of serendipity?
Well, I think everybody enjoys coincidence, and, to me, serendipity, it is a more intense occasion of coincidence. So by coincidence, it's kind of neutral. If you see your neighbor outside cutting his lawn, and you wonder what kind of life he has besides when you see him cutting his lawn, and then you happen to go to a thriller movie theater someplace and you see him in there. You say, "I was just wondering what he likes to do for recreation," but you say to yourself, "That's a coincidence."
It's a neutral experience; you don't experience it as something good or bad, it's just you saw him there. So serendipity takes it a step further, and it's good. It's like happy accidents. It's like getting a gift. We all like gifts, so, I like that. I like it in my life. I feel you can't really control how often you have moments of serendipity, but you can say yes to different occasions that might spark it, just being out in the world. Which is hard for me because I hate leaving my comfort zone. Even though good things happen when I do, I sit in front of my desk all day long.
Leah Jones 33:13
I agree. Especially in this last year and a half, it's become a very safe place to be. At home, with your computer, with your own things. Do you have a first defining moment, when you think about serendipity in your life? I mean, obviously getting assigned a book as a freelancer to review and help blurb -- that then leads to to a 10 year, two trips and writing a trilogy and deep investigation into the rubber industry --is a small drop with a big impact. Do you have any earlier defining serendipity moments that always kind of stand out to you?
I do. You asked me if you realize when you're having the moment of serendipity, if you recognize it, or if you need to look back. I think sometimes it's kind of a combination, you have a sense that this is going to be really good -- I've gotten on a path that's going to be really intense for me. Until you walk on that path for a while, you can't really be sure. So, I went through a very depressing divorce some years ago, and I was really keeping to myself. I had an older son and I had a young son. I was just keeping to myself, and a friend of mine invited me to come over, she was having some people over. And I said, "I really don't want to. I'm feeling like I want to stay home." And she said, "Oh, come on. Just come over for a little while, you don't have to stay long."
So, I went over and I walked into a room and I met two people. Astrologically speaking, it seems like this is incredible to me. Two people sitting in the same place. They were looking at my friend's son's rock collection, they didn't know each other, they were looking at -- the kid brought the rock collection over, and they both started looking at it with him. At the same time -- and I met them -- and they were both the people who were about to change my life in incredible ways. My friend, Julie, turned out to be a writer, also. And she read my books to date, I read her books, and I thought, I read her manuscripts. She was a wonderful writer, and she had an agent and her book hadn't been published and my books had and I thought, "How can it be that her book wasn't published, and mine have?"
I got this idea in my head, because I had done so much work for publishers, that I had some idea how the business went. And I went to her and I said, "You know what? I'm going to start a small publishing company, and I'm going to publish your book." Then about three days later, I thought, "What have I done? I don't have the knowledge, I don't have the money. I don't have this, I don't have that." But I said it, so I felt committed to do it. And I pushed myself to do it. And it pushed me so far out of my comfort zone; it turned out to be an incredible experience.
Also, Julie's the reason I'm here, I came to visit her here, and fell in love with New Mexico, otherwise, I would never be here. And the other person, I married. So the two people who would change my life for possibly the rest of my life -- hopefully, the rest of my life -- I met in the same second. So, I think that's a moment of serendipity.
Leah Jones 36:50
As they were just looking at rocks, looking at a kid's rock collection.
Yeah, that kid was like eight years old. He just brought, "Look at my rocks!" They weren't even talking to each other, but then they bent in together and started looking at his collection. And that's when I walked in, and somebody introduced me.
Leah Jones 37:10
Wow, I love that. I love that you were willing to say yes to go to the party. Because it can be so easy to stay home. And that your friend, your neighbor made, really got you out and got you moving.
Well, that's the hard part, because usually I will say "No," when I'm asked to do something, but I find that all of my moments of serendipity have been when I said "Yes," even though I didn't want to. Oh, I see that pretty cat ...
Leah Jones 37:44
Yeah, this is Spidey, he's from Durango -- he's 20.
Wow, good for him.
Leah Jones 37:58
He was born on the patio of a restaurant where I was a waitress in Durango. He's a spoiled, old man. I love him a lot.
He's beautiful; he looks really healthy!
Leah Jones 38:13
He's doing pretty good. So, you said yes, you go to the party, you meet one of your closest friends who becomes your first reader. So, when you did that publishing house, was her book the only book you published? Or once you got it set up, and you learned all the processes, did you continue to publish works?
I published for five years. And I'll tell you another story of serendipity that has to do with the end of my publishing career. I was freelancing, the whole time I was publishing. I was basically freelancing to pay for my publishing habit. Because nowadays, if you want to publish a book, you can publish it books on demand. So, it's only printed if somebody buys it, and they're going to read it. Back then, before 2005 -- I published from like 1999 to 2005 -- you had to go to a printer and you had to pay a lot of money to print a book. Nobody printed paperbacks back then; you had to publish hardcover, there was no such thing as an e-book. But if you wanted reviews, you had to do hardcover. So, it was a very expensive proposition.
But what I found was, I was really good as a publisher. Everybody I published -- I went on to publish 12 books or something over a period of five years. It was a great experience for me. My confidence level, before I started publishing, was kind of flat. So, I found skills that I didn't know I had. Especially having to reach out to people constantly, and call them up, and ask them to give me prices. Work with me on this and that, and cover artists. And every writer that I published, I had a relationship with. It just worked out that way.
In fact, a woman came to visit me last weekend, who is from Durango, and I published her book, her name is Kate Niles. She had a book called "The Basket Maker," that I published. And it won the Forward Magazine Book of the Year for fiction -- they give out two major prizes. One is for fiction, or non. So, that was a cash prize and a trophy; it was a really big deal. I had all these great moments through publishing, and I probably would have gone on to do it forever. But in those days, publishers had distributors.
Nowadays, you just have to find your own crazy ways to drive people to your website to buy the book. But back then, you had distributors. And the distributors would go to Barnes and Noble and Borders and all the stores, some of which no longer exist. And they would sell the books, and my distributor, went out of business owing me for two books. I had the books printed, he sold the book in to Barnes and Noble and --
Leah Jones 41:23
-- and never paid you back for them.
Not only me, but he had 80 client publishers, and I was one of the smallest. And all those people,lost a whole lot of money.What I lost was nothing compared to what they lost. It was a devastating thing to go through for somebody who was kind of paying as she went, and I borrowed a lot of money from a bank for the two books, but he went out of business. When I found out about it, I happened to be in Florida visiting a friend from when I lived there. I was trying to contact my distributor through email, and I couldn't get a hold of them. I tried calling and I got messages that said, "The phone is not in order anymore."
So, I called other people who distributed through them, and they told me the bad news that he had gone bankrupt, like overnight, with everybody's books and everybody's money. My friend had a friend who had just come back from climbing Mount Everest, and he had a Sherpa prayer shawl that he was given when he reached the top of the summit. And he -- my friend, Susan, was going through a hard time with a couple of things happening in her life. And he came back with this shawl, and he said, "I want you to have this because these things are made with good intentions. They're made to spread prayers and spread love." So, Susan accepted it and her problem was resolved.
Then, I'm sitting at her house, just learning that my distributor went out of business owing me money that I was going to have to pay back from who knows where, crying, "What am I going to do?". She came out, she gave me the prayer shawl. I brought it home with me and all the time that I was going through calling lawyers to see if I could sue the company, and trying to figure out what to do, could I find another distributor, which I did. But all the time I was going through the devastation from what had happened, I was wearing the prayer shawl.
It's not that I really believe that it was magical, although I didn't *not* believe it. But I think it was a symbol of believing that good outcomes are possible, more than anything, and I just thought that was wonderful that I happened to be there. And she gave me that that thing that made me feel like I had a superpower that I could get through this. Then it passed -- I did find another distributor, although I never got back on my feet again, totally with publishing. I stopped another book or two later. But when I did get back on my feet, and I felt better about everything, and I started paying off the debt that I had, I pass the prayer shawl on to a friend of mine. So I just thought that was a really wonderful thing to happen.
Leah Jones 44:26
That's really beautiful. Yeah, I love that. Having a personal totem that you can share with friends. I feel like there's an urban legend among -- I'm a middle aged Jewish woman, a lot of my friends have done fertility treatments of different sorts -- and there's this urban legend of fertility treatments of somebody getting sperm from a sperm bank, and then, they got pregnant naturally. So, they pass it along to the next person, and was like just having it in your freezer was what you needed. Nobody ever used the sperm. But somehow, it was like passing this item from one person to the next, it kind of was imbued. To my knowledge that wasn't actually in any of my friend groups, but it's one of those stories that always feels like one person away.
I never heard that. I love it. But it's the exact same thing -- it's acting as a possibility sitting there in the freezer. It's the belief in possibility.
Leah Jones 45:45
It's what you heard in that interview of changing the dream. Has anyone ever come back to you and said, "Joan, I don't know if you remember this, but this moment, you and I had, created a change for me?"
Well, I don't know if anybody ever came back to me. People -- I've been the recipient of some goodwill because of things that have happened, but I don't know if it's ever been anything that you could encapsulate into one moment of serendipity. I'm not really coming up with anything off the top of my head.
Leah Jones 46:40
It's a really hard question. I'm trying to think through "Has anyone ever told me ..." Sometimes you'll have this moment that someone else will hold on to for a long time and other people won't remember at all. We definitely all have those -- the moments that -- in the summer of 96, I lived in San Francisco. And the first week I was there, I stayed in a hostel, and then I sublet an apartment in the Mission District. And one of those nights, one of the guys from the hostel and I, just kind of ran around San Francisco. I was 19, I didn't have a fake ID, I wasn't going in anywhere. And we wound up -- we went to Coit Tower, And then, we were sitting at the base of the Transamerica building, which is that really distinct pyramid in San Francisco. And someone came out of -- they were cleaning up the five-star restaurant, the very fancy businessman restaurant -- and they came out and they just threw probably like 50 white tulips on the ground. They were just trashing their floral arrangements. That, to me, is such a clear memory. I don't remember his name, I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but it has always been -- it's one of the clear moments of that summer. What it was like to turn this corner, and see a bench, and see 50 white tulips, beautiful, that had been chucked out of a restaurant. It was very strange.
Wow. It's beautiful. It reminds me of that movie -- I think Kevin Spacey was in it -- "American Rose," or something like that? "American Beauty."
Leah Jones 48:34
"American Beauty." Where they did those scenes -- with those of the rose petals falling, there was so much of that. And then, the imagery of -- wasn't there a plastic bag?
Yes! And, it was beautiful. The young kid across the street was a photographer, and he just filmed this plastic bag blowing in the wind, and with the right music behind it, it was really gorgeous. And that's all I remember about that movie. I mean, I remember there were scary parts, but mostly, I remember the rose petals and the plastic bag.
Leah Jones 49:16
That's also the same -- the plastic bag kind of dancing. And I think, you know I live in a city with a lot of those little vortexes, and any time I see a plastic bag, it calls back to that scene.
Really great scene.
Leah Jones 49:44
These little moments that are not the point of the movie, or the book that stick with you. Another one for me is, I think it's in the *novel* "The Shining," because I don't think I ever watched the movie -- too scary. But in the novel "The Shining," before the -- so there's the kid and a caretaker who both have kind of clairvoyant abilities. How they smell an orange before they get information; they smell an orange being peeled. I don't think it's a detail that stands out to many people. But, for some reason, that's my takeaway of The Shining is that if you smell ghost orange peel, just orange peel out of nowhere, that that is the the precursor to a clairvoyant event.
Leah Jones 50:45
That's all I remember of that book.
I don't remember that. All I remember is that I was so scared when I read that book -- when I read "The Stand," Stephen King's "The Stand," I had to keep the book in another room when I went to bed. I couldn't be in the same room with it.
Leah Jones 51:05
I don't seek out horror or scary movies anymore. The last time I did, was "Stranger Things" on Netflix. And I've told this story before; because it takes place in Indiana in the 1980s, and it hits on everything. Every single thing in that book that's scary is what was scary about growing up in Indiana in the 80s, where I grew up. Swimming in strip pits. People drown in strip pits all the time, because you get caught on left-behind mining equipment; strip pits were really dangerous for swimming. So there's a strip pit swimming scene, there's -- we would just ride our bikes forever, with no contact. I think there's railroad stuff, there's Dungeons and Dragons spookiness, and I got to the point with that book where I would go and I would spoil the episode for myself, make sure I knew what was coming, and then I could watch it, and I would still be scared.
Oh, wow. It wasn't a book, though. It was just a series, right?
Leah Jones 52:18
It was just a series.
I do. I love that, actually. I loved all the kids in it.
Leah Jones 52:28
Good stuff. Somebody
One was named ... Wolf? Finn Wolf? He was in, "Goldfinch," and he played a Russian kid with an accent. He was really wonderful. And I don't remember the girl's name, but she's wonderful. She's all grown up now.
Such outstanding cast.
Also, he was in a band.
Leah Jones 52:59
Millie Bobby Brown is 11, there's Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazo, there's Caleb McLaughlin, Charlie Heaton, Joe Heery. Man, what an outstanding cast. And it's hard to cast kids, because you don't know how they're going to grow, and you don't know how they're going to grow into a character when you have a story that's planned for longer than one movie or one season.
They were supposed to begin filming a season here in Albuquerque, because we have incredible film studios here, and they didn't, because of COVID. So, I don't know if they're doing that now, but they have to all be in their early 20s, at this point.
Leah Jones 54:04
Were there any TV shows or movies that stand out to you for the last -- for COVID? Did you spend any time just watching TVs and movies? Or were you a reader during it?
Well, I'm always a reader, but I also like to watch movies, too. So I saw "The Queen's Gambit."
Leah Jones 54:29
Oh, my gosh, it was so good.
Everybody loved that. Who would have thought that a movie that's just about chess. I mean, mostly what happens is you'd see her you know, playing chess with different people, would be so popular, but everybody I know loves that. And a lot of people I know who never had a chessboard in their lives went out and bought them.
Leah Jones 54:50
I loved the way that they represented thinking through playing chess. How they would show her visualizing, and the way they brought that to life was, I thought was so well done.
It was really wonderful. And chess can be very exciting.
Leah Jones 55:12
Do you play chess?
I used to play chess; I haven't played in a long time, because I just haven't had anybody close by in my life. My sons both became good players. And then what happened with -- so, I had this one experience with chess that was incredible to me, although it doesn't come over well as a story -- but, my ex-husband was supposed to play chess with this guy that we would see every year when we went to Maine for a week. They would sit and play chess the whole week long. And the guys' wife, and I --we knew how to play chess, but nobody ever invited us to play, and there was one board, so they played.
My ex-husband had sunburn or something one night, and he couldn't play chess. So, he asked me to go down to the porch of the B&B we were staying in and tell the guy. The guy had the board all set up, and I wasn't really close to the guy. But anyway, the guy said, "Well, would you want to play with me, since he can't?" And I said, "Okay," and I sat down. I never thought I could beat him -- he was a really good player. I could see victory ahead of me, but I kept thinking, "I can't possibly be -- I can't be beating him." My heart was going so fast. I'm sure people feel like this when they jump out of airplanes or something. But, I felt like it in front of the chessboard, because I saw it coming, and it didn't seem possible. And then it happened, and I beat him. Then I quit.
Leah Jones 56:52
1 and 0 --
Yeah, that was it.
Leah Jones 56:56
-- a perfect record. The other thing I loved about "Queen's Gambit" -- I mean, the costuming was phenomenal -- but also, I was constantly on edge waiting. No man in the in the show ever hurts her; ever takes a hand against her. There's no sexual assault, there's no violence. I mean, her adopted father abandoning the family -- that is violence, I don't want to say that's not, but they kept setting up these like dark corners, these moments, where I feel like almost any other movie would have turned her into a victim. I really appreciated that through the whole show, she does not become the victim of violence in that way.
That's how I felt -- eid you ever see the movie "Patterson," with Adam Driver?
Leah Jones 58:01
No. He's an amazing actor.
This is a wonderful movie where nothing happens -- almost nothing happens. But you can't believe that nothing's happening. So, when he's driving the bus and he's looking around or talking to somebody you think, "Okay, this is it. He's gonna have a bus," he's bus driver, I should say. You think, "He's going to have an accident, and this is going to be the inflection point in the movie." And that's not it -- it's never it. Then when the real thing happens in the movie that throws his life into chaos, it's a small thing. I won't tell you, because I don't want to spoil it, but it's awonderful movie. Just beautiful. And there's a relationship in there, he has a girlfriend, and sometimes you see actors and you don't really get the chemistry between them; it seems so pushed, it doesn't seem real. But his relationship with this girl, the chemistry was incredible, and beautiful movie to watch.
Leah Jones 59:02
And it's it's "Paterson," with Adam Driver?
It takes place in Paterson, New Jersey.
Leah Jones 59:08
Okay. That sounds like a good Saturday night movie night. I kind of watched a lot of TV at the very beginning. A lot of repeat things I'd seen before. And then have been re-engaging with audiobooks the last couple months, which has been nice. Because I found that COVID really, really knocked my ability to sit and read, sideways. It has been hard to find that attention span.
You know, I heard a lot of people say that during COVID that they couldn't really read, until we started coming out of it.
Leah Jones 59:58
I'm starting to feel it coming back. I'm looking forward to -- last winter, I told my family, "No books for the holidays; I'm just gonna feel guilty because I'm not gonna be able to read them," so this is a book-free Christmas and Hanukkah season. And then this year, I think I can say, "All right, books are allowed again."
I read about a wonderful thing that they do in Denmark, and in different Scandinavian countries, where people arrange to be in a certain place, at a certain time. And everybody's a book, you are a book. It's kind of like what you do with your show. You walk up to somebody, you sit down next to them, and they start telling you their story. The idea's to talk to different people, and everybody shares their story. You just go there willing to be a book.
Leah Jones 1:00:59
I'll have to look that up.
I'll find the link for you, and I'll email it to you.
Leah Jones 1:01:04
Please do, and I'll share the link in the show notes. Joan, is there anything about serendipity that you had planned on sharing that I didn't ask the right question for?
Well, I looked up to find out where the word serendipity comes from, and there's actually a fairy tale. It's a Persian fairy tale that started in 1300, but has been told and translated in many countries in many languages. It's about a king, the king of Serendip. Which was apparently, what Sri Lanka was called at one point. He's got three sons, and they're all princes, and he gives them the best education you could get at that time; they know everything about the arts and the sciences. But he still feels that they're not equipped to take over the throne when he passes. So, he sends them out into the world and says, go out and see things.
And while they're gone, they have all these adventures and good things happen and bad things happen. And apparently, if you read the whole thing -- it's quite long -- when they come back, what they tell him about is all of these incredible experiences, all the good things, they don't tell them about the bad things, where they've been in trouble. But, they make the point that they decided to coin a word, they say that unexpectedly one can find what's pleasant and new, though it was never sought, and they decided that that's what they learned during their adventures, and so they coined the word serendipity. Which I think is really great.
Leah Jones 1:02:54
Beautiful. I had never, I've never heard that before.
And then I have a quote from Milan Kundera, the Czechosolvian writer, who happens to be one of my favorites, and I'll just read that to you real quick. He says, "Chance and chance alone, has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything unexpected, repeated day in and day out is mute. Only chance can speak to us." I love that.
Leah Jones 1:03:24
That is a powerful quote, I really enjoy it. I've really appreciated your framing at the beginning where you talked about coincidence as neutral, and serendipity as being something that is as positive, that uplifts, that gives you a learning opportunity. I really like that framing that you shared, and these quotes -- the story of where serendipity came from, and this quote, are an outstanding bookend to that.
Leah Jones 1:04:05
Well, Joan, do you want people to be able to find you on the internet?
Yeah, my big long last name, you'd have to know how to spell it; I have a website and all of my books are listed there, and some stuff about me. I love to hear from people -- there's a contact thing there.
Leah Jones 1:04:28
The entire River trilogy is available. "Before We Died," "Gifts for the Dead," and "River Aria." They are available in paperback and digital. You can find Joan on Twitter, @joanschwei; Joan Schweighardt on Instagram; and Joan Schweighardt, writer, on Facebook. All of this will be included in the show notes, because it is a somewhat tricky last name to spell. As well as all of your other books; it's quite a career you have.
Oh, thank you, it's been fun. That's what I like to do. If you asked me what's my *favorite* favorite thing, it's writing.
Leah Jones 1:05:28
I've enjoyed talking about serendipity and learning how a serendipitous moment led you on this this trilogy.
Well, it's been great talking to you. I really enjoyed it.
Leah Jones 1:05:41
Thank you for listening to Finding Favorites with Leah Jones. Please make sure to subscribe and drop us a five-star review on iTunes. Now, go out and enjoy your favorite things.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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