Interview With Author Joan Schweighardt

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 3.50.03 PMWhat is your book’s genre or category and what draws you to the genre?

I like to think of The Last Wife of Attila the Hun as historical fiction, because it is based in part on the true history of the times during which Attila lived and ruled (mid fifth century.) However, it is also based on legends that grew out of the same time period. For that reason some of the people involved with the publication of the book refer to it as a historical fantasy. Either category is fine with me.

Can you describe the story in one or two sentences for our readers?

Due to a series of tragedies in her life, a Germanic noblewoman finds herself in possession of a sword she believes is cursed. Since Attila destroyed most of her village years before and remains an ongoing threat to her people, she decides to “gift” the cursed sword to him.

Tell us the story behind the story. What influenced you to write it and how long did it take you?

The Poetic Edda is a collection of fragmented poems and legends that found their way to Iceland centuries ago and existed orally until they were recorded in the 12th or 13th centuries. Some of these wonderful legends—on the themes of love, lust, betrayal, greed, loyalty, community and other universal issues—try very hard to bring the historical Attila into their narratives. When I first read them, I found the legends engaging, and when I began to research the history of Attila and found overlaps with the legends, I was inspired to begin the novel.

I am not the first person to fall in love with this material. Though his source was a Germanic collection and not the Icelandic one, Richard Wagner featured the same legends in his operas. And Tolkien borrowed some of the legendary materials for his stories. And there are lots of other poets and novelists and painters whose works have been inspired by these legends. The great thing about the legends is that they are so profuse, so extensive, that if one hundred writers sat down to write a novel based on them, all those one hundred novels would be entirely different.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

A woman who envies Gudrun describes her as weak, fearful and ordinary at the beginning of the story (which sort of comes in the middle of the book). And she is fearful, and ordinary too in the sense that her main concerns are her family and her community. But as various tragedies strike, she begins to find an inner strength she never knew she had. This inner strength, which is what propels her into the City of Attila, opens her eyes to a much larger world, including many new insights and passionate ambitions.

Is there a part of you in any of the characters?

Not really. I wrote The Last Wife of Attila the Hun after writing three contemporary novels, so I had plenty of time to get any angst from my own life out of my system.

If you assigned an actor/actress to the characters in your novel, who would they be?

I’ve only mentioned two characters to this point, Gudrun and Attila. I think Mia Wasikowska would make a great Gudrun, because she embodies both the vulnerability and the strength that Gudrun exhibits at various times in the story, and Leo DiCaprio would be an outstanding Attila the Hun. But there are a lot of other characters in the book that present opportunities for powerful roles in a movie. There is Sigurd, Gudrun’s love interest (Ryan Gosling?), and Brunhild, the beautiful woman who tries to seduce Sigurd (Emma Roberts?), and Edeco, the officer of Attila who is charged with interrogating Gudrun when she is imprisoned in The City of Attila (Edward Norton?), and Gudrun’s three brothers, and more.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I’ve been a writer my entire adult life. I write/edit/ghostwrite for a living, for both private and corporate clients. And I write my own stuff in my free time.

What are you working on right now?

I really like big projects. While I’ve written four contemporary novels that required more creativity than research, these days I’m drawn to projects that necessitate getting far outside of my comfort zone, physically, intellectually and creatively. I just finished a novel that is set in good part in the Amazon rainforest. As part of my research, I made two trips to the Amazon, one to stay with an indigenous tribe in Ecuador, and one to travel down the Amazon and Rio Negro in a small boat with a private guide. I also read about 40 books on the Amazon, on the time period (1906 to 1927), and on other subjects that come up in the story.

Writing this story was a totally engaging and even life-changing experience for me. Now I have just started a manuscript about an opera singer during the Great Depression. I know nothing about opera and very little about the Great Depression. I watched my first opera on YouTube recently, just to get my feet wet; soon I will immerse myself, I think. I’m sort of a junkie when it comes to writing. I want a bigger, grander experience every time.

How can readers find you online?

JSWebsite: www.joanschweighardt.com

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/joanschweighardtwriter

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/joanschwei

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