The Last Wife of Attila the Hun
by Joan Schweighardt
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Historical
Two threads are flawlessly woven together in this sweeping historical novel. In one, Gudrun, a Burgundian noblewoman, dares to enter the City of Attila to give its ruler what she hopes is a cursed sword; the second reveals the unimaginable events that have driven her to this mission. Based in part on the true history of the times and in part on the same Nordic legends that inspired Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other great works of art, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun offers readers a thrilling story of love, betrayal, passion and revenge, all set against an ancient backdrop itself gushing with intrigue.
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.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I had my own publishing company for a while, GreyCore Press (from 1999 to 2005). I loved publishing, and I think I did a pretty good job of it. I published a beautiful memoir (A Month of Sundays: Searching for the Spirit and my Sister, by Julie Mars), that became a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” title, which meant that it could be found on the front shelf of every BN in the country. I also published a children’s book (When I Wished I Was Alone by Dave Cutler) which became a top ten “read to me” selection at Borders Books. Other titles did really well too. I would probably still be publishing today, but my penultimate distributor went out of business owning me (and many other client publishers) quite a lot of money, which I in turn owed to the bank I’d borrowed from. I found another distributor, but I never quite recovered from that setback. But all’s well that ends well. I still continue to work with authors, and now I don’t have any overhead.
Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!
As part of my research for my most recent novel (not yet published) I stayed with an indigenous tribe in the rainforest in Ecuador and then made a second trip to South America to travel the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers with a private guide. I took the first trip when I started my book, to get a feel for the jungle. The second trip was my reward for finishing the first draft. In between the two trips I read everything I could find about the rainforest, its people, its medicinal plants, etc., until I was dreaming the rivers and the jungle. Now I’m spoiled. The combination of the book research, the travel research and the actual writing has been a grand life experience. I won’t want any future books to be anything less.
Describe your writing style.
Back when I first started writing I tried to develop a writing style by emulating my favorite authors. For a while I tired to be Nabokov, but of course no one can be Nabokov but the man himself. Then I tired to be D. H. Lawrence, and I’m here to tell you there is nothing more nauseating than a bad imitation of Lawrence. But as I grew into becoming a writer, I realized it wouldn’t serve me to have a particular style anyway, because I didn’t intend to stick to writing a particular kind of book. Some of my books, like The Accidental Art Thief, are humorous. Others, especially the historical fictions, are dramatic but not necessarily humorous. Some are written in third person, some in first, and some in first person but in the voices of several different characters. Over the years I have made a living writing, ghostwriting and editing for other people. The ability to change styles and voices easily has helped me to become a good ghostwriter. My clients really like it when the text sounds just like them. I’ve become a literary chameleon.
What makes a good story?
That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Of course a good novel has to be well structured and well written, but there’s always something else too, some je ne sais quoi that makes the story sing. It might be a fabulously-drawn character, like the husband in Carolyn Parkhurst’s Dogs of Babel. Or it could be a really clever plot, like in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Or great dialogue, like just about everything by Tana French, especially her first novel, In The Woods. I could have listened to her characters talk forever, even if the book had no plot, which of course it did.
What are you passionate about these days?
I am passionate about the writing process. When I was still learning the craft, I was content to stick to writing about what I knew, as my teachers always advised. But once I had the craft down, I wanted to explore the many aspects of life (and history, particularly) about which I knew little or nothing. That is one of the reasons why I love writing books with historical settings. I love extensive research. For me the process of writing is one of both discovery and creation. I want my books to be life changing experiences. Then, if other people like them too, it’s all gravy!
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Sometimes I yield to my vices, such as drinking wine and playing poker. But most of the time I read.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I was very shy as a kid, and even to some degree as I got older. I always felt awkward and unable to express myself as fluidly as I would have liked. But give me a pen and paper, or, eventually, a keyboard, and I could go at it. Reading and writing have always been my way of exploring the world.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing around the time I started reading…not reading for school but reading on my own. We did not have a lot of books in the house when I was growing up, but I did come across a collection of stories by Edgar Allan Poe when I was in my teens, and that was where it began. I loved the fluidity and intensity of his writing. I was enthralled with the power of his imagination. I wanted to do that too. Before that, I wanted to dance ballet. There was no chance I would ever be a ballerina, because I was never that coordinated and my family couldn’t have afforded dance lessons anyway. But I did think I could do the writing thing, in time, if I worked hard at it.
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