Waiting for Friday

Joan Schweighardt

Joan Schweighardt

Joan Schweighardt has worked as an editor and ghostwriter for private and corporate clients for more than thirty years. She had her own independent publishing company, GreyCore Press, from 1999 to 2005. She has agented books as well, with sales to St. Martin’s, Red Hen, Wesleyan University Press, and more. Schweighardt’s most recent fiction includes Under the Blue Moon (just published), and the Rivers Trilogy—Before We Died (2018), Gifts for the Dead (2019), and River Aria (2020). The Art of Touch: A Collection of Prose and Poetry from the Pandemic and Beyond, an anthology she conceived and co edited, will be published by the University of Georgia Press in November (2023)

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Waiting for Friday…..

About my new book…

My new novel Under the Blue Moon is about a woman who has been living for years with grief and regret and a man who, as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, has recently become homeless. The book cuts back and forth between her story and his. Outside of the fact that they both live in the same city (Albuquerque, where I live too) and that their paths cross every now and then, they don’t really know each other and their situations are totally different. What they have in common is that they have both reached the end of their respective ropes; they have been wishing and hoping for change and it has not arrived on its own, so now they’re ready to try to trick it into making an appearance.

Why I wrote it, in part at least…

My late sister was on the verge of homelessness plenty of times in her too-short life. After our parents died, it fell to me to make sure she never actually got there. That sounds a lot easier than it turned out to be.

The point is, homelessness has long been on my radar. My first novel that touched on homeless issues (The Accidental Art Thief) came out in 2014. Thereafter, I sat on the board of directors for a local homeless shelter and did some fundraising for the same organization. Between my sister and the stories I heard in the company of my fellow homeless advocates, I picked up some insights, but really, how can anybody fully understand what it is like to be without a home if they haven’t been there themselves? What I try to get across in my new novel is that all homeless people are different; they all have their own stories.

There are four main homeless characters in Under the Blue Moon. Ben, my co-protagonist, is homeless due to bad luck, essentially. He shares his living space—a ledge under a highway overpass—with two other men. One is a wise-ass, and while Vince never reveals his story, you know by his actions that he has lived a life of bad intentions. The other fellow, Derrick, is developmentally disabled and on a waiting list for a group home—a joke, as Ben observes. “You could wait for years, social services being what they are. By then a person like Derrick is likely to have forgotten the manners, the behaviors you need to exhibit to make the cut.” The fourth homeless person is Nancy, who is really only semi-homeless. She sleeps in her car and uses some small part of her “survivor benefits” income to pay the old woman who lets her park in her driveway at night and use the bathroom out in the shed behind her house.

Why I write, in general…

My husband is a photographer. He is never happier than when he is looking at the world through one of his many fancy lenses. I never see what he sees. He might appear to be taking a picture of a single flower when he goes down on one knee on the trail where we hike, but when we get home and he shows me, it turns out that the mountains behind the flower are in full view, and the morning light tunneling between the two tallest peaks is hitting the petals at a most appealing angle. I get to see the world through his eyes. As Robert Browning says in his wonderful poem “Fra Lippo Lippi”:

... we're made so that we love
First, when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times, nor cared to see;
And so they are better, painted—better to us,
Which is the same thing. Art was given for that ...

And substitute painted with any art effort here; photographed, filmed, sung, played, written. It’s basically the same thing for me with writing. As a kid, I would sit on the edge of my bed feeling sorry for myself because someone said something that hurt my tender feelings and I would hear the words in my head: The girl sat on the edge of her bed, looking out at the rain, wondering whether …

 Intriguing visual compositions are always forming in my husband’s head; words are always forming in mine. But I didn’t want my written words to sound so prosaic, so I studied literature in college (there’s no hope for the spoken words—I’m an ineloquent speaker and even though I haven’t lived there in years, I still have a New Jersey accent). And I made a career out of everything I learned; I have worn every hat there is to wear in the writing/book world: editing, ghostwriting, publishing, consulting, even agenting. Most of my friends are writers. I spent much of my free time going to readings, talking about books. This is my life.

What writing means at this stage of life…

In addition to all the work I’ve done for private and corporate clients over the years, I’ve also squeezed out time to work on my own projects, of course. Under the Blue Moon is my ninth novel, and thirteenth published book, if I’m counting them right. When I was working, I would try to do all my freelance work by Thursday each week so that I could have Friday all to myself. Sometimes I got to Friday and still had client commitments. When I got Friday off, I jumped on it. Now or never was my mantra. No time to dally.

Now I’m retired. You would think that means I have all the time in the world to write, but it turns out that is not the case. When I was younger, I lived in my head. I was always thinking about what I was writing. I could be at the sink scrubbing sticky residue out from the bottom of the tomato sauce pot and simultaneously working out whether it was necessary to show Attila the Hun fighting the Franks and the Burgundians or if I could simply have his men discuss the battle back at Hun headquarters. Now, having entered my seventh decade, I live in my body almost as much as I do my head. My body lays claim to me. It insists I spend some part of each day exercising. Sometimes it goes rogue on me, anyway. Then I have to spend time going to doctors’ appointments to find out how to fix this or control that. Recently I got an MRI report that reads like a Stephen King novel. Now I know why I am almost two inches shorter than I used to be. I have to waste precious time thinking about such matters. I have to have boring conversations with Siri: Siri, is it true that mushroom coffee gets rid of inflammation? That sort of thing.

So, in some sense, I am still waiting for Friday to come. But that’s okay, because when it does, I still get to do what for me remains utterly natural and just as engaging as ever. And I’m thankful for that.

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