Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Dodgy Interview with Sophronia Belle Lyon, the Author of A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist

I think this is Sophronia.
I must confess that I have been absolutely wretched at reading lately. I started reading Sophronia Belle Lyon’s inventive novel, A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist, according to Goodreads, in late October and only just finished it on Christmas Eve. Please don’t take this to mean that I didn’t enjoy the book because I enjoyed it very much and I’m very happy to present here my interview with the author, Sophronia Belle Lyon.

Before we get to the interview, let me say a few words about the book. Ms. Lyon has gifted us with an exciting adventure that pairs beloved characters from Dickens, Alcott, Stevenson and more in a crime-fighting unit set in Victorian London with steampunk overtones. If you have no idea what in the world I’m rambling on about, let me assure you that A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist may still be for you! I would hate for some potential readers to have doubts based on a word like steampunk, which may be unfamiliar, and pass up the rewarding and enjoyable experience of reading this book. It’s great fun to spend time with these familiar characters, but I believe that even readers unfamiliar with the original stories will get drawn in to the plot and the mystery contained within these pages.

The finest darn literary tribute
steampunk adventure I've ever
read in my life.
I didn’t love everything about the experience. My biggest quibble—and it really is nothing more than a quibble, one that might not even faze many readers—were fairly frequent “reports” given by some characters that the author uses as an excuse to present certain scenes with first person narration by secondary characters. These are not presented, however, as dialogue by the characters involved, but rather as narration indistinguishable from the first person narration provided by Florizel, the narrator. In dialogue, these different characters maintain distinct personalities (indeed, the diction is sometimes so heavy as to make some dialogue difficult to follow), so it’s a bit perplexing why these “reports” all sound the same. In the course of the story, these little detours are presented as reports delivered by certain characters to the rest of the crime-fighting team at the heart of the story; however, they took me out of the story since they read as traditional narration rather than the situation reports they claim to be. A character giving a report on a crime scene would probably not spend time describing extraneous details like a witness’ dress or eye color.

But that was, as I say, a pretty minor complaint. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I recommend it whole-heartedly to readers who enjoy a variety of types of fiction. The inventions are fun, the characters memorable, the mystery engaging and the writing enjoyable. Additionally, A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist is available in two forms: the standard version and a special illustrated edition full of vintage images and neat little Victorian touches. Both are perfectly affordable and both make a great read.

This interview wasn’t quite as straight-forward as others I have conducted, mostly due to the fact that the author lived and wrote in the late nineteenth century. I received an invitation to Sophronia’s “parlor for tea and mechanicals” via one of her descendants  Mary C. Findley. I should mention, by the way, that Mary is following in Sophronia’s footsteps as an author herself. She runs the Elk Jerky for the Soul blog with her husband (which also contains information about Sophronia’s books) and is the author of books including Chasing the Texas Wind, The Baron’s Ring and Benny and the Bank Robber. But I digress.

One of my best friends, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
As a good and proper American, I of course had no interest at all in tea and I had no idea what mechanicals were, but I enjoyed the book and figured it was worth the risk of having to drink tea to sit down with Sophronia and chat with her. The only problem was how to go back in time over a hundred years to take her up on her offer, a trip I usually only make on special occasions, or when entertaining royalty. I called my buddy Hermione but apparently a time turner wasn’t right for this mission, and those had all been conveniently destroyed in recent years so as not to become too big a plot hole. Then I happened to think of a solution more in line with the story at hand. A quick phone call and a trip to Surrey later and I had the most famous Time Machine in history at my disposal (well, after the Tardis).

I’m not sure precisely when I landed, but I was able to follow the quaint hand-drawn map Sophronia had provided to make my way to the meeting spot. I was admitted to her manor by a shimmering bronze automaton and shown into the parlor to wait for my hostess. “Wow,” I muttered to myself, looking around the parlor with its many inventive designs and clockwork machines. “Someone’s got a bit of a bronze fetish. . .”

Whenever I have questions about tea, this is the guy I call.
No sooner had I said these words than I heard a small cough and turned my head to see Sophronia Belle Lyon, the author of A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist, coming to greet me. She offered me tea and what appeared to be scones. I may not be a tea drinker, but I definitely knew how to order it. “Tea,” I said. “Earl Grey. Hot.” This elicited nothing but a bizarre reaction from my host so I simply took what she offered. I sat down on a lavishly upholstered lounge chair that was fortunately one of the few items in the room not made of bronze. I set my scone down on its plate so I could fetch my recording device for the interview. I was about to pick it up again and take a bit when bronze legs sprouted from the sides and it scurried away from me. Well. . .she had invited me for tea and mechanicals after all. I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Brad: Hello, Sophronia, and thank you for the invitation. Before we get started, I’m a bit turned around here. Would you mind telling me the date?

Sophronia: A young man never asks a lady the date, because it would be a clue to revealing her age, which he of course must never ask or seek to know. If you are asking the time period in which my series is set, which is, of course, contemporary fiction for me, the prologue of Florizel's years in Bohemia takes place in 188-- and the main story in 189--. Seek to know no more.

Brad: Fair enough. I’ll just have to see if I can pick up a newspaper on my way out. Let me say that I’ve never read a book quite like A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist. I believe you’ve called it a “steampunk literary tribute novel.” Where did the idea come from?
For your next Tawdry Movie Night.

Sophronia: There is a tawdry celluloid called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which was a great disappointment for me to view some years ago. It did considerable violence to the characters of some beloved classics, and so I set out to right a great wrong by creating my own Victorian era crime fighting league, with reverence and sensitivity for these people's true characters and natures. I also wanted to create mechanicals of my own to rival Verne and Welles.

Brad: Yes, you do certainly seem to enjoy mechanicals. But actually, before we go any farther, would you mind defining the whole steampunk genre or style or whatever it is for our less informed readers?

A visual representation of the word "steampunk."
Sophronia: I am learning more about this all the time myself. Steampunk is a type of Science Fiction, usually set in the Victorian era, 1800s to early 1900s, and relies on technologies based on steam and gearwork with a futuristic, speculative twist. (See how I worked that "Twist" in already?) 

Brad: Yes, I’m certain the pun was quite intentional. I’ll thank you to please dodge such obvious wordplay in the future. Your story contains characters from a number of classic works. Do you have a favorite character that you borrowed?

Sophronia: Phoebe Moore-Campbell (from Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom) exemplifies for me what is best in womanhood. She uses her talents for God's glory, provides for her family through her abilities, spreads the Gospel, gives wise counsel, and provides leadership by bringing out the best of the abilities of each member of her Alexander Legacy Company. With all of this she manages to remain a devoted wife and mother. She also shoots a mean parasol-crossbow and her dresses are to die for!

I really meant the Batman villain, but when I searched for
"steampunk penguin," this is what came up and there
was no way I was going to leave it out of this blog.
Brad: Parasol crossbow, hm? Reminds me a bit of the Penguin. Are there any other characters that you were interested in including, but weren’t able to work in to this novel?

Sophronia: I wanted to include George Rouncewell, a character few have probably heard of, from Charles Dicken's Bleak House. He is a strong, simple, good man who thinks he's failed his family's hopes for him. His brother's a successful businessman and George runs a broken-down shooting gallery. George is an expert with firearms and a defender of the hopeless victims of the British court system. He may still find a place in the company down the road. It is a growing enterprise, having added two new members in the first book already!

Brad: Tell us about Florizel, your narrator and central protagonist. I’d be interested in knowing which character traits and attributes were found in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club, as well as how you may have altered or fleshed out the character.

Sophronia: Stevenson doesn't tell us a lot about Florizel. He makes him a bit more of an adventurer and devil-may-care type, and his mother and sister are barely mentioned as existing. Uncle Rudolfo and the conflict over republican values versus aristocracy are invented, as is Trevor Newsome, of course. I have given him a more solid and complimentary past because his courage, personal sacrifice, and determination deserve a tribute.

Brad: Although this is, ahem, a steampunk literary tribute novel, there are some very tender romantic moments. The small touches of love and affection between a number of the married couples felt as authentic and touching to me as anything in the book. Two new romances also bloom—although I hope any young readers take their romances much more slowly than the characters in the book! I’m interested in knowing if the female characters were introduce explicitly with the intention of hooking them up with certain single gentlemen, or if the romances developed more organically as the tale unfolded.
Pictured: Florizel and Visha's second date.

Sophronia: I really had no idea those silly people were going to go and fall in love like that. Visha Kanya (who I should mention is past the age of twenty, which is a good age for young ladies to first think of falling in love) was clearly smitten with Florizel's fearlessness and commanding presence the first time they met. His natural mention of God and His love for sinners deeply touched her. Oliver Twist had never even thought about the fair sex until he planted that theatrical kiss on Tatiana's cheek at Uncle Vanya's coffee shop. From that moment on, his nose was full of the scent of cinnamon and yeast and he was a lost man. Besides, Uncle Vanya would have done violence with his cast-iron rolling pin if Oliver hadn't done right by his daughter. A kiss is a seal, a pledge, that a true man must make good on.

Brad: And that is why I always avoid mistletoe. I kept thinking, when reading the book, that you seem particularly fond of Oliver Twist. His story and past become very important to the story, yes, but I also felt (real or imagined) a certain affection for the character through the descriptions and the like. I believe I’ve also read that Twist is also narrating the sequel. As a result—and I’ve no desire to give anything away so I’m trying to be very vague—I was shocked when something really vile befell the young inventor. Was it difficult to write about? Did you, as the author, have any emotional response to the pain you inflicted on this beloved character?

For more info on secular humanism,
Mary and her husband have literally
written the book on the subject.
Plus, it's illustrated!
Sophronia: I love Oliver. He's a social misfit like I am, and a scientist like many men in my life whom I love. But part of my purpose in writing this series, and everything I write, is to combat Secular Humanism. It is an ancient system of uprooting biblical principles and values and telling man he can be and do whatever he wishes, that nothing is right or wrong. What happens to Oliver Twist in the book teaches the lesson that man's quest for self-gratification and personal power leads to all manner of evil conduct. The enemy who attacks Oliver Twist represents the perversion of leadership, education, love and even friendship. It was very difficult to write about, and difficult to explain how even such a devastating thing can be overcome by God's power.

Brad: I do hope he continues to heal before the next installment. One of the major changes that you made to the majority of the characters is that virtually all the good guys are devout Christians. I have some hypothetical readers here—their names are hypothetically Larry and Carrie—who are pretty darn truculent at your (and I quote) “gall.” Although I never feel like us authors, creators of worlds that we are, are ever obligated to defend our work, I would like to give you the opportunity to make a response.

Mowgli sought Baloo after his conversion to share
the bare necessities of Christianity with him.
Sophronia: Larry and Carrie should remember that the undercurrent of true belief in God and high moral character runs through all the books by the authors who created my characters. Victorians, and even those earlier in the 1800s, like Austen, valued moral virtue, true examples of piety, generosity and care for the poor even f they weren't explicitly “Christian.” Your faith was your own business, held in a secret place and not spoken of, by Dickens and Austen and others. I chose to make it open, and to sweep a few "unbelievers" like Mowgli and probably Fun See, into the net of Christianity because it is my story, and I want people to know my Christ and His love for them.

Brad: Larry and Carrie have now hypothetically remembered that, as you suggested. Along the same lines, let’s talk for a moment about being a Christian author. Do you feel a responsibility to incorporate your faith into your writing? Do you just try to write the best stories you can, or do you have spiritual goals as well?

Sophronia: I always have spiritual goals. I want to see souls saved and growth in Christ occur. I want a foundation in the Word of God. These will always be in my stories, along with condemnation of wrong thinking and exaltation of truth. I might cloak them more deeply when I get around to writing the allegories I have in my head, but they will be there. 

Brad: Let me take this opportunity to apologize, Ma’am, for my subsequent actions. Your faith and sincerity make it even more difficult. You see, this shiny bronze umbrella that I have sitting in my lap is not merely an umbrella after all. It is actually a Barrett REC7 assault rifle disguised as an umbrella. It is, in fact, utter crap at keeping the rain off, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I am not a violent man, but I have found that the threat of deadly force is the most effective way of getting an author to name their favorite book. Oh, and let’s leave the Bible out of this, shall we? We are saved by grace, not works, Ms. Lyon, and the brownie points are not needed. Under the threat of untimely death, what is your answer?

It was the best of books,
it was the worst of books.
Sophronia: It is a good thing my collection of swords and knives is ready on the wall just behind me here, sir, and that I have a surprise or two hidden under my bustle as well, but I will answer out of courtesy and not fear. Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities is my favorite book, because Sidney Carton is the most amazing redemption story in all of literature: a brilliant but purposeless man prepared by love and personal sacrifice to abandon a life of drunken hopelessness and become a hero of epic proportions.

Brad: And your favorite author? Again, I apologize and I assure you that I feel dreadful, but I do owe certain answers to my inquisitive readers, and this is really the best way to procure this sort of information.

Sophronia: Charles Dickens. No one blends character, social concern, and suspense better.  

Brad: I’m a big fan of Dickens myself. Now, I would be remiss if I did not give you the opportunity to tell us what you’re working on currently. Please share!

If you judge books by their cover,
this one should already be
one of your favorites!
Sophronia: The ‘Pprentices, the Puppets, and the Pirate takes up the story of the Alexander Legacy Company from the point of view of Oliver Twist, as you have so cleverly discerned. We visit Nancy House, Oliver's training center for a new generation of mechanical geniuses. A sea monster will attack, Pinocchio will learn to obey a very different sort of Blue Fairy, and Long John Silver will risk his stealth air galleon, the Petite Papillion, in a quest for the energy source known as the Black Spot. Along the way there will be lessons about the nature of true rebirth and immortality.

Brad: Sounds very interesting, and I can honestly say that I’m looking very much forward to reading it.  I’ve got one last question. You are a self-published, independent author, Ms. Lyon. Aside from purchasing your books, how can  readers who enjoy your work best support you and other indie authors?

Sophronia: Keep an open mind and dig for your reading choices by the subjects you love, not just someone who made bestseller lists or has a famous name or a major publishing house. Be willing to take some time to search for books in your favorite genre and even outside your “comfort zone.” I have been so privileged, since I am a reader as well as a writer, to get to know many indie authors online and to hear about their books. I've read and enjoyed fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, historical, and even (shudder) contemporary romance. :-)

Our interview thus concluded, I thanked Sophronia for her time. She started asking questions about Mary and things in the future, but I politely declined to answer her, since we all know how this would have affected the space-time continuum. I did assure her that A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist was a runaway bestseller, however, and that it had already been picked up for a film adaptation starring Nicolas Cage. She accepted this without surprise, even though I was more or less exaggerating. I didn’t quite have the heart to tell her that her book, enjoyable as it is, was unlikely to achieve the popularity of sparkly vampire fanfic featuring excessive amounts of S&M sex and wooden writing. I didn’t think she would much appreciate this preview of the world to come.

I’m afraid that I cannot quite reveal the extent of my adventures before returning the machine to the Time Traveller. I may have taken her around the block once or twice. Suffice it to say that Marty McFly says hi. And so does Martha Jones. And George Carlin. And Jadzia Dax. One who traverses the bounds of time and space is in good company, you know.

"Hello, Sailor!"
And if that makes you want to have adventures of your own, one of the best suggestions I can make is to pick up your own copy of Sophronia’s book and dig in yourself.


  1. Sophronia thanks you, Brad, and demands to read some of your stuff as well, finding you to be a delightfully quirky writer!

    1. She was a delightful interviewee, and I mean that very sincerely. I hope she was pleased with it and that we can do it all again when the sequel comes out!