Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mary C. Findley, The Baron, His Ring, and This Interview

If you're looking at Glaring
Tristan, that's the wrong part
of the cover.
Mary C. Findley is a talented author. I don’t know how you could deny that. She writes solid, engaging books—period. Judging her novel The Baron’s Ring by its cover (yeah, I’m a rebel), I wasn’t even particularly interested in reading what looked to be maybe a historical romance. The truth is that the only
thing I should be looking at on the cover is the author’s name—and if it says Mary C. Findley, I think it’s probably well worth reading!

Actually, my appreciation for this author should come as no surprise. I gave a glowing endorsement to one of her other books a few months ago, a delightful steampunk novel called The ‘Pprentices, the Puppets, and the Pirates, and I still recommend that to pretty much everyone no matter what your favorite genres. Mary has taught me that steampunk is secret author code for awesome.

“Wait a second!” you may gasp in astonishment. “I read that glowing endorsement and recall the author’s name as if it were my own. Was it Mary C. Findley? No, Sir, it was not, for it was Sophronia Belle Lyon if I’m a day older than three!”

First of all: um, that was a really weird way of saying that. I mean, I love you readers, you know that, but sometimes you can be really weird.

On the left, we have Mary C. Findley. On the right, we have
Sophronia Belle Lyon. I'm not crazy. You see the
resemblance too, right?
Secondly, now that I have had the chance to sit down and chat with them both, I am able to blow the lid off this conspiracy: Sophronia Belle Lyon is a pen name for Mary C. Findley! It’s true. JK Rowling has Robert Galbraith, Stephen King has Richard Bachman, Samuel Clemens had Mark Twain, and Mary C. Findley has Sophronia Belle Lyon! Scandalous, huh?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Okay, so Mary C. Findley is a great writer. Sophronia Belle Lyon is a great writer. If the latter is a pen name for the former, does that in fact mean that every great writer out there is in fact a pseudonymous Mary C. Findley!?

Well, no. I think that’s going too far. But I’ll be sure to unearth any others I find out there, okay?

The Baron’s Ring is the story of a prince named Tristan, whose boorish, belligerent and blasphemous brother Dunstan is heir to the throne of Parangor. When his brother ascends to the kingship, many urge Tristan to leave the area to build a decent life for himself, instead of staying in his brother’s shadow and being bullied constantly, but Tristan sees an obligation to remain and do his best to shield the kingdom from the new King’s idiocy and cruelty (never a great combination).

This is the river that takes Tristan, I think.
God has other plans, however. In a fight with Dunstan, Tristan is drawn into a ferocious current and drawn down the river, surviving only by the grace of God. He wakes to find himself countless miles from his home kingdom, in a small village far removed from the splendor of the palace. With no possible way back home, Tristan is forced to begin anew with nothing but his faith, his work ethic and, like Blanche DuBois, the kindness of strangers. Of course, a man of God cannot rest in this fallen world, and Tristan soon finds himself fighting against small town cruelty, lies, deception and even sex trafficking.

This should come as no surprise to fans of Findley, but the book is greater than sum of its blurb. Grand, important things come to pass before the end, but much joy is found in the journey, as the author deftly draws the reader into Tristan’s struggles and triumphs. At its most basic, this is the story of a man who trusts God even when life doesn’t go as he expects, who learns to work, thrive and love far from home, standing against evil at every opportunity. The author classifies it as a fantasy but, really, any fantastic elements are very light. The kingdoms and geography may be invented, but this could easily be historical fiction instead.

My only quibble—and it’s one I’ve made before when discussing Mary/Sophronia’s work—is that I feel the author is much better at writing love stories in which the relationship is already established than she is at writing about new love. Once the central couple in this story have a bit of history, their romance is sweet, genuine and enjoyable to read. Up until that point, however, it simply takes me right out of the story. It’s the
Another minor quibble is that no one even uses
this pickup line. It totally fits.
concept of love at first sight but it’s really taken to extremes, to the point where it seems like her characters tend to get hitched after a handful of conversations (if that). Now, the marriage in this book happens under peculiar circumstances—although I’m still not entirely sure that I fully get the rationale even now—but the romance itself was telegraphed from chapter two. For me, the initial romance in this book just sticks out like a sore thumb, because I find it so dissatisfying amidst a story that is otherwise a treat to read. I don’t tend to read romances anyway, but I think that’s the only genre that Mary writes that I wouldn’t be willing to read.

All in all, however, that’s a minor problem with a very well-written book. And, as I said, the romance is satisfying at later stages in the relationship—so it shouldn’t be much of a deterrent to any reader.

All right. That’s enough of me talking. I’ve got Mary C. Findley herself in the hotbox today and, as always, I think she makes for a very good interview subject. But don’t take my word for it...

Brad: Hi, Mary. You know, I’m sure I’ve never interviewed you before but you do look rather familiar. There was this steampunk author I interviewed once in Victorian London, Sophronia Belle Lyon. If I’m not
Sounds like we need more proof, huh?
Well, I uncovered this early version of
the cover for A Dodge, a Twist, and a
...and look whose name was
originally put on it! Exactly!
mistaken, she’s, um, you. Care to comment?

Mary: Cousins have told me that I resemble my grandmother a good deal. She was a beautiful lady. Thank you for the compliment. 

Brad: No, see, I already did my investigative reporter bit and blew the lid off your pen name. You don’t need to deny it! Anyway, you’ve certainly penned a wide range of published work—so many, in fact, that you need two author names to fit them all! What genres or topics have you tackled? Do you have a favorite to write in or a favorite book you’ve written?

Mary: I have written historical fiction, fantasy, scifi, contemporary, issues non-fiction and homeschool curriculum. Plus on our blog I write Bible Studies and stuff about writing. My favorite work is probably Chasing the Texas Wind, which is probably my most historical book.

Brad: I think the freedom to pursue whatever genre you desire is one of the nice things about being an indie author. Whereas a traditional publisher might want to force you into your most lucrative box, we can go wherever the muse (or the Lord) takes us. What’s the connection, if any, between what you like to write and which of your books are most popular? For example, do you feel pressure to prioritize Sophronia’s Alexander Legacy series because all the blogmasters at my blog are demanding it, or do you simply write whatever you feel inclined to write?

Mary: One cannot prioritize Sophronia. She is an entity unto herself. I can barely approach her to beg for more Steampunk, and the whole time machine thing is so blasted awkward. In the meantime, my bestselling book happens to be the historical fiction southwestern romance Send a White Rose

Brad: Man! I need to start writing historical fiction southwestern romances! Ah, but then I couldn’t keep up this sexy starving artist look. But can we go a bit deeper into this, perhaps? Send a White Rose is your
"Starving" being a relative term.
bestselling book. Does that popularity have any bearing on what you decide to write next? Do you want to revisit that genre - or even that specific story with a sequel - either to capitalize on your success, or to please your fans? That's really what I'm trying to ask here: as a prolific author who writes in many different genres and churns out books pretty quickly (at least, compared to me, who has been working on my new novel since May 2012 and it isn’t even quite out yet), is success/the vocal desires of critics or your fanbase given any say in what you turn your attention to?

Mary: It’s kind of misleading to say I churn out books quickly. I’ve actually been writing seriously since the early 80s. My historical fiction books are just beginning to get readers, but it’s a stretch to call them “fans” because I have gotten very few reviews or feedback. In fact, I have a free sample of Send a White Rose that’s gotten a bunch of hate-reviews, not just because it’s only a sample, but saying that it’s disorganized and the story is impossible to follow. I don’t know if those are trolls, but between those reviews and the few I’ve gotten on the full books, I don’t see anyone clamoring for sequels. I had in mind a whole series of romantic historicals spinning off characters from Send a White Rose, but those bits and pieces have never come together into anything finished. Perhaps it’s just as well.

The Alexander Legacy books are a different story – sorry about the pun – for a couple of reasons that I can discern. One, I have discovered a real personal passion by combining elements I already loved –
I fail to see why steampunk isn't more mainstream. Who doesn't
want to decorate their place like this??
historical, scifi, and classic characters. Two, I have just begun to seriously try to market, and this series has become the focus of my efforts. I used the KDP Select program to launch the first book, which I had never considered doing before.

Still, the results seemed disappointing, though I admit it is a very niche genre. After giving away over 1600 copies of the first book, it has about 13 reviews. I had hoped the second book would achieve something at least comparable but that hasn’t materialized. People have said kind and encouraging things but I still don’t see a “fanbase” developing.

So, in answer to the original question, I write what I want to, and I hope what God wants, because at this point, I have no success to point to, really, or fans to please, present company excepted.

Brad: What, so I’m your only fan? Hey, I’ll take it. I’ve never felt like such a hipster before! Liking something before it’s popular. I’ll try not to turn on you and call you a sellout when the books start flying off the shelves. Let’s turn our attention to The Baron’s Ring. You responded to an open invitation to authors to come and do an interview (which was rather sneaky since I’ve already interviewed you once before—but as Sophronia!) and specifically requested I read this book in preparation. According to one listing, it looks like The Baron’s Ring was originally published in 2010. It’s not new, and you’re pretty prolific. So why this book?
Mary: "Eenie-meenie-minie-moe..."

Mary: I don’t know why you persist in the delusion that Sophronia and I are the same person. I told you she’s my grandmother. Back in her heady single days as a French-descended ingénue she was capable of cranking out the most astonishing stuff.

Anyway, regarding The Baron’s Ring, I have been obsessed for a long time with writing about *spoiler alert* blind characters. I wanted to explore many common themes I have read or heard about, how people adapt, what they can and cannot do, and that was my main purpose in writing this story.

Brad: Ah! Are we giving up the blind thing? Okay, readers. We are giving up the blind thing. It’s cool. Like most stories, the “twist” is not even a primary reason to read—it’s the entire journey that is to be savored. The Baron’s Ring tells the story of Prince Tristan, a beleaguered young man who overcomes adversity when he gets separated from his kingdom through his faith in God and his strong character. Are there any specific influences—TV, film, books, cereal boxes, etc.—that helped inspire Tristan, the world you created or the story itself?

And this is what Dunstan looks like in the 1985
adaptation of Silas Marner starring Sir Ben Kingsley.
Therefore, this must be Dunstan!
Mary: The female protagonist in the story, Mayra, is named after a sweet, spunky, tiny, Ecuadorian lady I worked with, and Mayra’s character is somewhat like her real-life counterpart. Princely brothers who have a contentious relationship is also a pretty common theme, but I wanted the twist that the younger brother really didn’t have any designs to take over the kingdom. He was the good guy, just trying to help his people. Tristan is a classic Germanic character name, and Dunstan, Tristan’s bullying older brother, was named after and resembles the wicked younger brother in George Eliot’s Silas Marner.

Brad: Isn’t it fun, slipping little allusions to our favorite works into our books? I think it’s fun! Bear with me on this next question. There seems to be a thread running through your books I have read of very...unbalanced romance. The romance in this book—and I really don’t think I’m spoiling anything because it’s pretty obvious from the moment the love interest is introduced early on—is between Tristan, who is about 27 if I followed everything correctly, and 13-year-old Mayra. In addition to the age difference, Tristan is definitely in an authority position over the girl, who calls him “Master-Teacher.” This brought back memories of A Dodge, a Twist and a Tobacconist. I’m not sure that there was a drastic age difference between Prince Florizel, the narrator of that book, and his favorite gal, but I personally found it a bit creepy,
Spoiler alert: the central couple in Mary's next book!
as their romantic relationship blossomed, how she would frequently call him “father in Christ.” I understand the reasoning behind the term, since Florizel was used by the Holy Spirit in her conversion, but it creeped me out the more romance entered the picture. In any case, it seems to me like you may be drawn toward romance between older men in authority and younger girls in subservient roles. If I promise I won’t advertise this interview with Twitter hashtags like #feminism or #NOW, will you talk a little about this trend?

Mary: To get Florizel and Visha Kanya/Kera Mion out of the way, since you will go on talking about those Steampunk books of my grandmother’s as if I had something to do with them (I’m starting to get a complex), Florizel is in his early thirties, and Visha/Kera is in her early twenties. It’s not a huge age difference.

At the end of The Baron’s Ring, Tristan is 30 and Mayra is 16, and they have been married about 3 years. I don’t think that’s a huge age difference. In the book, he does fall in love with her very early on, but he is a perfect gentleman and does not even agree with the forced marriage at first. The marriage is forced because Mayra absolutely required the protection of a husband and a nobleman or something far worse would happen to her than has already happened.

There is a long and ancient tradition of older men marrying younger women. Usually this is because the man is a protector and provider and it makes sense for him to be more mature. Since we are speaking frankly, I had another reader say I should have at least made Tristan wait to consummate the marriage until Mayra was older, but the truth is that a marriage is based on physical intimacy both as an emotional binding together of the parties, and from a social and legal standpoint in the eyes of the world around them.

I like to write stories that contain an element of romance, but I am not a stomach-flipper, crying all the time, helpless-female-needs-to-get-her-a-man kind of romance writer. I use offbeat kinds of romances to shake up the genre so I can focus on other things besides the mushy stuff.

Brad: I know I’m imposing my modern perspective onto these historical stories, and I shouldn’t. As someone who’s worked with high school and jr. highers over the years and has had a close relationship with many, the idea of them in a sexual relationship with a 30-year-old adult just turns my stomach, regardless of the realities about it. Another trend I’ve noticed in your writing is that the bad guys tend to dabble at least some in sex trafficking. That’s a major theme in Sophronia’s Legacy Company novels and comes into play here, albeit on a much smaller scale, when one character is forced into prostitution. I’m not trying to pry, but you do have a personal connection to this topic? Is that why it resurfaces so often in your work?

It works well as a metaphor, but can we also agree how disgusting
it is as a non-metaphor? I think we can.
Mary: I do not have any personal connection with this issue. Sexual sins and the dominance of one person over another through sex is personally important to me, however. Sophronia and I write about this because secular society keeps trying to overthrow all our sensitivities about morality and right conduct. So many books and movies say that breaking down sexual barriers is the right thing to do. Sexual slavery is a metaphor for me of the many kinds of “in-God’s-face sins” that have no regard for privacy, intimacy, or right sexual relationships. “You are a thing to be used” is a quote from The ‘Pprentices, the Puppets, and the Pirates that kind of sums up this attitude.

Brad: Interesting. I can see how the metaphor works. Midway through the book, a major event leaves Tristan with a significant disability. Since you already mentioned it, we can talk openly, but tell me, was it your intention to inflict blindness on your main character from the beginning? If not, at what point did you become aware that his life was about to dramatically change?

Of course, as writers, we know we cannot ever
aspire to the greatest description of blindness
in literature, but we can still try.
Mary: Yes, it was my intention from the beginning to make Tristan become blind. Being blind forces a person to re-examine how he interacts with his entire world, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s a fascinating thing I wanted to personally study in depth. 

Brad: As you know, I have a blind character in my Magi Chronicles series of Christian fantasy books, and like Tristan, he has what many would consider to be a sharp disadvantage but doesn’t permit it to be so. But let’s talk a bit about you now. I suppose maybe we’ve already asked Sophronia some of my standard questions, but maybe yours’ll be different. First up: what do you perceive to be your greatest strength as an author? Your greatest weakness?

Mary: Sometimes I think what makes me stronger as a writer is having to put aside what I prefer to write and work on things that hone my craft but don’t get me giddy. Being an editor for other writers has forced me to
Yes, she's also an editor, but we don't have to hold
that against her (except when she's editing OUR
work, at which time we may hate her with a passion).
think about how to say things not just good, not just better, but in the best possible way. Working on nonfiction projects with my husband has also made me defer what is more fun to write in favor of what is useful and needed. My weaknesses are that I don’t like to research or work hard to flesh out the details in my writing.

Brad: Although I disagree strongly with the implication that fun fiction cannot also be “useful and needed,” it’s smart to use whatever you can to better your craft. Everything I’ve read by you has had strong Christian themes. Have you ever, or will you ever, write something that’s purely secular? Why or why not?

Mary: I write to glorify God. That sounds very saintly, but I really feel like the numerous Scriptures that describe the fire that burns inside you when you keep silent or try to suppress it, or the “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel” feeling. I have to write about God, His Word, and His truth. I need to get it out, and people need to get it into them. 

Brad: It does sound saintly, sure—but maybe that’s just because it’s hard to get our priorities straight. As you know, I take the same viewpoint with my books. Can you talk about what you’re working on currently? I believe I’ve heard rumors of revisiting Victorian England once again with the Alexander Legacy books, unless I’m mistaken. Will we ever revisit Prince Tristan and his kingdom, or is this strictly a standalone novel?

Mary: Here you go, bringing up Sophronia’s stuff again. Sluefoot Sue has already begun to reminisce  about how Bill became confined to a wheelchair, and to prepare for the Legacy Company’s journey to Africa in search of the Demon of the Desert. I am not sure England is even on the itinerary.

I have a sequel in mind for The Baron’s Ring. It is called The Builder of Kolt’Kutan and takes up the story of Catarain, a man who must learn that God can forgive anyone but that our past can make our present very, very hard to live through, especially if we have a hard time forgiving ourselves.

Sometimes I feel like I should
hide the evidence better.
Brad: Well, you know I’m on board for whatever. And now it’s that time in our program where we look our guest in the eye, thank them sincerely for coming, and threaten to inflict them with grievous bodily harm if they do not answer my questions satisfactorily. You might remember when we did this before back in London when you were pretending to be Sophronia Belle Lyon. I don’t have much to threaten you with though, Mary. Just a poisoned hairpin, that’s all. Of course, the poison is certainly fatal if happens to prick you, but play nice and you’ll be okay. Leaving out any works God-breathed, will you please name for me your favorite book? When I asked Sophronia this, she told me Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, and I sincerely hope you’re not a copycat because that would be dull.

Mary: Watership Down by Richard Adams is the most realistic piece of fiction I’ve ever read. It’s such a perfect commentary on humanity, such a rich, full world of faith, courage, cowardice, selfishness, playfulness, cunning, and every possible variation of kinds of people. And yet, there is the realistic detail about the nature of rabbits thrown in there that makes it so amazing. Solid plotting, wonderful characters, conflict and resolution – It could be a writing textbook.

Brad: All that, plus bunnies! I’m sure you’ll be relieved to learn that I felt the poisoned hairpin a bit too subtle. If you glance upward, you’ll notice that you’re sitting directly beneath a mechanical shark being ridden by an author-eating grizzly bear. So that’s pretty dangerous. Remembering that you cannot steal Sophronia’s
I thought it was just a normal grizzly
bear, you'll notice
no one's heard from JD Salinger
in a while...
answer of Charles Dickens, please tell me your favorite author, and I’ll keep the creatures at bay.

Mary: If you had a mechanical shark and an author-eating grizzly bear I doubt you would be able to keep them from coming after you, since their function apparently is to go after authors and both those species are notoriously difficult to control. So I dismiss them as imaginary. Still, I will share that I have three favorite poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Browning, and Rudyard Kipling.

Brad: I resent the idea that I am lying about my scary monsters! I am nothing if not honest when death is on the line! One last question—and thank you very much for your time, as always—and this one goes to your career as an independent author. I certainly hope that many of our readers go check out The Baron’s Ring. I certainly enjoyed it. But, aside from purchasing your work, how can readers best support you and other indie authors like yourself?

Mary: I have been taking my own advice on this answer, so I can give it without a trace of hypocrisy. Read books out of your normal genre of choice, and out of your “favorite author” zone. And write a review that helps both the readers and the author. If you believe the book was worth your time to finish, you can take the time to share it and give the author a “leg-up” with other readers.

Wonderful advice—oh, it’s me, Brad, again—and it reminds me of how I’ve urged readers of all types to read your Alexander Legacy books, even if they have no idea what steampunk is. But, honestly, readers, I don’t think you can go wrong with one of Mary’s books. In case you missed it earlier, you can of course pick up The Baron’s Ring for yourself. As of the posting of this interview, the Kindle version is only $.99—and it’s worth much more! And if this isn’t your normal genre? Well, aren’t you listening? Get out of your comfort zone and discover (and if you really don’t want to...chances are Mary’s written something that is up your alley!).

Thanks for swinging by, readers. I’ll see you later.


  1. I'm so sorry I didn't comment before Brad, but this interview was so positive, and so charming! Thank you so much! Sharing it around again!