This week’s interview is with multi-genre author Sophia Beaumont.
Don’t like the podcast format? You can also view the podcast on YouTube. (Closed captions are available for the YouTube video.)
Transcripts done by CJ Clougherty, @PadfootPGH
Dianna: Hello, welcome to the Spoonie Author’s Podcast: a podcast where we explore a different disabled author’s stories each week. I am your host, Dianna Gunn, and joining us today is Sophia Beaumont. Sophia Beaumont is a knitwear designer, copy editor, sensitivity reader, and multi-genre author. She’s currently gearing up to re-release her historical fiction novel Off the Rails under the pen-name Sine Peril. Hello, Sophia!
Sophia: Hi! Um slight correction: I’m not re releasing that one, it’s already out.
Dianna: Ohhh, okay!
Sophia: It came out in October 2018. The book that I’m re-releasing in April is Dru Faust and the Devil’s Due
Dianna: Ooh, okay, for some reason I thought this was originally published under your usual author name, and that you were republishing and under the pen name.
Dianna: Well thank you for that correction. Tell us more about Off the Rails!
Sophia: Okay, so Off the Rails is a Civil War era murder mystery. It’s set just after peace is declared between the Union and Confederate armies, and it follows our main character whose name is Sophia (no I didn’t name her after myself *laughs*). She is actually of Irish descent, her parents immigrated from Ireland, and it’s a bad Anglicanization of her given name. What often happened with immigrant families is they would Anglicize their names, and she went to this fancy finishing school, and they said that she needed to be more American and less Irish. So they changed her name. Anyway: Sophia is living in upstate New York, her husband is a railroad baron, but they grew up poor because they were Irish. And when the war started he enlisted and joined the corp of engineers, and she is waiting for him to come home when he is murdered on the streets of Washington DC. And something is not sitting right with her about this from the very beginning, but when his ghost shows up, she knows that something is definitely wrong. So she sets out on this quest to solve his murder. And the book kind of follows her journey, um, there’s different things going on behind the scenes. We get to see her dealing with her grief and some of the family dramas that are going on. It’s a very special book to me.
Dianna: Let’s dive a little bit deeper into that grief: so you mentioned that she struggles with grief, and we have talked separately and you did say she also struggles with depression. How has writing this character helped you to process your own grief and depression?
Sophia: Sophia is very interesting in that, um, she’s one of the few characters that just talks in my head. It’s like having a person living in a little apartment in there. And she just talks to me constantly when I’m working on her books. And when I was writing her – I started this book for NaNoWriMo I think or just a little before that, and the following February my grandfather passed away. So as I was working on her book, I was also processing my own grief. And Sophia is not someone who sits there and, uh, uh what’s the word…I’m a professional author, I know the words! *laughs*. Um, she doesn’t wallow, usually. She’s like “You need to get up, you need to do something about this. If something doesn’t sit right with you, you need to find a way to fix it”. Um, so I do have depression, but I was also in a place of situational depression. So I also had outside factors that were influencing it. And she kind of encourages me to: you’ve got to make a change, you’ve got to do something about this, you’ve got to do something that is good for your own health, and do what feels right to you. Um. She’s a very aggressive persona *laughs*. She doesn’t appear that way, she’s very ladylike and everything but *audio distortion*
Dianna: *laughs* Sounds like my kind of leading lady!
Sophia: It’s a little bit quieter than I think people are looking for when they say “murder mystery”, but it’s the sublty that really makes her shine.
Dianna: Yeah! That makes sense. What was the most , uh, exciting part of writing this book? Was it getting to know this character that now just lives in your head?
Sophia: Oh yes! She was wonderful to get to know. And it was also super fun to write because when I lived in Ohio (I recently moved to Seattle), but when I lived in Ohio I was a historical reenactor (I volunteered for a museum), and this book was actually born out of a Halloween event that we do every year. It was really awesome to dress up in her kind of garb and go to the historical 1863 village and sort of put on her mask for a little while. And that’s probably one of the reasons why she talks so loud in my head.
Dianna: That makes sense. Tell me more about historical reenactments? That sounds like a lot of fun!
Sophia: It was! I miss it so much! I haven’t found any place local where I can do that. But I worked for, or volunteered with, The Ohio Historical Center. It’s in downtown Columbus. And they have a, um, reproduction village based on the early 1800s, and every few years they kind of update it. So when I first started there, they were doing Civil War, and then we worked through the years of the war, and then when I left we were doing 1890s. It’s different decades depending on when you go. There are events year round, but their main season is during the summer. But I played – when I left, I was playing a writer and social activist and I ran a suffrage union.
Dianna: So you were playing yourself, but back in time? *laughs*
Sophia: I mean, go with what you know, right?
Dianna: Yeah! Did you get to create your own characters then?
Sophia: You do. Um, they have classes that you take for all their volunteers, and they teach – um – 3rd person, not costumed, just to give you a basis of what the village is. And then they do 3rd person costumed, which is like “this is what they did in the 1860s”. And then they also do 1st person, and that’s “I lived in the 1890s, this is where I cook, this is where I go to do my laundry, this is how I live”. Um, but, it’s a really great program. I miss it so much.
Dianna: That sounds incredible! You would like to start one in Seattle, is what you’re saying.
Sophia: Yeah! I’ve heard of one that is quite a distance away from me, and I believe it is around a Native American community, which is just completely out of my wheelhouse. And I would like to learn more about it, but it’s not the sort of thing I could just dive into.
Dianna: Yeah, it’s something that you would want to participate in as a spectator first if anything. That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, we have a Pioneer Village here in the far far reaches of my city that I never ever go to because it’s so far away. It’s like it’s technically in the same city as me, but like it’s a real technicality.
Sophia: Yeah, I’ve been to some of those up in Canada, and they’re great. My mom is Quebecois, so we went to a bunch of the Quebec forts that have a living history there.
Dianna: That’s really awesome! So other than that (that obviously fed into it) , what other research did you do? Historical fiction is fascinating to me, but also really intimidating.
Sophia: Uh, so the hardest part of the research for that is that when you research the Civil War, a lot of it is like the battlefront stuff. And it’s the same thing with like World War I and World War II, any time you have these big battles they’re concentrating on things like who the generals were and what the troop movements were and I’m like: I don’t … I don’t care about that. *laughs* I want to know what the women were doing on the homefront, how they were surviving and how they were coping with all that. So I was reading a lot of women’s magazines from the period, and I learned a from learning their handcrafts. I’m a knitting designer, I also sew, I’m also into steampunk, I was looking into what the actual history was as opposed to what the history could be, and kind of meeting it in the middle sometimes. I’m actually very particular, like when I’m reading straight historical fiction, I want straight historical fiction. *laughs* Um, there’s actually a book that I can’t really talk about too much, but it’s set during World War – I’m sorry not World War I, it’s in the 1920s, and I spent about 4 days researching what kind of asthma medication this character would have been on. And the one I had wanted to use was not completely right with the time period, it was off by like 2 years I think? So I was diving into what else she’d be on, that compound hadn’t been discovered yet, this one was already illegal, and Ash (my sister) was just like, “You’re writing steamPUNK, change it!!”. *laughs*
Dianna: Yes, I – I love that. But it’s also – I find medicine from the 18 and 19 hundreds and really throughout all of history utterly fascinating.
Sophia: Oh, yeah!
Dianna: When I was in England, I went to this really cool place that was like this manor that at one point was converted into a hospital during World War I. And they had a whole hospital ward set up like it would have been that on each different bed had a different ailment and like details on how they would treat that ailment. Some of that stuff is really gruesome and really complicated. I think I remember – if I’m remembering correctly – they even had like a inhaler, and it was this like weird clunky huge ceramic thing.
Sophia: Oh my God have you seen, um…it was a very early insulin pump, I think? And it looks like a jetpack from the 1950s?
Sophia: Yeah! So I have this series on my blog called “Would This Kill Me in the 1800s?” and I look at things that are very pedestrian today like autism, diabetes, I’ve done, thyroid disorder, gallstones, kind of stuff. Things that today it’s like oh, you get a diagnosis or take a pill or you have some sort of a treatment and you’re usually better. And – and looking up: would any of us be alive? *laughs* For example in 1880s I did one where you were Type 1 diabetic, you probably were dead by the time you were 14/15.
Sophia: And it wouldn’t have been pretty. In the 1950s and 60s, that’s when they really started having breakthroughs so that people could start living semi normal lives. If you can consider calling a giant metal backpack normal. *laughs.
Dianna: Yeah, well, that’s debatable. And you know, this reminds me of (and your blog series reminds me) of a YouTuber I follow: Hannah Witton, and she has this whole apocalypse theory which is if you’re trying to figure out if you’re disabled or not the question is would you survive the apocalypse? And if not, you’re disabled.
Sophia: I would be so dead. *laughs*
Dianna: I’m really on the fence. I feel like I might technically be alive, but it would not be a good time. I think that’s a really interesting way of framing things and of framing research to cuz you know if you were to write a post apocalyptic fiction, chances are you’d probably be going back to technology level that’s sort of similar to like seventy eighty hundred years ago. Yeah, and so, oh God this is just turning into a medical history podcast. Um, I am utterly fascinated. I could go on for days.
Sophia: Same here.
Dianna: Was there – did you end up doing any of that kind of research specifically for Off the Rails?
Sophia: Um, I’m trying to remember. It’s been about 3 or 4 years since I actually did the writing process of it, so I’m trying to remember now. I don’t think I did too much medical research for specifically. I did do a little bit: one of the other characters that she deals with , he is injured at the same time her husband is killed, he is disabled after that. So I was looking at what kind of injury he could have. I didn’t really want him to be an amputee because that would be too much of a disability for what I needed him to be able to accomplish. He does still have his leg, and that is mostly because he tried to choke the doctor. *laughs*
Dianna: That is…that is some great backstory
Sophia: I don’t think he ever actually tells her that, but that’s actually what happened. That is why he didn’t lose his leg.
Dianna: So what I’m seeing here is a prequel novella. *laughs* This guy just sounds amazing.
Sophia: No, it may come up in the second book, which is one of the things that I want to write this year. It was originally on my list to write in 2019, but right around the time that Off the Rails came out is when I got my diagnosis. And I’d been pretty ill for several months leading up to that, so I basically took 2019 off to recover. Basically, I don’t remember anything from like July when I started getting ill, through about mid February.
Dianna: That’s horrifying.
Sophia: Yeah it was pretty bad.
Dianna: Well I’m glad to hear that things are better now and it sounds like you are back to writing. You’ve got several exciting projects in the rings.
Sophia: I’m trying to narrow it down right now. That’s the hard part. *laughs*
Dianna: I understand that. And it’s easy when you’re writing a series because you’ve got to write the next book in the series. Unless you’re working on multiple series at the same time, but I’ve never figured out how writers do that. That seems completely insane to me.
Sophia: Well right now I’ve got a story that I’m writing for my Patreon. It’s a contemporary set fantasy series, it’s basically like Harry Potter if Harry was a girl. And then I’ve got my release that comes out in April, which is a 1920s sort of Nancy Drew, and that’s coming out under the Sophia Beaumont name. Um, and then I need to get through several editing projects. And I need to get to the next book in Cassandra’s series so she will leave me alone. I’ve basically got this apartment complex in my brain. And you know when you live in an apartment everybody’s always so nosey. You find out so much about your neighbors just by what goes through the walls. I know that my upstairs neighbor really likes movies and has a toddler, and they were arguing about something at 10 last night. So you can always hear them arguing “This is my turn, you need to back off!”
Dianna: Your walls are clearly thinner than mine. *laughs* That’s what I have learned today. Your walls are thinner than mine.
Dianna: That sucks. But that’s really good for eavesdropping, which can help writers develop better dialogue. *laughs*
Sophia: Yeah, I’ve definitely worked in dialogue where I like, mis overheard something and it came out really random and funny.
Dianna: Absolutely. So I’m going to try to reel us back a little bit back to the topic of disability. I’d like to ask how you feel about the current state of representation, and how you would like to see disability representation change in the next few years. In all media, not just books.
Sophia: Um, I think that it’s gotten a lot better. So I grew up with somebody who is disabled: my mother is visually impaired. She lives out in the middle of nowhere. I’m her seeing eye daughter, and I’m also her GPS system. She has no sense of direction because she has no depth perception basically. I’m her global positioning guide. I was leading her around. So I think that when you’re in more urban areas like Toronto, like Seattle, like Columbus, you have more access to things for disability stuff. We don’t have a lot. We don’t have a lot of, sidewalks, public transit sucks –
Dianna: You don’t have sidewalks?
Sophia: No. If you’re downtown yeah. If you’re in a wealthy neighborhood, yeah. But if you’re in just a normal suburb area, nope. Anything that was built after like, 1950 I think, they didn’t really add sidewalks. It’s awful.
Dianna: That’s insane.
Sophia: Yeah. If you’re in an urban area, you have a lot more access.
Dianna: I mean there are places where there isn’t sidewalk on one side, but they’re isolated areas. To have that be the norm is really strange to me.
Sophia: That’s how they keep the poor people out of the good neighborhoods..
Dianna: I – You’re not wrong. *laughs*
Sophia: Yeah. So if you’re in an urban area, you do have a lot more access. This is something my mother struggled with when I was younger, and what she’s struggling with right now. Um – they have a service where she can get rides called Madison Rides, but or my mother to go 3 miles to the place where she works would be $35 each way. *laughs* Um. So I’d like to see more help for people in her situations, who are a little more further out and don’t have as much support in the way people in cities do. This is something I’ve been thinking about since I was 11 or 12, like how can we make this happen? And I still don’t have an answer. But I think that’s something that needs to change, and I like that we see more disability and mental illness and chronic illness and just general improvement in representation, but we need to work on gatekeepers in editing. We need to work on editors and agents and publishing leads and marketing people. It can’t all just be cis white people who are in perfect health. It can’t work that way because that’s not what the majority is. We need to work on balancing things more and helping each other out. There was a huge personality shift when I moved from Columbus to Seattle because there’s so much more visibility here. You’ll see someone with a guide dog or a service dog or using a visual impairment cane. You never saw people with disabilities out and about in Columbus. It just didn’t happen because they couldn’t get anywhere! They’d need somebody with a van take them, or some other special service. But here it’s just “we help people because that’s the right thing to do”. And that has been a huge improvement for both my mental and physical health since I came here. Not to go off on a rant about Columbus. *laughs*
Dianna: Well I’m glad that the move seems to be working out for you. That would be a hell of a move to go through for it to backfire.
Sophia: That was an awful move.
Dianna: What about in terms of actual media? Is there anything specific that you want to see more of? Or is it just that attitude that you want to see more of, that helping disabled people is the right thing to do, and see that expressed?
Sophia: I think I just want to see more of that attitude. We’re here and have it be a common thing. Like if we’re watching a cop drama and one of the characters says “Excuse me, I have to go check my blood sugar”. Or someone who says “I have to step away to go do this”. Or have someone who is visually different in some way. There’s a new show on Hulu that I’m waiting to see what the autistic community says about it. It’s “Everything’s Going to be Okay”. It’s about an autistic main character, a young woman who has just lost her father. I’m really excited to see it, it looks hilarious, but I’m kind of waiting to see what the autism community says about it. Like with “Atypical”, there was a lot of backlash because the actor is not autistic, they played to a very specific stereotype, most of the cast is not on the spectrum, and when the production company was questioned about it their response was basically: autistic people don’t play autism well.
Dianna: Was that their actual response?
Sophia: Well, it wasn’t verbatim, I’m paraphrasing here.
Dianna: I hope so!
Sophia: This neurotypical actor plays autism the best. *laughs*
Dianna: That…yeah, that is really frustrating. I’ve heard a lot of very mixed things about that show. I would say generally the opinions from the autistic community have been negative. But I have definitely seen some contrary opinions as well. There’s a lot of mixed feelings as well.
Sophia: A lot comes down to your experience and your own personal opinion. But I don’t have an autism diagnosis, and I don’t want to be supporting anything that is damaging that community.
Dianna: I think that as consumers of media, it would make such a big difference if we all consciously thought that, and had that understanding of “I don’t want to do harm, and I don’t want to support media that does harm.
Sophia: Actually in a lot of my books it came up: I ended up having Native American characters. It’s not necessarily something I really set out to do, but with the kind of story I’m writing it does make sense. I started asking my readers what charity they wanted me to donate to. I donate 5% of my profits every year to charity. The last two years they voted for the Navajo Water project, which gives water and electricity to some of the most marginalized people. About 40% of them don’t have access to electricity. Most of them don’t have access to things like garbage pick up and hospitals. There is very limited law enforcement, and what is available is not necessarily there to protect them. So this is something that we do to improve their lives and to make things safer and more sanitary for them. But even though I’’m trying to get more involved and draw attention to that – that’s one of the reasons I don’t want to get involved in the Native American living history scene with that museum. I don’t know enough about that experience for it. I want to lift the voices that do have that experience.
Dianna: Absolutely! It’s such an important thing. We are disabled, but as white people we do have a certain amount of privilege. It is our responsibility, in my opinion at least, to use that to lift up voices that are trampled over. I really dislike the phrasing of “voice for the voiceless” I’ve found it to be inherently problematic phrasing, because it’s assuming that the people don’t have a voice, which is just flat out wrong.
Sophia: You don’t want to be their voice, you want to be their microphone.
Dianna: They have a voice, they’re not being heard. Half the reason I started this podcast is to help people who aren’t usually being heard, be heard.
Sophia: I’m lucky that I had a very privileged upbringing. I can’t remjember where I found it but there’s this check your provlege test that you can take online, and it scores you in percentage points and tells you where you are from cis white male all the way down to um, you know black or brown, immigration, gives you a ranking scale. And when I was younger I started up here. My dad was in the fire service, we were a middle class family in a nice house, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve spent my entire adult life in poverty. I’ve struggled with mental illness. I’ve, you know, been diagnosed with a chronic illness. I’ve just slid slowly down the scale. It’s like the worst playground slide ever.
Dianna: Yeah that’s, uh, an all too common experience in today’s messy world of late stage capitalism. But, yanno, we can be out there supporting each other and pushing for things to be better, and maybe it won’t work but at least we did something with all this anxious energy, right?
Sophia: We can at least try. It keeps me from going completely insane. I mean I’m already half way there.
Dianna: We are both writers, so that’s already…
Sophia: I’ve already mentioned the apartment building in my head, and the random people who talk to me. *laughs*
Dianna: Yeah! Um, alright, well this has been an amazing conversation, and I think we need to wrap it up. It is getting to that time. So where can people find out more about you and your work?
Sophia: I think probably the best place is my website/blog which is knotmagickknitter.wordpress.com
Dianna: That is knot with a k and magick with a k at the end.
Sophia: You can also find me as knotmagick on Twitter. Um, I Tweet a lot of random opinions, funny stuff, a lot of cat pictures. If you’re not so comfortable with swearing, check out my Instagram. Let’s be real, that’s what we all use Instagram for: cat pictures.
Dianna: I’ve started actually using Instagram as a place to record, but really I can only read so fast. I can take so many pictures of my cats. And other people take pictures of my cats and send them to me because…they’re cats!
Sophia: I did that Dolly Parton challenge with my cat, because I was like there’s no way I’m putting pictures of myself on there. Also I don’t have Facebook or Tinder so why?
Dianna: Well, thank you so much for this lovely conversation. It has been a delight to have you. Have a wonderful rest of your day, and good luck with all of your upcoming projects!
Sophia: Thank you! It was great to see you. *laughs*
Dianna: Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Spoonie Author’s Podcast. The Spoonie Author’s Podcast is part of the Spoonie Author’s Network: a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people on what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoonie Author’s Network Blog. And of course if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave a 5 star on your favorite podcast streaming platform.