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R.A. Steffan : “I needed to create my own Musketeers world”
R.A. Steffan is the American author of The Queen’s Musketeers which comprises two novels: Books 1 to 3 and Book 4.
Why did you decide to write books based on Dumas’ musketeers stories?
This one is easy. I was a fan fiction writer long before I turned professional, and fell in love almost immediately with the BBC Musketeers TV series. It didn't take long before I was inspired to write stories for the show. For some reason, that particular fandom is blessed with some truly spectacular writers, and had a very vibrant fan culture in which I was quite active.
One day, it occurred to me that Dumas' work is in the public domain, and as long as I was careful to differentiate my work from the BBC version, there was absolutely nothing stopping me from publishing my own Musketeers stories professionally. So I did!
From there, I went on to publish other completely original works, but Dumas' musketeers were my "gateway drug," so to speak. My transition from writing fan fiction to writing original fiction.
So, what you are saying is that your musketeers’ stories are really inspired by the BBC series, and not by Dumas’ books? Did you read those at a later stage?
Like most American schoolchildren, I read The Three Musketeers as a child, and re-read it in college for my own enjoyment. I also saw the 1970s Hollywood movies (my mother loves those), and a couple of other adaptations. However, I never became passionate about the musketeers until the BBC television show. And, yes, it was the darker tone of the show that inspired The Queen's Musketeers. Because why go a little bit dark when you can go REALLY dark instead?
Why and how did you come up with this idea of setting up your musketeers stories in an alternate History?
The answer to this question stems from the answer to the previous question, really. I wanted to keep the gritty, true-to-life feel of the BBC series, so different from many of the lighthearted previous adaptations. However, it was very important that I not infringe on the BBC's copyright in any way by using aspects that were original to the TV show, like Milady having killed Athos' brother, or Porthos growing up an orphan in the Court of Miracles, and so forth.
I needed to create my own Musketeers world. So I listed all the things I wanted to have happen. I wanted Athos and Milady to be together. I wanted d'Artagnan to be beaten down, psychologically distressed and in desperate need of a "family." I wanted him to have a happily-ever-after romance with Constance. I wanted there to be a quest to save France from some terrible fate.
So I started researching 17th century history. What could throw Europe into disarray to the point that a Queen and her royal guard were reduced to being friendless fugitives? What could destroy the economy and tear families apart? As it happens, there was, in fact, a resurgence of the Black Death in the early 1600s. It was mostly confined to Spain and Italy, and it burned itself out rather rapidly. But what would have happened if the disease underwent a tiny little mutation that made it more deadly, and took a tiny little hop into the rest of Europe?
Destruction. Despair. The near-collapse of civilization.
Once I had the catalyst, it was merely a matter of following the trail of might-have-beens. Queen Anne miscarried for the second time in 1631 after falling from a horse. What if she had not? What if Louis XIII succumbed to the plague while in exile? What if Isabella of Savoy had been widowed, and married the Duke d'Orleans, producing an heir? With his amazing talent for surviving different regimes, which side would Cardinal Richelieu have supported publicly? Which would he have supported privately?
And so The Queen's Musketeers was born. It remains far and away the most carefully researched thing I have ever written, and it was exhausting to write. That said, I'm proud of what I produced, even though it enjoyed no commercial or financial success. It taught me that I could write novel-length works, that I could write books in a series, and that people (though sadly not as many of them as I would have liked) would pay money for things that I had written.
For those reasons, even if I never sell another copy, it will have been worth the time and effort I invested in it.
Why did you make so little use of this musketeers’ world you created in your Book 4?
That's interesting, because to me, the world of a Europe devastated by the plague informs the world portrayed in Book 4 to a huge degree. The Black Death always burned itself out after a handful of years-- it's not a disease that can drag on for a decade. But, afterward, society is changed. Suddenly, simple plebeians are daring to make money and become richer than the nobility. Parts of the populace turn to religion and strict morals to deal with the traumatic aftermath of so much death, while others turn to hedonism and bacchanalian pleasures for the same purpose. The regional balance of power is tilted on its head, as nations vie for more influence and territory.
That is very much the setting of Book 4.
Will there be more books after Book 4?
I hope so, although they may not be penned by me. Right now, I'm sad to say, there are no immediate plans for a Book 5. I do have three or four writers in mind who I intend to contact about writing future books.
Patrick de Jacquelot