So, I've been working on a manuscript for almost two years now.
I don't wish to give away too much on the plot. Suffice to say it's a story of a man thrust at the dusk of the French Bourbon regime, about 15 years before the start of the French Revolution. His account of survival explores how a modern man can pick himself up with only the clothes on his back and survive in an era where life was brutally harsh , and the existence of social safety nets was non-existent.
I have always been a fan of L. Sprague de Camp's story 'Lest Darkness Fall' - A story of a relatively modern man, from 1938, who inexplicably finds himself transported back in time to 535 AD (or for those of you who prefer CE) in the Eastern Roman Empire. Many stories have sprung from De Camp's initial foray into this form of alternative history writing. Notable writers who were influenced include Harry Turtledove, who writes many offshoots of alternative history. Examples include ideas such as the Byzantine Empire survives the Fall of Rome or how, in the middle of World War Two, the earth is invaded by a hostile alien species.
Other writers influenced by De Camp include Frederik Pohl who wrote "The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass", a thought-provoking story of a man that travels back to 1 BC and teaches modern medicine, causing a population explosion. It ends with the fantastically overpopulated alternate timeline sending someone back to assassinate the title character, allowing darkness to fall for thankful billions.
A similar story style to De Camp is "Outlander" written by Diana Gabaldon and now adapted for television by Ronald D. Moore. A story of Claire Randall, a married World War II nurse who, in 1945, finds herself transported back to 1743 Scotland, where she encounters the dashing Highland warrior Jamie Fraser and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite risings of Scotland.
It was this most recent story that convinced me that a similar tale could be told with a focus on the 'Ancien Regime' era of France.
I spent about 6 months researching the era of 1775 France, gathered up all my research notes and put together a story arc. Excited, I began banging away and put together a rough draft in the span of a couple of weeks. The story arc and the research helped give birth to the characters and the plot early on. Always a stickler for accuracy, I realised in the first rereading that I had missed some key dates in my storyline and certain characters were not historically accurately portrayed. There were glaring holes that I plugged, and there were events in the background of the story that were misplaced historically. Once they were analysed correctly, and following more historical research, I decided to change the starting date of the story to the 11th of May, 1774, the first day of the reign of Louis XVI, the last Absolute monarch of France. This date fused well with the other events, and characters I wished to introduce to the plot and subplot, so I had to go back and rewrite all the changes to take this new date into consideration. All in all a rather monumental task. No one ever said that writing was easy.
A map of Paris 1775
Rereading the manuscript and getting feedback from those in my immediate circle who I trust, I quickly realised that the story could be improved by the introduction of a character in the 'modern era' tasked with determining the cause of the disappearance of the protagonist. Naturally, as the main character introduced changes to the timeline of the 18th century, the character tasked with the hunt for the truth finds himself in an ever-evolving world that reflects amplification of the changes wrought in the 18th Century.
Another Beta reader (Thanks Nicky!) reminded me that my main character wasn't a monk, and needed a love interest. So a love interest was introduced. I had to research how a man 'courted' a bourgeoisie woman in this era, because naturally, how we do it in the modern world is entirely different.
It's been quite a ride over these past two years. I'm almost ready to release it. If you want to learn a little something about France under the 'Ancien Regime' Id like to think you might pick up some historical knowledge while at the same time be entertained. Stay tuned for release dates.
- Steven Lazaroff
Map of France 1769-1789