By Alaina Lavoie
Tania de Batz is most herself with a sword in her hand. Everyone thinks her near-constant dizziness makes her weak, nothing but “a sick girl.” But Tania wants to be strong, independent, a fencer like her father—a former Musketeer and her greatest champion. Then Papa is brutally, mysteriously murdered. His dying wish? For Tania to attend finishing school. But L’Académie des Mariées, Tania realizes, is no finishing school. It’s a secret training ground for new Musketeers: women who are socialites on the surface, but strap daggers under their skirts, seduce men into giving up dangerous secrets, and protect France from downfall. And they don’t shy away from a sword fight.
With her newfound sisters at her side, Tania feels that she has a purpose, that she belongs. But then she meets Étienne, her target in uncovering a potential assassination plot. He’s kind, charming—and might have information about what really happened to her father. Torn between duty and dizzying emotion, Tania will have to decide where her loyalties lie…or risk losing everything she’s ever wanted.
What originally inspired you to write a gender-swapped Musketeers retelling? What drew you to this time period in 1600s France?
Funnily enough, I can remember the exact moment of inspiration. It was December 2016 and I was on submission to editors with the book I signed with my agents for, The Keeping House (a speculative fiction novel that I discussed in 2018 via the Rooted in Rights disability activist spotlight). During a check-in call with my agents Jennifer Wills and Nicole Resciniti, we talked about ideas I had for other books. One of us said the word “retelling,” and The Three Musketeers popped into my head. I had to pause the call so I could jot down the idea before I forgot!
While One for All is more of a reimagining than a retelling, I knew that I wanted to keep it to 1600s France, like Alexandre Dumas’ original. I took French classes starting in first grade, all the way through my sophomore year of college (fourteen years total). I was perfectly average, but once I started developing POTS symptoms, things like brain fog and dizziness made thinking difficult in English, let alone another language.
Writing One for All was a way of reclaiming my study of the language on my own terms. Not in a classroom, not in an exam room, but within the pages of a novel.
As far as the time period is concerned, there is surprisingly little current historical fiction (or creative nonfiction, for that matter) set in France between 1655 and 1656! La Fronde (the French Civil War from the late 1640s to the early 1650s) and the Sun King/Versailles are fascinating subjects that provide a backdrop for many novels. But those years in between those intrigued me. I also worked out the timing so that Tania’s Papa was a Musketeer when Dumas’ Musketeers fought for France. A fun easter egg for attentive readers!
I absolutely loved Tania and Papa’s relationship. I felt her grief was very authentically painted as someone who lost my dad a year ago and I loved the ways she found to continue her relationship with Papa after he was gone. Can you tell us about how you uncovered their relationship and brought that to the page with your craft?
I’ve heard a good deal of people say that YA is all about dead parents. I am of the mindset that the experience of grief is vast, distinct to every individual, and however many books are published, it will never be possible to encapsulate the entirety of that wide scope.
I do not know what it is like to lose a parent, but I lost a lot of family and friends in the past five years, including my Grams.
My Grams was one of my greatest champions. One of the last times I saw her, she said she just wanted to live long enough to see what I could accomplish. She passed a few weeks before I signed with my agents. My voicemail inbox is half-full of voicemails from her; I never want to forget the sound of her voice, her specific Tulsa twang.
I started drafting One for All the year she passed, and I drew from the experience of losing her to create authentic representation on the page. Papa’s voice is a constant for Tania. In a world where she repeatedly hears that she is not enough, he always reaffirmed her worth. Initially, his voice recurring throughout the novel is a manifestation of Tania’s grief, as well as her guilt and anger. As she grows in self-confidence, however, his voice and Tania’s inner voice begin to overlap, both on the word and tonal level. She begins to love herself just as much as Papa loved her.
Tania’s fencing and sword skills also shine brightly in this novel, and I know you were a fencer at Yale. How much of Tania’s swordsmanship came from your own experience? What’s your favorite thing about fencing?
I love this question—I’m a huge fencing nerd, which is, I suppose, what happens when you give a little girl a saber!
The training scenes are as realistic as possible…within the context of historical fantasy. The drills Tania does are real drills, ones that many fencers will recognize while reading (although instead of having to do extra embroidery with Maman for losing hold of a sword during a lesson, many fencers of the twenty-first century do pushups/situps!)
Papa and Madame de Treville approach coaching in very different ways. Papa’s style is inspired by my coach Dariusz Gilman. When I developed POTS, instead of only focusing on other students at tournaments, he still coached me. If I was too dizzy to stand during lessons, he would put his rolling office chair on the fencing strip and have me take lessons while seated. He developed ‘Green Fencing’ for me (in sum, fencing that conserves energy.) I can only hope that I have done his coaching justice because it changed my life. One for All would not exist without him.
I’m not sure I could ever choose only one thing that I love about fencing. There are the concretes—the feeling of sword-fighting (I mean, how cool is that?), the way it helped strengthen my legs so when I developed POTS, my blood pressure didn’t drastically drop as much as it would have. In the abstract, fencing is what propelled me through my worst days of POTS. Fencing has seen me through elementary, middle, high school, college… I have fenced for nearly two-thirds of my life. I’m not sure who I’d be without fencing. I know I wouldn’t have gone to Yale, which is where my journey to self-acceptance and finding the disability community began.
Tania’s relationships with her fellow Musketeers, who become sisters to her, were so beautiful and deepened over the course of the story. How did you come up with the personalities and backstories of Portia, Aria, and Théa? Why was it important to you to have this chosen family for Tania?
In One for All’s Acknowledgments, I thank my real-life sisters in arms. I am lucky to have found incredible, talented, passionate friends who are part of my family. I never could’ve written characters like Portia, Théa, and Aria without having met these women first, because they helped me start to love and accept myself for who I was/who I am (an ongoing process, which feels like an inevitability as a chronically ill person in a world that tells you health = goodness.) As far as the trio’s backstories are concerned, I gave them each a little part of myself. I can’t go too much into detail for all three, since it verges on spoiler territory, but I can talk about Portia! Portia loves ferociously and will defend the other girls no matter what; I am the ‘mom’ friend who is constantly making sure my friends drink enough water but also will never forgive anyone who hurts them. And may or may not frequently remind said enemies that I have a sword and will use it.
I really loved the authenticity of Tania’s experience with her disability, which is implied to be POTS (although the diagnosis didn’t exist back then). As a person with dysautonomia, I really loved seeing all the different sides to it, including Tania’s internalized ableism and the ableism and lack of access/accommodations in various areas of her life. I also really loved seeing L’academie and the Musketeers create access for Tania and make the academy accessible, and accept her exactly as she is. Why did you want this journey for Tania, one where a lot of the focus is on her understanding she’s great the way she is, and her disability can’t be ignored or infantilized/pitied?
There wasn’t any particular moment when I decided that Tania’s character arc was going to mimic my own experience of learning to accept myself and my disability. I tried to verge away from it, to divorce myself from Tania as much as possible, but after FSG bought OFA, after I went through edits with the incredible Melissa Warten (agented disabled authors, have your agents submit your novels to her!), I realized that, after each round of edits, Tania became more and more like me. One of the ways we differ, however, is that Tania begins her journey toward self-acceptance so much earlier than I did. I wrote the story that I needed as a teenager, hoping that it could be a story that others needed, now. The feedback I’ve gotten from chronically ill readers, specifically chronically ill teens and teens with POTS, has affirmed that a hundred times over. Early in the process, I had dream goals to do with sales and publishing-related things, and then my main goal. And of course, I still have those dream goals, but my main goal was always to change one reader’s perception of themselves. To make them feel worthy and good and unbroken. One for All isn’t even on shelves yet, and I’ve already accomplished my main goal.
Was it difficult to write a historical fiction where marginalized characters lead fulfilling lives, given what other historical fiction has come before? Why did you want to write a historical fiction book where disabled and other marginalized characters are allowed to exist and be happy?
Most disability representation in YA is found under the contemporary genre umbrella (don’t get me wrong, those books are needed, and there still aren’t enough of them), but the lack of representation in other genres, especially chronic illness representation, is glaring. The scant representation that does exist is usually written by nondisabled authors. The first novel with a main character with POTS published by a major publisher needed to be written by an author with POTS. I wanted that book to be one with a POTSie main character who was the hero of her own story. I wanted to write a story like the ones I loved as a kid, a story with astronomically high stakes and many duels, but also a story in which the main character was disabled, and not just in brief moments when that facet of her identity was somehow beneficial to the plot or the development of other characters. Chronic illness impacts every facet of your life. Therefore, it impacts every facet of Tania’s life. She can’t duel one day and feel fine the next. As far as historical fiction goes, there’s a gap when it comes to representation, partially because of the pervasive misconception that there weren’t as many disabled people in the past as there are now (spoiler: a lot of disabled folks were institutionalized and/or kept off the street via Ugly Laws.) But there was also a population of disabled people who spent their lives outside of institutions.
A condition doesn’t spontaneously come into being when it’s given a name by a team of doctors/researchers. I discuss this in One for All’s Author’s Note, but Tania having POTS in seventeenth-century France is the least fantastical element of One for All.
Without giving any spoilers, did you have a favorite battle or fight scene to write? A favorite training scene?
My absolute favorite scene in One for All is a huge spoiler! It’s one of the very first scenes I drafted—I jumped ahead to write it because I knew exactly how I wanted it to unfold. To stay vague: no proper Musketeer reimagining would be complete without a major duel scene…
Tania’s stubbornness is one of her major character traits and it follows her throughout the story, sometimes to her detriment. How did you approach handling this flaw and Tania’s growth over the course of the story?
Tania’s stubbornness, other than her experience with POTS, is probably the thing we have most in common. I will be the first to admit that stubbornness is one of my worst traits. I come from a family of very stubborn people; I never stood a chance.
However, my stubbornness has a flipside: one of my best traits is my determination. I think the key to creating a rich and full fictional character is to have her flaws also be the foundation of her strengths. Tania learns to channel her stubbornness as determination, resilience, and persistence over the course of the novel.
Do you have a favorite Musketeers retelling/Musketeers-inspired piece of media?
Watching The Man in the Iron Mask was an annual event every summer during fencing camp—I think it was my first introduction to the Musketeers! That movie will always have a special place in my heart.
I did, however, make a rule for myself that I wouldn’t read/watch/listen to any Musketeer-inspired media while I drafted One for All, that way I wouldn’t be influenced in a certain direction. But I’ve been told by a number of early readers that OFA feels like a mashup of Barbie and The Three Musketeers meets the Kingsman movie?
What other books do you see One for All as being in conversation with?
I was honored to receive blurbs from some of my favorite authors, authors whose books I definitely feel One for All is in conversation with: The Silence of Bones (June Hur), Blood Water Paint (Joy McCollough), Legendborn (Tracy Deonn), and so many others. I also see One for All as a means of pushing back against popular novels with ableist themes, plot devices, tropes, etc. (I wish there weren’t so many novels that fit into this last category.)
Do you have any other recommendations for published or forthcoming books, historical fiction or otherwise?
In addition to the books I’ve already mentioned, I have so many other recommendations! I love books, and talking about books that I love, so I’ll do my best to keep this list as short as possible. Some upcoming books I adored are At the End of Everything (Marieke Nijkamp, disability rep), Deep in Providence (Riss M. Neilson, historical fiction), and Breathe and Count Back from Ten (Natalia Sylvester, disability rep). I’m also eagerly anticipating You, Me, and Our Heartstrings (Melissa See), The Moth Girl (Heather Kamins), and The Whispering Dark (Kelly Andrew). The most recent books I devoured (no pun intended) were The Book Eaters and Daughter of the Moon Goddess (by Sunyi Dean and Sue Lynn Tan, respectively, two fabulous ’22 Debuts). Shifting gears back to YA, I read Little Thieves (Margaret Owen) a month or so ago and legitimately stopped every chapter just to revel in the craft (how lucky are we that we get more books about Vanja!)
Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I cannot stop talking about how much I love Legendborn (Tracy Deonn), so obviously I am counting down the days until I can hold the hardcover of Bloodmarked in my hands.
Lillie Lainoff received her BA in English from Yale University, where she was a varsity fencer and one of the first physically disabled athletes to individually qualify for any NCAA championship event, and her MA in Creative Writing Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia. She has also won the 2019 Los Angeles Review Literary Award for Short Fiction, was a featured Rooted in Rights disability activist, and is the founder of Disabled Kidlit Writers on Facebook. She lives in Washington, DC.
Alaina Lavoie is a Program Manager at We Need Diverse Books and a reviewer for Booklist. She has worked with WNDB since 2015, beginning as a volunteer and joining the staff in 2019. She also teaches in the MFA, MA, and BA programs of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. In 2017, she was awarded a Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her dedication to amplifying marginalized voices and advocating for an equitable publishing and media industry. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, The Boston Globe Magazine, Refinery29, The Oprah Magazine, Bitch, Glamour, The Chicago Tribune, and more, under the byline Alaina Leary. Alaina lives in Boston with her wife, their three literary cats, and a rainbow bookshelf. She is almost always covered in glitter.