A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to witness a truly historic event—one that wove together the 18th and 21st centuries using the threads of politics, family, history and one of those beautifully produced signs you see gracing many of Paris’s historical spots.
Knowing my love of history and in particular the history of the Paris’s catacombs, my friend Gilles Thomas, who has published several seminal books on the subject, invited me to a truly special event: the dedication of a city esplanade to “the man who saved Paris,” Charles-Alex Guillaumot. It had been a project of Gilles for the last five years to gain recognition for the architect responsible for buttressing the network of limestone mines beneath Paris, and his work had finally paid off.
In previous posts, I describe at length the story of visiting the off-limit catacombs with Gilles, so let me summarize for you here. Before Paris existed as the city it is now, there were many mines on the outskirts…mainly for the limestone used to build the buildings you see in Paris today. At the time, that land was farmland, so no one thought about security. But as Paris grew, homes were built on top of land that had been hollowed out, and the more buildings perched atop these holes, the more dangerous it was.
This oblivious co-habitation of city and deep holes continued until 1774, when a whole street of apartment buildings and homes fell through the ground. Louis XVI named a commission to inspect, chart, and reinforce the mines. (The Inspection générale des carrières or IGC.) So Charles-Axel Guillaumot (the chief inspector) and his crew went around to all of these individual mines and made tunnels from mine to mine, connecting them. They raised their ceilings from the crouching height miners were forced to work in to a height that allowed men pushing wheelbarrows to get through. They reinforced the walls and ceilings and labeled them all as they made their way through.
During the French revolution, people didn’t like the idea of employing someone appointed by the king, and Charles-Axel was imprisoned in Versailles. They quickly realized how indispensable he was, however, as Guillaumot was back on the job a few years later, continuing his work until he died.
Hopping forward a couple of hundred years, Gilles Thomas, in his in-depth research on the catacombs, re-discovered the architect’s importance in the history of Paris, and went to visit Guillaumot’s ancestors in Toulouse. He discovered that a portrait of Guillaumot existed in the family home, and photographing it, he finally put a face to the name for historians. But crediting the architect in his books was not enough for Gilles. He started a campaign to dedicate a public place to the man who had, in the meantime, been christened “the man who saved Paris” by author and historian, Graham Robb.
This campaign took on two of the toughest bureaucratic entities in France: the public transport system and the mayor’s office. So on the evening of October 4th, 2017, representatives from both of those offices, as well as around one hundred of Guillaumot’s ancestors, gathered on the plaza just outside of the Denfert-Rochereau train station, next to the entrance of the Paris Catacombs (the Ossuary) and close to the location of the rue d’Enfer, where a house caved in the very day Guillaumot started his work on the mines.
I was met by Gilles Thomas, who was probably the only person who could identify all of the various attendees. He waved his hand over the majority of the group of Guillaumots, then said there were even a few descendants of Philibert Aspairt in attendance. (Aspairt is the only person properly buried in the catacombs, his body having been found in the caverns in 1804, eleven years after he went missing.)
Then Gilles introduced me to American author and fellow history-buff Cara Black, who was there to witness the historic moment. We watched the spectacle together, as Danièle Pourtaud, Conseillère of the 14th arrondissement, welcomed us all to the event. She pointed to all of the construction work being done on the Place Denfert-Rochereau behind us, saying that they were overhauling the entrance to the Catacombs’ Ossuary, and at the same time are creating, just in front of it, the future Museum of Paris Liberty.
Franck Avice, Director of the RATP (Paris’s transport system) then took the mic and explained the importance of the train system and of this particular spot, citing the astronomical number of people who used this one station every day. (I wasn’t taking notes, but it was something like 90,000.)
Then the Deputy Mayor of Paris, Célia Blauel, took the mic and spoke of how the City of Paris jumped at the chance to honor its illustrious citizen.
Annie Laval-Duboul, one of Guillaumot’s descendants, took the stage and told the story of Gilles visiting their aunt, of her providing him with the family’s documentation and stories that had been passed down of their illustrious ancestor.
She called Gilles up to stand next to her as she told the story, and, in his regular self-effacing manner, stood next to her shrugging off the compliments and praise as it poured down on him. Her speech centered around how excited and grateful the family was that the ancestor who they had always been told saved Paris, was finally getting the recognition he deserved.
And finally, Arnaud de Jenlis, another Guillaumot descendant, took the stage and thanked many family members, several of whom held obvious inheritances from the man of the hour: they all seemed to be named Charles or Axel.
After that, the beautiful new sign was unveiled, and many photos taken. Cara and I slipped off before the drinks began pouring, leaving the major players in this important event to celebrate their success and toast to the historic day.* A special thank you to Gilles Thomas for providing me with photos from the other spectators, since my phone was out of batteries!
I am thrilled and honored to announce that I am hosting Shakespeare and Company’s (yes…that S&Co of Sylvia Beach, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound… the one that was established almost 100 years ago) very first teen program: a monthly book club!
The first Monday night of every month, we will be welcoming Paris readers ages 12-18 to this free event, discussing a pre-chosen book that everyone reads before the meeting. Please come armed with your book, your highlighted passages, your reactions, your questions and your insights.
Thanks to the suggestions of a group of my YA author friends, I’ve chosen SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA as our very first book. Becky Albertalli has even agreed to do a Facetime appearance with us! (Time/date/location here.)
Teen Vogue called SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA “the love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.” But if that’s not enough to sell you on it, it is also described as “a twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming out story—wrapped in a geek romance.”
My verdict: You will laugh out loud in places, and will need a box of Kleenex nearby if you’re a crier. Don’t read the last chapters in public. You have been warned.
Please spread the word to all of your Paris friends who can read and discuss books in English! Here’s a FB page to sign up for the first meeting. Otherwise, just email me to tell me you’re coming!
To answer a few of your questions about DREAMFALL:
Give me 5 reasons I should read DREAMFALL.
Why did you want to write horror?
I actually tried to write a horror novel as my very first attempt at fiction. But I got halfway into it, and then didn’t know what happened next. So I put it aside and wrote the DIE FOR ME and AFTER THE END series. Once I was ready for my next challenge, I thought I would try horror once again. And this time, the story stuck.
In the DIE FOR ME series, I discovered that I enjoyed much preferred writing the fight scenes as much as I did the kissing scenes. Chopping someone’s head off with a sword was just as exhilarating as writing a steamy makeout scene. So with DREAMFALL, I decided to embrace my morbid side and go with it. And, boy, did I have fun. At one point, my editor asked if one scene wasn’t TOO gruesome. I begged for it to stay, my argument being, “This is horror – it’s SUPPOSED to be gruesome!” I mean, if you’re writing horror, you might as well go all the way. So it stayed, much to my twisted delight. Funnily enough, the concept for the novel came from an idea I had for a children’s picture book. I’m still scratching my head as to why my agent was horrified when she read the pitch. (Hmm…)
How much research did you have to do for DREAMFALL?
DIE FOR ME was about things I knew: Paris, history, art, love and loss. AFTER THE END also contained things I knew…but on a more personal basis: I grew up in a type of cult-like environment where, like the main character Juneau, brainwashing was an aspect of my childhood. The research for this book was mainly with the locations. For example, once I had written the first draft, I flew to Seattle to do a road trip to Arizona so that I could describe the landscapes.
But DREAMFALL required major research. As the idea for the story evolved, it included more and more science. I was determined to get the facts right so that the fiction I added would be more believable. I read an entire book on the little-known disease called FFI (Fatal Familial Insomnia). I studied sleep cycles, read about sleep research, interviewed two people with narcolepsy, and one person who had gone through electroconvulsive therapy, and asked a doctor friend to read through all the medical sections, so I could be sure those were right.
But, like with my previous two series, there were some aspects of DREAMFALL that I didn’t need to read up on because they came straight from my own life. I know insomnia well. Whenever something horrible happens (like my mother’s death), my brain responds by giving me a good dose of insomnia. It was easy for me to channel the feeling of not being able to sleep.
Which character do you feel closest to in DREAMFALL?
There is no character in my books that I have felt closer to than Cata, one of DREAMFALL’s main characters. When I started the book, I hadn’t planned to model her back story on my own past. But as her personality formed, I found myself dipping into my memory for anecdotes. It made sense: we both suffered PTSD from abusive childhoods.
Cata’s first nightmare in the book comes straight from my 16-year-old brain. I lived in the crazy run-down antebellum mansion she lived in. And my father was the same type of monster hers was. As her story progressed, I let myself pepper it with actual words and events from my childhood.
However, in DREAMFALL, I let Cata escape. She told someone what was happening to her, and was removed from her family by Child Protective Services. In real life, I stayed and bore the brunt of my father’s mental problems.
In the end, Cata provided a sort of redemption for me. In writing her story, I was able to allow my adolescent self to speak up for the first time.
I wonder if you’ll see an aspect of yourself in any of the characters. Over the course of this duology, I have come to love them. Because they are not who they seem to be. Just like a nightmare…you only truly understand it after it’s over. Although the truth is there, right before your eyes, you have to wake up to realize what was really going on.
You can check DREAMFALL out for yourself here:
I have some news for you.
It’s big news.
YA writer Amy Plum‘s novel “Dreamfall” has been optioned by DiGa Studios to be made into a TV series, according to Deadline. The novel has yet to be published, though it’s expected to be released on May 2, 2017 by HarperTeen. It’s the first book of her newest YA horror duology. The sequel “Neverwake” will be released in May 2018. The story is about an experiment to cure chronic insomnia that goes terribly wrong. The teenage subjects of the experiment fall into a joint coma, and, like the urban myth, if you die in your dream, you die in real life.
Here is the Amazon description for “Dreamfall”: “Seven teenagers who suffer from debilitating insomnia agree to take part in an experimental new procedure to cure it because they think it can’t get any worse. But they couldn’t be more wrong. When the lab equipment malfunctions, the patients are plunged into a terrifying dreamworld where their worst nightmares have come to life—and they have no memory of how they got there. Hunted by monsters from their darkest imaginations and tormented by secrets they’d rather keep buried, these seven strangers will be forced to band together to face their biggest fears. And if they can’t find a way to defeat their dreams, they will never wake up.”
DiGa Studios, known for MTV’s Teen Wolf and Scream, is currently in production on the feature film Eat Brains Love, which is also based on a novel. “Amy Plum’s ‘Dreamfall’ is a riveting, nightmarish thriller with great characters and a fantastic premise that immediately captured our imagination and drew us in,” DiSanto, CEO of DiGaa Studios told the site. “The book’s vision and voice is a perfect fit for DIGA’s creative sensibility, and we are thrilled to bring this to the screen.”
Plum is most well known for her “Die For Me” series, which was an international best-seller. She’s also known for the “After the End” series. Have you guys read “Dreamfall?” Are you interested in the film? Who would you like to see cast? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @ComingSoonnet
I am so excited about this, I can’t even tell you.
To all of you…THANK YOU!!! You have all brought me and my books this far. I can’t wait to see how much further we can go!
You can check DREAMFALL out for yourself here: