So I had a chance to sit down (virtually) with J.M. Aucoin the other day to talk about the release of his new historical adventure, Honor Among Thieves. It was a fun hour and I wanted to share it with you. Please give a very warm welcome to him and be sure to check out his books and his blog using the links below the interview.
Nan: J.M. Aucoin – thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me today! It’s great to be able to sit down in real time and talk with you.
J.M. Aucoin: Likewise! Thanks for having me.
Nan: So your new book, ‘Honor Among Thieves‘, officially released Tuesday. You’ve got to be excited. Can you tell us a bit about the book?
J.M. Aucoin: I am! This book has been a long time coming. ‘Honor Among Thieves’ is a 17th Century historical adventure, taking place in France about two decades after the French Wars of Religion came to a close, and about ten years before the Musketeers were a thing. In the book we follow Darion Delerue, a former soldier turned highwayman, and Jacquelyna Brocquart, a lady-in-waiting for Queen Marie de Medici. Darion and Jacquelyna are both thrown in a political plot to undermine the crown. Their actions could throw France back into civil war. I also mix historical events and figures with my fictional plot, so folks looking for some history lessons will get that, too.
Nan: So clearly lots of fun and some hard work for you as a writer as well! As you mention, ‘Honor Among Thieves’ is a historical adventure and your Jake Hawking series is also a historical. What draws you most to particular periods in history? What makes you love the 17th century, for instance? And how do you embody the things you love most about the time in the characters you create?
J.M. Aucoin: I’ve always been a big fan of the swashbuckling genre. I grew watching reruns of Guy William’s Zorro, for instance. So I tend to be drawn to periods where carrying a sword was popular. The 17th Century falls into this category pretty easily. My love for the Three Musketeers know no bounds!
As for characters, I try to mix and match the traits of my favorite characters and hopefully come up with something relatively new and exciting. I want the characters to feel real and be memorable and have readers wanting to keep following their lives. Giving them a sword is an added bit of entertainment for me and ups the fun factor for readers, too.
Nan: Well, you’ve certainly succeeded on both counts with ‘Honor Among Thieves’! So if you could live back in that time period what do you think you’d be doing? Would you try to become a Musketeer? A pirate? Or would you end up being something more prosaic like a blacksmith or an innkeeper?
J.M. Aucoin: I think a musketeer. I’m an awful swimmer so I don’t think being a pirate would be all that great. Also the life expectancy is pretty bad… though their pension plan is pretty rocking. Hmm… But yea, definitely a musketeer. I dig the clothing. I dig the dashing. The serving the country. Swords, fight and carousing. Sounds like a blast!
Nan: Sounds like a perfect plan. I’m afraid, since I’m blind as a bat with no manual dexterity, I’d be best off as an innkeeper or a bard. Either way, I’d be telling the tales of all you more adventurous types!
Now I know you are a fencer yourself and you’re active in SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). When creating the fight scenes – which were nicely choreographed, by the way — did you and your swordsmen buddies ever test out the fight scenes in the book in real life? I only ask because if I were a fencer, it’s something I would totally want to do, just to check for realism – and for fun of course! In fact it occurs to me that I might need to hire you and your friends to vet the fight scenes in my upcoming fantasy series!
J.M. Aucoin: Sure! We work for cheap, too. Haha! I’d say the fight scenes in my book are a bit more dramatic than a real-life sword fight. Along with studying and practicing historical swordsmanship, I’ve also studied stage combat, which is choreographed fights you’d see in the movies or in live theater. I add a bit of realism to the moves and in the injuries of my fight scenes, but overall I’d say I’m writing something closer to stage combat than a real duel. It’s more entertaining that way. Real sword fights would be brutal, bloody, and lacking the emotional punch I’m going for in my stories.
Nan: Makes sense. And the emotional punch is definitely there! You mention in the backmatter of the book that a great deal of the backdrop of ‘Honor Among Thieves’ was drawn from actual historical events. How do you choose the real-life events that you wrap your own fiction around? What kinds of events do you gravitate towards and why?
J.M. Aucoin: So ‘Honor Among Thieves’ revolves around a visit from Don Pedro de Toledo of Spain. He’s there to try to work a double marriage with France as a way to unite their two countries and turn France against the Low Lands. I chose this period because I wanted to write a 17th Century French swashbuckler, but I didn’t want to overlap with The Three Musketeers. At least not right off the bat. So I turned back the clock. From there it was just reading a bunch of history books and seeing what was happening during then. I tend to gravitate to moments in history that aren’t necessarily major turning points, but smaller moments that I can picture my characters being a part of. Moments that might be turning points in their own lives. Political schemes, even small ones, are pretty good starting points for adventure novels.
Nan: Interesting. And a whole lot of work, but obviously well worth the effort! Darion Delerue, your hero, is a character of remarkable depth and substance. How did Darion develop? What was his genesis and what sorts of questions did you ask to get you from that first seed of an idea to the well-developed fully-fledged human being he became?
J.M. Aucoin: So I’ve always felt a kinship to d’Artagnan from The Three Musketeers. The young upstart with a combative personality but a good heart. I’m also a big fan of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series. In those books, Alatriste is a Spanish sword-for-hire who gets wrapped up in a bunch of different plots. So my starting point for Darion was to combine the two. We get the young, prideful personality of d’Artagnan with the quiet resolve of Alatriste, and then some of his own original traits. But he’s basically the imaginary lovechild of d’Artagnan and Captain Alatriste. As for getting the depth, I’m not really sure, honestly! I just tried figuring out basic stuff like what his profession was and how/why he joined a band of highwayman. And that led to more questions about his past, so those holes needed to get filled. But for the most part I think Darion wrote himself.
Nan: I love it when that happens! You were definitely writing in the sweet spot. I think he would make both d’Artagnan and Alatriste very proud parents! Although I wonder who would have worn the baby sling…
J.M. Aucoin: I’m gonna say d’Artagnan, though I can see Porthos and Athos babysitting a lot!
Nan: Whoo hoo! Good news indeed. And where’s the love for Uncle Aramis? I think he would have made an admirable babysitter… er, playmate.
J.M. Aucoin: Aramis is too busy womanizing all the noblewomen of France to play uncle seriously… though he might use baby Darion to meet women? Who knows!
Nan: I can definitely see that. The perfect chick magnet. Now… Without giving any spoilers, what does the future look like for Darion and crew? Will we get to read more of Darion’s adventures?
J.M. Aucoin: We’ll definitely see more of Darion, Peppin, Jacquelyna and Lecroix! I have the first four books more or less lined out in my head but am hoping there’ll be more than that. There’s no shortage in good historic moments and schemes for Darion & company to get involved in. Things are going to get pretty hairy for them.
Nan: And now, I want to switch gears just a bit. As you know, I first became a fan of yours from reading the Jake Hawking stories. Anyone who has even limited contact with me knows I’m a HUGE pirate nut, so reading the Hawking adventures was and still is great fun for me. Are there more Hawking adventures on the horizon? I admit, I’m pining a bit for Jake – he’s been away at sea too long.
J.M. Aucoin: I definitely want to do more Hawking stories, and longer than short stories. Maybe something more in the novella range. My plan is to write about three or four Hawking books and then do a Little Queen spin off for a few titles.
Problem is I have more ideas than time to write. If I could just make this darn fiction writing a full-time gig I could bang a Hawking and Darion book out a year, I think. One day, perhaps.
Nan: Well, I hope that day comes sooner rather than later! Is there anything else in the works that we can look forward to – that is when you either invent a time machine or find a way to clone yourself?
J.M. Aucoin: Outside of Darion and Hawking, I’m also world-building for a fantasy series and also have a pretty cool idea for a steampunk series. The latter has me really excited, so I might start doing some research for that while I work on the next Darion book. Maybe I’ll give it a go in the fall or whenever I inevitably hit a roadblock with the next Hope & Steel novel.
Nan: Awesome! I can’t wait for whatever you serve up next.
J.M., thanks so much for agreeing to meet with me today! It’s been a lot of fun getting into your head! I can’t wait to buy my very own copy of ‘Honor Among Thieves’! Having had the privilege of reviewing the book before its official release, I can say truthfully that I highly recommend it, as I do the Jake Hawking stories as well.
J.M. Aucoin: Thanks for having me!
Nan: The pleasure was all mine! And because no interview would be complete without a little shameless promotion – to learn more about Mssr. Aucoin, be sure to visit him online at the links below. Now go, my readers! Scurry! Be off with you to Amazon to buy your own copy of ‘Honor Among Thieves’ – you’ll want to say you’ve already read the book when it gets made into a Hollywood blockbuster!
Links to J.M. Aucoin: