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The Fourth Musketeer – an interview with J M Aucoin


So tell me about your new book, and why I should immediately rush out and buy it.
Sure! Honor Among Thieves is the first book in the Hope & Steel series. It takes place during 17thCentury France, a few decades after the Wars of Religion decimated the countryside and a couple decades before the famed Musketeers were formed.
Under Henry IV’s reign, France was starting to bounce back from those wars. The country was a little more stable financially and life was returning to “normal.” But Henry also really hated the Hapsburgs and dreamed of taking their dynasty down.
The decades of religious warfare also meant there were a lot of soldiers without employment. Some lacked skills for traditional working life; others just preferred to make their way with lead shot and steel, so many turned to banditry to get by.
Hope & Steel series is what happens when the bubbling political climate of early-17th Century France meets the harsh reality of a soldier’s post-fighting life. And all with a heavy dash of swashbuckling adventure.
We follow Darion Delerue, a former soldier turned highwayman, who has only two things of value—the hope in his heart and the steel at his side. We also follow Jacquelyna Brocquart, a young lady-in-waiting for the queen, who gets a rude awakening about the less than glamorous life at court. After a heist on a royal ambassador goes wrong, both Darion and Jacquelyna are thrown into a political plot to undermine the crown which could send France straight back into civil war.
There’s plenty of political intrigue rooted in historical events, intertwined with a fictional plot and fictional characters. And there’s also plenty of swordplay for readers who, like me, enjoy a little steel to warm their blood.
You’ve been compared to Alexander Dumas. Who are your writing heroes?
I’m pretty sure I pulled a Tom Cruise and started jumping on the couch when I originally read that comparison. Dumas is definitely one of my favorites, so I was floored to be considered in his company.
I think anyone who gets into the historical adventure genre has read The Three Musketeers. It’s a classic that really helped define the swashbuckler genre. For me, that story was very influential growing up.

I’m also a huge fan of Rafael Sabatini. Captain Bloodand Scaramouche are some fantastic swashbuckling reads. Sabatini really knows how to turn a phrase. I swear he’s left none of the good lines for the rest of us poor authors.
I also love the Captain Alatriste series by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Arturo has taken the classic swashbuckling genre and has given it a little more of a real world feel. A lot of time the swashbuckling/adventure tales tend to have happy endings, but actions have consequences in the Alatriste series. It’s fun and refreshing.
I really try to merge the high adventure and political intrigue of Dumas with the witticism of Sabatini and the realism of Pérez-Reverte. That’s what I’m aiming for in the Hope & Steel series.
Are you a swordsman who writes, or a writer who fences? And does it help?
Tough question! I think I’m equal swordsman and writer. I’ve been a huge fan of the historical adventure genre ever since I was a little lad. I used to watch reruns of Guy William’s Zorro on the Disney Channel every week. I must’ve dressed up as Zorro for Halloween for five straight years as a kid. It was around this time that I also saw Disney’s Three Musketeers adaption with Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu. I guess we can blame Disney for my swashbuckling obsession.

So swordplay is what turned me on to reading and writing. But it wasn’t until college that I started learning about swordplay. I started taking foil fencing classes as well as stage combat classes, so I learned both the practical and the entertainment aspects of swordplay. A little later I discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). I enjoyed foil fencing, but being able to actually duel with folks in full period garb while using full-length rapiers and daggers really sung to the side of me that wanted to be d’Artagnan growing up.
Knowing swordsmanship definitely helps when writing swashbucklers. Readers expect a little sword play, and knowing what you’re talking about is a good thing. I’ve read some pretty atrocious swordfights written by people who don’t really understand how the sword works on even a bare basic level. Not that I really want to read (or write) a super technical fight scene either. It still needs to be entertaining and help further the story. There needs to be a balance between the realism of two people trying to skewer themselves with sharpened steel with the good ol’ fashion fun nature of what’s expected from the genre.
– my weapon of choice is a 36” munitions quality cavalry backsword, Birmingham steel. What’s yours?
I’m a big fan of my 37” Spanish Bilbao rapier. I had it custom made by Darkwood Armories, based after the sword Viggo Mortensen uses in the Alatristemovie adaption. I use it when fencing. As soon as I picked it up, I knew I had found my true blade. I do love me some backswords; I need one for my collection.
I also have a strong adoration for wheellock pistols. Those things are just works of art – from the aesthetics to the mechanics.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m in between stories, you could say. I’m plotting out the next Hope & Steel novel and also world building for a possible fantasy series. Some fans have been bugging me about when the next Jake Hawking Adventure is coming out, so maybe I’ll add that to the queue.
Like a lot of writers, I have more ideas than time to do them all. Bah!
What are your plans for the future?
Keep writing. Keep fencing. Keep costuming.
Creating historical costumes (especially 17thCentury) and cosplays is a fun hobby of mine. It sort of ties into the writing and fencing. While writing is fun because I’m creating something out of nothing, costuming is fun because I’m making something tangible and with my hands. And I get to look dashing as hell afterwards.
I’m also going through Capoferro’s fencing manual and writing up my interpretations of that, which can be read on my historical research/SCA blog for folks who are interested in the technical aspects of swordplay. My regular swashbuckling blogging can be found on my author blog.

… and finally, the importantest question….
Roundhead or Cavalier?
O0o0o0…. Tough question!
When it comes to fiction I usually like to root for the rebels. My protagonists tend to be people who like to live outside the conventional norms of society. So you’d think I’d side with the Roundheads. But I’m going to go against my own grain and say Cavalier. And I’ll say it’s because I like The Tavern Knight by Sabatini. Sir Crispin Galliard (aka the Tavern Knight) was a Cavalier.
I hope that’s the right answer and that we don’t have to fight over it. Although, if we do, I’ll go fetch my rapier! 😀
Connect with J.M. Aucoin!

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