One of the coolest things about attending Emerson was that I got to meet a ton of interesting, talented people when we all were kids. One of the people I’m excited to introduce readers to is my friend, J.M. Aucoin. His new book, Honor Among Thieves, is out today!
ES: You work in a fairly specific niche of literature. What drew you to the idea of writing pirate/swashbuckling/anachronistic characters?
JA: Yea the swashbuckling/historical adventure genre is a pretty niche corner of the literary world. I like it, though. We have swords.
I’ve been a fan of the genre ever since I was a little kid watching reruns of Guy William’s Zorro on the Disney Channel. The idea of righting wrongs and fighting injustice with nothing but a sword and a trustful steed enthralled me. That love furthered when I found The Three Musketeers. The jingling of spurs, clashing of steel, and political intrigue spoke to me. There was adventure and excitement. There was good prevailing over evil. And there was a very real sense of liberty and justice that I wanted to be a part of.
Never grew out of that phase.
ES: Give us a quick synopsis of your book & the series you work in.
JA: Honor Among Thieves takes place in early 17th Century France, a couple of decades after the French Wars of Religion came to a close and about a decade before the Musketeers became a thing. In the book we follow Darion Delerue, a former soldier turned highwayman, and Jacquelyna Brocquart, a lady-in-waiting for the queen. After a raid goes wrong, Darion gets thrown into a political plot to undermine the crown and pitting his old life as a soldier against his new one as a highwayman. Jacquelyna, too, gets caught up in this plot and with deadly consequences. Both of their actions could throw France back into civil war.
ES: Do you write specifically for audiences that are in-the-know of the genre, or are the books pretty accessible to people who may not have ever picked up a book in this area before? Also, how do you research?
JA: I try to write books that are accessible to everyone, be they a hardcore historian of the era, a fan of the swashbuckling genre, or just a casual reader. What’s great about historical adventure is that it can be very accessible to readers. The plots and characters can speak to modern readers even if they’re dealing with their own problems. Motive and issues of the 17th Century aren’t all that different than motives nowadays. Just change the clothes and location. So it really lends itself well to teaching us about the human condition without it being too pretentious about it. And all with the added benefit of a few exciting fight scenes to tickle your fancy.
A lot of research went into this novel. I’m weaving a fictional plot with real, historical events and figures, so I needed to make sure I knew what I was talking about. I needed to make sure I had historical figure motives right, knew what each of them thought of other historical figures at court, what their history was like, and what made them tick. So a lot of thought and care went into making sure I was able to create a rich and accurate portrait of life of 17th Century France. But there is such a thing as too much historical detail, so I try to only add enough in to give a sense of time and place, so it helps build a work in the reader’s mind and not deter from the story itself.
ES: By and large, your media is self-published, right?. What drew you to that avenue, rather than finding a traditional agent/publisher relationship?
JA: A few things drew me to self-publishing.
First off, I love the idea of the being my own boss. I love the creative control and freedom that indie publishing allows. It means I get the final say of what the book cover looks like and what the plot is about. I also get to keep the life of the copyright, which is important to me. I don’t like the idea of a third party owning my ideas. It also means I’m in charge of also finding my own editor and cover artist. Some might see this as a negative, but I love it. I enjoy to collaboration process of working with other indie/freelance creatives and making something special.
I’ve also seen some really talented writers go for more than a decade without even getting to sniff a publishing contract. Rejection after rejection after rejection. It’s disheartening to see. I give props to anyone who suffers through all that and lands a trad publishing contract. It’s well earned. But I know my genre is pretty niche which means there’s not much interest in from big publishers. Yet, I know there are other fans of the genre out there beside myself. And if I want to have a career in storytelling, I figure indie was the way to go. It’s not for everyone, by any means.
The main downside to being an indie author is the lack of resources at my disposal. I don’t have a large marketing budget and I have to do all my marketing myself or hire someone to do it for me (which is a problem with a minimal budget). So getting the name out there is challenging, but part of the job if you want to be taken seriously and be successful. It calls for a lot of tenacity and creative problem solving.
At some point I might hire an agent or a publicist, but it’d be more for helping me with marketing/publicity efforts than trying to land a contract with a publishing house.
ES: Do you have any advice for other people who are struggling with their own writing or publishing issues?
JA: Some days I think my writing is amazing; other days I think it’s trash. Having someone to right the ship is handy. For me that’s my fiancee Kate. She’s stopped me from deleting my stories at least a half a dozen times during the process. That’s not unusual by any means. I think most authors struggle with it. It’s hard to gauge how you’re doing. We operate in a vacuum for the most part with know idea if what we’ve created is any good or not. So having a good support cast is awesome. And beta readers who’ll give you honest feedback is invaluable. You can send your stuff to Mom and Dad, but also send it to people you trust to give you the cold truth.
When writing is a struggle, I find it useful to go on long walks with my pup, bounce ideas off Kate or my writing friends, or take a break and work on something else. I also make historical garb, so sometimes the change in activity helps loosen the brain a little. Other times you just need to fight through the rough patches and realize that this is only an early draft and you can go back to it later, when the story is all done, and polish it up more. Honor Among Thieves was written and then rewritten from the ground up, not to mention several smaller edits and rewrites thereafter.
For folks thinking about doing self-publishing, I’d say definitely do your research. Yes, anyone can publish a book thanks to Amazon, but you get out of it what you put into it. If you don’t hire a good cover artist or an editor, it’ll show in your final product. There are blogs dedicated to awful Amazon ebook covers — and some of the covers were created by small publishing houses, too, which is scary. You don’t want to be on those blogs. A lot of indies also fail to format their books to look professional or go that extra mile with the finishing touches. For the front matter and chapter titles, I used a font that looks like it came straight off a 1600s printing press. You’re also in charge of your own marketing efforts, too. Basically, with self-publishing you need to wear every hat in the process or, if you can’t, hire someone who can. So do some research, find out what the process of publishing is like, and decide if you think you can handle it. If so, go for it. If not, that’s cool; keep trying the traditional route. Publishing isn’t a one size fits all industry.
ES: Most importantly: where can we buy your stuff or keep in touch?
People can follow me all over the Internet: