Sunday, 30 March 2014

An Interview With J.M (Justin) Aucoin


If you know anything about me then you’ll know why I was psyched to get to know this guy. 


Boston Bruins fan, writer and resident of The Greatest City in the World (in my not so humble opinion) Boston, Justin (J.M) Aucoin has been someone whose work I’ve been following in one way or another for some time now.


I first came across his work on the hilarious and opinionated Boston Bruins blog known as Days of Y’Orr. I highly suggest you check it out if you love hockey. Warning though the humor is not for the easily offended. As a Bruins fan, I love it. As I was saying that’s where I first heard of this Justin guy who I’d go on to follow on Twitter and learn all sort of cool stuff about.


Now it’s your chance.

If you're into pirates, writing, hockey, fencing, comic books or cos-play, then odds are you've got something in common with Mr. Aucoin.

1.  Let’s get to know you a bit- give us some background on who you are and what you’re all about.

Sure. I’m a historical adventure/swashbucklingjunky now writing the type of stories that I’ve loved reading and watching since I was a kid. I joke that I’m the product of when a 5-year-old boy who falls in love with Disney’s Zorro turns into a mostly functional adult.


But seriously, I fell into swordplay thanks to Guy William’s Zorro reruns and the 1993 Disney adaption of The ThreeMusketeers. The idea of good conquering evil armed with little more than a sword and one’s courage was intoxicating to me as a small kid. So now I write my own swashbucklers, as well as study and practice historical fencing techniques, and perform as a stunt/stage combatant for local films and fairs in the New England area.



2.  A Pirate’s Honor, a Jake Hawking Adventure, was your first release, correct? Give us a little background on it and why you opted to release through Amazon digitally instead of print.

Yep! Published it last summer after seeing how well one of my writing friends, JackBadelaire, was doing self-publishing his WWII pulp action novels. He really sold me on the whole self-publishing world, and I’ve enjoyed having so much control over the look and feel of the cover, novel, and marketing of the stories.
But I went straight to a Kindle download instead of print for A Pirate’s Honor mostly because it seemed more practical. It’s a 10,000 word short-story, so it seemed silly to do a paperback version of it – it would’ve been about 35 pages total, including the front matter and dedication. And it seems silly to sell a 30 page short-story for like $2.99 or whatever I would’ve needed to charge to make a little profit and for Amazon to get it’s cut. It’s a short, so I don’t want to charge more than $.99 because any more than that for one short-story seems like holding a reader up at swordpoint.


As much fun as that sounds, I prefer my characters do the illegal and unethical stuff.

I do plan on collecting all three Jake Hawking short-stories and compiling them into an omnibus edition in paperback form. That was supposed to have happened already, but I ran into an issue with the person doing the cover art for that (different artist than who did the stand alone covers). So I need to get someone to create some killer cover art and then I’ll have a print version for folks to enjoy.


3.  You’ve since released two more Jake Hawking Adventures: The Royal Bounty Hunter and Little Queen’s Gambit. What can you tell us about these books? Do they feature the same characters as A Pirate’s Honor?

Yep! They’re all short-stories, related and involving most of the same characters. The quick synopsis is that Captain Jake Hawking as made some serious enemies over the years and now the Governor of Havana has hired three bounty hunters to take Hawking down. So each story revolves around Hawking being tracked by these pirate hunters. There is an order to the tales, but they’re episodic and can be read in any order you wish.

A Pirate Honor has Hawking pulling into Kingston, Jamaica to get some intel on the men hunting him. But when he gets there he’s noticing people are looking at him funny, speaking behind hands and in low whispers. Then a couple of cloaked, shadowy figures start following him across town and soon Hawking finds in himself in a sticky situation meant to bring about his death.
 

It’s a quick tale that illustrates how Hawking can outthink his adversaries to get out of really awful situations. He’s not just a swash and buckle pirate.
 


The Royal Bounty Hunter follows the adventure of Captain Thomas E. Crowe, one of the bounty hunters commissioned to find and bring Hawking to justice. He’s hot on Hawking’s heel when he finds a fellow Royal Naval captain stranded in a small boat in the middle of the Caribbean. He tells Crowe of how he and his crew were ambushed by Hawking and are stranded on a nearby island. Crowe agrees to help the captain and he soon comes face to face with Captain Jake Hawking himself.
 

That story was fun to write because it’s not often you read a story from the antagonist’s point-of-view. You might get a chapter or two in a novel, but never an entire story. So, I thought it’d be cool to write a tale in which we see Hawking through the eyes of his enemy. We see what his reputation is like across the region and just how infuriating he can be to deal with if you’re not on his side.

And lastly, Little Queen’s Gambit stars both Hawking but also his right hand woman, Little Queen. The crew of the Broad-Wing are enjoying a little R&R in Tortuga (like pirates do). Little Queen, being Amazonian in her prowess, is arm wrestling a bunch of pirates for sport and coin. Then a mysterious and beautiful woman strolls in. She’s obviously not one who would normally attend such a dive venue, so it catches the attention of Hawking. The woman has a mission for him, but things go sideways and it’s up to Little Queen to save the day.
Little Queen might be one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created. Originally I wrote her as a man, but because of the name and because I used the pronoun “he” only once, my test readers envisioned her as a woman. And when they told me that I was blown away because it was one of those things that it was so obvious that it had to be pointed out to me. But she’s a fantastic character to write because she’s the shoot first, ask questions later type. She rather bash your skull in than wait for you to try to explain yourself. So, she’s a great complement to Jake, who rather assess the situation and out-wit his adversaries. I think of her as a mix between She-Hulk, Wonder Woman and Michonne, and one reader described her as the pirate version of Xena, which I love. She’s quickly become a fan favorite.

I know having a black woman as the second in command might feel like a very modern sentiment, but I’m writing for a modern audience. Also, blacks on pirate ships was extremely common, and there were several women pirates, too, the most famous being Anne Bonny and Mary Read. There’s also the interesting historical black woman seaman named William Brown who was very much like Little Queen. So, in reality, Little Queen isn’t that out of the realm of possibility.


But of all the pirate books and movies I’ve seen and own, I can’t think of one that has a black woman as one of the main characters in the franchise. The closest I can think of is Zoe Saldana’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean, but she had a minor role, alas. So not only is Little Queen a blast to write, but she’s also filling a gaping hole in the genre that’s also been lost to history.
 

Long enough answer? 


4.  Why the historical/pirate genre? Do you have any plans to write outside of that genre or have you find your niche and are happy to stick with it?

Like I said earlier, I’ve always been fascinated by Western swordplay. Be it pirate, Zorro, or a d'Artagnan. 

But as for getting into writing these stories, specifically, it’s another one of those Eureka! moments for me. I was in college and hanging with my friend LJ when she said five words that would forever change me:


“You should write pirate stories.”
 

It was like turning on a switch in my brain, and I went home that night did what she suggested. I took up a creative writing course in college and started working on my craft. It really boggled my classmate’s minds that I would write pirate stories and other tales in history, instead of the type of prose they were mostly writing, which seemed to revolve around broken characters with some sort of substance abuse. It really made my stories (as good or bad as they were) stand out even more. But you need to write the type of stories you want to read. If you love fantasy, write fantasy. If you love romance, write romance. Some writers worry too much about what’ll sell instead of writing what they really want to write. 

And for me that’s a story about a man with a sword standing alone against the world.
I have some ideas that are a little out of the genre, but not completely different. Not to give too much away until I can actually work on it, but I want to write a fantasy-esque series that takes place at some point in history which I already have in mind. So it’ll still be historical adventure but with a fantasy twist to it. I think it’ll be a fun series to work on, but no idea when I’ll get around to it.
 


5.  When you write do you do a lot of research or is this something that you feel you have enough of a handle on from being a lifelong fan of the genre?

A little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.

Since I’ve been interested in specific time periods for most of my life, I’ve done a lot of reading and researching for fun over the years, so a lot of it is already in my head. But I do want my stories to be as accurate as possible, so I’ll do research as needed.

For the Hawking adventures, I did most of my research on the fly because I have a pretty good handle on the time period. But when I ran into tiny details or questions that needed answering, I’d look it up.
 
On the other hand, I’m currently revising my first full-length novel that takes place in early 17th Century France. It intertwines with real-life historical events, so I had to do a lot of research before I started writing the novel to make sure I had all my ducks in a row. I also looked up tiny details as I went along, too, as needed. Things like “What did people drink other than wine?” and “Where would this person live in the city.” The tiny stuff that’ll drive you mad unless you get the answers!

I will say, however, that I don’t let facts get in the way of a good story. I obviously want to be as historically accurate as I can, but if some fact is holding back what would otherwise be an amazing tale, I’ll say screw history and go with what I want to do. I’m writing fiction first. If folks want 100% accurate (or as close to it) historical stories, they should read history non-fiction. There’s plenty of great stuff out there to get educated by.
 
6.  What’s your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite?

My favorite part is creating the story in my head. That first inkling of an idea and then just seeing it explode into a fully thought story in my brain is the best. And it’s always a better story in my imagination. It’s really hard to fully illustrate what you’re imagining on paper because you need to pick and choose what details to show, so things get lost from initial inception and when you write it down. But dreaming up the stories is like living through a movie you’re an active participant of, and that’s a lot of fun.

Least favorite is revising. It’s a slow and it’s painful, but it’s a necessary evil. Once I finish a story I just want to move on to the next one, but, alas, it’s not done. It needs to be massaged into something that doesn’t completely suck, and I need to weed out all the awful typos and poor punctuation and grammar. I think I’m a solid story teller, but don’t always care about things like proper commas use and split infinitives in the first draft. It slows me down. So going back and fixing that stuff is not fun, but very necessary – especially for a self-published author.

I also hate the doubt and hyper-criticalness that creeps in when I’ve been writing for a long time. I notice it doesn’t happen as much with the short-stories because I can bang those out in a week or two, but for full length novels where the stakes are higher and the plots more intricate, it can take a mental toll. And sometimes I wonder if what I’m working on is any good -- are the characters compelling, the action exciting, and the writing fluid -- or if I should just trash it and move on to something else. So not only are my characters fighting their adversaries, but I’m dueling with my own as well.

But I think that’s pretty common with writers and other forms of art. Fortunately, I have an amazing fiancĂ© who keeps me form hitting the Delete key, and a dog always willing to go on long walks when I need a break from the story. Writing can be a lonely job, so it’s good to have that sort of support group along the way.



7.  You’re a noted hockey fan- tell us about what you love about this sport and who some of your favorite players are. Do you play as well?

My mom got me into hockey. She grew up watching Bobby Orr play with her father when she was younger, and that love for the Boston Bruins got passed down to me. I would buy her Bruins tickets for her birthday every year when I was in high school and before the family moved out to New York, but I still try to bring her to a game when possible.

What I love about the game is how it mixes strength, speed, and grace into one sport and then tosses it on ice. It’s such an unreal game. A lot of people think it’s just a bunch of guys brutalizing each other on the ice, and there’s plenty of that but the athleticism and agility some of these guys are able to do on a thin metal blade is amazing. It’s exciting to watch. Always something happening.








With a few other fellow Bruins friends, we started the blog Days of Y’Orr. We’re kinda known for our photoshops and immature and juvenile jokes, so it’s not a site for everyone, but enough people seem to enjoy us dicking around on the Internet. We’ve won several blogging awards and several things of merchandise. It’s a nice little operation we for fun.
I just started playing, actually. I use to play pick-up roller hockey games with friends after school years ago, but just recently joined a beginner adult league in the Boston area. A friend of mine found goalie pads in the style that Byron Dafoe – my fav player as a kid – wore when he played for the Bruins. It was the perfect size for me, so I bought them and figured I should join a league to use them. It’s been a lot of fun, so far, but I have a long way to go before I’ll consider myself a good hockey player. 


8.   Rumors are you make a mean cos-play costume. What got you into that and what’s some of the ones that you’ve done?

I’ve always been a fan of Halloween and always loved dressing up in costume. But I had never been to a comic con until a few years back. Just seeing people walking around wearing costumes of all these characters I love and then finding out they made it themselves was mind blowing and inspiring. I knew I had to try it myself.
 
So for my first costume I made a Gambit cosplay. I found the leather trench coat for like $35 on eBay, bought some superhero-esque spandex pants and then modded a paintball chest armor with purple mesh to make it more Gambit-looking. The fiancĂ© made me the headsock which was a huge pain. Also, that headsock looks much better in comics than it does in real life. What a nightmare…

But that same year, I also made a Sir Didymus that year if Sir Didymus was a person and not a fox-terrier muppet. Not as many people got that reference but the folks that did really got excited about it. It was fun.
Second big costume was Nightwing. I never like the spandex Nightwing costumes I see a lot of people wearing. Mostly because I’m too skinny and it would just look weird. I think you gotta be buff to really pull that look off. I also love when people do realistic renditions of unrealistic costumes, so I made my Nightwing outfit in the style of Chris Nolan’s Batman. I made an undersuit out of the same material used in the second two movies and then created some armor out of EVA foam for the chest, shoulders and back. It took about a year to finish, but the end result is great. I may remake the armor at some point, but I’m happy with how it came out.




And the latest cosplay was Edward Kenway from the most recent Assassin’s Creed game. I had it ready before the game came out when I went to NYCC in the fall. It was a pretty big hit with folks. But the vest was made out of fake leather which worked, but it wasn’t authentic enough for me. So I bought a slab of brown leather and made a new vest, arm armor, and bracers out of it. It looks and feels so much better.
 

It’s fun to design and create these costumes. I love taking pics with other people in costume and talk show. And I get to learn some fun new skills in the process. Always a plus.


9.  You’re a comic book fan too- what books are you reading? And who wins in a fight- Gambit or Nightwing?


I was reading the Gambit solo series but I’m saddened that it’s over. I also enjoyed the six part MacGyver comic series that came out last year, too. I’m a little behind, but I’m a fan of the Nightwing and Batman comics.

Right now I’m enjoying some of the Solomon Kane comic adaptions that have come out via Dark Horse Books. Not sure when they were published, but I found them not long ago in my local comic shop. I wish there were more period pieces and swashbucklers in comic form like Solomon Kane. I own The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and some of Rafael Sabatini’s stories as graphic novels and they’re great. I’m hoping I’ll be able to turn some of my novels and short-stories into swashbuckling comics. 
 


So Gambit vs. Nightwing, eh? Man, that’s really tough because I love them both. And they both have similar fighting styles. They’re great at range and hand-to-hand. Gambit can blow shit up by touching it, but Nightwing has all the cool gadgets. They’re both lady’s men… Superhero Beatdown did Gambit vs. Nightwing as a live action short film where fans voted on who’d win. I’ll let people watch the video to see who wins, but I can’t choose. I’m going to cop out and say it’s a draw and then they go have a beer after.