"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

AEI Client Royce Buckingham Featured on Seattle Wrote

Seattle Author: Winning the Literary 'Lottery'


Fairy tales don't really happen in real life for authors. Getting your book published after years and sometimes decades of working on it is definitely a dream-come-true, but it pales in comparison to what happened to author and screen play writer
Royce Buckingham. He worked for over a decade on his short story, turned screenplay, turned novel, Demonkeeper, and after years of winning awards for it, starting movie work and then getting shut down, the story was bought for a novel by Penguin, and a movie for Fox back-to-back and in less than a month's time!

Photo courtesy of Royce Buckingham.
Buckingham's is more than just a story of following the adage, 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try again'. After studying English in college and trying his hand at short stories, he launched a career in law - crime law to be exact. "If you go to law school, it teaches you to write very carefully. For some people that can make their writing very sterile, but that wasn’t the case with me," Buckingham says. If anything, his career in law inspired a short story that would become his first novel, Demonkeeper. "I was working in juvenile court, and the disappearance of the kid with the green mohawk in downtown Seattle inspired a short story. I don't think it’s a coincidence that the first story I wrote had to do with what I was doing every day."

Demonkeeper was about more than just monsters and fantasy fiction with a little bit of sci-fi. In the bio on his website, Buckingham writes about the green-mohawk kid; "I imagined the chaos of street life as a monster that rose and ate him up while people weren’t paying attention, as it does with so many lost children. I wrote a screenplay from that story. The script evolved into a much more lighthearted and fun tale than that short tale I wrote years earlier, but the message remained—kids need stability, family and a home."

He continued to send the screenplay and short story, Demonkeeper around to producers and to enter competitions. At one point, "I had taken the screenplay to CA, got a producer on it, and it went way along in the process, and then it didn’t sell. I was so disappointed. I knew I needed a new direction, so I sat down and wrote it into a novel," he said.

Short stories remained a part of Buckingham's life throughout the beginning of his career in law, but since "there's no money in short stories", and "screenplays are hard to sell", says Buckingham, "I reached a point when I wasn't doing it enough ... I loved writing screenplays because they were very visual, and when I learned to get that visual element into my novels, I was able to get that joy of picturing things on the page, and then it was more fun," he said.

After years working on and re-working Demonkeeper, Penguin bought the book in December 2005. What had started as a short story in the mid-90s was finally going to be published in a middle-grade fantasy novel. A couple of weeks later, Fox bought Demonkeeper the screenplay to develop for a movie.

"What was it like to suddenly go from giving up writing entirely to seeing your story become a hit? That’s the ‘I won the lottery’ feeling!" Buckingham laughs. "Pick your favorite dream and that’s it ... I’d wake up the next day and wonder if that really happened. It exceeds anything I had thought I would ever get to ... It’s the story that should keep all other writers writing."

Buckingham references Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, who says that if you want to be a professional at something, you need to work on it for at least seven years. "Who can expect to go out and start writing, and immediately be an expert? You’re not a professional right off the bat. You’re competing with celebrities and professionals. The bulk of people that get there have been doing it, and doing it hard," Buckingham said.

Demonkeeper's success was hardly the end of Buckingham's career in law - he's still working hard at that, although he recently reduced his hours so that he could spend more time writing. "Follow your dream, but pay your rent. I want to keep taking my shots, but I also need the security of my day job to support my family and do what's right for them," he says. Buckingham's dream is still in the works; he's had two more books published since his big break with Demonkeeper in 2007. Goblins was published in 2008, and The Dead Boys was published last year. The latter was already nominated for a Cybils Award for 2010 Fantasy and Science Fiction for the middle-grade (see the book on the finalists' list here).

According to Royce Buckingham, "The biggest thing you learn is not to chase bad ideas. You only have so many books in you," he says. "Before I sit down to write, I walk around for six months talking about it. It’s really easy when I go to schools and tell the kids about it, and their reaction tells me if it’s a book. You only have so much time, so work on the ideas that are good."

After years of trying, with competitions won and some progress on his work, but nothing so big as publishing until that 'lottery-winning' time in 2005, Buckingham has quite the experience with 'try, try again'. He suggests that writers in those almost-but-not-quite published-shoes "Enter competitions to get a measure of where you’re at, if you do well, you just need to get your work out there more. If you’re not getting good feedback at competitions, get it from a writing group, go to classes," he advises. "You can work a long time by yourself and not know what you’re doing wrong. Competitions tell you how good your work is. Writing groups are really a substitute for paying tuition to a writing teacher. Get in a group with mature people who can take criticism, and give it without getting upset."

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