2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #4
Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


In the desert town of Richland, Washington, there stands a giant sycamore tree. Horribly mutated by nuclear waste, it feeds on the life energy of boys that it snags with its living roots. And when Teddy Matthews moves to town, the tree trains its sights on its next victim.

From the start, Teddy knows something is very wrong with Richland-every kid he meets disappears before his eyes. A trip to the cemetery confirms that these boys are actually dead and trying to lure him to the tree. But that knowledge is no help when Teddy is swept into the tree's world, a dark version of Richland from which there is no escape. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


 Royce “Atomic” Buckingham

Hey reading warriors! I hear you are going to battle, and I am so psyched that my book THE DEAD BOYS is one of the weapons. I write fantasy and monster novels, so a good raging battle is right up my alley.

What’s really cool about my book THE DEAD BOYS is that it’s set in my home town of Richland, WA, where I grew up near the Hanford nuclear plant (you can Wikipedia Hanford for more info). Turns out radioactive waste was dumped in my drinking water until I was about five years old. Once I started writing fantasy books, it seemed the perfect setting for a mutated monster story (I’ll stop there…I don’t want to give any more away). The locations in the book are authentic (check Mapquest to further investigate), as is the history of Hanford. Well…okay, I did take a few liberties in order to monsterfy the town.

I now live in Bellingham, WA, overlooking the islands in Puget Sound. My other novels, DEMONKEEPER and GOBLINS, are also set in places I’ve lived. They are even more monstery than THE DEAD BOYS, if that’s possible. DEMONKEEPER is a bestseller in Germany and was even optioned for a movie, once upon a time. You can write me at royce@demonkeeper.com

My advice for aspiring writers is to create your story completely in your head before you start writing. My favorite way is by telling it to others out loud over and over before I whip out the laptop. My advice for aspiring readers is: do it a lot! It’s fun, it’s cool, and it makes you smart.

Have a great battle.

 I was born in 1966 in Richland, Washington and grew up in the 70’s near the Hanford nuclear plant. Richland is in the eastern Washingtonian desert on the Columbia river, one of the largest rivers in the world. I used to take a trip each summer with my family to my grandparents’ working ranch in the mountainous Bozeman/Livingston area of Montana. As a young child in Richland, I was a Cub Scout, loved sports, and I was fascinated by fantastic tales such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Phantom Tollbooth and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.   

As I grew older, I moved on to The Hobbit, Conan the Barbarian and anything Stephen King. I collected comic books too. Movies were a big event in my small, government town. I saw Jaws at the theater the day it opened in 1975. I was nine years old. I stood in the sold-out line again in 1977 for Star Wars when I was eleven, and again for Alien when I was thirteen. We didn’t have VCR’s back then. 

Around twelve, I discovered the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons&Dragons and began to create my own fantasy worlds. I was a Little League baseball player filled with wonder and dreams and a fascination for stories.   
When I graduated from high school, I left home for Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. It’s a small liberal arts school. I played college baseball there for a couple of years, but was primarily there for the academics. I majored in English literature and traded Stephen King and the X-men for Milton and Hemmingway. I also gave up baseball my junior year to go abroad and study English in…England.   

I had begun tinkering with creative writing by this time. However, I felt that I should be responsible and pursue a “real career.”

I applied and was accepted at the University of Oregon School of Law. I didn’t know anything about law, but it seemed a good bet to provide a “real career.”    I discovered an area of law I found interesting—criminal law. In my final year at law school, I studied all things crime and even wrote a fifty-page thesis-style paper on juvenile criminals. I also took an undergraduate creative writing class for fun in my spare time and wrote a dark little literary/horror story. At the suggestion of a professor, I sent my thesis to a law review. At the suggestion of a friend, I sent my story to a literary magazine.  

As law school came to a close, I was contacted by the Willamette Law Review. They wanted to publish my article on juvenile offenders. About the same time, I got a call from Reed Magazine, the Literary Magazine of San Jose State University. They wanted to publish my short story…as written. These were two early writing successes that couldn’t have been more different.   

My legal article went onto my resume, my short story went into my drawer, and I began looking for a job to begin my “real career.” My first interview was at the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office (DA’s Office) in Bellingham, Washington, a gorgeous little University town north of Seattle overlooking the San Juan Islands. When I arrived, the receptionist told me that there were over 100 inquiries for the job. The interview consisted, in part, of the entire office of experienced attorneys watching me do a mock opening statement and mock cross-examination of a witness in a real courtroom. It was terrifying, but I prepared hard and apparently did well, because I got the job. I passed the bar exam and began to prosecute criminals as a real attorney.  

As I went after bad guys in real life, I began to write fantasy, sci-fi and horror short stories in my spare time and submit them to publications. In 1993, I collected over one hundred rejection letters. One especially mean-spirited letter said, “your story is moronic, don’t you have anything better to do with your time?” It was discouraging, but I made up a file entitled, “reasons to keep writing,” and kept all of those letters as motivation. Eventually, I had seven short stories published in small magazines that nobody had ever heard of, including me. I discovered later that a 7% publication rate for short stories is actually pretty good. I also did well in some story competitions, which made me think, “hey, I can do this.” I showed my stories to anyone who was willing read them. People often said my stuff was weird, which I took as a compliment.   

I sat down and wrote a novel. It took a year. I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry at the time, and I couldn’t sell it. I was discouraged. It took too long to write a novel just to learn at the end that nobody would buy it. But short stories didn’t get me many fans or much money. I wanted to tell stories to a larger audience. About this time, I discovered the screenplay format.   

It was the mid-90’s, and I had advanced to a position as a juvenile court prosecutor. Rap songs about violent gang members were popular, and I handled many serious juvenile offenders.   

I was writing screenplays at this point. My first was an adaptation of my novel. I loved the screenplay form. It was very direct, like me. I wrote another and entered a contest. To my delight, I was a finalist, and my script was performed as a stage reading in Seattle. I was encouraged to write more scripts.   

Then Demonkeeper happened.

Demonkeeper began as a short story inspired by a street kid I used to prosecute regularly in juvenile court. He was thirteen, had a green Mohawk, and I’d see him downtown begging change. One day he disappeared, and nobody seemed to notice. Even his parents didn’t know where he’d gone, or care. 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.

The Demonkeeper screenplay married my love of fantasy with the themes I was seeing in the courtroom during my very somber day-job. It began to win competitions. I wrote other scripts, and they earned me awards as well, but Demonkeeper was always the favorite and garnered the most notice. The awards kept me going like addictive little nibbles at success, and they regularly reminded me that, “hey, I can do this.” By 1999, I was writing more scripts and sending my work to L.A. in the hope that I could sell something. 
For the next five years, I wrote hard and tried to sell a script. As a result, I ended up winning the quadruple-crown of northwest screenwriting competitions, including the Washington State short script competition, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association feature length script competition, the Washington State feature length competition (with Demonkeeper), and the Seattle International Film Festival’s Pitch Competition all in the space of two years. Some Hollywood producers got interested in Demonkeeper, and I thought I was about to break through. I even took the time to translate Demonkeeper into a novel.   

But as excited as I got about my amateur success, my big-budget fantasy about street monsters eating lost kids did not get picked up by a studio. In the meantime, I had children of my own. I also got promoted at work. I moved to adult felony prosecutions—robbery, arson, abuse, negligent homicides, burglary, etc.. My wife was working full-time too. I had to write at night after everyone else went to bed. I was typically up until two a.m., and often later, either writing or preparing for jury trials. This…was a problem. My intense day job and my writing were taking time away from my family. I even fell asleep sitting upright at my desk once. As good as the signs were for my writing, the fact was: I wasn’t breaking through, I wasn’t making any money at it, and I’d been doing it over ten years. It was tough to justify the commitment. I had a “real career,” and I questioned why I was still chasing what seemed a silly dream.   

I’d submitted Demonkeeper to the Nicholl Fellowship, a contest put on by the Academy for amateur screenwriters. I’d done so every year for some time. They receive up to 5000 entries annually and are regarded as the best competition for screenwriters—heck, they’re the Academy Awards people! Winners often obtained representation and/or sold scripts. I’d done well in the competition before, but, as with my attempts to sell my work, I’d never won. In 2004, with all of my other obligations weighing on me, I resolved to quit writing seriously after I received the results of that year’s Nicholl Fellowship. 

That same week, Microsoft e-mailed me. They’d heard about Demonkeeper from a friend of mine in Seattle. They wanted to hire a screenwriter to create an original story for an Xbox video game. I was floored. After they read my script, they offered me the job. I sat down with my wife. This was not what I had planned, but it was an opportunity to write a fantasy story for a real audience for real money. My amazing wife took one look at our choice between my dream vs. my secure “real career” and told me…“go for it.” Completely contrary to every conservative lesson I’d ever been taught, I “went for it.” I left my “real career” and wrote Microsoft an incredible story. A few months later, Microsoft cancelled the project, and I came crawling back to the prosecutor’s office to beg for my job back. 

This time I felt I was truly done with writing. I’d been doing it for almost twelve years now. I’d won almost everything I could win, and still I hadn’t sold anything. And I almost lost my hard-earned, secure government job as a prosecutor.

Then I received a letter from the Nicholl Fellowship. Demonkeeper had made it to the top 2% and was being considered for the final round of the competition. I was elated.
Then it lost. I was done, this time for good. I shut off the computer.

Along about here, Michael Kuciak at Atchity Entertainment International (AEI) gave me an innocuous call and asked if he could read the script that had done well in the Nicholl Fellowship. I sent Demonkeeper down to him and, frankly, forgot about it. I’d sent lots of scripts out, and only once had producers gotten legitimately interested. I returned to my stabbings, shootings, and robbings prosecutions. At least, I thought, I’d given my dream of being a writer a shot with the Microsoft gig. On my deathbed, I could say that I tried.   

Then Mike called me. He’d read Demonkeeper. He loved it. His bosses had read it. They loved it. They wanted to represent me. I mentioned that I had written it into a novel and asked if they cared. The response from them was surprise and delight. It turned out that AEI specialized in taking literary properties first to New York, then to Hollywood. Ken Atchity at AEI told me that they’d sell my novel in NY, then sell my script in LA. Yeah, right, I thought, but they did indeed work quickly to get my novel ready for publishers in New York to review.

In late 2005, Penguin Publishers read it Demonkeeper…and they loved it. They bought my novel sometime around Christmas of that year. Wow! We celebrated. I jumped up and down.   

The sale was announced in Publishers Weekly shortly thereafter, in January of ‘06. It turns out that Hollywood studio scouts read Publishers Weekly looking for new material. Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox, called AEI the day the announcement was printed. They wanted to read the novel. Ken was ready. He asked them, “wouldn’t you rather read Royce’s award-winning screenplay?” Fox read the script and made an offer the next day. Double wow! I spent a week pinching myself each morning to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.


Ken and AEI had delivered exactly as promised. And that hasn’t been the end of it. My second novel, Goblins, sold to Penguin later that same year. I now have three books out in the U.S.: Demonkeeper, Goblins! and The Dead Boys. Demonkeeper I was a best seller in Germany and third book of that series will be released in November 2011. Demonkeeper has also sold to and/or been released in France, Italy, Finland, Spain, Peru, Russia, Romania.

The whole idea of Penguin publishing my novels and 20th Century Fox making a movie out of my crazy monster fantasy was overwhelming at the time, and I still pinch myself some days. But looking back over this letter, I think things were meant to work out this way. The other day I found a scrap of paper in my Cub Scout handbook in my parents’ basement. It was a one-page story written in a childish cursive script with a No. 2 pencil. The story was about a man who found a ray gun and accidentally made himself disappear—a spooky science fiction tale. The story had my name printed neatly at the bottom, and my age. I was eight years old. (retrieved from author's website)
A picture of the boy eating tree from Dead Boys

A big thanks to Royce for participating in this year's book battle. I am sure he would love to hear from all the teams about your experience reading Dead Boys.

3 Delicious Comments:

Anonymous said...

This book is quick, its a page-turner, and it was AMAZING! It was really good and you don't know what exciting thing is going to happen next! :)

Anonymous said...

One of the most imaginative books I've read! I felt like I was watching a horror movie as I read it! I was out walking my dog when a tree touched me and I SCREAMED!

Anonymous said...

This book is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I couldn't put this book down! I literally finished it in less than a day.

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