I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. This is my original Players Handbook. It got a lot of love when I was a kid.
And these are my two best childhood friends, Mike Francis & Eric Yatabe. We get together every few years.
We played many hours of D&D growing up–sometimes a single game would last for weeks–so we decided to dig out our D&D supplies and play over the weekend as 50 year olds.
I volunteered to be Dungeon Master, selected a classic dungeon module from my original stash (Hall of the Fire Giant King), and studied it. My sons created character sheets. We took over the dining room table. And we played.
Being Dungeon Master is lot like being a storyteller. The Dungeon Master sets the scene and guides other players through the dungeon, always revealing just enough about what monster, trap, or treasure might be lurking or hidden around the next corner to keep them hungry and surprised. On this occasion the players broke into the castle with a spell that created a hole in the wall, and they trapped the Fire Giant Queen in her chambers. One player died in the fracas, and there was much debate about, well, everything. It was just as intense as when we were kids.
When I write, I tell stories the same way–set the scene, reveal enough to make the reader want to know more, and let the tale unfold naturally according to what the characters would do. I also think its infinitely more fun to show readers what’s going on than telling them–a mantra pilfered from my creative writing instructors in days of yore.
So…the game was still awesome. And relevant. I highly recommend a reboot for you elders who grew up with it. And, for my younger fans, it’s never too late to pick up the dice!
Royce Buckingham has done it again. He’s penned the amazing new medieval fantasy, Die Klinge Des Waldes (Verlagsgruppe Random House – Blanvalet, Germany) due out this fall. Royce took a few minutes to talk about writing fantasy, his newest project, and how it’s connected to his best-selling Mapper Series (Penhaligon/Blanvalet).
Q: Why do you write? A: Because I have so many stories in my head. If I don’t get them out, they’ll drive me crazy!
Q: What’s your favorite genre? A: Medieval Fantasy. I used to like horror stories best. Then I had kids, and horror movies lost their luster. Teens getting killed in the woods doesn’t intrigue me now that I’m not a teen and I have a couple of them. I do still love a good monster story.
Q: What is it about Medieval Fantasy? A: I like the idea of chivalry that is associated with the (loosely interpreted) time period. I’m not sure if people actually were chivalrous, but the concept makes for good character motivation, hypocrisy, and internal conflict. The other fun I have toying with the medieval genre goes back to Dungeons & Dragons, where I learned to imagine medieval scenarios. I have a strong vision of what fantasy medieval worlds can look like.
I also like the low-tech setting. In my new novel, Die Klinge Des Waldes (BLADE to my US fans), I have an inventor who designs and builds things that I get to dream up. They seem fantastical, but possible. It’s hard for me to write sci-fi these days. With the advances in the technology of our time, it’s difficult to imagine innovation beyond what innovators are actually doing. We’ve been wowed to death by amazing tech. It’s easier for me (and fun) to imagine what might be astound people in medieval times.
Q: What’s an example of that? A: A mechanical elephant in a medieval world would be fascinating. In our modern world it would be an internet sensation for maybe a day. So when I create my mechanical elephant with flames coming out of its trunk and crossbow bolts shooting from its tusks my characters (and audience) say “how can that be?” or “that’s amazing!” instead of “huh, cool, what else is on youtube?”
Q: Where do your stories come from? A: A couple of places. One is the drama of real life–problems anybody might have like, “oh no! I’m going to get killed and I don’t want to….” That’s a real problem now and in medieval times. In fact, it was likely extra-challenging to live and survive back then. Other everyday drama can include things like “I don’t love you” and “you’re fired.”
I also ask myself, “what if?” The answer is then the story. For Die Klinge Des Waldes, I thought “What if you took a Disney princess and had awful things happen to her? How would she handle that?” The answer in my world is: not very well initially.
The ways people deal with conflict is what makes for a good story. The more challenging, the better. The struggles of a fallen princess are especially awesome.
Q: Die Klinge Des Waldes (Blade) features a strong female protagonist. In your dozen or so previous books you’ve used primarily male protagonists. Did writing a female change your approach to this story? A: The Mapper Series had a female protagonist in one book, and I enjoyed working with a female lead. Building on that experience, this character is even more well-developed. She should appeal to both men and women. Her struggles are very human and mostly genderless (such as “I don’t want to get killed”), but she lives in a world where being female has its own unique challenges.
Q: What drives your stories first–character, plot, world-building? A: It used to be the plot, but now I am more character-focused. Readers like characters. If readers love the character, they want to see what that character will do, even if the conflict is as simple as, “what’s for dinner?” For this work, I focused more on our princess’s evolution than the events around her. But of course a zebra can’t change its stripes. There are still some big plot twists!
Q: How else has your writing evolved? A: My world-building has gotten better. When you read Die Klinge Des Waldes, you experience a complete and detailed world. Having environments that are really developed is fun for readers. It’s very much like Game of Thrones, in which the world is extensive and has many distinctive characters and locations. The city I’ve created in Die Klinges Des Waldes has 35-districts, each with its own personality. It’s almost like Munich, Barcelona, Lagos, Seattle, Tokyo, and Rio all pushed together beside each other to form one big city, only its medieval.
Q: What is your favorite district? A: The Carnival District! And it’s the favorite of the city’s citizens as well–parties, performances, politics, and a crazy/brilliant Duke who runs the show. I’m pretty sure it’s also the favorite of my editors who created a blow-up of the carnival castle and circus tent on one of two beautifully illustrated maps for the novel.
Q: Yes. Tell us about the maps! They seem to be an important part of your medieval fantasy books. Can you talk about that? A: It started with my second best seller in Germany, Die Karte Der Welt (The Map of the World). My publisher, Blanvelet, asked me to sketch a map. I scribbled out an amateur diagram so they knew where the landmarks were, and they hired professional cartographer, Andreas Hancock, Bielefeld) to create a real map for the entire Map of the World series. Super cool. In my new novel, the world is so extensively developed that, even though the story subject wasn’t maps, my editors wrote and said, “I know you’re busy, but can you sketch up another amateur map of your world so a professional can draw it?”
Q: Was that a fun process for you? A: Oh yeah. Yes! I have to admit I really dig making maps. In fact, I got a little obsessive and spent a week re-reading my entire 600 page novel to get every location right. Then I sketched it like a kindergartener…or at least a kindergartener with Photoshop. I also wrote three pages of detailed notes about the map. Random House hired a professional who translated all of the materials I provided into beautiful maps for the interior of the novel. It was awesome!
I don’t think every author gets that much creative input with their novels’ artwork. My publisher did, however, reject my cover idea. They said my concept was too polarizing, and then they sent me the beautiful cover they had already created.
Q: What do you love about Die Klinge Des Waldes? A: I love Flora. She’s a complex person. She starts simple and becomes very complicated. It’s like watching her grow up, only there are wars and swordplay and mechanical elephants that shoot flame from their trunks.
Q: Why should other people love the story? A: It’s big and cinematic and intimate at the same time. We get to know a lot about Flora, and then we get to see her on a huge stage trying to deal with disasters, triumphs, and everyday problems, like the overthrow of entire kingdoms and spats with her older sister.
Q: What’s different about this story from others that you have written? A: This is an adult story, and so it is different than my bestseller Damliche Damonen (Demonkeeper) in the same way that Game of Thrones is different from Lord of the Rings.
Q: What’s next for you? Any new projects on the horizon? A: Yes. I am always thankful that my editors believe in my work. I am currently writing another medieval fantasy with Blanvalet. It’s due at the end of the year, and I expect will be released some time in 2019.
Q: Is Die Klinge Des Waldes going to be available for U.S. fans to read? A: I certainly hope so. I will be taking it to US publishers soon. But that’s a new blog entry entirely…. Stay tuned!
Enter a world of uncharted lands, fantastic creatures, emerging civilizations and the darkness that will define it all. Enter Mapper – Royce Buckingham’s best selling German series, today! Download yours– Click Here!
The Demonkeeper Series
Demons are all around us – most of them relatively harmless, like ones that go bump in the night. But some are dangerous – some can kill. Since orphaned as a boy, Nat Grimlock has been trained by his aged mentor Dhaliwahl to be a demonkeeper controlling a menagerie of demons in their rickety house in Seattle. but now Daliwahl is gone, and Nat is on his own.
When Nat goes on a date with Sandy, a librarian’s assistant, it’s a disaster in more ways than one – a very scary demon called the best escapes. Can Nat get the Beast back to the house and make things right with Sandy?
With its fast-paced action, slapstick humor, and a winning, unlikely hero, theDemonkeeperSeries is a high-spirited romp that will keep readers glued to the page!
When I returned from the SCBWI’s Weekend on the Water writer’s retreat in Dumas, WA last month, I dove back into the hustle and bustle of my day job, sports carpools, parenting, and an onrushing deadline for my latest 500 page project for Random House-Germany, Princess Assassin. It’s due Dec 1st. Am I panicking? The answer is “absolutely.”
Despite all this life happening to me, I have a moment to share some great stats and insight I learned from Chelsea Eberley at the retreat. Chelsea is an editor for Random House Books for Young Readers, which is a big reason I decided to attend the retreat. Coincidentally, I write books for young readers, and I have more stories for young readers to tell. I appreciate Chelsea’s time and insight and want to share some of it with you.
If you ever wondered….here are the Page Counts/Word Counts for different types of children’s books:
Board Book: 100 words; 1-2 words per page.
Picture Book: 400-800 words; 24, 32, 40 pages.
Beginning Readers: 32 pages or 48 pages.
Chapter Books: 8,000-11,000 words; 100 pages.
Middle Grade: 30,000-50,000 words; Protag 10-13 years old – kids want to read their age or a little older.
Young Adult: 60,000 – 80,000 words; Protag 14+ years old.
New Adult: 60,000-80,000 words; Protag 18+ – early 20s and in college.
Avoid “Manufactured (artificial) Urgency”
*Avoid an unnecessary prologue (*I star this one, because this was Chelsea’s comment on my piece).
Avoid opening with dialogue. Who’s that talking???
Avoid jumping in with a fight scene. We don’t care who wins yet!
Climactic scenes should (at least) have logic and the main character.
Take a moment to describe the setting.
Wounded characters need time to heal. Duh.
Climactic scenes should be tightly edited to convey urgency.
Here’s a Good Exercise to Try: Pretend the scene is being used as a cover quote, and read it aloud.
And finally, some parting words and advice from Chelsea…
“I don’t expect perfection, just forward momentum.”
How to respond to editorial letters: “Thanks for your notes. I understand them. I’ll think about them and get back to you by _____.”
If you disagree with the editor, say: “I feel strongly that…” “My priority is…”
Avoid these responses to an editor: “No!” “I’m the writer.” “Who in the world gave you a fine arts degree?”
While it is hard to take the time out to attend conferences and events, the connections made are excellent. The information that I have shared above is uber-useful (like a reasonably priced ride on the path to publishing) and, as important, not copyrighted.
Additionally, the opportunity to talk personally with an editor who is in tune with current trends and willing to take the time to discuss my very own current story pitches is invaluable.
A big thanks to Western Washington’s Chapter of SCBWI and Chelsea!
Royce has been on a roll. As you may know, his book, The Dead Boys won Washington State’s 2014 Sasquatch Children’s Book Award. Naturally, you might be wondering what middle grade readers can expect next. Well…he has more stories to tell for that age, it’s just that they’ll have to wait. You see, Royce’s first YA title, The Terminals just came out and he has an adult legal thriller called Impasse due out next March.
The Terminals is a spy thriller for young adults with a twist. Royce started developing the story several years ago when he wondered ‘what if group of teens with only a year to live could spend their remaining time completing dangerous spy missions?’ The result is an action-packed, entertaining read that is still fun but more grown up than his middle grade monster stories.
And talk about growing up, Royce’s next book, Impasse, is a full-fledged adult legal thriller. The story follows Stu, a washed up attorney who’s sent into the Alaskan wilderness for a week by his law partner to ‘man up.’ Royce says his experience as an attorney prepared him to be a technician when it comes to writing. He never thought he’d come home from work and write about work – he’s a prosecuting attorney having worked in the criminal justice system for 13 years and has practiced law for more than 20.
For all of his middle grade fans, don’t you worry, he has many stories to tell and feels lucky to be able to be creative and try out new genres. And he has several outlines prepped for more middle grade novels. In the meantime, feel free to recommend Demonkeeper, The Goblin Problem (formerly Goblins! An UnderEarth Adventure) and The Dead Boys to your friends…and stay on the look out for the Kindle release of Demonkeeper II and III.