John Coe Robbins hasn’t bought his buttered popcorn yet.
The Fort Worth resident, author of the 2011 historical novel Maya Lord, recently sold film rights to Roland Emmerich, director of such big-budget blockbusters as Independence Day, The Patriot and 2012.
Members of Robbins’ family are already lobbying to attend the red-carpet Hollywood premiere with him, but they’re in for a long wait.
Emmerich has at least two films ahead of Maya Lord on his to-do list, including an Independence Day sequel that’s tentatively planned for a summer 2016 release.
“Just because he’s bought the rights, that doesn’t mean he has to make the movie,” Robbins also points out. “But from what I understand, Emmerich has been interested in the story of Gonzalo Guerrero (a 16th-century Maya warrior considered in Mexico to be the father of the Mestizo people) for a long time.
“It’s apparently a film he really wants to make. The director of development at Centropolis, which is Emmerich’s production company, says it’s probably going to be 2016 before it gets into serious production.”
It’s good, then, that Robbins is a patient man.
He wrote his original draft of Maya Lord, a much shorter version than the 325-page book published three years ago by Whiskey Creek Press, in the early 1990s.
After he completed that early draft, he hooked up with an agent who also represented John Grisham. Robbins was convinced he had hit the jackpot — “I thought, ‘I’m going to be rich!’ ” — only to be disappointed when the manuscript didn’t sell.
Two decades later, Robbins fleshed out the book and found a small publisher on his own.
“I wouldn’t encourage anyone to write a book to try to make a lot of money,” Robbins says.
Nor should anyone expect to make that fortune overnight.
But given that the journey from story idea to published book took 20 years, Robbins says he doesn’t mind waiting a few more years to see the film.
Robbins, 68, and his wife, Sarah, moved to Fort Worth 5 1/2 years ago. He’s semi-retired after a career as a TV journalist and freelance writer of marketing and training documentaries.
Maya Lord explores the lives of two extraordinary men during the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. Robbins’ main characters, Gonzalo Guerrero and Jeronimo Aguilar, are shipwreck survivors of the first known Spanish landing on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1511.
They are taken captive by the Maya, live as slaves for a time and then play key roles on opposite sides of the bloody conflict when Spanish Conquistadors sweep through the New World.
The book, although a modest seller, received good reviews and positive reader feedback.
Robbins wasn’t expecting anything more, however, until he received a phone call earlier this year from a prominent Hollywood book-to-film agent, asking if he was the author, then a follow-up call a few days later from a top Rodeo Drive attorney with an offer.
“It came like a bolt from out of the blue,” Robbins says. “I don’t know how the book came to Emmerich’s attention. But apparently he called the attorney on his cellphone from an airport in Thailand, saying, ‘Get the rights to this book.’ ”
It took a couple of days to agree on a monetary figure, then a couple of months to hammer out all of the fine print in the contract.
“The contract specifies the amount of control I have over the film, which is none,” Robbins jokes. “I’m pretty much just a spectator. I haven’t been asked to write the screenplay, which isn’t surprising, because I don’t have a track record of writing $200 million films, which is the ballpark that he plays in.
“If I’m lucky, they might allow me to visit the set while they’re filming.”
That contract is so detail-oriented it even spells out how many tickets Robbins will get to a red-carpet Hollywood premiere.
“Some of my family are going to be disappointed,” he says. “There are only so many tickets.”
As for the book, there’s been little movement yet to get it bigger distribution or a renewed promotional push. When the film gets made, however, there will likely be a tie-in release from a bigger publisher that can guarantee placement in brick-and-mortar stores.
In the meantime, Robbins is working on a new book.
“It’s not a follow-up to Maya Lord,” he says. “It’s more contemporary. It’s not in good shape yet, but I think it will be worth finishing. I’ve got a couple of years still to work on it.”
Let’s hope he doesn’t need another 20 years after that to get it published.
“Yeah, because 20 years from now,” he says, “I might not be able to appreciate the results.”