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The World of Wil Radcliffe
The Indiana author’s Young Adult novel Noggle Stones is a hit
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Middle-Earth… Hogwart’s… Narnia… Northeast Indiana…
One of these things is not like the other? Novelist Wil Radcliffe would beg to differ. His Young Adult fantasy/adventure novel Noggle Stones takes place in the upper reaches of our corner of the Midwest during the late 19th century — inspired by the area around Radcliffe’s hometown of Fremont, to be more specific — and provides the setting for the adventures of a clever goblin named Bugbear and his assorted human sidekicks, cohorts, and adversaries.
An unusual backdrop, maybe, for fantasy, but then Noggle Stones is an unusual book. After a long gestation (more on that in a moment), Noggle Stones was published by Daily Swan Publishing in 2008, and has been gathering accolades and fans ever since. Midpoint Trade books named it one of the best Young Adult books of 2008. Now, a second printing of the book is on its way, and a card game was recently released. Radcliffe is in talks for a role-playing game and a line of toys based on his characters, and there’s even interest — though he stresses it’s just talk, at this point — in a film version.
And, of course, there’s a sequel in the works.
The protagonist of Noggle Stones is Bubgear, a very resourceful goblin — though unlike, say, Tolkien’s goblins, Bugbear is a good guy. Radcliffe says Bugbear has been with him since he (Radcliffe, not Bugbear) was a junior high student in Fremont, Indiana. A fan of comic books, Radcliffe was trying to come up with a new superhero-type character. “It seemed that every type of superhero, every type of power and personality, was already out there,” Radcliffe recalls. “Most of them go around beating the heck out of each other, getting into physical conflicts… So I thought ‘I’m going to create a character who is short, doesn’t get into physical conflicts, uses his brain, his intelligence, to get out of things…’”
After graduating high school in Fremont, Radcliffe went to Ball State. Bugbear followed him, and even helped him pay for school — Radcliffe won the David Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship with a storyboard script he created featuring the goblin. “When I graduated, I took that character and wrote a book around his adventures,” he says. “But it was a much different book than what became Noggle Stones…”
Indeed, Radcliffe says the original novel was heavily influenced by Douglas Adams. “It was more ‘stream-of-consciousness’ stuff, lots of jokes…” He sent it out to a few publishers, but… “I wasn’t getting a lot of response doing that. So, I took all the same characters — re-worked a few of them a little bit — and just re-wrote the entire book. I tightened things up, added some more character development, and concentrated less on jokes and more on plot, character… all the important stuff.”
This different approach worked on two levels. For one, Radcliffe said the writing felt more natural to him — the sentences flowed more easily, and the characters and settings came alive in a way that they hadn’t done in the previous version.
And secondly, though a publishing deal didn’t materialize immediately, the responses and he got from different publishing companies were very encouraging. “One publisher gave me some very helpful feedback,” he says. “They picked out a few minor things in the plot and the writing that I couldn’t see because I was too close to it. It really strengthened the book.”
Still, Radcliffe wanted Noggle Stones published, and all the interest and encouragement he got didn’t go so far as to putting the book in print. Plus, the process was taking a long time. “A lot of publishers have a ‘no simultaneous submissions policy’,” Radcliffe says. “You have to wait for a response, and that might mean a month. Or two months. Or six months. I didn’t want to tie my book up too long…”
Radcliffe decided to self-publish Noggle Stones, which basically meant the book would be professionally printed and produced, even available through Amazon, and bound copies would be available, but there was no distribution, and no marketing. “I knew I wasn’t going to make money that way, but I just wanted a sample that I could take to agents and traditional publishers,” he says. “My main goal was just to get it out there, maybe develop on some licensing — games, any kind of spin-offs…”
It took a few years, but Radcliffe’s persistence worked — two agents at the same time not only expressed interest, but actually started shopping the book around. He eventually went with one of the agents, who got him the publishing deal with Daily Swan. With some marketing and distribution, Noggle Stones slowly but surely started selling, and licensing deals for games, toys, etc. soon followed.
The story and characters in Noggle Stones lend themselves very well to games, toys, etc. It is a Young Adult novel, and Radcliffe says he wrote it for a wide audience. The story starts with Bugbear and his cousin Tudmire stumbling upon a scroll that melds their own fantastical world with our world, albeit our world of a hundred or so years ago. The scroll also awakens a slumbering evil, and Bugbear and his allies — a stage magician named Martin Manchester and a female warrior named Maga — set out to defeat these sinister forces.
Since it’s a Young Adult fantasy novel, comparisons with Harry Potter or maybe C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books are bound to arise, and indeed, fans of those series would probably enjoy Noggle Stones. But the overall tone of Noggle Stones is a little lighter, and Radcliffe completely eschews some of the more gritty elements of a lot of modern fantasy. In other words, his heroes may have flaws, but they’re still the good guys trying to do the right thing.
“I didn’t restrict myself as far as vocabulary and some of the issues I dealt with, but I didn’t use foul language or gratuitous violence,” Radcliffe says. “There’s violence in it, because it’s an adventure story, but there’s nothing really bloody or gorey.”
“I didn’t also want to be too negative,” he continues. “I grew up reading Lord of the Rings and the legends of King Arthur, and that comes down to the good guy rising to meet the challenge, no matter what the odds, and always trying to do the right thing. That’s important to me, especially in the world we live in now. You want to feel that there are people out there doing the right thing to protect the rest of us, or do what’s right for mankind.”
Radcliffe grants that those sentiments might sound a little cliché or old fashioned, but the sort of honorable motivations that spurred the knights in King Arthur on their adventures were really important to Radcliffe when he was a younger, and they were something he wanted in his own stories. “You have to have some darkness, because you have to have something for the good guys to struggle against,” he says. “For Noggle Stones, I concentrated less on the bad guys, and more on the good guys trying to overcome their inner demons. Each character has something they have to deal with and overcome, and facing that weakness helps them fight and do the right thing.”
The illustrations of the story’s characters and settings capture the tone of the book well. Among the illustrators was one of Radcliffe’s idols, comic artist Ernie Colon, who has worked on a number of comic books (fans of comic book art give him high marks for his work on Richie Rich one upon a time) and recently collaborated on a graphic novel version of the 9/11 Commission Report. “He did some great artwork based on the book. He was a childhood hero of mine, and I was really honored to meet him.”
Setting most of Noggle Stones in the late 1800s came easily to Radcliffe. For one, he says he didn’t feel like building an entire world for Bugbear and his friends to inhabit — the American Midwest of the late 19th century seemed both familiar and exotic enough to him. His interest in the time period started when he heard about Silas Doty, a criminal who plied his trade in the area in the mid-1800s. Doty liked to think of himself as a Midwest version of Robin Hood, though really, he was just a thief and a murder. “Yeah, he stole from the rich and gave to himself,” Radcliffe says. “But I really got interested in that character. The Angola library had a copy of his autobiography, so I got on this kick about reading about him and his times.”
Radcliffe finished writing the sequel to Noggle Stones — tentatively entitled Noggle Lands — over the summer. The setting is the same, with many of the main characters returning, though some new characters join the cast, and there will also be a few cameos from some historical figures. The manuscript is being proofed and edited, and if all goes well, he’s planning to send it off to Daily Swan in a few weeks. “Hopefully, it’ll be on the publishing schedule for 2011,” Radcliffe says. It feels great to know I have a publisher and audience waiting for the sequel. It made it much easier to sit down in my free time and write it. So I'm looking forward to seeing what the readers think.”
For more information on Radcliffe and Noggle Stones, visit nogglestones.com