A brave hero. A mysterious ancient relic. Dangerous flood waters and monstrous beasts.
“Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls,” a new novel by best-selling author Raymond Arroyo, is an inspiring adventure tale featuring a 12-year-old main character who is already being compared to Indiana Jones and Percy Jackson.
Although the book is published by Random House Children’s Books, the story — like all timeless, epic sagas — isn’t just for kids.
“It’s for everybody,” says Arroyo, an award-winning journalist, producer and managing editor of EWTN. “It’s a universal tale.”
The hero, Will, wants to set things right after he accidentally injures his brother in a backyard accident. When he discovers that his great-grandfather has hidden a relic with healing powers in town, Will decides to borrow it in hopes of repairing his brother’s injuries. Instead, Will inadvertently releases an ancient evil that wreaks havoc on the entire town of Perilous Falls. “All hell breaks loose, literally,” says Arroyo.
Will discovers an ancient prophecy and valiantly battles wicked forces. But ultimately it is a family saga.
It’s a rare book these days that doesn’t feature an abandoned or orphaned child as the main protagonist, notes Arroyo. And the story is really about the consequences of our choices.
“When I finished it, I said, ‘Oh my gosh.’ This story is really about how important it is to be connected to the decisions of our ancestors and the things of our past. Only by doing that can we understand our way forward.”
“Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls,” a seven-year project, was the “hardest thing I’ve ever written,” says Arroyo, although it’s clear when talking to him that it was a labor of love — mostly because it started with his own children, Alexander, 16, Lorenzo, 12 and Mariella, 10.
The story was born beside a bathtub, a “soap opera,” as Arroyo puts it, “because I would tell these stories about Will and his family to my kids when I bathed them. I would create little cliffhangers and wouldn’t tell them anything else until we moved to the next phase of the bathing process.”
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Will’s story took shape for Arroyo during a trip to Ireland. He came across a newspaper account of a stolen relic. “Someone broke into a church and snatched the heart of some saint. It was in a lead box above an altar in chains. That story planted the seed for me. I said, ‘Why would anyone want to take a relic?’ And, ‘What if the person who took the relic was 12 years old and had a good reason for doing so?’ Will Wilder fell out of that.”
As he wrote, Arroyo would ask his kids and their friends to weigh in. “I used them as focus groups.”
He adds, “I have written a lot of books — for adults, comedy books, books with (LifeZette Editor-in-Chief) Laura Ingraham. Children have an even-more-diminished attention span than adults these days — and that is practically nil.”
So the story had to capture their imagination quickly and move swiftly to keep it.
“They’ll tell you exactly what appeals to them and what doesn’t. They were like the editorial board at the New York Times. These kids are brutal.”
As a result, he says, “I’ve cut scenes. I’ve killed characters.” The kids’ input, he says, was “indispensable.”
Arroyo particularly treasures a letter he got recently from a fifth grader in Massachusetts who has already read the book. The student wrote, “This book is amazing. I love all the adventure … I can tell how much time you put into the book. I am so amazed how literature can be when you just try it out. When I was reading, I felt like I was Will at the exact time and place.”
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Arroyo says that same fifth grader might someday open “Will Wilder” and read it again or read it to his kids.
“My hope is that kids will return to it when they’re older and rediscover it in a new way.”
In the meantime, fans can be assured that more Will Wilder is on the way. Arroyo says book two is done. “I’m working on book three.” The entire series is outlined. He’s not sure how many books there will be.
It’s a good bet, though, that if you’re looking for Arroyo, you might find him in his “cave” at his Virginia home, working on the next Will Wilder adventure. He was doing that the other day when he heard his kids outside the room and his son announcing to his daughter: “You can’t go in there. Dad’s in Perilous Falls.”