Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Rotten with Allan Woodrow

If you follow the fantastic site AuthorsNow then you catch all these wonderful authors and books that you may miss with the abundance of information that bombards us on a daily basis. One of the posts whacked me over the head and made me giddy was the introduction of Allan Woodrow and his debut middle-grade book The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless. With art by one of the Asylum's favorite artists Aaron Blecha (Zombiekins). So of course I was all over this like a hobo on a ham sandwich. I reached out to Allan in hopes of speaking to him about Zachary and his writing. He was uber cool and agreed to come haunt the halls here and hang out with us. Let's get ruthless already.

Can you tell us your background and what brought you to writing for children?

Allan Woodrow: I’ve been a writer my whole life. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was still a writer. I have the gene. But while I always planned on writing a novel, life got in the way, and so did a lack of clarity on what I wanted to write about. So I became an advertising writer, and on the side wrote random things like documentaries (aired on the Travel Channel and other places), a Chicago-based variety/comedy show, and a screenplay that I’m too embarrassed to read. Thankfully, I never sent that thing out to anyone.

Then I had kids who introduced a whole world of children’s books I didn’t know existed. And I realized that was what I wanted to write. So I did.

What made you chose to write The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless as your debut? Can you tell us about the book?

AW: When I was a kid I loved comic books: Spiderman, X-Men, etc. I used to ride my bike to this old used-book store a few miles away almost every weekend, The Curious Book Shop. They had two floors, and their entire second floor was filled with comic books. I spent a great deal of my allowance, paper route, and lawn mowing money at that place. So I’ve always been attracted to super-good and super-evil characters.

In high school I was on the staff of our literary magazine and wrote a short story about an evil villain named Fred Badguy who robbed banks with his pet worm, Spot. It was pretty silly. I ran across it and began wondering what Fred was like as a boy. And so Zachary was born.

Zachary Ruthless is the world’s most evil ten year old, and lives in a world where super villains have sort of a cult following. Interestingly, there are no super heroes in this world. Zachary wants more than anything to join the Society Of Utterly Rotten, Beastly And Loathsome Lawbreaking Scoundrels (SOURBALLS), which is the number one super villain outfit. But he’s not the only one. He has to fight a few competitors to gain the lone open seat alongside Mr. Maniacal and the rest of the SOURBALLS crew.

Along with his henchman (and best friend), Newt he must fight this evil assortment of felonious foes not only to get into SOURBALLS, but to survive. Bwa-ha-ha!

What has changed for you and your writing now that you are soon to be published author with a slate of books to follow?

AW: Ever since I was in third grade I wanted to write a book/have a book published. So this is really a culmination of a dream that I only vaguely thought would actually come true. As a result, the biggest change is my attitude toward my writing. Rather than trying to attain something that I wasn’t sure might happen, I can now approach writing as a business (and not a hobby), with some degree of confidence that I can continue to write and publish books, with an agent (shout out to Joanna Volpe!) and a support group to help. Every day I wake up pinching myself to see if I’m still dreaming, which means, unfortunately my arm is covered in pinch welt marks. So another change would be that I now have to wear mittens to bed until I get rid of this pinching habit.

I would like to know what your favorite part of writing is and what is your least favorite?

AW: I hate writing first drafts. I love rewriting them. I guess the self-marketing is also something that goes into the “least favorite” pile. I don’t generally like talking about myself. In fact, many of these answers I’m just lifting from Dav Pilkey’s biography.

Can you tell us about The Elevensies? How did you get involved?

AW: The Elevensies is a collection of YA and MG writers who first books debut in 2011. I was vaguely aware of a group being formed, and then heard from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of someone who thinks they are my friend but I really don’t like them very much, about the group. We’ve banded together to help each other promote our books and share our insights and experiences as we all stumble along blindly.

We love illustrator/artist Aaron Blecha. Did you have much interaction with him on the creation of the art?

AW: Your love of Aaron is mutual. We share ideas and thoughts fairly consistently with each other. Recently, he recommended I watch one of the worst movies ever, although surprisingly touching, The Calamari Wrestler, about a wrestling squid (Japanese, with subtitles). Go see it, unless you have anything better to do.

The Calamari Wrestler

AW: I’ve been fortunate that Maria Gomez at HarperCollins has solicited my opinion on cover ideas, illustration ideas and rough sketches from the very beginning, and shared them with Aaron, but honestly, Aaron’s work is so perfect that I’ve mostly just sent over comments like, “wow!”, “cool!” and “neat-o.” Also, sometimes I might catch something that conflicts with the long-term story arc, so I request a tweak. Although I’m glad I quashed his idea to turn Zachary into a talking armadillo. It just didn’t feel right.

Why do you think there is such an appeal to rotten villainous kids? Who are some of your favorite villains?

AW: It’s mostly a backlash from all those years of goody-two shoe kids. What hasn’t been written about kids who are nice? A lot of actors say that playing the bad guy is more fun that playing the hero. I’d add that writing the bad guy parts are more fun that writing the good guy parts.

My favorites? Really, after Lex Luthor and The Joker, the rest of the crowd are just super villain wanna-be’s.

If you were stranded on an island with only one book what would it be? Why?

AW: The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the last book by Charles Dickens. For two reasons. First, I love Dickens. But more importantly, he died before he finished it. I’m assuming that in addition to my one book, I have a laptop and an electric outlet. I can spend my days happily writing new endings. A wireless feed would also be nice, so I can send it to my agent when I’m done.

Thank you, Allan! I can't wait to read Zachary. It sounds like it is going to be a cauldron of diabolical goodness.

I want to give a heartfelt Thank You to everyone for reading and hanging with me this year. There will be a few more posts covering book reviews and an author visit to wrap up 2010. After that the Asylum will close doors until new year before bringing a whole new level of crazy for 2011.

Oh and one last thing. January will mark the one year anniversary of the Asylum so we hope you stop by and join the unplanned festivities that I will have to start thinking about planning. No pressure.


  1. What a great title! I'll definitely be picking this up.

  2. I am hoping my sharkly visage and reputation for utter ruthlessnes will allow me to join SOURBALLS posthaste. I think Zachary Ruthless rocks!

  3. Great interview Alan! Zachary Ruthless sounds awesome - I can't wait to read it. And the cover art and illustrations are fabulous :)

  4. Zachary Ruthless reminds me a bit of Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" ( - it's about a supervillain trying to get into the Evil League of Evil. You should check it out!

  5. SOURBALLS...reminds me of Warheads candies. Those were good.

  6. GREAT interview, Allan!! And now I really, really need to see THE CALAMARI WRESTLER. Because I did love THE WRESTLER and this is probably the same...just with a squid. Right? RIGHT??

  7. Awesome interview! I can't wait for the book to come out.

    Also, The Calamari Wrestler. Must see it.