Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Allan Woodrow

I’ll start with a terrible true confession.

The review of this book nearly did not happen. Shortly after I took my review copy out its envelope, my son (who is in third grade) took The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless away from me and began reading it himself.

“Hey, I need that,” I said. “I’m supposed to review it.”

“You can have it when I’m done,” he told me, then paused. “Maybe.”

So I asked him if it was any good, and he told me to be quiet and let him read.

He didn’t put The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless down until he was finished. And then he told me not to get too attached to the book, because he was planning on reading it again soon. Then he hid it in his room.

All of this is my way of saying that if you’re looking for a book that will instantly engage an elementary school-aged kid, you might want to check out The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless. And you might even want to check out my interview with author Allan Woodrow too, who is every bit as rotten and villainous as his main character.


Zachary Ruthless might look like a nice kid, but behind his innocently blinking eyes lies the heart of a true evildoer. Whether he’s putting snakes in a neighbor’s mailbox or making plans to melt the state capitol in a giant microwave, Zachary Ruthless makes sure that lots of bad things happen in his hometown of Plentyville.

Unfortunately for him, though, his evildoing backfires when his unsuspecting parents decide to send him to Sister Cecelia’s Good Samaritan School for the summer to keep him away from the town’s bad influences. Zachary knows the only way to save himself from this dire fate is to be selected as the newest member of the Society of Utterly Rotten, Beastly, and Loathsome Lawbreaking Scoundrels (SOURBALLS) and take up residence in SOURBALLS’ Fortress of Mayhem.

With the help of his sidekick Newt and a box of clearance sale evil goodies, Zachary sets out to hypnotize the mayor and cause chaos in the town of Plentyville. But soon he finds himself battling other evildoers who want to join SOURBALLS as much as he does…


1. So I’m working under the assumption that this book is autobiographical. Do you care to elaborate?

My book, Mr. Fuzzy Pants Goes To The Zoo, is the heartwarming story of Carl the Cockatoo who falls in love with a pair of pants. I love zoos and … wait! What’s this? They changed the title to The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless … (pulling out hair) … What the … (spitting and slamming fist) … This isn’t the book I wrote! How dare they! (howling and stomping) … They’ll be sorry! I’ll blast them with ray guns! Hide their notebook paper! Put spiders in their shoes! Eat their dessert! I’ll … I’ll … but to answer your question, no this story isn’t autobiographical at all. Why would you think that?

2. My follow-up questions: do you feel any remorse for having zombified a fellow wanna-be super villain?

First, I personally have never zombified a super villain, wanna-be or not, and I’m confident you can’t prove otherwise, nor can any villains reading this blog post. Now, if my characters want to go around zombie-frying people, I can hardly be held accountable for their actions.

3. Can you talk about what it’s like to be a middle-grade author? What kind of kids do you think will enjoy this book? What valuable lifelong lessons are you hoping to impart to them?

If only one kid is more evil after reading this book, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job. The book is filled with life lessons such as: rotten people hate puppies; all evildoers need an evil henchman; and you can do quite a bit of damage with only a penny. Anyone who wants to be evil will enjoy this book, but boy readers, even reluctant ones, will likely find it the most useful in terms of helping them plot their own evil escapades. Girls, in general, are able to plot evil escapades without my help.

To answer the other part of you question, I suppose being a MG author is somewhat the same as being any sort of author, although since I’ve never been any other sort of author, I can’t say for sure. We put our pants on just like everyone else – two legs at a time by jumping into them from a trampoline.

4. What is your writing process like? Did you experiment with super villainy as part of your research?

I’m well acquainted with villainy from my personal reign of terror from 1992-1998 (I once stole Abraham Lincoln’s mustache from Mount Rushmore. If you doubt me, just take a look – he has a beard, but his mustache has vanished! It’s in my garage, actually. It turns out no one wants to buy a giant rock mustache. I wish I had known that BEFORE I went about swiping it).

I was a comic book lover as a kid, so my overall super villain leanings are greatly inspired by my childhood and such big-name villains as The Joker, Lex Luther and Doctor Octopus. I have to admit, I didn’t find myself overly sympathetic with the bad guys back then. I rooted for the good guys. I suppose my rottenness is more of a later-in-life development. Like most adults, I grow more bitter as I age.

In terms of writing process, I’m an outliner. I need to map the story out or I’m hopelessly lost. I need to know where I’m going. In fact, I outlined this entire interview before I could answer a single question. That’s particularly impressive since I didn’t know the questions ahead of time and so, to be thorough, outlined 1,286 potential questions.

5. Can you talk a little about the process of getting your series published? Was any evildoing involved?

After finishing the first book, I was lucky enough to be offered representation from Joanna Volpe and the whole thing went pretty fast; about three months from the start of my agent hunt to our multiple-book offer from HarperCollins. It helped that we brainwashed Maria Gomez from HarperCollins first. I hope she’s not reading this; she’s still somewhat under our power and it might come as a shock to see that we are her all-encompassing puppet-masters. Maria: you will forget reading this interview. Your mind is getting hazy …. There, that should do it. Wait—Maria: you will now cluck like a chicken. Sorry, I like to toy with her a little. What’s the point of being a puppet-master if you can’t have a little fun with it?

6. How many Zachary Ruthless books can we look forward to seeing in the future? And when will they be released?

The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless Book Two: The Stench of Goodness comes out in December, and then there are two more planned after that, at least, every six months or so. Maybe more? We’ll see.

If not, we’ll just have to threaten to shrink the entire HarperCollins office to the size of a thimble. I suspect they’ll come around then. Bwa-ha-ha!


  1. hilarious interview! Allan's answers alone had me putting this book on my "to-be-purchased" list.

  2. I love this interview and now must read this book.