Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Interview with Allan Woodrow, author of The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless

Yesterday, I took my nephew to the book launch party for The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless
Zachary Ruthless

My nephew (not nearly as rotten as Zachary)

I'm so excited about this fabulous new book for two reasons. First, it's a hilarious new series kids are going to love. And second, Allan is a former student of mine, so it's a total joy to see him find success!
My nephew and Allan Woodrow

Allan was kind enough to answer a few questions for me...

1. Where did you get the idea for The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless?

I wish I could say I stole it, which would be entirely appropriate since Zachary Ruthless is the world’s most evil boy. But actually, it stemmed from two short stories I wrote for my high school literary magazine too many years ago. They were about a bad guy named, appropriately, Fred Bad Guy. He had an evil worm named Spot. I was looking through some old papers and found the story a couple of years ago and wondered what Fred was like as a kid. So, a quick name change later, Zachary Ruthless was born.

2. Is Zachary modeled after anyone you know in real life? 

No! No! No! Thankfully. He is way too evil and rotten to have any attributes credited to anyone living (or dead). Although lots of moms seem to think I may have modeled him after their sons. I assure them it is mere coincidence and then run away as quickly as I can (before their sons can do anything evil to me).

3. What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

Usually, my stories are plot based and wrapping my head around the characters takes time and effort. Zachary was purely character based, and then I wrapped a plot (or plots) around him. So settling on the perfect plot scenario took some time. I had lots of early drafts that put Zachary in situations that were mostly removed or shifted dramatically, many revolving around school and teachers.

4. Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication?

You hear about people with dozens of rejection slips and years of frustrations. Then you hear about people like me.

New Years’ Resolution 2009: Write a children’s book and get it published. I wrote one in three weeks, sent it out to four agents and got four form rejection letters. So I took a deep breath, decided I had rushed things a bit, and vowed not to submit anything else for a year. I’d hone my craft. Understand the business. Learn to write for kids. Take classes. And take the pressure off myself. I also vowed to write every day, and I did. Three months later I had two more manuscripts written, one of which was The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless. But I thought it was just OK. I kept writing. Three months later I had another manuscript done, and part of another one.

I then heard about a writing workshop, co-hosted by you - Brenda Ferber (along with your co-moderator, Jenny Meyerhoff)! I signed up and planned to bring an entirely different manuscript, one that I thought was much better than Zachary Ruthless. Two weeks before class I re-read Zachary Ruthless, thought it had merit, and rewrote the entire book. So I brought in that.

The workshop, which lasted six weeks, went better than I imagined. I took the advice shared, made adjustments and when the class was over was encouraged to submit the book to agents. So even though my one year wasn’t up (it had only been 9 months since I first decided to try to write a children’s book) I sent it out to a few agents. Three weeks later I had an agent (the wonderful Joanna Volpe) and three weeks after that I had a four-book deal with HarperCollins.

The other manuscripts? They’ll never see the light of the day. I’m just thankful I brought Zachary Ruthless to the workshop instead!

What a great turnout!

 5. What did you do when you heard you had an offer for a four book deal? 

I had a glass of wine and then kept on writing. My resolution to write everyday was made 28 months ago and I’ve pretty much written every day since then, with a few exceptions (I’ve skipped some Sundays, and I went on vacations where I didn’t write every day – but I’ve brought my laptop every time). Being a published author has been a dream of mine since third grade, so when I think about that dream coming true, I do have a great sense of pride. But I’m greedy. I want more. I’ll celebrate when I retire. If I retire. Frankly, I’d rather write.

6. What's next for Zachary? And what's next for you?

I’d love to continue flushing out Zachary’s world for more than four books – I have ideas for him that would fill up quite a few more manuscripts, and we’ve grown quite attached to each other – but that will depend on whether anyone buys the first four! In the meantime, I’m always working on manuscripts. I have some things I’m excited about (and more things I’m not excited about), in various stages. I’ll cross my fingers that someone else gets excited about some of those, too.

7. Do you have any advice for kids who want to be as ruthless and rotten as Zachary?

Ack! No! Don’t be Zachary Ruthless! If you’re a Mom or Dad: I would never encourage anyone to be rotten. So stop reading now, please.

OK, we’ve gotten rid of all the old people. Kids – listen up. Here are a few pointers if you want to be ruthless. First, no one can suspect your true evilness. You can’t perform evil deeds while you’re grounded, or without an allowance. So pretend to be nice and sweet and huggable. And plot all your evil schemes in secret, preferably in a tree fort or hidden fortress. Next, unless you’re an evil genius – and if you are, then you don’t need my help – then it’s not easy to get evil gadgets like lasers that turn people’s heads into spaghetti or hypnotizing glasses. But you can order a lot of that stuff online at, the evil bad guy gadget website. Lastly, it helps to be part of an evil gang. Most evil gangs will supply you with a henchman, snacks, and a good health plan. A magazine like Super Villain Weekly is a good place to start – a lot of the evil gangs advertise when they have open slots. Oh, and you need a good evil name. Something like “The Diabolical Death Wart.” It has to look good on a t-shirt.

To learn more about Zachary Ruthless, visit


Elizabeth Fama said...

Hmm, there doesn't seem to be a ruthless bone in Allan's body!

Brenda Ferber said...

Just wait till you get to know him! ;-)

Zachary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allan Woodrow said...

I'll side with Brenda. ... Probably best not to get to know me.