When growing up in Michigan, Allan Woodrow always wanted to be an author. But his teachers told him to write about what he knew, and he discovered he didn’t know very much. It turns out he didn’t know very much for quite a long time.
Allan isn’t sure he really knows anything more now than he did in third grade, but he got tired of waiting and decided to start writing anyway. The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless (Harper Collins) is his debut novel. It released in Spring, 2011, with additional Adventures launching every six months or so. Allan lives in the Chicago area with his wife, kids and two goldfish. The goldfish are particularly nasty. For more info, visit his website.
Let the conversation begin!
Do you begin with character or plot?
Plot, and it’s the bane of my writing existence. I usually start with a plot then find my character doesn’t want to go along with my plot at all. We’re constantly fighting each other. We’ve been known to attract askance glances due to abrasive shouting matches at coffee houses.
Where do you get your ideas?
To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. Unfortunately, most of the ideas I get are horrible. My computer is lined with 10,000-15,000 word semi-books that seemed perfect until running out of steam and revealing themselves as worthless. I just wish I could figure out their worthlessness sooner, but that’s about the number of words I need to figure it out.
Would you rather write a string of mainstream books or one classic?
Let’s see. I can write just ONE classic, and then try, vainly, to reach those heights again only to continue failing, turning to drink, homeless, miserable, and eventually dying of liver disease. Or I can write a slew of popular books that are eagerly awaited by my swarms of devoted worshippers. Hmmm. Unsure. Will my liver deceased-death be quick or drag on for a while?
If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?
It would be about 80,000 words long.
What advice would you give young writers?
0-3 years old: You shouldn’t eat your pencil.
4-5 years old: Aren’t you a bit old to still be eating your pencil?
6-13 years old: Yes, farts are funny.
14-years old and older: Do yourself a favor and stop writing and learn computer science. You’ll be happier and less lonely, in the long run.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Ant eggs and fried worms in Mexico City (two separate dishes). Both delicious, especially the worms (and that’s not a joke).
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t tell anyone what you’re writing until your first draft is done, or you’ll lose all motivation and never finish it. I don’t know why that’s true, but it is.
What would you like your life to look like in ten years?
I’d like to not be one of the undead. I’ve read a lot of zombie books lately, and it appears there will be many of them in the future, so I think not being a zombie would be a great achievement.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I just need a sense of urgency, like a deadline (even self-created). I write best under pressure. So I just have to remind myself that it is likely – statistically speaking – that I’ll be a zombie within the next ten years, and I need to write as fast as I can. Nothing like healthy panic to get my creative juices charged immediately.
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
The easiest book FOR ME to write, or just in general? I’m guessing Shakespeare had a hard time, what with all that iambic pentameter going on. War and Peace is just long, and it was before computers. Tolstoy must have had finger blisters. For me, book 2 of my Zachary Ruthless series was a struggle. I just couldn’t get a handle on it. But books 3 and 4, especially book 4, went very smoothly. Shameless plug: book 2 comes out around Christmas, Book 3 in Spring 2012, and Book 4 around Christmas, 2012 … at least that’s the plan for now.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
It’s a secret until I’m satisfied, then I send it to critique partners, who invariably discover some obvious contradiction or problem that I somehow, frustratingly, missed. As I said earlier, if I divulge any part of my book before at least the first draft is done, it will never be finished. It took me years to figure that out, although I have to give credit for that observation to Vincent Patrick, author of The Pope of Greenwich Village. I randomly struck up a conversation with him at a hotel bar during a business trip twenty years ago, and he told me that. I ignored that advice for many years.
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
Outline, outline, outline. A blank page scares me. I need to know, at least vaguely, where I’m going. BTW, tarantulas also scare me. Not necessarily relevant, but I thought I’d mention it.
From idea to completion, how long does it take to write a book?
It takes 1-3 months to write a Zachary Ruthless book. Usually 2-3 weeks for the first draft, and then it’s either pretty close, or horribly far away from being completed.
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I wanted to be a writer. It’s sad that I haven’t figured out what to do with myself since I was in the fourth grade.
Earliest childhood memory?
It’s actually a sort of depressing memory, of some bigger kids teasing me on the first day of preschool when I was three-years old. It’s probably why I hate, to this day, all three-year-olds.
If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?
Sort of depends on why it’s my last day on Earth. Am I moving to Mars, is the world about to end, or am I dying from liver disease since I can’t reclaim my past writing glory? Regardless, I’m probably writing, trying to beat some self-imposed deadline.
Daily word count?
2000 words Monday-Friday, 1000 words each weekend day …when I’m writing a manuscript first draft and not in some endless revision cycle, which I seem to be in more often than not.