Our guest: Allan Woodrow is a Chicago-based author. His latest book, Class Dismissed, was recently published by Scholastic, who also published his novel The Pet War. Woodrow is also the author of the Zachary Ruthless books for Harper Collins, and, under his pseudonym Fowler DeWitt, the Wilmer Dooley books, for Simon & Schuster.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Dr. Seuss (right). Dr Seuss. Dr. Seuss. Fox in Socks was my favorite, but I had pretty much his entire collection… And I still do. (My parents aren’t hoarders, but they kept most of the books I had growing up, which I now have on my bookshelf.)
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
My first thought was “Charlie Brown,” but I don’t have all those neuroses. I’ll go with Frodo Baggins. He would have been happy hanging out at home, but became a reluctant hero. Of course, I’m Frodo without the hero part, but I think I would rise to the occasion, albeit reluctantly.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
Roald Dahl (left); his inventiveness, his use of language, and his plotting and sense of humor are all without match. Louis Sacher is right behind him on my short list.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
The Justice League of America. Does that count? I’d sit next to Batman. Superman would be a bit square and dull, and Aquaman would smell like fish, which would ruin my appetite. But Batman would be brooding with all of those inner demons, which would be fascinating.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Creating realistic characters and reactions (to even outlandish circumstances). As an adult writing kid characters, it’s vital to make sure kid characters act like kids, and not how adults think kids should act.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Humor that stems from a sort of heightened reality. I hope my books make you laugh, although they also hopefully strike some chord or truth, so that there’s a bit more substance than just giggles. But the giggling is far more vital.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Is this like the (W.W. Jacobs) short story, The Monkey’s Paw, where someone comes back from the dead, but sort of as a zombie-creature? I’ll stay dead, thanks.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would start writing earlier in life. I didn’t start writing for children until I already had children; I procrastinated for years. I should have watched less television and written more.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
I was in a bar in LA when I was in my early 20’s and struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, who turned out to be Vincent Patrick (left), the author of The Pope of Greenwich Village (a pretty good movie with Mickey Rourke, but I haven’t read the book). I told him I was an aspiring novelist. He told me: Never discuss your book idea with anyone until you’ve finished writing it. Any novelist who has started a book and never finished it, can appreciate that advice. Talking about an idea just sucks the motivation to finish it right out of you. It’s too bad I didn’t listen to his advice for twenty years.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I stare at the computer screen until my eyeballs start to bleed. Then I stare harder.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
The entire Harry Potter series, although my favorite is Goblet of Fire (Book #4). I don’t need to explain why. J.K. Rowling (right) is a genius… And she should have been my answer to question number three.
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK YOU LOVE THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
Can I talk about one of mine? I don’t want to jinx it, and please read question #9 above to understand my reluctance to elaborate too much… So I’ll be vague. The best book I’ve written (in my opinion) has still not found a publisher. A crazed and demented Count, a radical cult, vicious penguins, and an imprisoned orphan… Sounds like a winner to me. Hopefully, someday someone else will agree!