Allan Zullo is a writer with 100 current and forthcoming publications under his belt. He currently writes two best-selling series for Scholastic, Haunted Kids and Ten True Tales. Excellance was very interested in his Ten True Tales series and decided to set down with the man himself to learn more.
EXCELLANCE: Allan, tell us a little about the Ten True Tales Series and how it got started?
ALLAN ZULLO: My editor, Roy Wandelmaier, who is editorial director at Scholastic, suggested we start a series about people of all ages doing extraordinary things during times of crisis. The first book was Surviving Sharks and Other Dangerous Creatures followed by The Rescuers, which featured true stories of young people saving the lives of others. There are now more than a dozen books in the series, including Heroes of Hurricane Katrina, Battle Heroes: Voices from Afghanistan, FBI Heroes, and Young Civil Rights Heroes.
EXCELLANCE: How would you define the term Hero? What does it mean to really be one?
ALLAN ZULLO: The late actor Christopher Reeve had a great way of putting it after he became paralyzed from falling off a horse: ”When the first Superman movie came out, I was frequently asked, “What is a hero?” My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences. Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
EXCELLANCE: Tell us about your 10 True Tales: Heroes of 9/11 book?
ALLAN ZULLO: The book tells the gripping true stories of a representative sample of first responders—firefighters, police officers, EMTs and members of the armed forces—who were called on by fate to risk everything for a greater good. The accounts include those who saved lives at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon and the courageous passengers aboard the ill-fated United Flight 93 who thwarted the terrorists onboard from crashing the plane into our nation’s capital.
EXCELLANCE: In the book, you stated you read hundreds of news accounts and transcriptions before selecting your interview sample. How many hours of research do you estimate went into this book?
ALLAN ZULLO: I spent several months doing the research and interviews before writing the book. The writing process took only a couple of months because the stories were so dramatic they practically wrote themselves.
EXCELLANCE: One thing you noted in the book that was all persons profiled shared a common trait—humility. Paramedic Charles Sereika told you that, “All the real heroes died that day. The rest of us just did what we could.” From your experience doing the True Tales series, do you think humility is a common trait among most heroes?
ALLAN ZULLO: Certainly humility is a strong trait among most first responders whether they are volunteer firefighters, EMTs or law enforcement officers. All the first responders I interviewed for the book said they were just doing the job they were trained for or they were just doing the right thing. All said the real heroes were the brave first responders who sacrificed their lives in their valiant attempt to rescue others, the courageous everyday citizens who died trying to save coworkers, and the passengers and crew aboard Flight 93.
EXCELLANCE: After listening to all of these stories of emergency personnel that responded on 9/11, did your perception of that day change?
ALLAN ZULLO: I was struck at how emotional the first responders were. Yes, they are well-trained; yes, they had a can-do attitude; yes, they were dedicated to helping their fellow man. I never considered how deeply 9/11 affected the first responders, not only in the carnage they witnessed but by the loss of their comrades. The bond among them was—and still is—incredibly strong.
EXCELLANCE: Out of all of the people featured in your book, which hero stood out the most to you and why?
ALLAN ZULLO: Off-duty paramedic Charles Sereika. Despite suffering from severe depression and other emotional problems, he raced down to the fallen towers of the World Trade Center and searched through the rubble for any possible survivors. He heard a voice below and then wormed his way deep into the flaming, smoking unstable debris where he found two trapped and seriously injured Port Authority cops. Digging for hours and administering oxygen, water and intravenous drips, Sereika knew that he and the others could be buried alive at any moment. Yet he kept working along with a team of rescuers until the cops were freed.
EXCELLANCE: Was there any stories that didn’t make it into the book that you could tell us about?
ALLAN ZULLO: There were so many accounts of remarkable bravery of women first responders who gave their all like the EMT who, despite several brushes with death, returned to the scene again and again to help others… and the injured NYPD lieutenant who rescued three people buried in the rubble and who evacuated 100 others before seeking medical attention for herself.
EXCELLANCE: Lastly, why should people pick up 10 True Tales and what can they learn from the series about being a hero in their own lives?
ALLAN ZULLO: By their actions, the heroes of 9/11 gave us a window into the human heart. Because they were committed to the service of their fellow man, they were willing to face death and take dangerous chances in their single-minded goal of saving others. Their examples can offer us motivation to become the heroes of our own life stories, of doing what’s right no matter the risk, no matter the cost. I believe each of us possesses an inner strength that is often untouched. But it’s ready to be tapped—if we so choose—when we face a family crisis, an extraordinary circumstance, a perilous situation, a moral dilemma. That’s how heroes are made.