There is nothing like a good fairy tale to set me right. After reading The School for Good and Evil last year I was so ecstatic at the amazing reading experience. It was dark and delicious one moment then light and funny the next.
I’m lucky enough to have the author, Soman Chainani join me today for an interview. Be sure to enter my giveaway for a chance to win one of the books!
TABITHA: *Trumpets, fanfare, and a marvelous drum roll* Welcome Soman Chainani – I am so ecstatic and awestruck to have you here with us today! *points the hot-light your way* It’s interrogation time!
SOMAN: I’m just as excited to be here. You’ve been so supportive of the book that I promise to give you as thoughtful and honest answers as I can, while still attempting to remain somewhat mysterious. Like Angelina Jolie.
TABITHA: For those readers who are new to The School for Good and Evil can you give us a book pitch in 140 characters or less, that’s right twitter style, that would hopefully tempt and tease them into reading!? I can’t promise you I won’t steal it and use it. *cackles madly*
SOMAN: Oh God. I might as well write a haiku. How about we do that instead:
One princess. One witch
Two friends off to Good and Evil
Until they are switched
TABITHA: After the amazing reception you received from The School for Good and Evil – how are you handling the rigors of writing the next book, working on the screenplay for the upcoming movie, author fame, and all that jazz?
SOMAN: I’d been working non-stop, writing 7 hours a day, from March 20th, 2011 until now. That’s three years without a vacation, without more than one or two days off, and just the constant rigor of deadlines and meetings and promo. I enjoyed every second of it, but I finally hit a wall after turning in the screenplay for SGE to Universal. I needed time off. So I’ve been taking a few weeks off before I start touring with Book 2 and writing Book 3, just to remember what I was like before I threw myself into the Woods, so to speak.
I really love the sequel – perhaps even more than the first – so I want to make sure the third book is even better. To me, I’m less interested by reviews or acclaim or criticism or press, because none of it has to do with my own personal experience. I write to discover, to enjoy, to breathe, so I’ll never be one to get too weighed down by ego or expectations or pressure. As for the movie, Hollywood is its own animal that I luckily have experience with, so I’ll do my best to stay on the beast as long as I can and make sure this movie turns out the way it should.
TABITHA: The books are categorized as middle grade fiction but I loved the fact that in The School for Good and Evil the actual ages of Sophie and Agatha are never specifically given. It’s stated that children taken from the village of Gavaldon are between the ages of 12 to 16 years old. Do tell us why you decided not to reveal their individual ages!?
SOMAN: You’re one of the careful readers who realizes their age is never disclosed.
Apparently there is a lot of online chatter and reviews about how inappropriate the girls’ characters are for being 12 years of age… Some people see what they want to see, don’t they?
As for why, it’s a simple answer. Fairy tales never specify characters’ ages. Disney films certainly don’t either (how old is Belle? 14? 25?) Because truth be told, it doesn’t matter what Sophie or Agatha’s age is here. It’s about their experience – and it’s about how old you believe they are. That said, watch out for Book 3. Questions of age are at the center.
TABITHA: I remember following your initial book tour and seeing the photos of you in front of those large groups of kids. How was your touring experience and can you share with us one of your most memorable moments while touring!? Something cute? Something embarrassing? Something that will make our readers go ahhhhhhh? *chuckles*
SOMAN: I love touring. I’m not sure if I’ll ever have kids of my own, if only because I put so much of myself into my work and I think I’ll be a rather neglectful father. So just like a teacher who might not have kids at home invests more in her students, I’m passionate and fully present during all the time I have with kids on tour. And the things they say! I’ve been left speechless many times.
One girl asked me what happens if you’re not Good or Evil, but just… “normal.” (I told her that likely meant she was Evil.) Another boy asked me if I have any friends if I’m producing such large books. I’ve had girls serenade me with “Let It Go” from Frozen, boys surreptitiously take the book jackets off their books (“so it looks like it’s about swans than about girls”), mothers from Eastern European countries propose marriage, religious organizations denounce the book, religious organizations endorse the book, and rural-dwelling, tractor-driving, tobacco-chewing fathers add me on Facebook as rabid fans.
The books have their own lives already, which is the best thing that can happen to an author. It lets us let go of it more easily and just focus on the work.
TABITHA: There has been some adorable fan art posted up on your website. It must be really touching to see how children and other fans have been captured by your characters and felt compelled to bring their own artistic versions to life. How does that make you feel!? Also to admit again just how obsessed I was with the book – I commissioned art dolls to be made of Sophie and Agatha by my crazy talented sister Richelle, who is also a huge fan. (You can see more photos of them here on today’s Fan Art Up post)
SOMAN: I cannot wait to see those dolls. The work-in-progress versions are astonishing! You definitely win the award for the most creative tribute to the world. At the same time, it’s just staggering to see how much fan fiction, and fan art, and role-play games are showing up online for SGE. One girl created a Spotify playlist to the book, another an Evers-inspired workout, another a Warrior-cats mash-up game with Sophie and Agatha as felines. It just inspires me to keep making the world deeper and better.
TABITHA: Psst I was the one that made that Spotify playlist! For those of you who want to listen you can find the playlist here.
Nothing sucks someone in like hearing it from the characters themselves. I frequently find that coming across a quote from a book will prove to be the ultimate enticement for me to read it. Can we have a favorite snippet of yours from each book!?
The School for Good and Evil:
“She had always found villains more exciting than heroes. They had ambition, passion. They made the stories happen. Villains didn’t fear death. No, they wrapped themselves in death like suits of armor! As she inhaled the school’s graveyard smell, Agatha felt her blood rush. For like all villains, death didn’t scare her. It made her feel alive.”
A World Without Princes:
“She felt no hurt, only her soul searching for a memory… She was sitting on a lakeshore, head on someone’s shoulder. Arm in arm, they held each other, sun drenching their skin, breaths quietly matched. Agatha listened to the silence of happiness, Ever After in a single moment… Then sharp, stabbing pain flooded her body and she knew the end had come. Gripping the arm beside her, Agatha gazed into their lake’s reflection, needing to see her happy ending’s face, one last time –
It wasn’t Sophie’s.”
TABITHA: Family is a wondrously strange thing. I can only imagine how it must be for families when one of them becomes a celebrity in their own right. We’d love to hear some of the quirky reactions or behavior you’ve experienced with your friends and family! Dish dish, we won’t tell them you told us *wink* – though if they stumble upon this interview I can’t be held accountable.
SOMAN: Oh my goodness. I should just start a blog with stories like these. My favorites usually involve my mother, who should be starring in her own romantic comedy reality series, because she inevitably finds herself in the strangest situations, usually precipitated by her own penchant for drama. For instance, on the day Book 1 was released, she was at a Barnes & Noble store in Miami, and noticed they hadn’t gotten the displays up, like they should have. She impersonated a Harper rep, and told them if they didn’t get it up while she stood there, she’d ensure they didn’t get any more copies (how this was a threat, I have no idea.) Meanwhile, she’s frantically texting me the play-by-play, while I’m telling her she had to abort this ludicrous plan, and get out of the store immediately –
ME: You can’t impersonate a publisher!
MOM: I don’t care if I go to jail!
SOMAN: She’d been watching a lot of Orange is the New Black, so perhaps it was on the mind.
My father, meanwhile, is a numbers cruncher, so he’s always asking about sales numbers and royalty figures and asking skeptical questions (he still doesn’t understand why an agent takes a percentage, instead of just doing it for ‘prestige and reputation’).
As for my friends, they’re the ones who deserve so much credit for the book’s success. Manny and Michael created the trailers that have become just as popular as the book itself; my friend Emily whipped up a dazzling movie-mashup to SGE that I show on tour; my friend John made the beautiful new website and quiz; and my other friends have done an incredible job of building buzz and awareness for the series.
TABITHA: I hear you live in New York City but aren’t a native of the city itself. There are so many people who live in the states that have never even left their hometown. The big cities are such hot spot destinations. How did you come to live there and what prompted your move!? I always hear the most interesting things about you New Yorkers *wicked grin*
SOMAN: I grew up in Miami, hoping to be a professional tennis player. But I’m pretty small-framed, so by about 16, I couldn’t keep up with the shift in the game towards insane height and power. At the same time, I was a highly motivated student, so once I was at Harvard, it was pretty clear that my future wasn’t going to be in athletics.
New York always seemed the best place for me in terms of finding my feet in writing and film, without having to go out to LA (where creativity often goes to die.) I figured I’d move out to LA at some point, but now that I’ve discovered my own little cottage industry – writing books and personally turning them into films – I’ll happily stay in NY and commute west when I need to.
TABITHA: Fairy tales! To this day I still imagine how it would be to live inside one. Perhaps thats part of why I still read children’s and young adult fiction. Its a genre that no matter the age of the reader we can all still enjoy. What is your favorite fairytale and what do you think of how the various forms of media have treated the portraying of fairy tales in the past 70-100 years? Oooh Tabitha, in depth question right? – too serious?? Yeah…maybe but I’m still so curious what you think! Especially since the past 10 years has seen such a big onslaught of fairytale movies and tv shows.
SOMAN: My favorite fairy tale has to be Hansel and Gretel, because it feels so real. If a witch is going to cook your brother, how will you escape? How do you save him? Gretel solves both of these questions quickly, efficiently, and brilliantly.
I studied fairy tales in depth at Harvard and tried to figure out why they’re so compelling. And the truth is, because they live in these strange ambiguous spaces between happiness and sadness, light and dark, comedy and tragedy, magic and realism. The problem with most of the adaptations over the years is that they lose these shades of gray. Everything in SGE is meant to live in these areas of gray.
I’ll give you an example. [SPOILER ALERT] Towards the end of Book 1, when Agatha finally finds the power within herself to feel beautiful and acknowledge her love for Tedros, she feels stronger inside – and yet on the outside seems to grow oddly submissive. I’ve had readers send me trenchant notes arguing that I’m anti-feminist and made Agatha weak… when it is in fact a conscious choice. Because so often, when a girl first finds her true love, her instinct is to make way for him – to follow his lead. Agatha might be a whipcrack of energy and spirit on her own, but once she gives herself to Tedros, she errs too much on the side of letting him take the lead. That’s right. My main character makes a mistake that robs her of what we love most about her. But that’s her mistake. And in a true fairy tale, we’re allowed to watch the consequences of this mistake play out without the pressure of a happy ending.
Ironically, the idea that Agatha has to fulfill some predetermined code of behavior that some readers expected falls more in line with the idea of a bastardized fairy tale – where we’re imposing an ending on a character, rather than letting them find it.
TABITHA: I read somewhere else that you’ve themed each of the 3 books in the trilogy: Good vs Evil, battle of the sexes, and the young vs the old(er). I don’t want to say old because hey…I’m in my 30’s – I’m not ooooold and I totally picture the teachers being in that age range of 30s! Is there some message you’re trying to get across with each of these themes?
SOMAN: Good. Evil. Boys. Girls. Young. Old. These seem such obvious, fixed terms. But I have every intention of holding them to the light, shaking them, and blowing them up – because they’re just words that we’ve invested with so much energy and meaning. I mean, up until recent times, adolescence wasn’t even a thing. At 14 or 15, kids became ‘adults’ and were expected to go to work as apprentices, etc. In other words, the invention of words ends up dictating behavior in a way that isn’t necessarily productive.
So yes. I’m all about finding the more-than-fifty shades of gray here.
TABITHA: *Turns up the heat on the spotlight* You had to know this was coming – I love collecting secret tidbits about authors. So serve us up one! And don’t go all namby pamby on me and tell me you’re allergic to oranges or some such drivel. Something preferably gut-wrenchingly embarrassing because cut me some slack here, it’s how I get my kicks.
SOMAN: I’m terrible at first dates. Absolutely awful. Because as you can tell from my answers to these questions, I’d much rather just get to the meat of things, and I have no patience for smalltalk or pleasantries, or banter. I just want to know what someone represents, whether they’re awake, and if they can handle the hurricane that is my life. Can one hire a proxy to go on first dates in their stead?
TABITHA:I nominate one of your young beta readers – that way the date can get it from one of the readers just what sort they are in for. *wink*
What you say, quid pro quo? Ok..so…I was dancing around, music cranked up full blast, with a wooden spoon the other day, *I try to use the excuse that I was entertaining my toddler but I’ve had this habit this since I was a kid…and just can’t stop* slipping and sliding across the floor – and KERPLUNK, BLAMMO, WHAM straight down on my rear end – feet flying violently out from underneath me. It would have been Tosh.O worthy especially with how insanely evil my son’s laughter sounded against the music when I took my spill.
SOMAN: It’s okay, Tabitha. I had to get stitches in my forehead after mimicking a figure skating jump and smashing into a garage pipe when I was 15, while my entire family watched.
TABITHA: Thanks so much for being a sport and not running off completely mid interrogation – *oh thats right let me untie that rope from your chair*. I hope the release of A World Without Princes gets just as fabulous of a reception as The School for Good and Evil!
SOMAN:I’ll be back for Book 3 and give you many more inappropriate answers.
Soman Chainani’s first novel, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List, has been on ABA’s National Indie Bestseller List for 12 weeks, has been translated into languages across six continents, and will soon be a major motion picture from Universal Studios, produced by Joe Roth (SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, OZ THE GREAT & POWERFUL) and Jane Startz (TUCK EVERLASTING, ELLA ENCHANTED).
When he’s not telling stories on the page or on film, Soman is a die-hard tennis player and fan. Competing in tournaments around the world, he never lost a first-round match for ten years…until he started writing THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL.
Now he loses all the time.
*updated 12/17/14 to include link to review of book 2