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). Soman is a graduate of the MFA Film Program at Columbia University, and the recipient of the school’s top prize, the FMI Fellowship for Writing and Directing. His short films, Davy & Stu and Kali Ma, have played over 150 international film festivals, won over 30 jury and audience awards, and racked up over 1,000,000 YouTube hits. His writing awards include honors from Big Bear Lake, the Sun Valley Writer’s Fellowship, and the coveted Shasha Grant, awarded by a jury of international film executives. He was also nominated for a NewNowNext Award, sponsored by MTV.
Soman’s new book, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes (the 2nd in the series), just came out, and he kindly answered a few of my questions!
Kristin Centorcelli: You have a degree in English and American Literature, and extensive film experience, but have you always wanted to write novels? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
Soman Chainani: I think in my heart, I’ve always wanted to write novels, but been quite terrified of the discipline and solitude required to write them. I always figured it would be a nice thing to turn to once I finished with my goals in the movie world, had a stable relationship, and a nice house with a dog. Ultimately, we’re not really in charge of our own stories – a big theme in SGE – and it turns out I came to them when I’m single, living in New York, and in the middle of my film career.
What happened was I was working on my first feature as a director called Love Marriage, which I was going to make in London in 2011 – and after two years of preparing it and getting the script perfect, our financing got shaky a few weeks before production. As a result, I stepped back and found myself brainstorming The School For Good And Evil. My agent was wise enough to realize it was a book series instead of a movie and steered me towards a publication deal. I was writing the book less than a year after first having the initial grain of the idea.
KC: What can readers expect from A World Without Princes, the 2nd book in your School for Good and Evil series?
SC: It’s a big gender-bending romp, that seeks to understand the idea of what makes Boys and Girls different, in the same way Book 1 explored the difference between Good and Evil. Only of course, as in the first book, Boys and Girls start to get confused to the point that no one can tell what’s what anymore.
KC: What inspired you to write the series?
SC: I was frankly tired of the princess obsession in the toy industry that markets pink and pretty so aggressively. So just out of fury, I wanted to write a book that turned pink and pretty on its head. As a result, I tapped into my subconscious and found a whole lot more.
KC: What is your writing process like, and what kind of research have you done for the books?
SC: I write every day from 10am to 5pm, which a lunch break in the middle. I work out pretty hard in the mornings, and then swim, play tennis, or do yoga at night, trying to make sure I stay as physically in-shape and healthy as I can. Because if you get trapped in your head and out of your body during the writing process, it’s very easy to make wrong turns. You have to really be in touch with your heart rather than your head to write the novel you want.
KC: What do you enjoy most about writing for a young audience, and what do you hope readers will take away from the books?
SC: I never think of it as writing for a young audience, frankly, because I think it risks talking ‘down’ to them. I write as literary a novel as I can and then at the end, we’ll weed out anything too inappropriate or muddled. The idea is for these books to work just as well as for adults as kids. As for what readers will take away, I just want them to love being in the world and see it as a safe place to explore things that adults are often uncomfortable talking to them about.
KC: Worldbuilding is very important in stories like yours. What are some of your favorite literary “worlds”?
SC: Westeros from Game of Thrones, TH’s White’s Forest Sauvage in The Once and Future King, and Fillory in Lev Grossman’s Magicians series.
SC: My grandmother, I’d say. She was such a grand, comic figure that I can only compare her with Auntie Mame. Sophie is so much based on her.
KC: What books are currently on your to-read list?
SC: Mehta’s Maximum City, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and the manuscript of my brother’s first novel, which is being shopped this fall.
KC: I have to ask…The School for Good and Evil will be made into a movie, which is pretty awesome. How did you celebrate when you got that news?
SC: I found out the deal closed when I was in a San Francisco airport, so I just hung out at the Bubbles bar and bought myself a glass of champagne. All the best things in my life always happen when I’m in San Francisco – it’s where I got the book deal too!
KC: What’s next for you?
SC: I’ve just started writing Book 3 of the series, which is out October 15th. I’ve also just finished the script for Universal’s The School For Good And Evil movie, and beyond that, I have a couple more projects planned…but nothing announced as of yet. But I’ll always be writing. That’s for sure.