Questioning AUTHORity is a weekly blog feature here at Bookish Serendipity involving—you guessed it!—YA and MG author interviews. This week’s featured author is Soman Chainani, the MG author of the School for Good and Evil trilogy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a writer and film director, Soman’s films have played at over 150 film festivals around the world, winning more than 30 jury and audience prizes, and his writing awards include honors from Big Bear Lake, New Draft, the CAPE Foundation, the Sun Valley Writer’s Fellowship, and the coveted Shasha Grant, awarded by a jury of international film executives.
When he’s not telling stories or teaching in New York City, Soman is a die-hard tennis player who never lost a first-round match for ten years . . . until he started writing THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL. Now he loses all the time.
Hi Soman! Thanks so much for stopping by Bookish Serendipity today!
ME: A School For Good and Evil has one of the most unique plots I’ve ever read. What inspired this trilogy? How different was the original version to the finished version?
SC: We didn’t have cable when I was young, so all we had was our rickety TV set and VHS tapes of every single Disney animated movie. Until age 8 or so, that was all I pretty much watched. Everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from Disney. When I went to college, though, I became fascinated by the gap between the original tales and these Disney revisions. Somewhere in that gap between the Disney stories and the retellings, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL was born.
The first draft was 750 pages! So I cut out 250 pages of it — we’ll get a peek of some of it in the Deleted Scenes section that will appear in the paperback of A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES, which will be out in April of 2015…
SC: The publishing process happened with alarming speed. I had been adapting the novel The Pushcart War into a film for legendary producer, Jane Startz, who has adapted practically every major kids’ book of our time – Tuck Everlasting, The Indian in the Cupboard, The Babysitter’s Club, etc. I told her the idea for SGE and she immediately loved the idea of growing a series from the ground up as both novels and films.
Once I had the proposal for the series ready and a few sample chapters, she sent it out to 16 publishers, but Harper preempted it and bought worldwide rights within 48 hours. The challenges all came after I sold it, rather than before, which is highly unusual. That said, you can imagine the pressure I felt to deliver once the series was sold.
I wasn’t a particularly pleasant person for the better part of a year and a half. God bless Jane and my phenomenal editors, Phoebe Yeh and Toni Markiet, for their wisdom and calm. Now that I’m on Book 3, I’m more relaxed and secure in just spreading my wings.
ME: Wow! After reading A World Without Princes, I can’t wait for the 3rd instalment. Can you give us any hints about what is in store for Sophie and Agatha?
SC: And ruin the fun? Surely not. But I would say that the third book deals with the schism between Old and New, just as Book 1 dealt with Good and Evil and Book 2 dealt with Boys and Girls. The question is… what do Old and New mean?
SC: Oh the best is surely the young fan who wrote Santa Clause, asking if it was possible to ask the author of SGE to make a ‘second book’ since she didn’t know it was a series. Her mother found the note and secretly sent it to me — I sent her an early galley and some SGE themed presents, and I think it made her Christmas. That kept me smiling for months (and focused on making Book 2 as good as could be!)
ME: That’s great story! Sophie and Agatha are two of my favourite characters in MG fiction. What was your inspiration for your characters, particularly these two?
SC: Sophie is just a veiled version of me. I know I shouldn’t say that, but it’s quite true — she’s what I think, versus what I actually do most of the time. Agatha is probably closer to how I actually am as a person. They’re both different sides of me.
ME: Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what did your playlist look like for this trilogy?
SC: Oh God no. I can’t write while listening to music — I need absolute silence, so I can hear the character’s voices. Plus I’m such an avid music fan that I don’t really like listening to music as background noise. I need to be focused on it, the same way I would a page when I write. That sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?
ME: Not at all! What advice would you give to teen and aspiring authors?
SC: Only that you should feel your way through your story. Writing is unconscious. Don’t let it become conscious or I promise you your story will feel quite… dead. It’s all about letting your soul speak on the page.
ME: Thank you so much for stopping by, Soman!
SC: Thanks for having me!