After nearly a decade immersed in the world of the School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani is bringing his six-book series to an end. The final book, One True King, due out on June 3, will answer series-long questions: Who will sit on Camelot’s throne and rule the Endless Woods? How will Sophie and Agatha’s story end? And who will be the One True King? Chainani spoke with PW about saying goodbye to this expansive world, the news that the series will be adapted for Netflix, and his creative efforts to connect with fans during the pandemic.
How does it feel to be wrapping up this series after so many years?
The School for Good and Evil series is super personal to me; it’s the kind of story I wish I had had as a kid. I grew up on Disney movies exclusively and found so many holes in them, like the way that Disney defined binaries: good and evil, boy and girl, old and young, happy and unhappy, and all those things that you don’t question as a kid. So, in a way, I felt like I was correcting my childhood by rewriting these books. It took six books and almost eight years of writing to feel like I’d come to a place where I could finally let it go, where I’d successfully rewritten the programming of my childhood.
I think the most rewarding thing [about writing these books] is getting to watch kids fall in love with this world, which is so opposite to the one I clung to as a kid. For them to be able to have a fairy tale series that is subversive and questioning of all the things that I took for granted is really what life’s about; so many of us do for a living the thing that heals us and the wounds we had as kids. But it’s the right time to end it. The sixth book ends in a place where I don’t think anyone will be clamoring for more. On the page and off the page, I was ready to be done.
I remember talking to my first editor about writing these books. She asked who my demographic was because they were “very strange books.” I said, “I don’t know, but I’m not trying to be the most popular author, I’m just trying to have the most intense audience.” I want the readers who get it. When I go into any classroom, there’s always those three kids that are obsessed with the series. Every time a parent tells me their kid really likes the series, I immediately know that I know that kid.
Before writing this series, you got an MFA in film from Columbia University and worked in film for a few years. How does your background influence your approach to storytelling? Are you involved in the process of adapting your series for Netflix?
The funny thing about the whole saga is that I originally wrote this series as a movie back in 2010. I had been working with producer Jane Startz, who had done the Ella Enchanted and Tuck Everlasting films, and I asked her to look at the script [for The School for Good and Evil]. We both felt uneasy about it as a movie because it was just so big, but I asked her if she thought the story would work as a book series and she said yes, which is why first book has that perfect three-act structure. I think part of the reason [the book] became so popular is because it moves quickly, much like a movie. I didn’t learn how to write the slow, careful, and deliberate novels until books three, four, and five.
On the movie side, it was a twisty journey. I’ve always thought that, if done correctly, [the adaptation] should be like a modern Princess Bride; something that can appeal to every age group. Now Paul Feig is going to do it for Netflix. He is so smart; I’ve had conversations with him, and he really gets it. I have complete trust; he’s one of the greatest directors in the world and a great guy for this. I’ll be as involved as I can, but it’s one of those situations where the script is in a good place—because I’ve been working with it for eight years—so he can just run with it and make it better.
You had a 12-city tour planned to promote this book, which has been canceled. What other ways have you been devising to connect with readers and work with bookstores?
I decided to try something unusual. Having met many kids over the last six years, I felt I knew what they might want, which is the opportunity to ask their questions and have intense personal interaction. Most of the replacement tours that I’ve seen are standard virtual events with authors talking and little or no audience feedback, which just doesn’t work for my readers. So, we decided to do it two different ways.
We’ll be having virtual public events that are more interactive than many are used to, like an “Escape the School” game that we’re doing with two independent bookstores and a big graduation party, where guests will participate in a trivia exam about the books, with the highest scorer winning a Nintendo Switch. We’re trying to create this kind of familial environment where readers participate in the game together, team up, and get prizes.
The idea I’m most proud of though, is this golden ticket idea, almost like a Willy Wonka golden ticket, where we are giving 150 kids the chance to have a five-minute one-on-one video call with me to ask me whatever they want. We’ve partnered with a great platform called Looped, which allows personalities to interact with fans ages 13 and older. The “Gold Rush” for the tickets goes live today [June 1, 2020] and will end when all tickets are claimed. Then, from June 7 to June 13, two hours a day, I’ll be doing five-minute meetings with kids from around the world. And what’s cool about Looped is that they record every interaction and send it to the kid. So, it’s almost like their own personal cameo file.
Now that the School for Good and Evil series has come to an end, what’s next for you?
I know that I want to do another big series, but when I do a series, it’s literally a five to seven-year commitment because I want to go deep and do a big, sprawling story. At the end of the School for Good and Evil series, we had 150 characters—it’s a huge world. I want to do that again, but I need a couple of years to get it planned and to do a few other things.
Next year, I’ll be releasing a book of fairy tales, with classic fairy tales told my way. It’s intense and subversive and I’m sure it’s going to get me in a lot of trouble, but I’m used to that after this last series. I think we’ll have some companion books to expand the world of the School for Good and Evil that will tie in to the movie. I have a graphic novel coming in 2022, but I can’t say much about it. So hopefully, in 2023, I’ll start a new series.
The School for Good and Evil: One True King by Soman Chainani. HarperCollins, $17.99 June 2 ISBN 978-0-06-269521-5