In 2013’s The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani introduced Agatha and Sophie, two very dissimilar girls whose destinies are reversed when they are enrolled in two seemingly incongruous schools, one for the likes of fairy tale princesses and princes, the other for aspiring villains. Their saga continued the following year, when HarperCollins released A World Without Princes, and wraps up with The Last Ever After, a July release. The trilogy has been a critical and commercial success, with rights sold in 20 countries, sales of more than 500,000 copies worldwide, and a film adaptation of the first book due in 2017.
Chainani’s interest in fairy tales had an early start. He recalled that Disney animated movies were entertainment staples of his childhood. “I definitely grew up on Disney movies and watched them almost exclusively,” he said. “My family had no Internet, no cable TV, no video games – all we had was network TV, which was very limited at that point. My parents were raising three boys and had to find something that worked for everyone. They bought the Disney movie library and we’d choose one each week – and watch it over and over.”
In his first year of college, Chainani wasn’t sure what to expect when he was assigned to a freshman seminar on fairy tales, but was soon captivated by the stories of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen – and fascinated by the discrepancy between their original versions and the Disney adaptations.
“What struck me was how unsafe the characters were in the original stories – there was no guarantee of a happy ending,” he said. “I began thinking how absorbed I’d been as a child by the animated films, and I think The School for Good and Evil trilogy was my attempt to take back the original tales, and to find a balance between good and evil. I wanted to create a story where readers are never stable in how they perceive the characters. It’s too easy these days to have a hero and a villain who remain the same, and I felt there was so much room in the trilogy’s premise to play with perspective and throw readers off balance.”
The author, in fact, brings multiple perspectives to his novel writing. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a major in English and American literature, and wrote his thesis on why evil women make such irresistible fairy tale villains. Chainani then graduated from the MFA Film Program at Columbia, and went on to make several short films that have played at 150 international film festivals and won more than 30 jury and audience awards.
From Film to Fiction
His experience writing and directing films has had significant impact on his novel writing, Chainani explained. “It gives me a strong command of structure, and lets me know that whenever I use something in a story, I should bring it back later, so that by the third book of my trilogy I’ve come full circle,” he said. “Also, my instinct is to think visually, so my background helps on that front. And from a business perspective, I know what is needed in terms of fan engagement – things like an interactive website and great book trailers. I feel very lucky to have such an amazing team at HarperCollins that is open to my trying new things along those lines.”
Chainani clinched an early film deal with Universal Pictures, which bought the book project outright (rather than simply optioning the rights) the week that The School for Good and Evil was published in 2013. “Producer Joe Roth had already attached to the film project, and with Universal’s purchase of rights, it was guaranteed that the movie would be made,” he said. “So we could really commit to building this world.”
Chainani is writing the screenplay for the film with Malia Scotch Marmo, who wrote the screenplay for Hook – and was also the author’s film school professor. “She and I bonded immediately over our love of fairy tales, and we share the same language,” he observed. “I really believe we were meant to do this screenplay together.” The film is currently scheduled for a Christmas 2017 release.
According to Antonia Markiet, senior executive editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books, Chainani’s filmmaking expertise is an enormous asset to his fiction. “It’s especially evident in Soman’s dialogue, which is so natural and easy,” she said. “From his screenwriting, he’s able to see the world he’s creating and knows well how important dialogue is. That’s where he excels. His voice is humorous, gentle, edgy, and sometimes snarky. It’s evident he has his finger on the pulse of young readers, and his fans are crazy for him.”
Both sides will have a chance to show that love in September, when Chainani embarks on a 12-city tour for The Last Ever After. The publisher also plans national print and online advertising for the novel, which has a 300,000-copy first printing. Created by the author, the series website was recently re-launched, and HarperCollins and Chainani have both initiated buzz-building campaigns via social media.
And is The Last Ever After really the last? It is for now, confirmed Chainani, who is next planning to write a more contemporary novel, “exploring similar themes of subversion and friendship, though it might star a boy.” And yet the author seemed reluctant to shut the schoolhouse doors permanently. “I would like to do another School for Good and Evil story arc,” he said. “The trilogy has such a loving, amazing, smart group of fans around the world, which makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world. So I’d love to come back to this universe – though at the same time I know there are many other universes for me to explore.”
The School for Good and Evil: The Last Ever After by Soman Chainani. HarperCollins, $17.99 July ISBN 978-0-06-210495-3