Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Conversation with Best-selling author SOMAN CHAINANA


What types of challenges wait for Sophie and Agatha in Book 2?
Without giving away any spoilers, I want Sophie and Agatha to face themes in each book that we tend to think about in black-and-white terms. In Book 1, they face Good and Evil, and reveal the immense shades of gray between those two words. In Book 2, they do the same to Boys and Girls. And if it sounds like I'm going to get in a lot of trouble for it, well… Mischief is my favorite pastime.
In terms of their character growth, I think readers of Book 1 have asked me all the right questions: What is Agatha thinking, knowing what she gave up? And what is Sophie thinking, knowing her own crimes? The delicious part of Book 2 is that neither girl can really share their answers with the other, without opening up old wounds. 

If you had to live in a classic fairytale world (from books or movies), which would you choose?
I'm going to cheat and choose a world that isn't technically fantasy at all. One of my favorite books is From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by EL Konigsburg. In the book, two children run away and take up secret residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I couldn't think of a place more stirring and fun, because as a child, you're often kept behind ropes at a museum and berated with reminders: NO TOUCHING, NO RUNNING, NO EATING, NO COUGHING, TALKING, SNEEZING, OR HAVING ANY FUN AT ALL. As you can tell from the world of SGE, I'm not a big fan of… rules. To get to just roam free in the Met and play seems like the greatest fantasy possible.

Why do you think these books have found such a strong international audience? Have you gotten to engage with any international fans? Any memorable fan reactions?
If it was up to me, I'd spend every day of the year traveling to see readers around the world. The support for THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL has been staggering -- and my favorite thing to do in the morning is check the Good and Evil scoreboard on the homepage of www.schoolforgoodandevil.com. Each day, the five highest Good and Evil soul scores from the "Are You Good or Evil" online school entrance exam are posted on the site, along with the city and country the reader is from. Without fail, it's a smorgasbord of users from around the world. I'm looking at it right now: Idaho, Los Angeles, Dubai, London, Canberra, Pakistan, Brazil… 

I'm at a loss to explain it, except for the fact that the kids seem to love the idea that in the SGE world, they can be truly themselves. You don't have to be perfect. You don't always have to do the right thing. You can just be 'human' and won't be subjected to an unrealistic moral at the end of the story.

As for engaging with international fans, I answer every letter I get from around the world, post every piece of fan art we receive, and occasionally Skype with classrooms in different countries. And for Book 2, I'll be on tour this spring and summer to Canada, England, and no doubt more countries to come. The book will also start being translated into a ton of different languages over the next year.

How have the characters evolved?
For a while, I know there’s been a fair bit of debate online over whether Agatha and Sophie would even be in the sequel. After all, the end of book 1 should have been their happy ending. But questions remain: What is Agatha thinking, knowing what she gave up? And what is Sophie thinking, knowing what she’s done? The delicious part of Book 2 is that neither girl can really share their answers with the other without opening up old wounds.

What do you do when you get writers block?
I don't really get writer's block, honestly, because there's always a way around a problem. But usually writer's block means you're coming at a problem from the wrong direction or you have a faulty assumption. Taking a day off or a long yoga class inevitably solves it without too much stress.

What advice can you give to young budding writers?
Read your work out loud to an average teenager. If they fidget after the first paragraph or look bored, then you need to keep working on that opening until they ask “What happens next?”. Character, story, theme… that all comes later. First you need the voice that feels authentic, that draws people in.

Which countries would you travel to if you could go anywhere in the world?
I'd love to go to Argentina, Greece, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, and Sweden… We're working on the School for Good and Evil movie script at the moment, and I'm tempted to artificially include random locations, if only to ensure I get to see them. I always say I'm going to travel more -- but always end up where I should be, perhaps. In my comfy white reclining chair in New York, writing more big adventures for Sophie and Agatha.

Reviews:
Soman Chainani's whip-smart debut, guaranteed to make any little girl think twice about wanting to be a princess. If I could bewitch you all to read it, I would. Grade: A.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A funny, frightening and fully satisfying novel that explores the meaning of true love and the vast gray area between good and evil.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“This marvelous fantasy reinvents the fairy tale and explores the mythic power of fairy tale images, heroism and gender roles, while offering marvelous entertainment at the same time.”
Buffalo News

“A droll fairy tale of sorts with appeal for all ages…quite funny and already optioned by Joe Roth, the producer of “Oz the Great and Powerful.” New York Daily News

“Although many have tried, no writer has quite been able to reach the ‘top rung’ on the ladder when it comes to the ‘best’ in tween fantasy (top spot being held by Harry Potter)…until now. This is a fairytale/adventure/thriller/fantasy with humor and characters readers will never forget, and everyone from tweens to adults will want to walk in this world.” –Authorlink.com

“THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL is a fun and exciting read, incorporating elements of beloved fairy tales and putting a modern twist on others.” – Teenreads.com

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