Soman Chainani remakes childhood fairy tales in The School for Good and Evil  

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Soman Chainani remakes childhood fairy tales in The School for Good and Evil   
Rising actresses Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso play Agatha and Sophie, polar opposites but the best of friends in the film adaptation of the best-selling book series The School for Good and Evil.

When American author Soman Chainani started writing his internationally best-selling book series The School for Good and Evil, he was broke, living with six other people and buried in debt he incurred in grad school.

He was supposed to direct a movie coming out of Columbia University’s film program, but it didn’t materialize due to a “financial implosion on the studio side.”

In other words, Soman had nothing. “I basically didn’t have a career. I didn’t have a job. There was nothing, you know,” he recalled during a small-group virtual interview with Filipino press early this week.

Despite his circumstances, Soman kept writing The School for Good and Evil, which has since become a young adult (YA) fantasy-fairytale hexalogy, with the first book published in 2013.

“I would always have to write on this one couch and I shared it with all these different roommates. And so, people were on the couch then. There wasn’t much (space). My room was so small. I didn’t have a desk so it was either on the couch or in my bed. And that was it. It was just finding time and quiet and the opportunity to write. I still remember it very well,” he further told The STAR when asked about his favorite memory from that period of his life.

The School for Good and Evil author Soman Chainani: ‘I still don’t think of myself as a writer necessarily. I think of myself as someone who’s looking for stories to tell and the best way to tell them. More of a storyteller than anything… I’m open to whatever version of being a storyteller comes next.’

His unyielding persistence was simply because he had faith in his story about two best friends, Sophie, who aspires to be a princess, and Agatha, a witchy introvert. They are brought to the School for Good and Evil, an enchanted institution training students to be either heroes or villains, where the two girls experience a reversal of “destinies.”

“I just really believed in the story. I had a job at night tutoring kids, I would do that from four o’clock to 10 o’clock seven nights a week. And then, I would write from nine to three every day. This was just a story I believed in, was obsessed with and I believed I could do a good job with it. I wrote it on blind faith,” he shared.

Directed by Paul Feig, the film has a star-studded support cast in Michelle Yeoh as Professor Anemone, Charlize Theron as Lady Lesso and Kerry Washington as Professor Dovey.

When he first set out to write the books, his main inspiration came from his desire to remake the fairy tales he grew up with.

“You know, the fairy tales of Disney and I didn’t know who I was writing it for. I thought maybe it was more for adults than kids. I didn’t know what age group I was going for. Maybe I was going for teenagers. I was just writing what was true to my heart. And only when the publisher got it and thought, oh this could work for younger people if we make a few changes, but I didn’t want to make any of the changes. And so ultimately, we just bet on the fact that then younger audiences are ready for something a little edgier and bolder,” he said.

The book series has become so successful that it now has a movie version of the same title, directed by Paul Feig (Spy, Ghostbusters) and now streaming on Netflix.

“I can’t quite get my brain around it that all these people all over the world are gonna have opinions and thoughts and reactions to this story that feels so personal to me. I think that’s gonna be the adventure, you know,” Soman said.

What he loves about the movie is that it has stayed “faithful to the books – its spirit and story.”

“And so, you know, we’ll see what the world makes of it. I just think it’s a very different kind of story and I hope people will enjoy it as much as I did writing it,” Soman added.

Nevertheless, there’s a specific message he wants young girls to take away from the film and the books — that is, to find their “truest love.”

“I think ultimately, what I hope is that it allows them to invest all their feelings and love in their friendships. Without any kind of shame to value those friendships as deeply as they would any romantic relationship,” Soman said.

“And I think this is a movie that says purely and proudly, that those friendships are the truest love that exists because you choose those friends, you don’t choose your family. You commit to a partner but you’re committing to them versus a friend you can leave at any time. So, it’s so important that people value their friendships because that really is the key to sort of a happy life, I think, having that companion.”

Meanwhile, Soman is set to explore other forms of storytelling in the months to come, including a TV adaptation of his Beasts & Beauty, another highly-acclaimed bestseller of his that was released last year.

“So, I’m going to be writing that and executive-producing and show-running it. It’s going to be my new incarnation as kind of a TV guy for a little bit and sort of take a break from novels. And then we’ll see where I end up, you know,” Soman said.

He also just finished the prequel to The School for Good and Evil which will be out in May.

After these projects and after writing novels for the last 10 years, the next chapter of Soman’s career, as he indicated, is “going to be a time to recharge and sort of find a new direction in life.”

“I have a completely blank slate, no books contracted. You know, I purposely didn’t make any deals. I wanted the next year to just be totally blank and to see what happens. So, we’ll see what happens,” he said.

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