The trilogy of “The School of Good and Evil” is hard to describe because it’s complicated and it shifts depending on your vantage point. It’s safe to say that the two protagonists, Sophie and Agatha, never give an easy answer to a question.
Novelist. Screenwriter. Director. Those are just a few words that are pinned to Soman Chainani, and they are all accurate. I would also add passionate and hardworking.
To quote Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy bein’ green”—which is code for being markedly different. It can’t be easy being Soman Chanani.
According to his IMDbPro page, Chainani is an award-winning filmmaker and New York Times bestselling novelist of the series “The School for Good and Evil.” His film work has been screened at hundreds of film festivals, and the screen rights for his book series were recently purchased by Universal Studios with the intent of turning it into a film trilogy.
Chainani is an alumni of Harvard University’s English and American Literature program and has attended Columbia University, where he studied in their MFA film program.
These tidbits of trivia are also true. What’s missing, in all of the data, is the reveal that the process of creating the trilogy took a tremendous amount of time. His motivation, like many famous storytellers before him, was based on sheer need and bitter frustration.
Once upon a time, the young filmmaker clung to the Hollywood dream of becoming a big-time feature director. His screenwriting prowess was so good that he was hired by the “suits in power” to create, and he made money. In the dulling process of the system, he quickly realized that he wasn’t happy with the “uncertainty of it all.” His spirit dampened and he began to question everything.
It’s at this part of the story that his trajectory gets interesting. He was “failing,” but it was at that moment the ground broke open. Good stuff can grow strong in manure if the groundkeeper keeps a careful eye. That’s when the really creative get going, unafraid of, or uncaring about, the uncomfortable process of tending their own metaphorical gardens and hauling the metaphorical manure. That’s when inspiration hits and sticks. That’s where legends are born, in the stink of it—and that takes years.
I learned this part of his story during the official launch party and signing (at Books of Wonder ) for the final trilogy installment, “The Last Ever After.”
“You are a genius,” I squeaked to his Harper Collins editor, Toni Markiet, after showing her my dog-eared copy of Chanani’s “A World Without Princes.”
“No,” Markiet corrected. “Soman is the genius, but thank you.”
This question was asked by a little girl with thick pony tails and a wide-eyed smile: “Where did you get your ideas for writing this?”
Chainani expounded, “I was working on a couple of movies over in London for a couple of years. I was going to direct this big, wedding-themed movie, and I was writing an animated movie about Indian elephants for Sony Animation, and I worked on this for about two years. Then they both got a little shaky—about financing—at the same time. It was like, the world is telling me, ‘Find a way to control your own material.’ Because when you only work in Hollywood, they pay so if they decide to not pay, for something, you have to wait.
“I was walking through a park, wondering how I can get more control over my career. I remember sitting in Regent’s Park and having this very crystal clear image of two girls falling into castles.There was a girl in pink falling into a rotted black castle, and there was a girl in black, falling into sort of a pink and glass castle. This idea, of good and evil being switched, became this instant thing. I knew I had to write that!
“Once I started chipping away, I realized how much of it was already there. One of the great things about being a writer, you realize that often, when you have an idea, that’s just the symptom. The actual idea has been brewing in you, for four or five years, so all you’re seeing is a little peak of the volcano above the ocean; the entire volcano is underneath. I wrote the first draft in seven months. It was 917 pages. My editor’s face went white. ‘You have to trim this,’ and we did. Thank God I have her.”