Monday, April 14, 2014

Chatting with Soman Chainani

So today I am chatting with the fabulous author of The School For Good and Evil series, my friend Soman Chainani, who’s second book, SGE 2, A World Without Princes, is coming out on April 15th.

If you haven’t read the first SGE book, what are you waiting for? Go read it! It isn’t a NYT bestselling book for nothing! I rhapsodized over how much I loved this book in this earlier post (link here). And today we are going to have a giveaway for A World Without Princes! All you have to do is leave a comment for a chance to win the sequel. So let’s get chatting!

Ellen– Soman, you have your second book coming out now. One I have been dying for since I read the first book last year. And you teased and tortured me this entire time! Tell me, what the experience was like for you writing the second book as opposed to how you wrote the first one.

Soman – First off, I have to tell you how much I love your PROPHECY series. What I loved most about Kira's journey in the book is her emotional complexity and fallibility. She's prone to impulse and misinterpretation, like every volatile teenager. Your hero feels fully three-dimensional and I can't wait to see what happens in the final volume.

Ellen – Aw, thank you, Soman, it is always lovely to get Prophecy love!

Soman - On another note, I was raring to do this chat with you, because I always feel like you're one step ahead of me in your experience as a debut author -- your books always come out first -- so you can give me a peek at what I can expect, what I should avoid, and how to keep my mental sanity. 

Ellen – Are we supposed to keep our sanity? Isn’t book 2 where most authors usually lose their grip on reality? At least that’s what happened to me, and I’m not quite sure I ever regained all my senses.
Soman – The funny part about Book 2 is I tried to outline and organize it ahead of time, like a good student. When I started writing, though, I ended up accomplishing practically my entire outline in the first 50 pages. Talk about panic. But somehow here it is…

Ellen – Panic in the Sequel. Isn’t that a song? I think panic actually might be good for us.  Or maybe I’m fooling myself… Anyway, personally, I learn a lot from you and how hard you work on promoting your book. I find it really impressive.

Soman – It’s so funny, because I’m horrible at promoting me as a personality or anything about my personal life. I have no interest at all in people knowing anything about me. But when it comes to the work, I’ll stand out there on Queens Boulevard and shove it into people’s hands if I have to. I learned that from my Dad, who is a master at separating his own ego from the product.

Ellen – Dude, you need to teach me how to do that. I can’t even ask people to pay me back money they owe me. Look at us digressing again. Let’s go back to the second book…

Soman - First off, I found writing the second book in a trilogy at once easier and yet much more difficult than the first volume. On the one hand, I felt much less pressure writing A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES -- partially because I had put so much pressure to make THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL perfect. Such a silly thing to do, of course, but with your first novel, it's so easy to get worked up and believe that if you make even the slightest mistake, your career will implode before it's ever started. (I was the kind of student in school who thought he failed if he got a 92.) If there's one thing that irks me about my first book is that sometimes it feels too controlled, when I wish I had been just a tad more reckless. So with Book 2, I tried to just quiet my thinking mind and let my unconscious run. Perhaps it's why I like the second book more than the first.

Ellen – Me too! I do love my second book, Warrior, even more than Prophecy.

Soman - That said, on a practical level, there was much more time pressure for the second book -- only about ten months to write it versus the 18 months I had for the first book. But perhaps a focused deadline forces you to be more linear and drive through the story. With A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES, I found myself worried where and when to end it, since the middle volume of a series so often withers because it can't find any meaningful conclusion. But the time pressure really let me just feel my ending and commit to it without the usual hemming and doubt that comes with having too much time to work on something. What was your experience like writing WARRIOR? 

Ellen – I had the same time constraints. I mean I had years to rewrite Prophecy and literally months to first draft and edit Warrior. And yet, I loved it more. I do well under deadlines anyway. I think it makes me a more efficient author. Ok now I want to talk about the trailer for World of Princes. Let’s share it here:

I love this trailer as much as the first one! Was it fun working with your producers? What guidance did you give them on both of your amazing trailers?

Soman – I think one of the bigger lessons in life I’ve learned as an artist is that when you collaborate, it’s so important to find people who care as much as you do. And the two guys who do the trailers – Manny Palad and Michael Blank – are not just geniuses, but they live and breathe these things. As for guidance, I just send them a list of images in my subconscious and they use it as a kind of brainstorm bank. Speaking of book promotion, what have you learned from your experience with the Prophecy series about the need for an author to be a businessman as much as an artist?

Ellen – Well, I do think that there is only so much an author can do unless you are willing to put a lot of money behind your book. Which is why it is usually the big books with the big marketing push of their publishers that make it on to the lists. Having a small book means doing everything in my power to garner as much attention as I can. But I am a realist. I wrote a fantasy novel with Asian mythology and set it in ancient Korea. Plus I’m an author of color. These are not easy things to overcome in our very western centric society.

Soman – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how you perceive marketing in the YA genre. Chad Harbach (author of the blockbuster THE ART OF FIELDING) recently edited a book called MFA vs. NYC about the split in publishing between literary fiction and commercial fiction, and how your book either ends up siloed into one of these categories, often artificially. In children’s Middle Grade books, there is the stereotype of the same split – where books are either considered ‘high’ literature and thus pushed towards teachers, librarians, and the so-called ‘gatekeepers’, or considered ‘popular’ fiction, and marketed directly at the kids. But I don’t know if it holds true anymore. Plenty of schools have been teaching THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, despite its controversial elements (or perhaps because of them) – and we ended up creating a Common Core-aligned discussion guide to facilitate it. In the past, that might have been less of a possibility because SGE is fairy-tale themed. Growing up, I felt like all the books we read in school were either Newbery-award winners or had that same kind of lofty feel. But with so much competition for kids’ attention these days, perhaps some teachers feel it’s worth teaching something they know will engage them, without necessarily sacrificing language, themes, etc.?

Ellen –I’m so glad schools are teaching SGE! Man, I would have loved to have been in that class! The split you are talking about has always irked me because it doesn’t feel true to what our kids are really reading or interested in. Sometimes it feels as if the gatekeepers are reading these books as adults and not with their inner child. What makes a work of popular fiction any less worthy than one which is a so called “literary” book? There should be no true division in that sense. It’s different in YA. While there is definitely a separation of “literary” vs “popular”– there isn’t the same issue with gatekeepers. But in some ways I think it is also harder to promote yourself directly to the readers in the oversaturated world that YA has become. I don’t know that there is anything that we can really do except write your next book.

Soman – Speaking of which, we should probably get back to it. What’s next for you?

Ellen –Finalizing book 3! I should be seeing first pass pages soon, I think, which is always an exciting time. And there are a few fun projects that I’ve been working on that I love. What about you?

Soman – Because Middle Grade is more tour-heavy than YA, I’m literally packing for a 2 month tour around the country and then to Canada and the UK. (My mother’s been barking at me to pack light this time, because of my overpacking last year. I think at one point I yelped over the phone, “I REFUSE TO WEAR THE SAME OUTFIT TWICE.” After that, she lost all respect for me.) When the tour’s over, I’ll hide in a cave and write Book 3, which is out in October 2015. Or maybe I’ll come to your cave and write there. I go through Ellen withdrawal if I don’t see you for too long.

Ellen – Oh you should have me pack for you! I’m the most efficient packer. And I would happily have you come to my house and write if you weren’t on deadline – because you know you won’t get much writing done as we would spend all the time talking and eating! But wouldn’t that be so fun anyway! Speaking of fun, note to self, must schedule NY trip to see Soman after his book tour!

Ok Soman, thanks for being on the Inkpot again. Next time let’s share crazy family relative stories like the time your grandmother took you white water rafting even though she refused to row and how my mother forced me to eat the same plate of broccoli for a week because she wanted me to lose weight. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Soman – My mother made me drink nonalcoholic beer in high school, hoping it would make me GAIN weight, since my father got fat from drinking beer. So I totally understand your pain. Until next time Ellen…

So that's the chat! Thanks for tuning in and don’t forget, leave a comment below for a chance to win the exciting sequel – SGE2 A World Without Princes!


  1. Aww this was a fun interview to read! I love that the interviewee was also interviewing the interviewer. Can't wait for the sequel of both your novels.

  2. I loved this interview, two of my favorite authors discussing their books = awesome! Thanks for the amazing interview and I can't wait to read A World Without Princes!

  3. What a great chat/interview. You both sound as if your having such fun. Congratulations on the release of A World Without Princes, can't wait to read it.

  4. I loved the School for Good and Evil, and the second book sounds amazing! This interview was great!-- I liked how you guys both gave each other compliments :D

  5. Great interview! Saw Soman speak at the YA Fantasy panel at the LA book festival this past Saturday, one of the highlights of my weekend.

  6. Yay, it's finally released! I've been waiting forever for a sequel! Great interview and the cover art is gorgeous.


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