Soman Chainani revolutionizes YA fiction with his twisted fantasy
Like most children, Soman Chainani grew up on a regular Disney diet.
âWe didn’t have Nintendo, Netflix, video games, everything the kids have today. We had Disney movies, âChainani said in the last episode of Fast businessfrom the Creative Conversation podcast. âThe 45 animated films were in my house, and I just watched them 24/7. I knew every movie, every frame, every line.
Disney’s grip on Chainani was so firm, in fact, that he applied to work at the company as a strategic planning analyst after graduating from college.
âIf I had had this job, I think my life would have been completely different,â Chainani says.
Chainani evolves in the world of fairy tales as a young adult author, but his vision is much darker and more complex.
Think of him as the “alt Walt”.
“I began to realize that my childhood, in many ways, was based on a lie and that these Disney fairy tales teach the opposite of what the original fairy tales taught,” Chainani says of the source material for Disney largely consists of sanitized versions of the Grimm Brothers’ tales. âThe original fairy tales taught that sometimes good wins, sometimes bad wins. Both parties are aware of each other, but you don’t really identify with right or wrong. It takes a bit of both to find your way in life. “
Chainani’s first novel and series The school of good and evil, which Netflix is ââadapting into a film with director Paul Feig at the helm, is a direct subversion of the typical princess tale.
The main catalyst for the series comes from two young girls dropped off in the wrong fairy-tale academies. Sophie, the beautiful blonde ripe for a future prince finds herself stuck in the school of evil, while her brooding and misanthropic friend Agatha is dropped off at school for good.
âIt’s a corrupting influence, the idea that you are either good or bad and that you are on one side. And I think it infects everything in this country. I think it infects everything down to our politics, âChainani says. âIt blew my mind that so many kids like me were growing up with Disney values ââas true fairy tales taught something very different. This is where the seed for an alternate tale universe. fairies started.
Chainani recently expanded his universe with Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales, a collection of fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm with a modern twist.
For example, the story of Snow White transforms the titular princess into the only black girl in the kingdom, adding a layer of deeper complexity to her struggle with her white stepmother who is truly the most beautiful in the land. Little Red Riding Hood becomes a reflection of society’s contempt for women, with city dwellers regularly sacrificing their prettiest maidens to a pack of wolves so they can be spared.
âI thought, in an immense act of pride and ambition, ‘I am going to pretend that I am the original author of these tales. So what do I want the generations to learn? Let’s take them back. Let’s make them work for today’s world, âChainani says. “It was a big ambition, but I think I needed it so as not to be precious on the stories and start from the seed of what they really were.”
In this episode of Creative conversation, Chainani delves deeper into his alternate take on fairy tales, why the rules of YA novels should be broken, and more.
Check out the conversation highlights below and the full episode wherever you enjoy your podcasts.
What’s so interesting about the Disney version of the stories is that the idea of ââright and wrong doesn’t come to the hero or the heroine. They just happen to be righteous and kind, and they are oblivious. They are almost passive vehicles for their history. And what worried me the most is that we live in this world where good and evil are defined for us and imposed. For me, that’s what we fight with every day. Are we doing the right thing? Are we doing the wrong thing? Those are the big questions, and I feel like we need fairy tales where the character is actually awake, where the character is self-aware enough to be like, âWhat’s the right thing? What’s wrong ? “
Break the YA Rules
With this new book, Beasts and BeautyI started to say, “I’m going to write a book for adults and the kids are going to read it and I’m not going to change it to make it kid-friendly.” It will be an adult book and the kids are going to be great in it. In the end, many of these rules [in publishing young adult fiction] are just old. I think coming in with a new perspective on the publishing industry means you can disrupt and you can be a bit of a flame thrower, which I do. I always challenge everyone to break the rules a bit, because the books are such a big challenge. Kids have video games, TikTok, YouTube, and all. We have to make him sexy again. The only way to do this is to make it look like a renegade. So each of my books has to make it seem like it grows and makes kids feel like they’re in a secret.
Write from “the unconscious”
I believe the best writing comes from the subconscious. I rarely try to make decisions consciously or in a cerebral way. It has to be instinctual, and it has to come from the gut. To access it, it is very difficult. You can’t just sit back and work. You have to be able to tap into it. So there is a whole process. I exercise a ton. I am in meditation. It takes a certain amount of sleep. You have to live life almost like an Olympic athlete, because you are trying to summon that kind of muse and spirit that is not under your conscious control. You have to give in to it so much. So it’s tough, and it definitely means my life is very disciplined. But I think the end result is when I sit down to write it almost feels like you’ve entered that runaway flow state where you’re not in control.