If you're itching to read a darker side of fairy tales, then get ready for "Beasts and Beauty" by Soman Chainani.
What was your inspiration behind your most recent book?
One of the goals with "Beasts and Beauty" was to write that Holy Grail: a book for both young readers and adults. The Grimms’ fairy tales had that quality — they worked for every age because there was the story on the surface for children and the thrilling, sinister subtext for the elders. So when writing these new fairy tales, I didn’t pull any punches. They’re dark, intense, and relentlessly honest as if I’m telling these stories around a campfire to an audience of any age. Each story is set in the 18th and 19th centuries but has its pulse on the timeless and universal.
"Beauty and the Beast" is about how being an immigrant in a new land means you often can't be seen for who you truly are. Bluebeard is about a rich, mysterious man, who preys on boys from orphanages, only to meet his match. Peter Pan is the story of Wendy growing up, only to realize she prefers a pirate to Pan. Everyone can see themselves in these stories. And already it seems that publishers are recognizing they work for every age — in the US, it’s being published for ages 10 & up, while in the UK, it’s being published as an adult literary novel. That disparity is the highest compliment I can imagine.
What does "Reading with Pride" mean to you?
To me, Reading with Pride means finding a mirror of yourself or your experience in the pages of a book and feel seen and valued. This is a tall order, of course, but it doesn't mean you have to find your twin or a replica of life in a book's pages — but instead a character or story or theme that feels like it resonates with your authentic pathway in life. Growing up gay, I often looked to books for that experience because I wasn't able to have it in my real life, since I was so sealed in the closet. Books with LGBT themes gave me a glimpse of a happier future and gave my imagination the ability to imagine that future for myself.
Why do you feel representation of a variety of people is so important when it comes to writing books and characters?
It's just simply the world we live in. We are surrounded by difference, even if we turn a blind eye to it. That's what makes us viable as a species — diversity of culture, personality and strengths. If we were all the same, we'd die out quite quickly. At the same time, every person has so many facets to themselves. I've written over 300 characters at this point, and I'd say nearly all of them have a piece of me somewhere inside them. So writing diversity isn't just about reflecting on the outside world, but the inner world as well. We are a mass of contradictions and competing consciousnesses, even within a single soul. Books let you explore all those parts of yourself.
Which character did you relate to the most and why?
Probably Pietro in Bluebeard. He's underestimated because he's sensitive and small and just soft by nature, but inside, he's ferocious. A lion at heart. I think I really saw myself in that character. I'm soft on the surface, but hard as steel underneath.
What can fans expect from your book?
Beasts and Beauty is just a wild ride. A re-imagination of all the old fairy tales we hold dear, but also stories that don't serve us anymore. So I think readers can expect just twelve delicious, dangerous stories, where every single one feels wildly different, but also deeply satisfying. They are reflections of the stories we once knew, but with an understanding of the world we live in now. They're edgy, provocative, sensual, and bold in a way that fairy tales were meant to be... before Disney got a hold of them.
What's up next for you in the bookish world?
In 2022, the film adaptation of my book "The School for Good and Evil" will be released by Netflix, starring Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Yeoh, and a cast of talented teenagers, including Sofia Wylie and Sophie Anne Caruso. So that's what I'm most excited about next year. I'll also have a new book out in 2022 that I'll be announcing soon.