Since I was small, I have been a passionate reader, instantly drawn into stories that could be painted in words. When I discovered chapter books, I remember eagerly awaiting the moment when I could open a book and slip into its vivid colors and images. In an instant, I might feel the brush of rainbow-colored wind on my cheeks or hear the clear sound of river water gliding over rocks. The moment I finished a book, I couldn’t wait to pick up another one to take yet another leap into the world of an author’s imagination where it could be mixed with my own imagination, as if we were telling the story together as I read. This journey has always felt kind of like an instantly departing airplane, except that I never had to worry about how long until the plane reached its final destination. I could just enjoy the journey, and adapt to new places as I went, experiencing love, fear, danger, and courage through the eyes of other characters. And The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani was the first book, in particular, to show me how powerful my imagination was in being able to empathize with experiences that seemed entirely different but still somehow linked to my own.
Since discovering The School for Good and Evil in fourth grade, I’ve read it seventeen times, and each time I open it up, I become instantly fascinated by the elaborate personalities of each character and the special powers they possessed, like the ability to cast spells with their glowing fingertips or concoct herbal potions that allowed for shape-shifting and falling in love. I couldn’t believe that a single author had created a world that was full of magic but still felt as real and true as my own life. I became determined to find out everything I could about his background as a writer, and on his website, I learned that not only had all his books had made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list, but his first series had been translated into twenty-seven languages across six different continents and was now being made into a movie by Universal Pictures. I was even more surprised to learn that Soman Chainani found enough time to work on writing his novels and screenplays while still playing tennis competitively in New York City.
Up until that day, I had assumed that to be really good at something, you had to give everything else up in order to reach your goal. At least that was how I’d always viewed playing violin myself. Starting when I was small, I’ve devoted myself to practicing up to three hours every day, and ever since joining an international string ensemble last year, I’ve had to spend most weekends and at least two nights a week rehearsing. Soman Chainani was the first person to open up my mind to the possibility of writing a novel despite all of my other activities. If he had managed to make his dreams happen as a writer, filmmaker, and athlete, then maybe I could balance my passions for writing and music too. I decided that I would find time to write. My goal was to write for at least twenty minutes a day a few times week in the morning before school or after I finished my homework in the evening. I started off by writing poems and short pieces in response to writing prompts, and then slowly worked my way up to my first fantasy fiction novel. I didn’t know where to start with the story, exactly, but I did know I wanted my new grey tabby kitten named Daisy to be the heroine of my series.
I decided to follow Soman Chainani’s lead and create my own imaginary world. I set the story in a large floating city named Skyworld that hovers above New York. In the opening pages, Daisy embarks on a journey to find her long-lost brother, Jacob. Along the way, she meets a wide cast of characters, many of them inspired by those found in The School for Good and Evil. But when I finished the first draft, a teacher told me I would need to ask Soman Chainani’s permission to use several of his character names in my own work. I was scared and nervous to email a famous author out of the blue, but relieved when just a few weeks later, Soman wrote me back, encouraging me to use the names of his characters as I continued writing. I was overjoyed to know that I wouldn’t have to change my story and could move forward in plotting the next story I had in mind for these characters, in working toward creating my very own series. Looking back, I realize that Soman Chainani has inspired me in more ways than one. Not only has he inspired my desire to write, but he has shown me that being an author also means being there for your readers. When some authors become famous, they might not take time out of their packed days to answer emails or requests, but Soman isn’t this way. He seems humble, kind, and supportive of his fans, and he wants them to feel motivated to do the hard work of writing an original story.
If I become a published author one day, I hope to be there for my readers too, answering their questions and encouraging them to follow their dreams. Soman reminds me that being an author is about small, daily habits that add up in big ways. He has taught me that writing isn’t about making money or becoming famous, but it is about sitting down to make the time to write no matter what. I realized that as long as I can carve out this space, not only am I setting my mind free to build exciting new worlds out of my imagination, but in the process I might inspire others to do the same. Soman Chainani taught me that by being thoughtful and supportive of others, we are showing them that they matter, that their stories are as important as our own. I think this is how change happens. If we can take the time to imagine what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes by telling stories and inspiring others to tell their stories too, we are making our story grow as one, a little more each day.