I read you teach theater arts. How did you get involved in this?
I have been involved with theatre since I was 10. I have been an actor, designer, director, playwright, and now teacher. I initially went into theatre education because it was a stable way to make a career in theatre, without having to live audition to audition. However, once I started working with teenagers, I found that I truly enjoyed inspiring young minds. When I was in high school, all of my greatest memories were on stage. It is one of my biggest joys to be able to share that passion with new generations. Theatre teaches more than just acting, it teaches teamwork, leadership, communication, and public speaking. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I loved theater as a kid. What kinds of plays do you put on with your students?
The school where I teach, and only started teaching at last year, has an enormous theatre program, one of the largest in the Washington DC area. Every year, we present a Broadway musical, a play with the advanced acting group, a student-directed play, a One Act Festival, and a series of short sketch-comedy style student-written skits, which are performed at a large performance nicknamed “Pancakes”. There is also a student improvisation team, which performs four times a year. Next year, the advanced play will be different, as I plan to develop an original ensemble-based play with the class. We will adapt a story, and create the play together.
Do you have to use abridged versions? I always hated those as a kid.
We use full versions of all plays and musicals.
Your book is coming out soon. What inspired you to write it? It’s an unusual subject.
The idea for School of Deaths emerged when I was finishing my graduate degree at Oxford University. I spent four months abroad, far from everyone I knew. Every week, I traveled somewhere I had never been before. I would climb castle ruins in Wales and visit cathedrals in England. One of my favorite trips was to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. I crept to the cliff face of Barras Nose, a stony peninsula jutting into the North Sea and overlooking the ruins of Tintagel, which some believe to be the birthplace of King Arthur. It was dawn, there were no other people in sight, and I had to struggle against the wind, fighting to keep my balance so I didn’t crash into the ocean. I imagined being buffeted by winds, alone, and what that would do to a character, and came up with the character of Suzie, alone in a world of men, buffeted by sexism.
Returning to Oxford, I envisioned Suzie alone in a strange school. The idea of a school of trained Reapers appealed to me, giving a fantasy edge to her story. In an early draft, the school of deaths resembled Oxford. However a beta reader told me, very correctly, that Oxford was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I eventually changed the setting drastically to avoid that parallel.
Is this your first novel?
Technically, no. It’s my first published novel, however it is the second novel I’ve written. The first is currently shelved, although I may re-visit it at some point. I have also written a play, which was performed at a high school in 2012 (not the high school I teach at now).
Who are your favorite authors?
Tolkien, Rowling, and Philip Pullman
What’s the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?
An author I met told me this: “What do you call a writer who never gives up? Answer: Published.” I’ve never forgotten that, and have never given up.
The worst writing advice I received was from my parents. When they heard me say I wanted to write they suggested I copy someone else’s book, or just write fanfic. I decided to do neither.
What are you working on now?
My current work in progress is a sequel to School of Deaths called Sword of Deaths. While I did write School of Deaths as a standalone novel, I knew Suzie’s story was not finished, and I had always intended to turn it into a series. Other projects in the work include an adult science-fiction novel and a historical fiction novel set during the American Revolutionary War.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
The best part of writing is drafting at the beginning, a phase that is pure creation. My least favorite part was trying to find a publisher, and now marketing. Editing was difficult but it did help the story, and overall wasn’t that bad.
Are you a plotter? A pantser? Somewhere in between?
I am definitely in between. I need to have an idea of where I’m going, and I sketch out with pencil and paper where I want my story to take me. I outline roughly at the beginning, but once I have a general idea, I let the story run its own course.
What do you consider your strengths as a writer?
My greatest strength is my vivid imagination, and ability to bring new worlds to life. The combination of vivid world building with strong characters helps my stories.
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
With determination, anyone can overcome adversity. Suzie feels that she is alone, and she is bullied, yet turns her differences into her greatest strength.
Any advice to aspiring writers?
Keep writing, no matter what you do. Perseverance and patience will pay off in the end.
Any last words?
If you enjoy the book, please visit my website www.ChristopherMannino.com for extras including a free prequel.