Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interview with Lynne Kelly, Author of CHAINED

I'm really excited to be hosting author interviews with a couple of the Class of 2K12 authors who have middle grades books coming out this year.
Next up is Lynne Kelly, author of CHAINED released on May 8th.
After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn’t prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she’s not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can, knowing that the only way they will both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape.

1. How would you describe Chained in five words or less?  
Friendship between elephant and keeper.

2. What sparked your initial idea to write this book?
The idea started when I was at a presentation and heard the tale "Don't Be Like The Elephant," about how a small rope or chain can hold a full-grown elephant because once they give up trying to break free, they never try again. It's meant to be an example of learned helplessness or self-limiting behavior, but I got the idea then to write a picture book manuscript about a captive elephant that breaks free and returns home. 

 3. Your story takes place in a location that is not very familiar to most US middle grades readers. How did you go about creating the setting to make sure it was authentic for your readers?
That was probably the biggest challenge in the book--writing about India, without having been there, in a way that would be clear to readers who didn't know anything about it, yet authentic to those who were familiar with the country and culture. I did a lot of research by reading and looking at pictures online, but the best research was talking to people who've lived there. A reporter in India helped me come up with what Hastin's house would look like, and I asked questions of several people who'd lived in India. Before my agent search, I had a full manuscript critique from author Uma Krishnaswami, who read it again more recently to vet it for publication. 

4. Your audience is middle grades - what came first, the book idea or the audience for the book?
The idea came first; I was actually thinking of it as a picture book, and I'd been working on that for a few months before expanding it into a novel.

5. What do you hope readers take away from reading Chained? 
That no matter where we are or who we are, there are times that we'll feel afraid, just like we all feel happy, sad, or lonely at times; even if we are scared, we can still do the right thing and stand up for a friend if necessary. Also, everything that happens to us shapes who we are. That doesn't mean you have to try to find something good in the bad things that happen to you-- sometimes you can, like maybe you've learned something or you've grown stronger, but even if you can't find the good in the bad, the experience helped make you who you are, and you can embrace who you are today.

6. As a debut author, has your experience been what you expected or completely different or somewhere in between? 
Somewhere in between, because I didn't expect the time between sale and publication to fly by like it has. It's been about two years since the book sold, and at the time, May 2012 seemed so far away. Now it's here! And I didn't know before that I'd get to meet so many other debut authors (some in real life, many more online) who'd be going through the journey to publication at the same time. That's been the best part, the friendships I've made by connecting with other writers.

7. How long did it take from initial idea/starting writing to the book's release? And how many revision rounds were done in between? 
I first got the idea in 2006, and I was ready to submit the manuscript to literary agents in 2009. I found my agent in February of 2010, and the book sold a few weeks later. It's being published almost exactly two years after the sale, so all in all it's been six years from idea to publication. I don't really know how many rounds of revisions there were, but there were a lot! I revised it many times before I felt like it was ready for submission, then I'd revise more if the agents who turned me down were nice enough to offer some feedback. After I got my agent, I did two rounds of revisions with her before we submitted the manuscript to editors. Then there were more revision requests from my new editor! Some revisions were small, some took a lot more time, but it helps to keep in mind that it's all to make the book the best it can be. 

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