Monday, July 9, 2012

Class of 2k12 Interview with Lynne Kelly, Author of Chained

Throughout the year I'll be bringing you some interviews with the authors over at the Class of 2K12! I hope you will enjoy getting to know these authors and thoughts on their books better. Today I'm bringing you an interview with Lynne Kelly. Her book, Chained, is out now!

Do you share any similarities with your characters?

The first two books I've written couldn't be more different, but I just realized recently that in one, the character is trying desperately to return home, and in the other, the character has to go on a road trip but wants nothing more than to stay home. I do love my time at home too! 

How did your book change from the first draft to the final draft? 

It's completely evolved from something that just crawled out of primordial ooze, to something human-like. At first I thought I'd write a picture book about a captive elephant. I had no idea at the time it would grow into the novel that it is now. The very first version was horrific--other than the elephant (who talked), there was a talking ostrich, a train, a monkey--and I'm so thankful no one ever saw it. At some point when I was writing the idea hit me, "Maybe this needs to be the elephant's story," and I wrote a picture book manuscript about a captive elephant that breaks free and returns to his home. After taking it to a couple of critique groups some people noticed that the story needed to be told as a novel, not as a picture book. At the time I couldn't imagine writing it as a novel, but now I can't imagine it any other way. So little by little I worked on expanding the story into a novel, with lots of revisions along the way, changing from third person to first person point of view, past tense to present tense, the elephant from a boy to a girl, then more and more revisions. It's unrecognizable from the first picture book draft, although you'll still see the elephant held by the same small chain that held her as a newly-captured calf.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?

A lot. I've always loved elephants and had read some books about them, but knew I'd have to research them more to make sure I was showing accurate behavior in the book. I read all I could online and in books about elephants, set the DVR to record any elephant show that came up, and went to elephant events at the Houston zoo. After the edits were done, an elephant expert at UC-Davis read the manuscript to make sure everything looked all right. 

The hardest things to get right were the cultural details about India. I researched the setting by reading and asking a lot of questions of people who'd lived there, but it seems like you can research for years and still not know how two people will interact-- how they'll greet each other or what they'll call each other, for example. And I can look up Hindu prayers, but they may not be prayers this particular character would know. Same with food and folk tales; characters from different regions of India might not eat the same foods or tell the same stories. 

Before submitting to agents, I got a professional critique from author Uma Krishnaswami-- I'd heard that she was awesome, and I wanted a writer from India to read it to help me avoid saying anything dumb. She also read the final version of the manuscript to vet it for publication, and answered tons of follow-up questions from my editor and me. 

As if that wasn't enough, I made one character Burmese, so to research his backstory I read a couple of books about Burma during World War II, and connected with a Burmese study group at Yale to come up with appropriate names. They put me in touch with a Burmese student who answered more questions for me about the culture.

I'm kind of glad I didn't know from the start what I was getting myself into!

What has surprised you about the publication process? 

How long everything takes! This isn't a field for someone who's impatient. I started writing this book in 2006, sold it in 2010, and it'll be published in 2012. I think people don't know about all the editing a book goes through before it's ready for publication. After your own revisions you do before submitting, the agent will often request revisions before sending it to editors, and the editor who acquires it will want more revisions. All of that plus copyediting, designing cover art and such takes time. But it's fun to see it all come together.

Would you rather deal with an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse? 

Hmm. Alien invasion, I think. There's a chance the aliens will be friendly, but we can't say the same for the zombies.

What are you working on next?

Two totally different things: I'm revising a humorous YA novel with some mystery to it called Reasons For Leaving, and I've written some random notes and a rough plot for a mid-grade mystery about a girl whose parents are cryptozoologists.

About Chained: The story of a boy and an elephant who have a friendship stronger than any lock, shackle, or chain.

Ten-year-old Hastin’s sister has fallen ill, and his family must borrow money to pay for her care in the hospital. To work off the debt, Hastin leaves his village in northern India to work in a faraway jungle as an elephant keeper. 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 punished until she learns her tricks perfectly. With the help of Ne Min, a wise old man who seems to know all about elephants, Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can. Still he wonders–will they both survive long enough to escape?

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