Tuesday, May 8, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW - Interview with Lynne Kelly, Author of CHAINED

Today the Lucky 13s welcome Lynne Kelly, author of CHAINED, to the blog. Congratulations on the release of your debut, Lynne!

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 hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. With the help of Ne Min, a wise old man who has watched over many elephants, Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can. Still he wonders--will they both survive long enough to escape?

Welcome to The Lucky 13s blog, Lynne! I've personally been waiting for CHAINED for a long time, since I've known you for a few years through Twitter and Facebook. I'm so thrilled to introduce your book today!

It's difficult to believe that this layered tale began as a picture book. What was the original manuscript like and how did you know it was really a novel in disguise?

Well, the original-original very first manuscript was ridiculously bad, but thankfully before I showed it to anyone, I realized it needed to be the elephant's story, instead of having the elephant as just one character along with the other talking animals and whatever was going on with them. The manuscript that I first took to a critique group was about two elephant friends in the wild, and one is captured to be a show elephant. The rest of the book showed the next few years of the elephant's life at the circus grounds, all from her point of view. Then at the end she broke free from her chain, probably after listening to an old Wilson Phillips CD, and rejoined her herd in the wild.

So it didn't have the layers that it has now--those all came up much later. The old picture book manuscript is kind of like a zip drive for the plot thread about the elephant's life, and then her keeper Hastin, when I added him, since they have kind of parallel lives. And it didn't occur to me that it was a novel in disguise. Some people at critique group meetings mentioned, "I don't think this is a picture book. It seems like it needs to be a novel."

What? A novel? A whole novel? That's a lot of words!

But since I'd heard the same thing a few times, I thought I'd better give it a try. So I slowly started stretching out the story, adding the new layers and characters and threads, until I had a big ol' novel. 

The weird thing now is, when I try to write a picture book, I'm thinking, "Ugghhhhh that's so few words! How can I tell a whole story?!"

Ha! That's funny because as a picture book writer, I think a novel is a lot of words!

It's amazing to me that you captured such wonderful detail about Hastin's village, then the jungle circus and the care of Nandita the elephant. You're from Houston, not India! How much research was involved to create such a rich, believable setting? 

Thanks! A lot of research went into it, so thankfully it was interesting. I knew that a lot of readers wouldn't be that familiar with India, and I wanted the setting to be clear for them, and at the same time I wanted to show it accurately so those who are familiar with the country wouldn't find anything amiss. 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.

This is the Lucky 13s blog where we like to talk about superstitions. Hastin, the main character of your book, isn't necessarily superstitious, but he does put great faith in the mythical creature Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. What obstacles do you think Ganesh removed for you in the path to publication?

I loved finding out about the Hindu belief that the god Ganesh not only removes obstacles, but sometimes puts them in our way. Isn't that how the path to publication feels? I'm sure every writer can look back on times they were disappointed about some roadblock thrown in their way, only to realize later it was for the best. There were several agents and editors who sent encouraging words or feedback with their rejections, so although it wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, the advice often helped me make the manuscript better. And the book ended up in a great home, so it all worked out in the end. In a way it's like the small obstacles along the way remove the larger ones later.

Besides the hard work it took to write and revise the book, there were some things along the way that seemed to fall into place, like being at the right place at the right time to hear an idea or read something that led to a subplot in the story.

Do you have a favorite superstition?

My first thought was the one about staying home on Friday the 13th since traffic may be a bit lighter that day. But I do love making a birthday wish! Also I'll pick up a heads-up penny that I find outside, for good luck. If people are around I may not do it, but it feels weird to pass it by.

OK, corny segue, but...people should feel weird to pass your book by! It's a gripping read with a touching friendship between Hastin and Nandita the elephant, who are both trapped by their circumstances. You'll root for Hastin from page one and you will be astounded (yet not really surprised) by his courage during the final can't-put-the-book-down scenes. 

I'll make one last note--Lynne is one of the funniest people I know! So you definitely want to follow her on Twitter @LynneKelly and visit her website at LynneKellyBooks.com. Her wit is not to be missed, either.

Thanks for reading!

Street magic performer. Award-winning ice sculptor. Hog-calling champion. Boogeyman assassin. These are all things Tara Lazar (your interviewer) has never been. Instead she prefers writing picture books. 

Her debut THE MONSTORE will release with the Aladdin imprint of Simon & Schuster in lucky Summer 2013. She posts writing tips, book reviews, interviews and other kidlit curiousities at taralazar.wordpress.com.


  1. This book sounds fascinating! Thank you Lynne and Tara!

  2. Great interview, Lynne and Tara! The book sounds incredible. I love that it started out as a picture book! So fascinating!

  3. When I first saw the title, it made me think of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! Sounds like a great read.

  4. It's pretty amazing how your book has evolved, Lynne! Congratulations on CHAINED!

  5. What an interesting view into how to find the right genre for your story. Thanks Lynne and Tara!

  6. Thanks for the nice comments, everyone, and for doing the interview, Tara!