Author Interview: Lynne Kelly on Chained

Lynne Kelly and her own Nandita elephant
Lynne Kelly and her own Nandita elephant

A huge congratulations to Lynne Kelly, whose debut novel Chained was just released — and I can’t wait to read it!

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Chained tells the story of 10-year-old Hastin, whose family borrows money to pay his sister’s hospital bill. To work off the debt, Hastin leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper, thinking it will be an adventure. But he isn’t ready for the cruel circus owner, who hurts the sweet elephant, Nandita — Hastin’s best friend — until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin tries to protect Nandita, but knows the only way they’ll both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape.

The story sounds charming, and Lynne’s wonderful writing pulls readers in. I had the pleasure of reading the first chapter and I can promise, it’s beautiful.

Lynne graciously answered my 6 Little Questions for authors. Here they are:

Me: How did the story come to you? Characters? Situation? Whole thing at once?

Lynne: For this book it was the situation first, but I knew an elephant would be one of the characters. Most of the plot threads and characters were added later, but I’d planned to write a story about a captive elephant.

Me: From your first inspiration, did you outline or jump in?

ChainedLynne: I’m not an outliner at all, and I literally didn’t know from one chapter to the next what was going to happen. I had the ending in mind all along, but I didn’t know how the characters were going to get there and what they’d be going through along the way.

Me: Which do you enjoy most, the first draft or revising?

Lynne: I like revising much better! It’s scary having that blank white page staring you in the face, and it feels like such an accomplishment to have a first draft finished.

Me: Were there any scenes or plotlines that were written but got cut, and if yes, why?

Lynne: Oh, yes! One thing I’d like to do this summer is add a “deleted scenes” page to my website. I had a pretty cool stampede scene right after Nandita the elephant is loaded from the trap to the truck. The commotion attracted the attention of the herd, and they chased the truck as it drove back to the circus grounds. My editor asked me to cut it because it didn’t seem realistic to her. I also had Hastin telling his sister a story near the beginning of the book, when she’s sick and he’s helping to take care of her at home, but it turned out that the folk tale he was telling her isn’t one that’s told in that region of the country. I didn’t know the stories varied so much from place to place within the country, but it makes a big difference. I found a book of folk tales from Rajasthan, where Hastin lives, and there was one about a princess-witch who flew on a marble elephant! So I used that one, and when Hastin had to leave home later to work as an elephant keeper, he asked his mom to tell his sister that he’d flown away on the back of an elephant, and that he’d come back for her. We ended up cutting the storytelling scene althogether so it wouldn’t take the reader away from the story that was going on with Hastin and his sister.

Me: What was your biggest challenge with this story?

Lynne: Showing the Indian setting and culture accurately, and in a way that was clear for readers unfamiliar with it.

Me: When you’re done with a manuscript, how do you celebrate?

Lynne: Well, this’ll make me sound like a total dork, but usually I take time to read something from my giant to-be-read pile, after a little jumping up and down.

Me: Gotta have some jumping up and down. But I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

Check out the wonderful trailer for Chained below, then head to your favorite bookstore to pick up a copy.

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