I'm so excited to welcome Houston's own Lynne Kelly! Throws confetti! I met Lynne last year in Austin during TLA and I see her at YA events all the time. Please give Lynne a warm welcome!
What was the process for you from writing Chained to getting the call that your book would be sold?
I started writing the book in 2006, submitted to a few agents in 2007 before it was ready, then after many more critiques and rewrites, submitted to more agents in 2009. I spent that summer doing a lot of revisions for an agent who was interested in representation; she decided to pass on it after all, which was really disappointing, but I knew the novel was a lot better, so the time and effort wasn't wasted. I started sending the manuscript to agents again in September, and in February 2010, one of those agents emailed to set up a phone call. During our phone conversation she offered representation, and we scheduled another phone call for later that week. I emailed the other agents who still had the manuscript to let them know about the offer so they'd have time to read it and let me know if they were also interested. Coincidentally, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe emailed me that same day to let me know she'd just read the thirty pages I'd submitted to her before, and said if I wasn't represented yet she'd like to see the whole thing. I let her know that I wasn't represented yet but had a phone call planned for a couple days later. She read the whole manuscript by the next day and also set up a time to talk on the phone. So after all those manuscript submissions I suddenly had two agents I really liked who'd offered representation. Nice problem to have, but I hated having to make the decision. (Here's more about what that was like).
I decided to go with Joanna, and after a couple rounds of revisions she submitted the novel to editors. About three weeks later she called me to let me know that editor Margaret Ferguson at MacMillan/FSG was interested in publishing CHAINED. Since I was working in a college classroom at the time, I had to just step out in the hall and say something like, “Oh, wow, that's awesome” when what I really wanted to do was run up and down the halls screaming. But people look at you weirdly when you do that.
Joanna let the other editors who had the manuscript know about the offer, kind of like I did when I notified agents about my offer of representation. Since more than one editor was interested acquiring the manuscript, Joanna set up an auction for the sale, which was really exciting!
So to sum up:
March 2006 – got the idea for the book and started writing
February 2010 – signed with agent
May 2010 – novel sold
May 2012 – publication date
What inspired the story?
I've always loved elephants, but I got the idea for CHAINED 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 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, and more revisions.
There have been so many versions of the story; 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.
Chained sounds like an emotional story. Should we be prepared for tears?
Well...yes. During the last couple chapters, especially. But happiness too, of course! I don't want to leave you depressed.
What age range is Chained aimed at?
I just looked at the back cover and it reads “Ages 10-14.” Since the main character, Hastin, is ten years old, I think kids who are younger than he is would like it too. So “8 and up” sounds good to me.
I have seen a picture of you with a real elephant. What was that like and did your personal experience work its way into your book?
That's one of my elephant friends from the Houston Zoo-- I've gone to a few of their Elephant Open House events. I learn something new each time I go. The staff there is great about answering questions, and being up close with the elephants helped me describe them better.
We see each other all the time around Houston book events and we have a pretty big writing community. Have you been let into the club and has that helped and how?
It's amazing how supportive the writing community here is, and being a part of it has helped tremendously. I couldn't have written the book without the help of people who'd already been writing for some time and were knowledgable about the industry. When I first started writing I was able to find some awesome critique groups right away who helped me get the story ready to submit, and I felt welcomed from the start. Plus they like going to lunch and eating cake.
You are also part of Class of 2k12. In earlier groups there where authors like Cassandra Claire, Melissa Marr, Jay Asher, and so many others. How does it feel to be in the group?
Wow, those are some big names. So that's exciting and inspiring and a little intimidating.
What are future projects you would like to work on?
I've just turned in my revisions for a humorous YA mystery to my agent, and I'll be going back to mid-grade next, in a novel about an amateur forensic scientist with cryptozoologist parents. I'm also thinking of a YA character who grew up on a reality show.
Thanks again to Lynne for taking time to visit and talk about Chained! To find out more about Lynne visit http://lynnekellybooks.com