Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you got into writing?
I'm a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to writing--I've always enjoyed reading, but it was only a few years ago that I really considered writing a book. I've been a sign language interpreter for a long time, and for a few years I also taught elementary school and fell in love with children's literature all over again. Even when teaching math, I liked having the kids solve math problems about a picture book I'd read to them. It was actually the idea for Chained that got me into writing-- I thought I'd turn it into a picture book to share with my students and maybe try to get published.
Can you tell us a little about your book Chained?
Chained is a middle grade novel about 10-year-old Hastin, who takes a job as an elephant keeper at a circus far from home to pay off his sister's hospital bill. He thinks it will be an adventure, but soon realizes that both he and the show elephant, Nandita, are captive workers at the run-down circus. The friendship between Hastin and Nandita grows strong during their time together. Hastin knows they both need to escape and return to their own homes and families, even though it would mean saying goodbye to each other.
Where did you get the idea for Chained?
I'd heard about how a small rope or chain can hold a full-grown elephant, because if they're captured when they're young, they try very hard at first to break free, but once they give up, they never try again. I got the idea then to write a picture book manuscript about a captive elephant that breaks free and returns home.
The cover of Chained is beautiful. Who designed it and did you have much say in the designing process?
I'm really lucky-- a lot of authors have nothing to do with their book covers, but I felt very much a part of the process. My editor, Margaret Ferguson, asked me for examples of covers I liked and didn't like, then found illustrator Chris Sheban to do the cover art. Later she sent me over twenty pencil sketches of cover ideas that Chris had drawn, and asked which one I liked best. It was impossible to pick just one, so I chose my top five or six. Margaret liked some of the same ones, and she forwarded our favorites to Chris. Later, Margaret sent me a draft of the cover and asked for feedback again to pass along before Chris started on the final design. And like you said, it is beautiful, so I fell in love with it right away!
Chained involved Elephants of course, which I think are beautiful creatures. What research did you undertake when writing Chained?
I knew some things about elephants since they've always been my favorite animal, but I did have to do a lot of research about their behavior to make sure it was accurate in the book. I read a lot of books and online resources about them, and recorded any elephant documentary I found on TV. Also, our local zoo has "Elephant Open House" events, and I attended a few of those to see the elephants up close and talk to the keepers about how they care for them.
Why should we read Chained in one sentence?
You'll fall in love with Nandita the elephant!