Joy Interviews Lynne Kelly, Author of SONG FOR A WHALE

I have known Houston author Lynne Kelly since her first middle grade novel, CHAINED debuted back in 2010, and I’m lucky to call her a friend. She is an amazing writer with books that are both funny and heartwarming and always memorable. She is also many other things, including a lover of animals and a sign-language interpreter, both of which led her to write her newest novel, SONG FOR A WHALE, which is getting both amazing buzz and phenomenal reviews. So it was my great honor and pleasure to get to interview her about SONG and the writing life and whales and more! Here’s what Lynne had to say.


JOY: What came first with SONG FOR A WHALE-- the character or the story idea? Iris is such a fully-developed, memorable character and so, of course, is her journey to find Blue 55. How did you come up with everything?

LYNNE KELLY: The whale came first. I learned about the 52 hertz whale, who sings at a frequency other whales can't understand. He's been out there for at least thirty years, singing this song that's only his. I couldn't stop thinking about him, and I started writing down some scenes about him. To have some flexibility, I fictionalized him to a 55 hertz whale for this story. Then I had to come up with a character who'd feel connected to this whale and would be compelled to reach out to him in some way. I've been working as a sign language interpreter for a long time, and I thought about the kids I've known over the years who were one of only a few deaf students in their schools. My character Iris is a one of the kids who's the only deaf student at school, and things aren't so great at home, either. I knew she'd be someone who'd want to let this whale know that someone does hear his song. Though most deafness isn't hereditary, I wanted to give Iris a set of deaf grandparents. Through Iris's interactions with her grandmother, I could show the rich language and the strong relationship they share.

JP: You’ve written about humans and animals before, in CHAINED, your debut novel. What attracts you to writing about the intersection between people and animals/nature?

LK: I love thinking about the parallels between animals and humans, like their attachments to friends and family members.Elephants recognize friends (human or elephant) who they haven't seen for decades, and everyone in the herd protects the calves when there's danger nearby.

JP: You did a wonderful presentation for us this past summer on whales, as part of a family event during our ‘Summer of Moby Dick.’ So why whales? Beyond Blue 55, what are some of the things that fascinate you about these enormous creatures?

LK: So much! I'm especially fascinated with animal communication. Some whale populations, for example, do a kind of "mix tape" by picking up parts of other pods' songs. I'd love to know what meaning those songs hold. Maybe they just enjoy singing, but humpback songs are so complex, it seems like they have to be communicating something. They also develop feeding strategies that take a lot of coordination, like confining schools of fish with a "net" of bubbles or slapping their tails on the water's surface to stun fish.

JP: As both a sign language interpreter and an author working to fully represent Deaf characters in your novel, what are some things that you were particularly conscious of while writing SONG?

LK: I really wanted to make sure there never appeared to be any "poor me, I'm deaf" sentiments from Iris. Yes, she has struggles and she wants to be understood, but she doesn't wish to change who she is. I've found that to be true for most people who've been deaf all their lives--they want connection, respect, and communication, like everyone, but they don't wish to be hearing. Though I've been an interpreter for a long time, I recognize that's quite different from living as a deaf person. Two Deaf women read the manuscript to check for linguistic and cultural authenticity, and I did a round of revisions to address their feedback.

JP: At its core, SONG FOR A WHALE is about communication, about finding ways to ‘hear’ and to understand each other. Having read CHAINED and now SONG and also having the privilege to have read snippets of other manuscripts and ideas you’re working on, I’d love you to talk a little about why this particular theme seems to wander its way into so much of your work.

LK: I think it's because everyone needs connection. If we don't share a language with those around us, or if no one listens to us, we miss out on that connection and it's possible to feel alone even when we're surrounded by others. Also, so many misunderstandings and hurt feelings happen because people aren't paying attention and listening to one another.

JP: What’s next for SONG and for Lynne Kelly?

LK: Well, SONG FOR A WHALE is finally out in the world, so it belongs to the readers now! I'm looking forward to visiting schools and talking to students about the story and the writing process. As for the next book, nothing's official yet and I've been working on a couple of different things. Usually I work on only one project at a time, but I started taking notes on a new idea that grabbed me, meaning to get back to it after I finished what I was working on. Before I knew it I had more material written about the new idea than the older one. Whichever one is next, it'll be about primates!

JP: Primates! Awesome! We can hardly wait! Thanks for such a great conversation, Lynne.

Want to know more about Lynne Kelly? Go to her website here: http://lynnekellybooks.com/wordpress/ And come on in for a copy of SONG FOR A WHALE, or order it below.

Song for a Whale Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781524770235
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers - February 5th, 2019

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