August 27, 2015
Hello everyone, and welcome to our Tour Stop for
The Merit Birds by Kelley Powell
presented by Dundurn!
We are thrilled to have Kelley on the blog for a short Q & A.
Thanks for the awesome people at Dundurn, we have a great giveaway found at the end of the post!
Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott is angry. He's angry about his absent dad, he's angry about being angry, and he's angry that he has had to give up his Ottawa basketball team to follow his mom to her new job in Vientiane, Laos. However, Cam's anger begins to melt under the Southeast Asian sun as he finds friendship with his neighbour, Somchai, and gradually falls in love with Nok, who teaches him about building merit, or karma, by doing good deeds, such as purchasing caged "merit birds." Tragedy strikes and Cam finds himself falsely accused of a crime. His freedom depends on a person he's never met. A person who knows that the only way to restore his merit is to confess. "The Merit Birds" blends action and suspense and humour in a far-off land where things seem so different, yet deep down are so much the same.
Thanks so much for taking the time and spending time with us here at Chapter by Chapter!
Thanks so much for having me!
Describe your book in 140 characters or less:
Set in Laos, The Merit Birds is a suspenseful tale about a teen’s journey from anger to a place of peace.
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
When I was 28 I was tricked into marriage. I’d travelled to Laos to live with my boyfriend and shortly after I arrived our neighbours announced they’d be holding a welcome party. Village women dressed me in traditional clothes and led me to a thick circle of people sitting around a tall centrepiece of marigolds. A “wish priest” began to chant; I didn’t understand anything. Suddenly the wish priest halved an egg and asked us to feed it to each other. Women wept and cried out, “May you have many sons!” We soon realized that this was no welcome party. We were now husband and wife, at least in Laos. This extraordinary country where I married, lived and researched violence against women was the inspiration for The Merit Birds.
Tell us about the main character(s).
Eighteen year old Cam Scott is angry. He’s angry about his absent dad, he’s angry about being angry and he’s angry that he gave up his Ottawa basketball team to follow his mom to her new job in Laos. While in Laos Cam falls in love with a Lao girl named Nok and eventually realizes the impact of his temper on his mom, friends and others. When tragedy strikes, Cam finds freedom from his lifetime of anger in an unlikely place.
As the novel progresses, Cam’s fate is in the hands of Nok’s brother, Seng, who is a 20 year old peddler of cheap plastic goods. Seng is the village clown. Naïve and immature, he craves to be someone important in the world. He idolizes America. Seng’s two main desires are to move to the U.S. and to learn something of his mother, who was stolen away to a political re-education camp when he was only five. Oh wait – there’s one more – he really wants a girlfriend.
Do you have a favourite quote or specific part of the book that you really love?
I love the last chapter, Shine. It came to me well before I had figured out how the novel was going to end. I especially love the quote, “Seng thinks it is love. Somehow it persists. Through sickness and fear, through judgment and years, it shines, despite everything.”
Was there a specific part in the book that you had an especially difficult time writing? If so, why?
The character Vong gave me some challenges. She is Seng and Nok’s older sister who falls in love with a Lao-Canadian and lives with him in Ottawa. Vong feels guilty for leaving her brother and sister behind in Laos but she returns after a heartbreaking tragedy. Originally Vong had her own chapters in the book but I deleted them all because I thought three points of view (Cam, Seng and Nok) were enough. Vong was tricky because on one hand I had to make her unreliable, but on the other hand she was a devoted sister returning to Laos to help Seng through an extremely difficult time.
What sort of projects do you have going on right now? Any new books coming out?
I’m currently making revisions to a second novel, Ajar. It explores the power of technology to divide us, yet at the same time bring us together like never before. It’s about introverted Soledad who puts her dead mother’s belongings on a classifieds website and in the process finds a new love, a sister she didn’t know she had, and the truth about the strangers among us. This truth allows Soledad to overcome her terrifying past.
I’ve also plotted out a young adult novel about a young Khmer girl who gets sold into prostitution. It sounds very sad but she will be triumphant, like so many young women I’ve met in the developing world.
It was great having you on the blog today!
Thank you very much for your interest and support! Come visit me at www.kelleypowell.com or send me a message on Twitter @kelleypowell20 or on Facebook at kelleypowell20.
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