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.
I’m so pleased to host author Kelley Powell today as part of the blog tour for her wonderful new book, “The Merit Birds”. This is a totally absorbing read that immerses you in a new culture, with Cam as your very emotional guide. Cam’s transformation from a sullen Canadian teen to someone who can appreciate the bigger world picture is beautifully written, and will grab you from the first chapter.
Today, Kelley will be talking about her experiences in going to jail – it’s not what you might think!
How I Went to Jail for The Merit Birds
On my first day in prison in Laos I was fed rice with rocks in it and watery pork fat soup.
Okay, so maybe that opening line is complete fiction, but it got your attention, right? I can never resist a good hook.
Readers of The Merit Birds often ask me how I wrote the scenes my main character, 18 year old Cam Scott, spends in a dismal Lao prison. As much as I love a good story, I wasn’t willing to take my research for The Merit Birds that far.
Here’s the truth of it:I wrote The Merit Birds while living in Vientiane, Laos, to research violence against women. While in Vientiane I heard stories about jails for foreigners (apparently the jails for locals are worse). There was the story of a British woman who mysteriously became pregnant in jail in order to be released and the tale of an Australian couple who were wrongfully imprisoned for allegedly stealing jewels.
The tales, told at expat parties over Beerlao and papaya salad, fired up my imagination. I supplemented them by reading testimonies from former prisoners. It was through these prisoners’ stories that I learned about the watery pork fat soup that Cam eats or about wooden blocks being clamped onto some prisoners’ legs.
While reading their stories I became fascinated by what human beings can endure and humbled by their courage and perseverance. Their stories were in such contrast to the peace, beauty and grace I experienced in Laos. It made me realize that every country has elements of paradise and elements of thedark side. I attempted to show this contrast in The Merit Birds.