I had a chance to interview author Kelley Powell about her new release, The Merit Birds.
What made you decide to write a novel?
I decided it was now or never! I’d wanted to be a novelist since I could read but I hadn’t actually sat down to truly focus on creating one. One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received is “butt in seat.” Oddly, it wasn’t until I had three small kids and no time to write that I became the most productive. I think it’s because procrastination isn’t an option. Carol Shields is a writer I look up to and she had a similar experience. She said when her kids were small she set herself a goal of writing two pages in an hour each day. After her kids were grown she said it took her all day long just to write two pages.
What is a merit bird?
After a breathtaking tragedy, Cam, the main character, seeks catharsis in the ancient Buddhist practice of releasing caged birds. At once merit bird release is a deeply beautiful ritual – sparrows, plovers and buntings flee from handmade cages in an act meant to show compassion and build merit, or karma.
On the other side of this gentle, contemplative practice lies a conservation tragedy that impacts wild bird populations. Often merit birds are released on temple grounds near busy city streets. Many are killed when they fly into traffic; those that aren’t may stay in the area only to be recaptured again. As Cam says in The Merit Birds, “Wouldn’t it have been better to leave the birds to their freedom in the first place?” He says, “I decided a captor probably really makes merit when he no longer captures.” Yet at the same time Cam realizes that the money he paid for the merit birds allowed the seller to eat dinner that night.
Buddhist communities are currently seeking a solution to the dilemma, such as raising birds in captivity specifically for the practice, rather than taking them from the wild.
Tell me more about the teacher’s guide you’ve created for The Merit Birds – it’s purpose, what it contains and who can use it.
I feel like The Merit Birds incorporates a lot of aspects of my life and I think the guide reflects that. I used my undergraduate degree in politics, Master’s degree in international development, and training as a yoga and meditation instructor to create a unique resource guide filled with fresh and fun ideas for high school classes in English, Civics, World History, Geography, Media Studies, Physical Education or Anger Management. The guide is available for free from my publisher’s website, Dundurn Press.
What are you working on now?
My head is filled with novels to write! I’m currently making revisions to a literary novel, Ajar, which explores the power of technology to divide us, yet at the same time bring us together like never before. When my main character, Soledad, puts her dead mother’s belongings on a classifieds website, she 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.
Find out more at TheMeritBirds.com