Hi Diana! So nice of you to read the book and get into it so much. I’m glad the story and messages are really reaching people!
I’ll do my best to answer your questions but first, let me give you some context about how I came up with the story:
I took a combination of everything I saw, experienced, and went on in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines and combined it into one story. Of course it wouldn’t work if I used a literal timeline, places, and stuck to individual characters spread across 1 year and 4 countries, so I combined them all and made one fictional place to host them on the journey – Dragon Town and the island it’s on.
Question1: Have you kept in touch with Sophar or Mamasan? I know you didn't catch up with Sophar before leaving for the States and she owed you money, but I am wondering if she was able to contact you through social media?
Likewise, Sophar (Sophara is a common Cambodian name but the real girl with a very similar name is actually an amalgamation of 3 or even 4 girls I knew. But there is a real "Sophar" and I did go to the province with her and meet her mother and she was hustling to make money to put a roof on her mother’s house.
There was also a girl that borrowed money from and I walked away instead of forcing her to pay it back, and a third girl who drank the money she’d collected for her mother and showed up drunk at my room and freaked out and tried to hurt herself. And others I lived next to on the roof of a building in a way-too-hot rat infested shack.
I keep in touch with all of them and still see them, though Sophar I am not really friends with any more and we have somewhat of a love-hate relationship. Lol
As for Mamasan, again that was a combination of characters. The inspiration came from a now-good friend who is the mamasan of a bar in the Philippines who helped me out after the typhoon. I’m still great friends with her. And there were several other real-life Mamasans or inspirations for the character and I can’t think of anyone I’m not still friendly with.
Question 2: What happened to the guy who climbed the billboard at the end of the book? I am going to assume he didn't make it out alive....or did he?
That did happen, almost exactly as its written except I was on Sam Sam’s tuk-tuk. It was my last night in town and I was in a hurry and didn’t want to mess around so we didn’t stay to find out what happened to the man. I can only guess it didn’t end well for him, though I doubt they killed him or beat him too badly in front of everyone there. But of course it was a metaphor for poverty, powerlessness, and hopelessness, and man’s futile climb to rise above it, no matter what the consequences.
Question 3: I am assuming the Prime Minister stole the donations. Do you know if there were any repercussions from that?
Right after the typhoon, I was asked to meet the mayor (not prime minister but that made more sense for the book) of the main town on the neighboring island to Boracay, where the seat of government was held. I met with him and his staff and we did plan a fundraiser on the beach, which they did cancel inexplicably. While I can’t accuse that actual person of embezzling donations, that exact thing happened way too much in hard-hit areas like Leyte and Tacloban. It’s all-too indicative of the absolute corruption and greed in government and society in many countries – and people. And no, there weren’t any reprecussions for the hertless graft after the typhoon that I’ve heard of
I added the bit about the Chinese advisor and how he was really pulling the strings because that is happening in so many places, including Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Big fish eats little fish, I guess. The governments and business owners are making deals with China, which has unlimited resources, is ultra-aggressive to expand, and has zero ethical considerations as far as I can see. But instead of benefiting the people, the rich make sure all of the money goes in their own pockets and they get richer by selling out their own country.
It’s interesting because only a month after I wrote the book and finished it, there was a government order in Otres Beach in Sihanoukville in Cambodia (one of the big inspirations) that mandated all businesses on the beach had to move out and demolish their own buildings and give up ownership of their lands. They just forced these people out in one felled swoop totally unlawfully, and it’s obvious they are going to clear the land and then build huge resorts, casinos, and condos for the Chinese. The same bullshit is going on with priceless Diniwid Beach on Boracay, and all over SE Asia.
Question 4: Was there another revolution after Ava's death?
“Ava” was a friend of mine in a bar who was a ladyboy, another ladyboy who was super nice and friends with all my friends on Boracay, and also someone I never met named Jeffrey Laude. Jeffrey, aka “Jenny,” was a transvestite in Subic Bay in the Philippines who went with a drunk U.S. marine and was found murdered in the exact graphic detail I described. This was a couple years ago but by stroke of coincidence, the marine was just extradited to stand trial in Philippines court right after I released the book.
But the revolution part comes mostly from Thailand, where there was a coup when I was there where the military junta took over control of the country. That happens a lot in Thailand, believe it or not, so it wasn’t a super-bloody or violent civil war, but the military is mismanaging the country something awful now. There was also political unrest in Cambodia when I was there.
Question 5: You mentioned in an earlier Facebook message that you were in the States for a few months and then heading out to Africa. Did you make it there, and if so is there going to be another book soon?
I never made it to Africa because the non-profit I was planning on going there to work for never really got off the ground, so that’s on hold. I went back to SE Asia to the usual stomping grounds, especially Phnom Penh, where I’m invested my time and energy helping non-profits and caring people who are making a huge difference in the world, and especially working to change the social issues we encounter in the book.
It took me about 18 months to finish the book, so even though it starts in November 2013 with the typhoon, the actual timeline stretches out almost 3 years.
You want me to write ANOTHER book? Hahaha! I need a break so I’m sticking to my real job of blogging and marketing for companies for a while, traveling, and writing a lot of my own blogs and articles that interest me. I really like how the book came out and believe in its messages, so I will hit pause on writing another one until I can dedicate six months to a year to promote it in earnest (I haven’t even started yet!)
…but I have already been mulling over the next book, which will be inspired by true events as a semi-autobiographical story about life for a high school kid in the early 1990s. It’s not going to be a travel or adventure book…but if it comes out anywhere close to how its shaping up in my head, it’s going to be damn entertaining! The working title is “We Are Family.”
Stay tuned for that one in a year or two!
You can get the the book 'The Queens of Dragon Town' on Amazon.com or download a free sample here.