Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tour schedule for Little Mountain

Coming soon to a blog near you! I'll be a guest blogger at ten sites in June, writing about my new mystery, Little Mountain. Please plan to visit the tour. I'll be giving away a prize at every stop, so you'll have ten chances to win!

Blog book tour schedule
June 1 – Blog Book Tours  (Winner: Kathryn Craft)
June 2, 3 – Stephen Tremp  (Winner: Lynn Kelley)                         
June 7 – Marian Allen   (Winner: Cara Lopez Lee)                      
June 9 – Diane Wolfe   (Winner: Karen Lange)                             
June 10 – Alex Cavanaugh   (Winner: Michael De Gesu)               
June 11, 12, 13, 14 – Helen Ginger   (Winner: Christopher Hudson)       
June 15 – Acme Author’s Link    (Winner: Deb Larson)        
June 20 – Make Mine Mystery     (Winner: Maggie Toussaint)           
June 21 – Blood-Red Pencil       (Winner: Maryann Miller)         
June 23 – Patricia Stoltey       (Winner: Simon Hay)              

Grand prize winner:  Cheryl Malandrinos    

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book review

Here is a thoughtful review of Little Mountain that Lynne Hinkey posted it on Amazon:

Bob Sanchez's latest murder mystery, Little Mountain, offers an engrossing look into the Cambodian refugee community that came to the US after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. A departure from Sanchez's previous two comedic detective romps filled with quirky Hiassen-esque characters, Little Mountain is gritty and gory. Set in Lowell, MA fifteen years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, it explores the relationships of immigrants to each other, their new country, and the horrors of the place they fled.

Detective Sambath Long, fully integrated into his life as a US citizen and police detective, tries to distance himself from his painful past in Cambodia, where the rest of his family was killed by the Angka - the brutal organization in charge of the Khmer death camp, Little Mountain. As Sam investigates the murder of a Cambodian landlord, the past pushes its way into his life, reminding him, and us, that the past makes a person who they are today. Little Mountain will draw you in to Sam's life, and that of the Cambodian community.

Initially, I was worried about navigating the many unfamiliar, foreign names of the characters, but Sanchez has created such unique and authentic personalities they quickly become easy to distinguish and identify. The mystery behind the murder, the slow revelation of Long's experience as a teenager at Little Mountain, and his relationship with his American wife and her family keep the story fast paced and complex. Sanchez skillfully intertwines Long's past and present, and personal and professional lives into a compelling, haunting story with a thoroughly satisfying ending. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thanks, old girl

Yesterday I officially retired my old, dependable LaserJet 4L printer after 20 years of dedicated service that dated well before the reign of Carly Fiorina at HP. Purchased in 1991, the darned thing just wouldn't quit. But it lately started printing heavy gray streaks on the pages and wouldn't respond to my cleaning ministrations. The HP website acknowledged that yes, they once made such a model but offered no specific information about it.

The old faithful LaserJet 4L and her Brother
at her retirement party

That old gray mare must have printed tens of thousands of 300-dpi black and white pages for me, and truth to tell, it still works. But for sixty bucks, less than the price of any replacement parts, I bought a Brother laser printer that cranks out 600-dpi black and white pages and may well serve me into my dotage.

So thanks, old girl. You've given me my money's worth many times over.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reviews of Little Mountain

There are three quite complimentary reviews of Little Mountain on Amazon. Have a look at what readers think.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cambodians and local politics

Soon we learned that Tong was the young girl's nickname, apparently given by her hated brother-in-law. Her real name is Mni Sarapon. She and Sceur Ly asked for our help in gaining permission for members of their family to come to the United States from one of the camps, so we filled out detailed paperwork for them and sent it to the State Department. The group was large--13 family members--and the bureaucratic wheels ground for months. A number of other Americans got involved, most notably our congressman Chester Atkins. But my paperwork was critical, and someone--I will never know who--got it into his head that the lack of progress in reuniting the family was my fault. So one day I received a phone call from Kitty Dukakis, who said she'd been told I was ruining everything by not sending in the paperwork. I gave her quite an earful, letting her know exactly what I had done and when and to whom it had gone in the State Department--and by the way, she had a nerve calling me when she didn't know what she was talking about...blah, blah. The paperwork was quite involved, and I said I'd do it once more and only once more. She backed off. I felt defensive and angry, but it sure felt good to tell off a big shot.

But the person who went way out on a limb was Atkins. He made a big public show of helping reunite the family, which eventually occurred. He lived in the affluent town of Acton, in the same district as Lowell but culturally like the other side of the Moon. A whole lot of people resented all the attention he paid to refugees as opposed to the needs of his working-class constituents. The local news carried a man-on-the-street interview where a young working-class man expressed his anger that Cambodians were coming to Lowell and the government was giving them cars, which was completely untrue. What did happen was that several members of a family would pool their resources and buy a car for all of them. There was welfare, but there were also many refugees who had jobs and worked hard at them.

The political upshot for Atkins was that he lost his congressional seat. Other factors came into play, but my Cambodian friends were an unwitting factor in the election.

Learn more by clicking the Little Mountain tab at the top of this page, or purchase a copy by clicking the book image at the right.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Our Cambodian friends

The family was deferential to us, but when we weren't around they fought among themselves. Song tried asserting his authority, but his ten-year-old sister-in-law was having none of it. He occasionally hit his wife Sceur Ly, and when word of the abuse got back to us, we told him that wife-beating would land him in jail. "It's okay," he insisted. "It's Cambodian custom." We reminded him that he was in America now, and he had to obey our laws or else. Some other Cambodians we consulted indignantly said that it was not a Cambodian custom, but I came to suspect there was a degree of truth in his claim.

We had a large dog at the time, a sweet-tempered black Lab-Doberman mix named Divot. When Song wanted to say something was excellent, he'd say, "Oh, that's number one." Something bad was number ten. My wife and I were going to work and dropping our son and Tong off to school, leaving Song and Sceur Ly home alone with their baby. Song hadn't found a job yet. Divot stayed outside on a leash and a run. Song told us that in Southeast Asia, dog was excellent food. "In Cambodia, dog is number one!" he said. That scared me, because I didn't know how big a cultural or language gap we were dealing with. Did they plan to cook Divot?  "If you hurt my dog, you're number ten," I told him. He got the message that Divot was a pet and not a food source.
Our good friend Tong

Our guests proved unpopular among the increasing number of refugees living in the Lowell area. Song had a hard edge to him--his English was rapidly improving, and he did a good deal of translating for other people. But he quickly gained a reputation for cheating his fellow refugees in various business dealings. He always dealt with us honestly as far as we could tell, but among some Americans helping other families, his reputation threatened to rub off on us. Luckily, many people who disliked him actually liked and felt sorry for the rest of his family. A rumor even circulated through the city that Song had once been a Khmer Rouge--now, wouldn't that have been interesting? I spoke privately to his wife and sister, whom my wife and I were trying to protect from him. "Is it true? Was Song part of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia?" No, they both insisted, he wasn't Khmer Rouge. He was just a jerk.

Even that was only partially true. The whole family including Song were hard-working. Song was an entrepreneurial sort, apparently outworking most of his fellow countrymen. Sceur Ly got a job on an assembly line where she became known for her hard work and reliability, and Tong assimilated well into public schools, eventually going to George Washington University. They always showed us respect and gratitude for sticking with them. 

After they moved away from the area, Sceur Ly from time to time drove back to Lowell to visit friends. Invariably she would show up at our house unannounced (without her husband), with her little boy in one hand and a box from Dunkin Donuts in the other. She used to talk to us about divorcing her husband, but she never did it. We haven't seen them in years now, but I think they've made their peace.

Learn more by clicking the Little Mountain tab at the top of this page, or purchase a copy by clicking the book image at the right.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Little Mountain background, part 3

Dancer at Cambodian New Year celebration,
Lowell, Mass. 1980
One day in late 1979 or early 1980, I heard on the radio that a family of Cambodian refugees were being flown into Boston and had no place to stay once they landed. My wife and I decided to offer them temporary shelter, but by the time we called, those people had found help. Soon, though, we found ourselves hosting a family: a man and woman, their baby son, and the ten-year-old sister of the woman. Only the man, named Song, spoke a few words of English, and none of us had any idea what we were getting into. Why are all the trees dead? was one of Song's first questions--he'd never seen a deciduous tree before.

Various members of the community pitched in to help provide linens, used clothing and other necessities to help the family get started on their own. We had a little trouble getting them launched, and they stayed with us for seven weeks. That was longer than they or we wanted, but then they moved into an apartment in Lowell.

Meanwhile, we were generally miserable. I came down with double pneumonia, and Song shook with a terrible fever. He had a relapse of malaria, the first but hardly the last such case that the local hospital would ever see. His wife, named Sceur Ly (pronounced sir-LEE) and her younger sister, nicknamed Tong, had ailments of one sort or another. Only my wife Nancy stayed healthy, and she was a rock.

One evening we all sat down to watch The Poseidon Adventure on television. In the midst of all the fictional disaster and chaos, Song kept exclaiming "Choi mai! Choi mai!" We cheerfully imitated him, repeating the phrase until I learned that it was a strong vulgarity.

Many Cambodians started coming to the Lowell area, for reasons I'll write about later. We were all invited in February to a Cambodian New Year celebration, where Nancy thought the women and children looked happy and the men looked like lost souls.

It was only after Song and family moved out when we learned that our new friends' issues ran much deeper than their physical illnesses.

Learn more by clicking the Little Mountain tab at the top of this page, or purchase a copy by clicking the book image at the right.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Background for the murder mystery Little Mountain, part 2

This is more background for my novel, Little Mountain. Future posts will include some of the experiences of the refugees who came to the United States, as well as my own interactions.

Statues at Angkor Wat, the ancient temple
In late 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew Pol Pot's vicious regime, releasing vast numbers of Cambodians from camps where they were being starved, worked to death, or murdered outright. Any connection, or suspicion of a connection, with the outside world resulted in death--that included having an education, knowing any French (it once had been part of a French colony), working in any profession. People without calluses on their hands might be taken for bourgeoisie and murdered. Those who were too ill to work were either clubbed to death on the spot or sent to the "hospital," from which few came out alive.

A great many of the freed Cambodians walked through the jungle to Thailand, where refugee camps were set up to provide safe havens where people could get food and medicine and look for lost loved ones. France, the United States, and other countries provided aid--justifiably so, as between them they had made such an impact on the region since World War II. Many private organizations took part as well, including church groups who helped people resettle in other countries. Many Cambodians hoped to go home again once it was safe and stable; in the meantime, they came to France and the United States.

Learn more by clicking the Little Mountain tab at the top of this page, or purchase a copy by clicking the book image at the right.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Background for the murder mystery Little Mountain

At about the same time we in the United States were celebrating the birth of our nation, very different events were taking place in Southeast Asia. Our decade-long war in Vietnam came to a dramatic close in 1975, leaving over 58,000 Americans and over one million Vietnamese dead.

One aspect of that tragic war included the secret bombing of neutral Cambodia, intended to deny the communists sanctuary from American forces. The bombings couldn't remain secret for long, and the killing of non-combatant Cambodians fueled increasing outrage around the world and here at home.

With the departure of the Americans came the collapse of both South Vietnam and Cambodia. The destruction and chaos spilling over from Vietnam left an opening for the small, tightly-knit Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians) to take over, and they did so with a vengeance seldom seen. They emptied the cities, sent everyone to the countryside, butchering vast numbers of their own countrymen along the way. The Khmer Rouge renamed their country Kampuchea and declared it to be a completely agrarian society, killing all professionals and people with any culture or education. In 1975 they closed off the country to all outsiders and put their people to work in slave camps, creating a terror lasting until about 1979, when the Vietnamese invaded. In the meantime, an unknown number of Cambodians died--a million, two million--probably no one knows for sure. Survivors began flocking to the safety of refugee camps in Thailand, and some of them were allowed to come to countries such as France and the United States.

This is some of the back story to my third novel, Little Mountain. Future blog posts will describe some of the experiences of Cambodians in America as well as my own experiences with them. To read more about the book, go to the Little Mountain tab at the top of this page.