Want to be on Kay’s Review Krew?

Written by Kay on . Posted in China-Inspired Book Recommendations, Contests and Give-A-Ways

 

I’m recruiting members for Kay’s Review Krew to receive ARCs  (Advanced Readers Copies) of Tangled Vines, the 2nd book in The Tales of The Scavenger’s Daughters!

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And let me tell you, members of Kay’s Review Krew get a few perks. First, they get to read my books before they are available to the public. Second, they are eligible for prizes. Once the first three books in the Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters are out, members of the Review Krew who have read and posted a review for all three books will have their names in the drawing for some small prizes. I’ll give away several key chains….and a few bookmarks….so we’ll see!

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So, to be on Kay’s Review Krew, these are the guidelines:

1. You have read and posted a review on Amazon or GoodReads for book one in the series, The Scavenger’s Daughters

2. You agree to read and review the second book, Tangled Vines, and post a review in the week of the launch around December 10.

[[..and a plug about the book on December 10 to help my launch will earn you extra brownie points!]]

That’s it! Simple, yeah?

So if you can meet the two guidelines above and want to be on the Krew, let me know by either sending me a pm on Facebook (here) or by using the contact me tab on my website (here) and let me know you want to be on the KRK and what name you reviewed the first book under so I can double-check!

IMPORTANT: I only have so many slots and available books. So there will be a cut off. For book one, I met the quote for recipients within a few days.

Also, I’ll need to know if you prefer a Kindle version or print. And Riley says to hurry up already….

Riley_Tangled Vines

True Love Still Exists

Written by Kay on . Posted in China News & Tidbits

Who doesn’t like a fairytale love story?

Dreams, Dreams, Dreams

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

dreaming

 

I’m a dreamer. Not in an adjective sort of way. But truly, a habitual dreamer.

I’ve always had very detailed and creative dreams. I’ve also suffered through years of night terrors, but that’s a different story. This morning I awoke with one of those dreams that you are brought out of too quickly and you wish you could go back and finish it. For in my dream, I was left devastated. And it’s dragged me down all morning. It went like this….

Ben, Amanda, and I were in a foreign country that according to the people and landscape could have been Vietnam. A few of his business colleagues were also there, so I’m thinking maybe we were there for a look-see for a possibly upcoming move? I don’t know but we were right in the middle of a huge festival and it was hot and very crowded, and Amanda was only a toddler. Suddenly, something happened and the crowd went crazy. People were running, disappearing down side streets and into buildings, etc..

I found myself alone. No purse, no husband, and most terrifying of all…no Amanda.

I freaked out, screaming and crying for Ben and Amanda. I ran down streets, up alleys, etc.. trying to find them. For hours it seemed I searched, until it was dark and the only people around were rifle-toting soldiers (mean ones) and beggars and homeless people. I didn’t give up, though. I was exhausted, slogging through the streets but finally I thought I heard her voice. I kept going, following it until I was sure it was her, calling out and sobbing, “Mama…Mama….” over and over. I came closer and realized her voice was coming from a window in a tall building. I crept up some stone steps and through a huge antique-looking door, and found myself in a cavernous room. It was really dark but moonlight came in through the window enough that I could make out the tiny figures of at least a hundred or so babies and toddlers, all dressed in white gauzy sleeping clothes. Most were sleeping but I could still hear Amanda’s cry.

I whispered to her that Mama was there, and I followed her voice until I found her with her arms outstretched to me. In the corner a nanny slept and I reached down and snatched Amanda up and ran out with her. We both sobbed as I told her I was so sorry I had lost her. Then I carried her up and down more streets, searching for Ben. Finally, when I thought I’d drop from exhaustion, I saw a tiny lit shop.

We entered what looked like a small clothing store. The shopkeeper was a middle-aged Asian woman and she waved me in. Thankful for a safe place, I came in and gently lay Amanda down on a bench. My arms were so tired they were like limp noodles and I sorted through racks of clothing trying to find something to put on Amanda to ward of the chilly night temperatures.

I heard a noise at the door and turned to find a tall, white man enter. He began bargaining with the woman until I realized I was not in a clothing store, but instead a small brothel. I immediately went to pick up Amanda to take her and go, but she was gone!

I felt tears running down my face as I tore the shop apart looking for her. I reached up to wipe them and realized they weren’t tears, it was moisture from my dog, Riley’s, tongue as he tried to wake me. The dream disappeared.

I’m not sure if Riley sensed my despair, but he’s never woke me like that so I can only assume he did. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to resume my search for Amanda. So now my heart has been heavy all morning as the details of the dream swirl in my mind, pleading with me to figure out what it means.

I can only assume that because we are going through some medical scares with Amanda, my instinct to mother her and protect her has initiated a yearning for her to be a baby again. But I have to come to terms with the fact that she is growing up and is at college, and though she needs me, I can’t protect her from everything. Which is obvious in my dream as I failed to protect her twice.

Motherhood.

It’s a scary thing.

If Amazon is the Big Bad Wolf, I’m Little Red Riding Hood

Written by Kay on . Posted in About Publishing

As previously published on the JA Konrath blog at (this link) where you can see comments from other authors. Illustration below by Tanya Gleadall.

Big Bad Wolf 2

I self-published before self-publishing was cool.

Just like many wanna-be published writers years ago, I had queried literary agents to represent my memoir and received nothing but rejections. But tenacity is a long-ingrained trait and I was not to be deterred. I self-published my memoir in 2009.
Luckily, because I’d been active in online communities and had somewhat of a reputation in my field, within a few weeks, my memoir titled Silent Tears gained traction in the top 300 of all Amazon e-books. There it garnered the attention of Amazon Publishing and they offered to make me one of their very first published authors.
At first I was skeptical because I was unaware that Amazon had a publishing side. When I educated myself that it was legitimate, I was still unsure if it would benefit me long term. I reached out to a well-known agent for confirmation, then signed with her to negotiate my contract. Through her experiences in the business, I realized that Amazon Publishing was offering a fair royalty split, the perk of a marketing manager, and use of a top notch designer team for packaging. Even back then I also understood that Amazon was a machine that could reach thousands more readers than I ever could hope to on my own.
My memoir, Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, was re-launched by AmazonEncore in 2010 and even held spots in the Top 50 of Amazon’s Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store lists in Amazon US and UK. Eventually, the print rights were sub-licensed by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt and the books have even made it into a few bookstores and hundreds of libraries across the nation and sold well over 60,000 copies.
As I worked hard to keep the buzz going on my book, I received a reality jolt when my local bookstore owner called and asked me to remove the first editions of my book from her store. She’d read about my re-launch by the Big Bad Wolf, a.k.a. Amazon Publishing, and basically said I was sleeping with the enemy.
Moving on, I spent a few years promoting Silent Tears and over time, with the increase of more websites and bloggers drawing attention to my memoir, I noticed my platform getting bigger and my sales increasing substantially. To continue building my readership, I made sure during that time (and still do) to respond to every reader email, letter, statement, or request. I also began speaking at different venues about my experiences in China.
A few years later, I wrote my first fiction book and submitted it to Amazon Publishing. I was excited about launching a novel with them, as they’d begun to really make a name for their publishing arm. They were introducing new imprints at a rapid fire rate, and I was sure with their power, they’d make my book a success. So far, they’d proved to be just what they’d offered—a partnership with me. I was impressed and wanted more. When they declined the novel, I spiraled into an abyss of self-doubt.
But only for a few minutes.
At that time, the self-publishing stigma was starting to fade and a new breed of authors calling themselves Indies were suddenly releasing new material and even work they’d always hoped to see published, but hadn’t been successful with placing. Again, I self-published the book, titled Chasing China.
At that time, Indie publishing was taking off and authors were hitting what they called the Indie Gold Rush. Determined to prove I could write something else Amazon Publishing would want to represent, I penned another book and again submitted it to Amazon. This one, A Thread Unbroken, was a novel woven around the tragedy of child-bride trafficking in China that required months of research. But my self-confidence was restored when my Amazon editor offered me a contract. In 2012, the book launched, and by then I’d already submitted yet another title to Amazon Publishing, this time a novella of shorter length. Because of the length, I thought for sure they’d decline it, and again planned to immediately self-pub upon their rejection.
Instead, my Amazon editor said he loved the novella but wanted me to dig deeper and expand it to novel length. With his words of encouragement, I was more excited than I’d ever been about any project. He gave me ideas on how to take the story from good to great, and I hung up and got to work.
Four months later when I submitted not just one expanded novel for review, but two—with an outline for a third in the series. He took a few weeks to review my proposed series, then came back with the good news that Amazon Publishing would like to offer me a 3-book deal and a very healthy advance for my series titled The Tales of The Scavenger’s Daughters.
Shocked speechless at first, I accepted their deal, then immediately left my corporate position to focus full time on advocating for children and writing.
 SD
When I finished the rough drafts of all three novels, I rewarded myself and my husband with a few days of sun on a balmy Mexican beach. There I sat back and realized that for the first time in my life, royalties as well as a boost from my advances had brought me in well over six-figures for the year. I’d been slogging at it for more than half a decade, writing guest posts, articles, sending out review copies, tweeting, Face-booking, speaking events, blogging and basically doing anything and everything to widen my audience, or as they say in the business—build my platform. I was receiving decent royalty checks all along, but I’ll admit, passing those magical digits made me feel like I was on top of the world.
Between drafts of the series, I’ve started work on book four for the series. I also have a rough draft of book one of a new series I’ve kept under wraps. I’ll submit both to Amazon Publishing and if the so-called Big Bad Wolf wants a bite, I’ll gladly don a little red cape and hand them over. After all, Amazon Publishing might be getting a piece of the pie, but there’s plenty left over to satisfy my appetite. In other words, I can’t imagine that I’d have been happier with any other publisher than I’ve been with Amazon Publishing. They’ve done all they’ve promised me as an author and more.
For other struggling authors out there, I would give this piece of advice: Find something you’re passionate about and make that your niche/genre. Be an expert in your subject. Do research, take field trips, and learn all you can about it. They always say write what you know….but I’ll take that a step farther and say write what you love. Communicate in depth with your readers, and if you don’t find success with your first book(s), just keep writing until you get there.
And good luck! Please connect with me on www.kaybratt.com
*For those who have made it this far on my Pro-Amazon rant, I’d like to acknowledge that the first book in The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters was released on August 13 and along with my own aggressive launching campaign I had some help from my team at Amazon. Compliments of a snazzy banner on their Kindle book landing page, plus a GoodReads ad and giveaway, some Kindle screen-saver action, and probably multiple email blasts, by the end of day three the book reached a ranking of 55 in all Kindle books and hovered in the Top 100 the entire post-launch week.

Kay Bratt Giveaway of Ruffled Feathers Lydia Love Doll named ‘Zheng Rose’…

Written by Kay on . Posted in Contests and Give-A-Ways

 

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To celebrate the successful launch of my latest book, The Scavenger’s Daughters,

I’m pleased to offer another doll giveaway!

Introducing….Zheng Rose

RuffledFeathers_SD_Doll

Valerie Almquist of Ruffled Feathers Company has custom-made a doll named Zheng Rose, from the first daughter found and taken in by Benfu and Calla Lily in the book. (I’m so thrilled that her skirt matches her name and the book cover!) Valerie is so talented and a huge part of the International Adoption Community, that I am honored to help her launch her Lydia Love doll line even further.

Don’t forget that Christmas is coming soon and if you want to pass along something that will be treasured forever, a rag doll is it. See how some little girls are already loving their own Lydia Love dolls?

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If you want smiles like those above, get your orders in now by going to the Ruffled Feathers Facebook Page.

And in the meantime, you can try to win Zheng Rose!

Here’s how to get into the drawing, which will be done on Saturday, September 7.

1. LIKE my Kay Bratt Facebook Author page (Here)

2. LIKE the Ruffled Feathers Facebook page (Here)

3. Comment on your own Facebook wall anything about my latest book, The Scavenger’s Daughters. It can be a link to it on Amazon, a comment that you’ve read it, that you’d like to read it, that you wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole….whatever you want, just make sure to include the words:

“Kay Bratt’s new book, The Scavenger’s Daughters”…..

4. COMMENT on this blog post below that you’ve done all three steps

That’s it! Good luck and I hope you order your own Lydia Love doll!

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More Information on Lydia Love dolls: The dolls sell for $35 plus $6 shipping and can be ordered by messaging, emailing, or leaving a comment on the blog or Facebook for Valerie. The dolls come in three different “skin flavors” off white, coffee creamer, and dark chocolate.

Turn around time is about 6 weeks although sometimes can be sooner if needed depending on her schedule.

http://www.ruffledfeatherscompany.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ruffledfeatherscompany

UPDATE: The winner is #38, Christie Daniels!

 

Congrats and please use the Contact Me tab to message me your mailing address.

ZhengRoseWinner090713

 

Mama Knows Best

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

Amanda_9

How many of you out there have agonized over whether to send your child to camp or not? Guess what….you are not alone. We lived in China for almost five years and during that time, our youngest daughter Amanda was at a very sensitive age. On our summer visits back home, we decided that possibly our daughter was losing her American heritage. We did some debating and decided she needed to experience camp. We wanted her to ‘know’ what American kids were like. What they did for fun. How they interacted. We wanted her to have American friends!

She didn’t want to go. Amanda was a shy kid. She was happy just being with us. But I knew she needed more than just us. I was adamant. Mama knows best, and to camp she would go.

I’ll admit that the first time we sent her, it was torture. She was about eight years old and after signing her in, I did my best to help her pick ‘a good bunk’, then helped her get it ready with her sleeping bag, soft blankie and even tucked her teddy bear Maggie into it before Ben pushed me out the door. I didn’t want to leave her. What if no one talked to her? What if she was scared at night? What if she got eaten by a bear? I cried all the way back to the hotel and this is a true story–the next day we parked on a bridge near the camp and used binoculars to try to see Amanda. Sigh.

She made it through camp and seemed to have a good time. I remember one summer she met a girl she called Becca, and that was her new friend who made her laugh and helped her get through her homesickness.

Last week she and I made the road trip to take her to move-in day at college. On the way, we talked about summer camp and she admitted to me that at first, she cried every night when she’d read the email I or her Daddy had sent her. It broke my heart when she told me there were nights she cried herself to sleep. *sob* But she also said she appreciated that we were strong and made her stick it out, because some of her best childhood memories were from camp in America! (mingled in with her Asian memories, of course)

So on move in day, I got all those same drop-off feelings I had years ago when Amanda was a little girl and I was leaving her at camp. In the dorm room, I helped her make her new bed. Instead of Maggie, my gesture of comfort to her this time was an expensive mattress topper covered in bamboo, a barrier between her and the mattress that hundreds of others have slept on. We worked around the room and I held the sign that I’d gotten her, a plaque with ‘our song’ on it, the song I sang to her literally thousands of times to rock her to sleep…. ‘You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine’……. her dad took it from me and hung it on the wall, where Amanda can look up at it from her desk and know her Mama loves her.

I lovingly helped her hang her clothes, making sure to straighten every wrinkle I could find. I told her a few hundred times to hang up her wet towels, drink plenty of water, and be sure to eat regular meals.

Finally it was time to go. I hugged her close and through the lump in my throat, told her I am proud of her and I love her. Then once again, Ben led me away as I fought back tears.

This time leaving her was almost or possibly even harder than leaving her at camp. This time she was taking her first steps into adulthood. This time there’d be no counselors or lights out curfews to protect her. I left the campus a terrified mom.

But one thing I forgot to mention.

That buddy she made in camp….the girl named Becca. They became best friends. Best friends for life, as they say.  The relationship discovered through their childhood camp has only strengthened and together they have vacationed in  several beaches in South Carolina, Key West, Mexico, and even the Bahamas. And though leaving Amanda at camp was hard, and leaving her at college was harder, at least I know that as she traverses these next steps as a big girl, Becca will be by her side.

Becca and Amanda are attending the same college. See how camp worked out? Sometimes Mama does know best. And if anyone wants to know what to get me for Christmas, I think a new set of binoculars would be fitting.

rebeccaandi

The Life of a Scavenger

Written by Kay on . Posted in China-Inspired Book Recommendations

Julian_Wu_Scavenger

Photograph by Julian Li

The life of a scavenger and their family is a rough one. In China, migrant workers come from poor cities and villages to places they hope to be able to make a living, but at times are subjected to scrounging through landfills and other horrible places for anything they can salvage.

In my new series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, you will see a man who has chosen his way of life because it is preferable to the one he came from that would allow him to lose his morals and beliefs. He proves to himself and his daughters that there can be pride in everything you do, and what you do doesn’t define you as a person.  Through a life of giving and compassion, he teaches by being an example of pure selflessness.

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Available now on Amazon at this link.

Here is an excerpt:

Benfu pedaled on and finally made it to the outskirts of town. Ahead of him he could see the line of blue trucks, waiting their turns to dump their loads. He thought being a Sunday it might be a quiet day at the landfill, but already he could see other collectors with arms looped through the handles of baskets on their backs, searching through the piles. Others poked at the trash with pitchforks, and tossed empty cans, jars and paper into bags set around their feet.

Benfu shook his head at the scene before him. “Aiya…” he mumbled. He had gone from heaven to hell in an instant.

He had not been there in years and had no idea the site had grown to such proportions. He shook his head. There was a time that the piece of land held acres of bountiful crops tended by him and others—though most of what they reaped was trucked to Shanghai to feed Mao’s officials and troops. While they worked the land the cadres had watched over them to ensure nothing would be stolen, looking past their haggard faces and skeletal frames to pretend they didn’t realize how hungry the people were for fresh vegetables. And when the rice coupons were no longer valuable because all the rice had run out, there were many days Benfu had survived off of only one stolen potato cooked and split between at least half dozen others. And that was on a good day—a day they weren’t subsisting on grass and plants cooked like a stew. But that was before the people in his collective had turned on him. The memories came pouring back and Benfu felt the old rage surge up inside. He looked over the heaps of trash to the place where the tiny outhouse once stood and he remembered the beatings and the isolation. All because of who he had been born to. People who had claimed to be his friends, even his new family! They’d turned on him like a lynch mob because of his bad family background.

Towards the end of the revolution, the crops had eventually shriveled to nothing and were abandoned, and the land was used for the people in the outskirts of town as a landfill. Obviously they were now getting all of their village trash, as well as the Wuxi city trash transported there. The dump was huge, appearing to go on for miles with tall mounds of rubbish every few feet. Not only were the piles an unseemly sight, but the smell that hit him was worse than putrid. All around mountains of waste sat decomposing, much of it consisting of unrecognizable items from a distance.

Like shadows against the hazy landscape, Benfu could see children following along behind their parents, mostly migrant families joining in the task of searching for salvageable items among the tons of trash. He felt a wave of pity for the kids who were forced to live such a life but also felt relief that thus far he had never had to resort to recruiting his own daughters to such a place. In his opinion, other than the mines, there couldn’t be a worse situation to make a child work than in the horrid landfills.

He paused to pull his handkerchief from his pocket and tied it around his face, then pedaled his bike to a place away from the line of trucks—he didn’t want to lose his only transportation to a careless truck driver.

Pulling his own basket from the cart on the back of his bike, Benfu struggled to work his arms through the handles and balance the basket on his back. He took his trash stick from the cart and made his way closer to the site. He looked around and choosing a huge pile of junk, began to look for anything he could use to make a yuan. He shook his head at the evidence of the new generation of disposable items. Microwave food boxes, instant noodle bowls, wooden chopsticks, paper slippers—so much trash made from the desire to move ever faster in the modern world. He wished again for the older, slower pace of life where less was more. At least in his home they hadn’t felt the pull to succumb to—or keep up with—the new ways.

As he searched the littered ground below, he swatted at the hundreds of mosquitos that swarmed around him. He had only stabbed a few soiled newspapers and dropped them into his basket when he had to stop and straighten himself, the gases from the piles of waste making him more than a little dizzy.

An hour later, besides a few soiled papers, Benfu had only been lucky enough to find a dozen or so plastic bottles and a few cardboard boxes. Each time he spotted something more valuable and began toward it, another collector would beat him and snatch it right out from under him. He was really disappointed when he saw the remains of a computer and a petite woman beat him to it. Though years younger than he, the others had no mercy for his age and didn’t give him a second glance as they competed for each scrap. The combination of being away from his usual route through his beloved town, and missing the interaction with familiar neighbors, he conceded that the depressing atmosphere of the landfill slowed him down more than usual. He felt as if he were wading through water in slow motion.

Even so, he pushed on but eventually stopped his hunting when he was interrupted to bandage the cut foot of one of the migrant children. The child, just a toddler, had stepped on a shard of glass and sat crying and holding his bloody foot as his preoccupied mother ignored him. Benfu made his way over the hill of trash between them and comforted the boy. He took the handkerchief from his face and after using his only bottle of water to clean the wound, he wrapped the child’s foot and made him promise to stay in a safer area until he healed. His mother didn’t even stop her collecting to thank him, but he didn’t blame her. It was people like her family who if they didn’t find anything that very day—they just wouldn’t have the money to eat. Theirs was a desperate situation and his wasn’t. Not yet anyway.

Benfu walked toward his bicycle, his shoulders hunched as he coughed violently from the assault on his senses. His chest hurt terribly and he grasped it with one hand, willing it to behave. Unable to continue without his handkerchief to filter the stench, he decided to call it a day and come back later in the week.

Through watering eyes, he looked around at the rest of the people still fighting to gain a closer spot to the latest load dumped by a truck and his heart felt heavy. It was a shame that some of China’s people were so desperately poor, especially when it was well known that anyone working for the government lived posh lives full of benefits. All of his adult life he’d hoped he would see major changes and reform that would unite the people. He hoped the government would step in and set up welfare systems. They had barely done anything about the problem in all his years; what was done was all fluff and propaganda. In China, the poor were like dung on the bottom of the rich man’s shoe.

He shook his head in disgust. Benfu had survived the atrocities of the so-called Cultural Revolution only to see even more of a gap between the rich and poor, instead of the classless society Mao had aimed for during his reign. Benfu was thankful that Mao had backed down and called a cease to the revolution when his prospective rival, Liu Shao-chi was expelled from the party back in the late sixties. Even though the Chaos—as most of the locals tended to call the Revolution—lasted at least ten years, things finally settled down and they’d begun the long road to recovery. With that, Calli and her family had struggled to regain the hope and sense of security that had been so callously snatched from them. And Benfu still didn’t regret his choice to stay by their side. They’d been loyal to him and nursed him back to health—even given him refuge during his darkest moments. How could he possibly abandon them? His parents hadn’t been happy, to say the least, but he’d chosen to remain with his new family rather than return to the life he’d known before the nightmare had begun.

With another look at the people on the hills rummaging through piles of stench, Benfu marveled that only a few miles away people were living in new high rise apartments with luxuries such as those he’d never seen and probably never would. It proved that despite it all, there was still a huge gap between classes. He wondered if Mao was pleased looking down from his place in the afterworld. His legacy of hardship may have been interrupted, but it still refused to be broken.   

READ MORE of The Scavenger’s Daughter by downloading the book here.

Introducing Kay Bratt’s…The Scavenger’s Daughters! (With a Sneak Peek!)

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, Adoption Stories, China-Inspired Book Recommendations, Short Story

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*Confetti! Confetti!*

So for the last year I have been writing, editing, tweaking, sweating, dreaming, writing, editing, tweaking some more….and finally I can introduce to you the fruits of my efforts (and those of the team behind me).

I do hope you will be in love with this family as much as I am.

The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters

Having survived torture and imprisonment during China’s Cultural Revolution, Benfu escaped to find love with his compassionate and beautiful Calla Lily. Together they build a fulfilling life around the most menial of jobs—Benfu’s work collecting trash. As he sorts through the discards of others, he regularly discovers abandoned children. With unwavering determination, he and Calli spend decades creating a family of hand-picked daughters that help heal the sorrow and brighten their modest home. But all is not perfect and when crisis threatens to separate their family, Benfu—or possibly his band of headstrong daughters—must find a way to overcome the biggest hardship yet.

Inspired by a true story, and set against the backdrop of a country in transition, The Scavenger’s Daughters is a sweeping present day saga of triumph in the face of hardship, and the unbreakable bonds of family against all odds.

  

The Scavenger’s Daughters is Available for pre-order NOW at Amazon!

And…..Coming in December 2013…

 Book Two in the Tales of The Scavenger’s Daughters,

TANGLED VINES

Scroll down for a Sneak Peek of The Scavenger’s Daughters:

Chapter One

Beitang City, Wuxi, China, 2010.

On a cloudy day in early January, Benfu stood outside his house and held the red pail under the spigot, waiting for it to fill. Today was a good day; when he pumped the handle the old pipes didn’t moan and rattle too much before deciding to cooperate. But he didn’t mind it so much either way—like him, the piece of iron was ancient but stubbornly kept going. And anyway, they had a history together and if a man could feel affection for a thing, then Benfu absolutely did. A silly fondness, but there all the same, for it was the very same temperamental water spigot that had been the matchmaker that brought him and his precious Calli together so many years before.

When the water reached the top, he pushed the pump handle down and carried the pail across the street to the old widow’s house. Quickly he filled the tins for her chickens and used the last of the water on her pot of herbs hanging in her window box. He looked at the chicken droppings and considered cleaning it up, but that was a task Widow Zu usually took on and he didn’t want to deprive her of that joy. And anyway, nothing was worse than the smell of chicken dung on a man’s hands.

Chuckling, he returned to his yard across the street, got on his bike and headed out for the day. Twenty minutes later, he pushed his rusted three-wheeled bicycle slowly up the steep hill and turned the corner. Around him the streets were coming alive. Morning vendors were opening their stalls and stacking displays of fruits and vegetables, sweepers cleaned the sidewalks, and early commuters bustled to work. As he strained to push the bike, the cars, electric scooters and other bicycles rushed past him. Most paid him no attention, for he was just one of many laborers out at the crack of dawn trying to get an early start to the day. With his weathered brown face and deep wrinkles he blended in, but unlike some of the men his age he passed who were doing their morning Qigong exercises or sitting at makeshift tables’ playing cards, Benfu still had a job to do. Even though he had lived on earth for over six decades, he could not retire.

He struggled the last few feet, listening to his water canteen bumping against the metal bar it was tied to and thought about how much the city had changed over the years. At least his side of Beitang City—Old Town Wuxi as some called it—still kept some of the old charm, while new Wuxi had grown with businesses and even many foreigners coming in to make their mark. Benfu was a transplant—he’d been sent to Wuxi as a teenager by his parents to escape the danger of Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. It was for his protection, they’d told him as they cried and bid him goodbye. What they had thought would be a better life for him was a time of trauma and hardship. And though he’d never intended to stay for so long, fate had intervened and Wuxi had become his home. But that was long ago and he’d survived many more hard times since then. Times that were better left unspoken of, times that made a day like today feel like child’s play.

At the top of the hill, Benfu mounted the bike again and with shoulders bent over the handlebars to add more weight, he pedaled slowly. He was already tired and that irritated him. He’d always been known to be bigger and stronger than most, but for the last year he just couldn’t shake the cough and heavy feeling that had enveloped him. Passing the line of street breakfast stands, he winced at the sudden squeaking from the rusty back wheel of his bicycle. As it began to bump and turn haphazardly, he hoped it would last the day, at least until he could ask his daughter to take a look to see if she could repair it.  If she could, that would save him some valuable coins that he could avoid paying the local repairman. He was lucky to have the transportation, and the three-wheeled bike was fitted with a makeshift cart on the back, allowing him a way to haul things home without carrying them in a basket on his back as he’d done for years before.

Benfu passed the cigarette store and for a moment he fought the sudden craving that overtook his thoughts. His wife had finally got her way when he’d stopped smoking a few years before, but there were days he could almost taste the sweet tobacco, he wanted it so badly. A welcome distraction, he heard his friend call his name from where she perched on the next front stoop, peeling peanuts.  His mouth watered at the sight of the treats in her bowl. He would have liked to be able to bring some peanuts home to add to their own simple dinner. Occasionally the woman saved a small bag behind her to hand over to him, but not today. He had many friends in the neighborhood and one had even complimented him long ago by telling him he was a big man with an even bigger presence. He didn’t quite know how he had a big presence but it had sounded nice. Always known to be soft-spoken and one to choose his words wisely, when he had something to say others usually listened.

Zao, Benfu. Cold day, eh?”

Benfu raised his hand to the woman and smiled. “Good morning to you, too, Lao Gu. Yes, very cold. But don’t worry, spring is coming soon!”

These days he was so used to being cold that he no longer thought much about it. At least there hadn’t been any snow this season—saving him the trouble of carrying his load when he couldn’t get the cart through. Sure his cough was worse in the cold, his old joints ached, and his gnarled hands cramped from the hours spent wrapped around the handles, but instead of dwelling on it he chose to focus on other matters. Matters like finding enough discarded items to earn enough for a day of meals for his family and if he was lucky—enough to put some savings toward their monthly rent bill. But first, his self-imposed obligation needed to be fulfilled for the day.

Zhu ni haoyun, Benfu.” She wished him luck and went back to peeling. No small talk was needed because there wasn’t anything new to discuss. They’d been passing each other for the last fifteen years and only stopped to catch up every month or so, unless either of them had news worth interrupting their chores. The woman was widowed and Benfu had known her husband back in the hard days. But those were times they didn’t talk about.

Benfu continued with his cart and hoped his morning would be uneventful. He didn’t wish to find anything out of the ordinary as he turned past the block of buildings. He really didn’t. He always wished to find nothing except trash. But sometimes something other than trash found him.

Now in the alley between two buildings, he guided his bike around soiled refuse bags and a line of jumbled bicycles, then heard the first mewl coming from a pile of boxes. He hoped it was nothing but a new kitten, strayed from its mother.  That would be the best scenario, for Benfu could help it find the rest of the litter and then go on with his day as usual. But the closer he got to the huge pile of trash, the more that hope faded. He’d heard this same sound before and he scolded himself that he should have known the difference from the start.

Sighing, he stopped the bicycle and climbed down. He walked over to the pile of cardboard boxes. Lifting them carefully and tossing them aside one by one, he dug down until he finally found the right one. As he paused to look at the labeling on the side of the cardboard, a couple at the end of the alley stopped and pointed at him, then moved along.

Gently he picked up the box and carried it to his cart. He carefully set it on top of the pile of trash he had collected on the way over. Opening the two flaps, he peered into the box and immediately connected with tiny dark eyes.

Aiya,” he muttered softly, so as not to scare her. The baby was very young—maybe only a few hours or possibly a few days. She lay in the box fully unclothed save for a scrap of a red shirt with frog ties and a few balled up newspapers scattered around her.  Benfu wrinkled his nose as the smell of urine wafted up from the soaked box.  He noticed her umbilical cord still hung from her tiny button, already turning dark from the lack of sustenance running through it. From the weak sound of her mewling and the mottled color of her skin, she didn’t have much time left.

Faster than most would think an old man could move, Benfu struggled out of his worn red overcoat and laid it on the ground in front of him. He then lifted the infant and set her on top of it. As he knelt down to wrap the material around her, he ignored the throbbing in his knees and rubbed her tiny feet and hands. He counted under his breath as he quickly massaged each petite toe and finger. While working to get the blood running in her body again, his eyes met hers and held.

With the surprise of being suddenly discovered, she had quieted and serenely stared up at Benfu, her dark eyes twinkling at him. She was beautiful, this one was, and he wondered what sort of ailment she might have that would have prompted her parents to relinquish her to a new fate.

“Hello, nuer. I’ve come to take you home.  Just hold on and we’ll get you all fixed up. And we’ll add one more scavenger’s daughter to the world, yes we will.” He wrapped the coat all around her, making sure to double the sleeves around her icy feet. He gently laid her back in the box and after checking to make sure he had made a sufficient tunnel through the material for her to breathe through, he closed the flaps again.  Looking around, he hoped the remaining cardboard would be there when he returned, but for now he needed to hurry.

Turning the bicycle around he shivered from the sudden gust of wind that blew through his clothing. He climbed aboard and slowly began to pedal, willing the stiffness in his knees away. As he picked up the pace and began his journey home, he sighed and looked over his shoulder again at the box his newest treasure was nested in. He ignored the nervous fluttering in his stomach that reminded him how hard it would be to feed one more hungry mouth, and instead gave thanks to the Gods that he had found the baby girl before it was too late.

For those who love to read China-Inspired Books

Written by Kay on . Posted in China-Inspired Book Recommendations

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To give us a place to gather and post what China-Inspired books we love, and offer recommendations for what to read next, we’ve set up a Facebook page.

Click this link ‘China Inspired Books’ to see what others are reading and recommending.

You’ll find some old favorites or some new ones you may have never heard of.

Happy Reading!

Xie xie ni!