It’s crazy to me that I now have 27 books published! I never imagined myself writing one book, much less 27. Well, I always did have a goal of writing a book.
But it wasn’t until we moved to China in 2003, that I actually tackled the idea. I had left my job in Human Resources behind, and decided to do a children’s chapter book from the pov of a young American girl who moves to China. I started writing that book once we were there, but soon my life was monopolized by my work in the orphanage, and the trials and tribulations it entailed. Not only just with the kids, but with being homesick and trying to navigate a foreign country. It was brutal at first. I was journaling at night, because I had insomnia something terrible, and it’s always been my way to pour my feelings out in writing. Toward the end of my time in China, I had bonded with so many children, some we were able to help and some we tragically lost, that I’d told many of them I would tell their stories so the world would know how many children are really treated behind those gray walls. We finally ended our assignment in China and came back to the mainland, and my first memoir, Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, was born.
It’s a long story but to give you the cliff notes, I had an amazing agent (who is quite famous) and she couldn’t sell the book to a publishing house. Eventually I self-published it and soon it was doing so well that a publishing editor approached me about re-launching it under their new imprint. I was deliriously happy, and got another agent who negotiated the deal. That book went on to sell a good bit more than 100,000 copies, which is quite amazing considering I had no platform or readership at the time, and it was a subject matter that previous editors had said no one would want to read.
When the book came out, I spent a ton of time going around and speaking at different venues. Adoption camps, women’s groups, churches, etc.. It wasn’t to “sell” the book. It was to raise awareness of the forgotten children in China, and the help they need(ed).
Then life got busy. I took another very demanding position in Human Resources. My eldest daughter (17) was giving me a roller coaster of a ride, and my youngest was in junior high and grieving the life she’d left behind in China. I didn’t have time to think of much else, so it would be a few more years before I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing a novel. It took me a year! I started the idea with a plot right off of a breaking headline in the adoption community– a travesty that had happened to many children who were born in China and living their lives around the world in their adoptive families. I called it Chasing China and sent it to my agent who sent it to my publisher, who immediately rejected it. I self-pubbed that one, too.
That was back in the day when the Kindle platform had just taken off for indie authors and the best marketing strategy was to ‘give away’ free books in order to invite paid sales. I gave away 70k or so of those books, with an actual sales of just under 25k units. While many new authors would be thrilled with that number, I was not. And I was determined to get another publishing contract. So I took some writing classes and set down to do it again, but this time to do it better. Using another breaking headline (I see a theme here!) I ran with a story about two girls in China who because of the uneven ratio of girls to boys, and shortage of young women to marry, were kidnapped as pre-teens and carried across China to live with the families of their soon-to-be husbands to be groomed as brides. This happens a lot in China and there are so many lost girls, that it’s nearly impossible to ever find them again. But one father refuses to give up on his daughter, despite everyone telling him it was a lost cause and to move on. I put so much into this story, the research, and building the characters and relationships and was thrilled when my publisher gave me a contract!
That book did well enough that when I wrote another book and submitted it, my editor loved it so much that he and I brain-stormed and eventually, the one new book because a 5-book series that has sold well over 300,000 copies! The Scavenger’s Daughters is about a family in China and the father is a scavenger who finds and builds his family of daughters from the abandoned girls he finds in and around a train station. The prequel is set during the 60’s and features the father at 16 years old, and tells of how he came to be who he is. The rest of the books are set in modern day when he is an older man and a scavenger. The books are fan favorites and it’s a series that many has binged on. In it you’ll learn about the daughters, how they came to be orphans, and where life leads them.
I wrote a few more China-related books and then decided to try my hand at full historical fiction and wrote a story of two sworn sisters in Hong Kong who are bond slaves to a rich family. They are abused and decide to run away. In another town, a newborn baby girl is put in a basket at the wall in town where abandoned baby girls are left. However, the girls brother decides he will protect her. The story takes all of them to a ship at the harbor, and after an arduous voyage in the belly of the boat, they land at San Francisco, in the heart of the beginnings of Chinatown. It’s a story of hardship and tenacity, and tells many details of how the Chinese fought for their place in America despite the many people trying to drive them out. I wrote a sequel, and I still love the books, but my publisher declined to pick them up so I did it myself. Many readers have compared them to works by Lisa See and Amy Tan, and that is a huge honor that I covet to this day.
Eventually I decided to break out of writing only China-inspired books and my publisher picked up my first women’s fiction title, Wish Me Home. That was a book I really thought they wouldn’t want and I was wrong! It has been my biggest seller of all and is coasting into hitting a quarter of a million copies on it’s own. The book pulls at a lot of heartstrings and the dog just adds to the appeal. The character is a twin and her sister and their complicated relationship play a big role in the story. I am also a twin, so I suppose that it was easier for me to write this relationship than some I’m not familiar with, and based on the success of the book, my own experiences were gold.
I’m skipping some books, but my next big deal was the trilogy I wrote that is set on Maui, called By the Sea. Several years ago when we moved our youngest daughter to the island, I thought my heart would break in two, and I knew that I’d be coming and going a lot and as always, needed to use my writing to deal with my emotions of being so far away from our baby. This resulted in a very successful set of books!
Last year, some authors and I started brain-storming a new project in which we all participated in a multi-author series collaboration called The Wishing Tree.
Wow! When we started it, I couldn’t imagine how much fun I was going to have. These are no pressure books. No writing to please an editor. No huge word counts mandatory. Just having fun creating a small town in Vermont, the quaint businesses, and amazingly heartwarming characters. I loved going through the books and watching for or adding cameo’s of characters from the other books! I’ve now written two books in the series and they are both out. This series is PERFECT to take on vacation and binge through. They are written clean and about half the size of a full length novel. My main character is Neva Cabot, the Curator of Wishes and also owner of the Wishing Tree Inn. I have a tiny bit of magical realism flowing through her, and her interesting cats, Charm and Myster. I’ve never written this type of easy, fun book before, and I’ve been cheating myself because it was so enjoyable. I might even write another in the series!
In between all this writing, I continue to have fun adventures. Sometimes scary ones. Sometimes traumatic ones. Just like you, I live a regular life outside of my work life. I’m big in dog rescue and my second memoir focuses around all the dogs I’ve had in my life. It also chronicles my past before I met my prince, Ben, when I was in a very rocky and abusive marriage. For many years, I was too ashamed to talk about that piece of my life. I came from a broken home, married at sixteen, had my first child at 20, and was in a very bad place. Never in a million years did I dream that one day, I’d get out of that mess, meet a wonderful man and marry him five weeks later, (crazy, I know but you can read about it in the book) then go on to follow my dreams. I don’t have a fancy degree and we began our lives together with nearly nothing, but love. Now he’s worked his way up to be the top man at his facility (director of an aerospace company) and I’m an international bestselling author with TWENTY-SEVEN TITLES and more than a million books sold with translations in half a dozen languages. Yes, we work HARD. Both of us. But we’ve also been blessed.
The cover photo below on my latest memoir was a candid shot taken by my Ben and is myself with our beloved dog, Grandpa, who had a huge fan club that cheered him on for the few years he was a part of the Bratt Pack after being found near dead in a ditch, on a cold and rainy day in Georgia. Sounds like a country song, yeah? But no, it’s a happily ever after story.
In closing, I’ve been lucky to have an amazing circle of readers, fans, and followers who have built my career with me. I can never thank you enough for having the faith in me that I could be something other than what was probably expected out of me, considering my beginnings. I still find myself thinking I’m not worthy of the life I lead or the gifts I’ve been given, but all of you are continually reminding me that yes, I am.
For that I’m eternally grateful.