Imagine being born into a world where you do not exist.
For many this is unimaginable. But for some, this is a way of life.
And that, for many years, was my life.
I was born in the south of China in the late 1990s during the infamous one-child policy and I was born with two things against me. Number one, I was born to a single woman who had most likely gotten pregnant outside of marriage (a punishable offense at the time). And number two, I was a girl. In a world where one-child was strictly enforced and seeing as at the time females could not own land, vote, etc. most people opted out for a boy. So what happened to the girls that were born, or what if the couple got pregnant with a second child?
In many cases, abortion was the only option for them and seen as the “humane” way of dealing with the situation. But in other cases, girls as young as two years old, boys who were born from a second pregnancy, or babies in general were abandoned. Left outside in the streets to fend for themselves with no one to turn to. These are the “ghost children,” children which, by law, do not exist. They are not issued any kind of ID, they are not recognized by the government, they cannot attend school, get a job, get married. Millions were killed during this time by either people sent to “deal” with this issue, starved to death, killed by other ghosts who had formed into gangs, or died of illness or exposure. The ones who were lucky enough to survive found work in sweat shops or prostitution. This was the reality for millions of girls and boys who were left behind.
Back to me and my story. Like I said, I was born into this world as one of these “ghost” kids with nothing. Left outside of the hospital I was born in by my birth mother who fled, never to be seen again. Oh, and I need to mention that this hospital that I was born in was notorious for killing off these babies and selling their organs to the rich. I was literally at the devil’s doorstep, right outside the place that could have taken my life easily. But that is not what happened. I was saved. Taken by a nurse that found me who thought I was a “beautiful child.” Looking back on it, I can’t help but think this is how Moses got his start when he was saved from being slaughtered because Pharaoh’s daughter thought he too was a “beautiful child.”
From there I was passed around from different families but the question remained. Who would want me? Who would want a baby girl that had and could never have anything? Who would most likely be a dependent for the rest of her life, never marry, never get an education, etc.? Who would want a nuisance that would bring nothing into their lives? But God in his infinite mercy had a plan for me. He would give me a family.
My parents were missionaries who had already spent six years in Asia, and although they were in the forties at the time, the wife wanted another baby. A baby that she couldn’t have naturally after already having one child. She had prayed constantly for a baby as it was a deep desire in her heart. Then one day, they heard about a three-week-old baby girl who had been abandoned and needed a family, so they set off to meet me.
I was given to them and they tried to adopt me, but there were a number of issues standing in the way…this baby didn’t exist. How do you adopt someone who legally does not exist? So they decided to do the unthinkable. Raise me in secret in a small town where it was less likely that anyone would bother them. I was soon joined by another little girl who had been rescued from a trashcan outside of a factory who then became my sister. Together we were raised in a small town, in apartments, and were homeschooled to provide us with an education.
I grew up very sheltered because I had to be. My entire world consisted of the apartment that I lived in, my family, the small town, and the groups of people in the inner circle who were dedicated to keeping my parents secret and keeping me safe. Many assumed that we were legally adopted and that provided us with a tentative wall of safety. However, if word had gotten out that my parents were, in fact, harboring illegal children, things would have gone bad and most likely I would have been taken away from them and not survived.
Because my world was so small, I had didn’t have some of the things that most people take for granted. I never had many friends that I would see on a regular basis or people to “hang out” with. It wasn’t uncommon to see a friend once and then not see them for years on end only for them to pop into your life for a day or so before leaving. And I desperately wanted to experience something outside my little bubble. I found it when I was a teenager. My escape. A book my dad brought back from America for me. Moon Over Tokyo by Siri L. Mitchell.
I was hooked. The story was about a woman living in Japan who basically was alone in the world being a foreigner with only one friend, who ultimately leaves, and who lives in her own little bubble. This resonated so much with me as I found myself in the character. It was like looking through a mirror. I don’t know how many times I read that book, but I craved more. I began reading every book I could get my hands on and since physical books were out of the question (unless you’re willing to pay with one of your organs), I turned to eBooks. And I read. I read like a starving person finally having food. I went on countless adventures from the comforts of my own room. My favorites to read were romance novels. I could escape from my world into that world where I could be anyone and do anything. But I wasn’t satisfied. I found myself not wanting to just “read” books anymore. I wanted to write them.
I was gifted by God to have a wild and vivid imagination (one of the reasons I can’t watch horror movies). I like to say I started my writing career at 13 with writing fanfiction instead of taking notes in class (just don’t tell my dad, lol). These were very short, fun stories about characters I loved from different TV shows doing basically whatever I wanted them to do. I loved reading fanfiction and writing them, and that was fun for a while. but I found myself wanting so much more. Using already established characters from fandoms were one thing, but I found myself wanting to create my own characters so at 16, I decided to make the switch. I was going to write my own work.
I found a group on Goodreads that would host weekly writing contest (no money involved, just glory), and I participated almost every week. We were given a word and then would need to write a short story based off of it. It was a fun way to get into writing my very own short stories of around 3,500 words. And I am very proud to say, I won several times.
But I wasn’t done. Short stories were fun, but I found them unsatisfactory. I wanted to write novels. I liked how longer novels delved deep into characterization and plot with their extensive word counts. To me, 3,500 words was too small for me to attempt that kind of development. So I decided to make short stories a thing of my past. I was going to be a novelist. I just had a few issues. For example…how on earth does one write a novel? I knew nothing and I had no one to teach me. I started several stories but never got anywhere near novel length. For a while, 20,000 words seemed to be my limit before I would get stuck and ultimately give up. And, after doing research, I learned that novels were generally 60,000 or 70,000 words and up and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to break my 20,000 word barrier.
This went on for years, and the more time passed, the more I was beginning to doubt myself. But I still had this burning desire in me to write a novel. I wanted more than anything to see my books on the shelves. So I decided I wasn’t going to give up, but I needed a new strategy. I was going to do something drastic. It happened in 2016 with my first ever book blitz (at least that’s what I called it). My plan was simple: I would not write for a whole year. Not one word. Instead, I would read as much as I possibly could. I would read whatever novel I got my hands on. It was a good plan, and one I took very seriously.
By January 1st of 2017, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had read 120 novels in the year. I analyzed how authors approached characterization, I studied how each author paced everything, I learned about common tropes, themes, etc. I found what I liked and what I didn’t like. So now it was finally my turn. I was going to beat my 20,000-word limit and write my first full-length novel. So during the first week of January, I sat at my dining room table with my laptop and opened it up to a new Word document. A story had been going on in my head for some time, and I wanted to bring it to life. So I sat there…for two hours, a blank screen taunting me with its emptiness.
And then came the negative thoughts. “How are you going to write novels?” “What makes you think you’re any good?” “You’re only 19, what do you know?” I wanted to shut up those little voices. Because during 2016 and my book blitz, my passion for writing and need to tell my own stories had grown from being a lighted match to a blazing inferno. I was going to write, and no one was going to stop me. Not even me.
So I sat back in my seat and threw my head up to Heaven. Frustrated with myself, I sent out a short prayer. “God! You gave me this. I have no one to teach me how to do this. I believe this is something from you. You are the one who gave me this passion, so you’re going to have to be the one who teaches me how to use it.”
It was short. It was simple. And I waited for something to change. For a long time I waited and nothing seemed to happen. So I came up with a new idea. I was going to write out a character outline for my characters. Just an overview of their characters. I could at least do that. Two and a half hours later, I wrote “the end” to a fifteen-page synopsis, having no idea how or where all the ideas had come from. I smiled up to Heaven. “Thank you,” I told God. I had my synopsis. Now it was time to get to work.
It took me months (and my computer was out of commission for several of those) but I finally wrote “The End” to my very first novel at 19 years old. A novel entitled “Season for Miracles,” clocking in at 92,000 words. Words cannot describe how I felt having completed it. Words also cannot describe how I feel almost a decade letter knowing that one day I’ll read it again and more than likely cringe. But at the time, I was proud of myself. I had achieved my dream. Or at least the first part of it. I needed to get it published.
From there my life started to change. I wrote about things that I wanted to do. I wrote about people going ice skating, hanging out, going on vacation. Basically, I lived vicariously through my characters, who were free to do whatever they wanted…which was very much unlike the world I lived in where I was confined to one small place.
Then the laws were changed. Possibilities opened up for me. I now live as a full-fledged citizen, no longer a ghost kid, free to live a life without fear of being taken away from my family or even worse.
My story is complicated, it’s messy, it’s sometimes hard to talk about, but looking back on it, I can see God’s hand working through it all. Not only did he save my life, give me a family, and teach me how to utilize my passion, He taught me a lot of life lessons along the way. Despite my circumstances, I learned to always have hope. Hope for a better future. I still have that hope and faith that my life, even now, will always change for the better. Which is sort of the reason I used Jeremiah 29:11 as my anchor verse for my first novel.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
As far as I’m concerned, I’ll never quit writing novels. There are too many stories and characters floating around my head and more are being added to it on a regular basis. And in the same way Moon Over Tokyo inspired me as a young girl, my prayer is that God will use my stories to help inspire others. That is my prayer for every novel I start.
Joy Crain was adopted and raised in southern China by an American missionary couple. At an early age, her fondness for books and vivid imagination gave her a genuine love for storytelling. Joy started writing her own stories as a teenager and the journey has just continued from there.
Joy’s novels contain strong romantic elements with inspirational undertones which will make you fall in love if you’re not careful. And Joy feels that if a reader doesn’t walk away from her novels with a smile, she hasn’t done her job.
Currently, Joy lives with her sister and her toy poodle, Raisin. When she is not traveling internationally, she spends her time teaching English and pursuing her passion for writing.
Missy Hanson never dreamed of falling in love and living happily ever after. In fact, she doesn’t know what she wants to do after she graduates from college; nevertheless, she’s content working as a journalist for her local newspaper and assisting at her aunt’s California bakery. When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity emerges for her to visit the southeast Asian country of Andelar, Missy is thrown into the world of royalty as the special guest of the king and queen—and it’s clear she doesn’t belong, despite her family ties to the area. But the royal family isn’t without its mysteries. Rumors abound that a secret prince is hiding amid Andelar’s society, and Missy is determined to find out who he is.