Most in the adoption community know my name from the memoir, titled Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. But before my journal-turned-book hit the shelves and made haste landing in the hands of those hungry for information about what it may have been like for their children before adoption, I was simply a normal mom trying to use my time overseas to make a difference as a child advocate. The efforts came first — and when the things I was witnessing on a daily basis wreaked havoc on my soul, I poured my thoughts out onto the pages of what would become my memoirs of that tumultuous period of life.
When I left China and the dust settled, I tried to continue my advocacy work from afar by volunteering to do administrative tasks and social networking for a few different organizations. As I tried to repatriate, I found that I no longer felt needed in the huge capacity I felt in China. I also clung to my old life there by absorbing all I could about the culture, people, and land. I read everything I could get my hands on — devouring all of Lisa See’s novels, then those by Amy Tan, Mingmei Yip, and then finally hitting the jackpot when I discovered Pearl S. Buck.
My mind was reeling. With the success of my first book, I wondered if I could find that same success by writing novels. I’d always felt passionate about writing and was a notorious bookworm from birth. I also soon ran out of China-inspired books to read and realized that the English readers need more diverse books! But who was I to think I could write a novel that anyone would care to read, I thought?
I prayed about it as I weighed how to distribute my time between advocating for the children left behind, and learning to be a successful novelist.
Could I really do both?
First up was a ton of research about launching a writing career. Write what you love to read was one of the most common pieces of advice I came across. Write what you know was another. One night I had a lightening moment when the idea for my first novel came to me. Chasing China; A Daughter’s Quest for Truth combined the story of an adoptee returning to China to search for answers about her birth family, with many of the memories I still had from my days at the orphanage. Children depicted in the novel were modeled and characterized from real children I had held, known, and loved. In my novel, I used my knowledge of the system to educate and yes, advocate for those still left behind.
I had found a way to fulfill both passions!
While Chasing China wasn’t a blockbuster hit, it did fairly well and fueled my fire to write another (better) novel. But as I debated the subject matter, I considered that maybe I’d poured all my memories into the first and second books, and had nothing left. Perhaps writing books wasn’t for me.
I was wrong. As I researched more about China, I came across a real life story about a woman who had been abducted as a girl, then sold off as a bride to a man far from her home. In China, resources to find lost or abducted children are not widely available and after a few months, the girl’s family stopped looking. Eventually, the girl became a woman with children of her own, when a few memories prompted her to go to an organization that helped her trace where she came from. By then she loved her husband and adopted family, but she still went back to her hometown to let her birth family know she was alive and well.
The woman’s story and how no one could find her was captivating to me and I wondered what would happen if two childhood friends were abducted in the same way, but one of the fathers refused to give up?
Therefore, A Thread Unbroken was born and with it, I explored the dismal situation of abducted children in China as I strived to break the myth that Chinese fathers do not care for their daughters. The two main characters made a formidable pair; a father who worked over, under, and around every obstacle in his path in his search, while his daughter dug deep to find an inner strength she never knew she had as her abductors attempt to break her spirit.
The book was received well by my publisher and when it launched, I found that suddenly I was gaining traction as a writer of China-inspired fiction. Better yet, readers were writing to me to ask how they could help specific situations affecting women and children in China, and I was able to use my novels as a platform to continue my passion for advocating.
As well as I was doing by then, I was soon astonished by the amazing success of a series I began about an old scavenger man and the discarded girls he finds along his way and brings in to be a part of his family.
The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters was inspired by another real-life story and somehow it has resonated with tens of thousands of readers all over the world, surpassing any and all expectation that I or even my publisher had for it. Why is the series such a success? I think that the first book holds many messages that all of us find worthy to embrace, but most especially the one that says all the riches in the world cannot be worth more than the love and loyalty of a family, whether built by blood or by bonds alone.
Since then, I’ve published three more novels and in each of them, my goal is to tell a story that each reader will find interesting, packed with Chinese history and a sense of family. And as the final page is turned, and all is said and done, I only want to be able to say that with my advocating-by-writing, I found a way to raise awareness and make a small difference in the lives of women and children in China.
Kay Bratt is a child advocate and author, residing on the banks of Lake Hartwell in South Carolina with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat. Kay lived in China for over four years and because of her experiences working with orphans, she strives to be the voice for children who cannot speak for themselves.
Over the years, she has volunteered for numerous non-profit organizations, including Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), An Orphans Wish (AOW), and Pearl River Outreach.