Mormon author Emily Bleeker was diagnosed with cancer at age 25 and given a 30 percent chance she’d live to 30. So when she did turn 30, the cancer-free mother of four decided to set some goals for herself because she recognized that the time she had could have been taken away.
Some of the Chicago native’s goals included learning a new instrument and running a 5K, as the tumor was in her leg. Writing a novel was another goal. Bleeker didn’t plan to pursue publication for that novel, but her friends and family who read it encouraged her to try.
Several years later and still cancer-free, Bleeker is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author. Her third novel, titled “Working Fire” (Lake Union Publishing, $14.95) went on sale on Aug. 29. Her first two books, “Wreckage” and “When I’m Gone,” were named Whitney Award finalists in the general fiction category. The Whitney Awards honor novels by authors who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "When I'm Gone" was on the Wall Street Journal's fiction e-book best-seller's list.
Emily Bleeker is an LDS author from Chicago. Her third book, "Working Fire," was released in August. | Amber Linderman Photography
“I’ve been writing my whole life, but I called myself a secret writer,” Bleeker said in an interview. She said that before the cancer and her goals, she didn’t feel very confident in her writing. But after setting her goal and really working to accomplish it, that changed.
Bleeker used to teach academically talented and gifted courses and she would hold writing workshops. During that time, she’d write along with her students. She said she started with Jane Austen fan fiction, and that was her gateway into writing.
“After that, I was addicted to (writing),” Bleeker said with a laugh.
Her novels now are contemporary adult fiction, which she classifies as PG-13. Her latest is more of a thriller.
“Working Fire” is about two sisters in a small town taking care of their father who had a stroke. The younger sister is a paramedic and one day she responds to a call to find that her older sister and brother-in-law have been shot in a home invasion. She works to take care of them and figure out what happened. The story is divided into two perspectives: that of the older sister starting from six weeks before the shooting and that of the younger sister from the day of the shooting forward.
Bleeker said she loves mystery and secrets, so she tries to incorporate those into her stories.
“Everybody has secrets in their lives,” she said. “Those fascinate me. Those are really what my books center around: what secrets we have and what we do to keep them hidden.” She also likes to focus on relationships. Bleeker is very close with her own sister, so she is looking forward to sharing this story about sisters.
Bleeker is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but her novels don't include Mormon characters.
“I think what being LDS does is it makes me really interested in seeing different perspectives and understanding how all types of people tick,” she said.
She explained that in one of her stories, a woman dies from cancer and her husband, who is an atheist, grieves over her death. Bleeker said she knows how an LDS person would try to cope and find comfort, so she wanted to explore other perspectives.
“If I wrote four novels about Emily Bleeker, I promise you would not want to read them," she said. "You want to know what other people’s choices and secrets and lives are like. Not what my choices, secrets, and life are like.”
However, she does “believe in fade to black with love scenes.”.
Bleeker has been told she is a “smutty writer” and has other critics who say her books don’t have enough adult content and are unrealistic. As a result, she recognizes she can’t please everyone and has defined what she feels comfortable writing. She said writers need to determine those lines for themselves.
Emily Bleeker and her children. | Provided by Emily Bleeker
For Bleeker, the best part about being a writer is connecting with people.
“I get emails, I get Facebook messages, I get messages on my blog from people all over the world who have connected with my characters and have felt something because of it,” she said. “I get stories from all kinds of people saying, ‘this is my story and this is why what you wrote touched me.’ And I think that’s the most amazing thing.”
Bleeker said it’s humbling to hear stories that are so personal.
In addition to being a writer, Bleeker is also a stay-at-home mother. Her four children are 12, 11, 9 and 6. Bleeker said it’s an interesting balance being a writer and stay-at-home mom and setting priorities is an important way to keep that balance.
“Sometimes work has to be a priority and other times kids are definitely a priority,” she said. She added though that there are certain “special times” when she doesn’t write no matter what. Some of those times include when her kids are getting ready in the morning, when they get home from school, and before bedtime.
Bleeker said her kids are excited about her job and understanding when she has a deadline. Being a writer also influences how she is a parent. She is extra supportive of her kids’ dream and encourages them to actually do things to make the dreams happen and practice their skills. Even if their creative activities don’t become careers, Bleeker emphasized the importance of cultivating that creativity.
“I see that it is possible to be creative and have it be a job,” she said. “I get really excited for them and want them to be able to do that, too.”