Emily Bleeker on ‘When I’m Gone’
Bestselling women’s fiction author Emily Bleeker’s When I’m Gone is the story of a father raising three kids on his own after losing his wife to cancer. Inspired by the author’s own battles with cancer, as well as her relationship with her family, Bleeker talks to us about her new novel.
First, we love that you call yourself a recovering “secret writer”. Tell us about that journey.
I’ve always loved stories. I can remember making up complex stories about a piece of yarn when I was waiting for my mom to get out of the changing room at Bells department store when I was in first or second grade. I mean, there’s always a story going on up there. In fact, if I’m sitting in silence you probably can bet that I’m thinking through a scene. But for a long time…a long, long time…I was afraid to share these stories with other people. When I say afraid I mean petrified.
So I wrote in secret and laughed if anyone dared to accuse me of being a writer. I had a hard time owning that moniker until I was picked up by Lake Union Publishing. I mean, a crazy long time to try and keep such a huge part of my life (and dreams) secret. Now, it is a goal of mine to out all the secret writers out there! See, what I found out is that once you proclaim that you are a writer (out loud and in public) that people are happy and excited for you. And, suddenly, you aren’t just a writer—you are an inspiration to those around you who are still in hiding.
When I’m Gone was inspired by your own battles with cancer. How did you prepare to put it down on paper?
You know, it actually came very naturally. When I was in high school I was super cool…meaning I was on the Speech Team. Yeah. And I had a great coach named, Mr. Sackett. He taught all of us “Speechies” to mentally run our speeches over and over again—think of walking into the room with confidence, think of giving a flawless performance, think through the parts that were tripping you up, then imagine sitting down knowing you’d done the best you could. It was an incredibly effective exercise. I adapted this process when I was going through my cancer treatments. I’d think through the steps of treatment. I’d let myself go through the best-case scenarios and even the worst-case scenarios. I found that if I imagined them with an honesty that was sometimes painful, it made those scary experiences easier to face. I think this process helped me prepare for writing When I’m Gone because, though the ending to my cancer story was a sparkling “happily ever after,” I had definitely let myself imagine what could’ve happened if it went the other way. And though Natalie is not ME, a lot of the emotions conveyed in her letters are definitely things I’ve worked through in my own life.
What three things do you need in place before you start writing?
1- My laptop. I have to be able to write in lots of places since my kids are pretty active and I would like them to stay alive if at all possible. And when a deadline is on the horizon I have to be adaptable as to where I write so I’ve found myself writing at a bouncy playhouse, at the McDonalds playset, in my backyard, by the bathtub while my kiddos play, hiding in a closet (shhhhh), in the car as I’m waiting for kids to get out of school, and countless other odd locations.
2- My headphones. I listen to music while I write. I usually make a playlist for each new story…sometimes for each character if I’m switching POV’s. I have a great writer friend who will ask me about what I’m writing and then sends me song suggestions. The music and headphones are also helpful to drown out the sounds of my kids asking me for a snack. (I’m kidding…I do feed my kids!)
3- Gum. Okay, not a requirement but I sure do love it. I wrote the last five chapters of When I’m Gone in one marathon sitting while chewing nearly a whole back of gumballs. Thankfully, I have great dental hygiene and somehow avoided a TMJ flare up!
What is the one book you can’t stop recommending to friends?
Summit Lake by Charlie Donlea. This is a mystery about two women, one who is dead and one who is investigating her death. I love real life mysteries but mystery books are not exactly my first choice but here is the thing…there is so much depth to this book and these characters that I could.not.put.it.down!
What can readers expect from you next?
More contemporary fiction with some mysteries mixed in. I love me my mysteries! My next story is about two sisters—one a paramedic and the other is the patient she’s been called to rescue with switching point-of-views and timelines. Lots and lots of twists and turns in this one and a good look at the bond sisters share.
Emily Bleeker is a former educator who learned to love writing while teaching her students’ writer’s workshop. After surviving a battle with a rare form of cancer, she finally found the courage to share her stories, starting with her debut novel, Wreckage. A fully recovered “secret writer,” Emily now spends her days wrangling four kids while planning out plotlines and writing about the people in her head. She currently lives with her family in suburban Chicago. Connect with her or request a Skype visit with your book club at www.emilybleeker.com.
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