Finalist Spotlight

Emily Bleeker

Emily Bleeker is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of five novels with her newest title, WHAT’S LEFT UNSAID launching this summer. Her books have reached over 1.5 million readers and her debut novel, WRECKAGE, will soon be a pilot on ABC. Emily is a former educator who learned to love writing while teaching a writers’ workshop. After surviving a battle with a rare form of cancer, she finally found the courage to share her stories. Emily currently lives with her family in suburban Chicago.

Follow Emily Bleeker!

Emiy Bleeker on her Whitney Award Finalist novel,

What it Seems

What was the inspiration for your Whitney Awards finalist novel?

Watching the Elizabeth Smart autobiography I was saddened by how often she had to try to explain why she didn’t try to escape “sooner”. It reminded me of how hard it is to explain to people the mental processes involved in leaving an abusive situation. So, the idea came to me that if a reader could actually experience that “mind prison” that they might be able to see why it isn’t so easy to “just leave” like victims of abuse are so often counseled.

What was the tipping point that turned this novel from “just an idea” to a project you HAD to complete?

I had recently become fascinated with the idea of the fake perfection of YouTube family videos after my young daughter had become invested in a few channels. I was a newly single mom of four kids and my daughter wanted to know why these people on line had seemingly perfect lives when we had been through the struggle of divorce. I tried to explain that the YouTube families were making their videos for entertainment purposes and edited out the hard parts. And that is when my mind started lingering on this idea of how nothing is ever WHAT IT SEEMS. I knew I needed to explore that concept further.

How did this book evolve into the final story? Did it end up the way you thought it would, or did the plot or characters change along the way?

The book changed a lot along the way. My first draft was much darker than my final story because I wanted to really show the struggles of leaving abuse, but my editor thought this might be too disturbing to readers and that I should tone down some of the more extreme moments, which I understood. I also ended up loving the innocent romance that developed in the story more than I had anticipated and leaned into that storyline more than I’d planned.

OH–and one VERY major change was the POV of the book. I initially wrote the first third of the book in close third person but then decided that the reader really needed to experience everything that Tara did as she was experiencing it so I went back and changed to first person present tense.

Who is your favorite secondary character, and why?

My favorite secondary character is definitely Henry. I think a lot of people can look at what Tara went through in her life and say–“Well, that’s terrible. I’ll never have to deal with that.” Or perhaps they believe in their minds that they WOULD have the courage and strength to leave a situation was as abusive as the one Tara was trapped in. But Henry is a great example of how we can stay locked in bad situations in our lives, even when they don’t appear dangerous or outwardly toxic. In fact—it is likely we stay in these situations BECAUSE they are not as extreme. I love watching Henry’s limiting beliefs challenged by Tara’s outlook and experiences. They are so good for each other.

If your book was made into a movie, which scene would you want to be a background extra in?

Hmmmm…maybe the beach scene cause…did I mention it was at the beach?