Constable: Grayslake mom by day, a writing 'Batman' at night
Approaching her 25th birthday as a new mother, Emily Bleeker of Grayslake found out she was pregnant again and most likely would be dead before she hit 30.
That lump behind and above her right knee was soft-tissue sarcoma. Doctors gave her a 30 percent chance of surviving five years.
"You don't have control over whether or not you beat cancer. So I just kept moving forward. I had to imagine what life would be like if I did die," says Bleeker. Writing in her journal since childhood, Bleeker started keeping journals for her kids. Surgery and eight weeks of radiation got rid of her cancer.
"One hundred years ago, I would have been dead. I basically had been given all these years," says Bleeker, now a 38-year-old mother of four. "I need to do something with this gift."
So at age 30, she vowed to run a 5K, play a new musical instrument, get back into theater, learn a foreign language and finish her manuscript.
Bleeker not only finished her manuscript about castaways on a deserted island after a plane crash, but she got an agent and a publisher. "Wreckage," published in 2015, sold more than 500,000 copies and was a finalist for the Whitney Award given to novels written by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A year later, Bleeker released her second book, "When I'm Gone," about a wife who dies and leaves mysterious letters for her husband, which became a Wall Street Journal best-seller.
"It's not so much based on my life as it is about my emotions," says Bleeker. "'When I'm Gone' helped me process those feelings."
Her third book, "Working Fire," was published in 2017, and her latest novel, "The Waiting Room," debuts Tuesday. A "launch party" open to the public is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at Mickey Finn's Brewery, 345 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Libertyville, where Bleeker will take questions and sign books.
"The Waiting Room" tells of a new mom struggling with the unexpected death of her husband and postpartum depression. Even tackling complex subjects, Bleeker writes quickly.
"It's an exhausting pace," says Bleeker, who divorced in 2016. "I spend my days as a mom, and I spend my nights as a writer. I'm Batman pretty much as a writer."
It took her three years to write her first book.
"I wrote a lot of 'Wreckage' one-handed while I was nursing my youngest," says Bleeker. "It was my energy. It made me feel alive."
After she finished the writing, "I Googled 'How to get a book published,' and the whole internet laughed at me," Bleeker says. She signed with literary agent Marlene Stringer and now makes her living as a best-selling author who has sold more than 1 million books. She gets fan mail from all over the world. Her novels, often referred to as psychological thrillers, are known for interesting characters and unexpected twists.
"They are not escapes," Bleeker says, noting that her books delve into emotional issues that connect her with readers. "I love writing about the real-life stories of people." She's gotten praise and criticism because her novels have little foul language and no graphic sex scenes, which Bleeker says stems from her Mormon upbringing.
"I was a very innocent, naive kid," says Bleeker, who married the year after she graduated from high school and spent a year at Brigham Young University in Utah, before finishing her elementary education degree at Benedictine University in Lisle. She taught gifted children and kindergartners for Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 until she had her children: Johnny, 13, Brandon, 12, Thomas, 10, and daughter Madeline, 7.
"I started writing as soon as I figured out what writing was," says Bleeker, who grew up in Orland Park, the second of George and Cindy Sadler's four kids. "I read so much, pretty much any book. I just love stories more than anything."
Even as a teen, Bleeker wrote honestly about her emotions, whether discussing her expectations for a magical dream of a first date, or the disappointing reality of her actual first date.
"I loved pouring my heart out," adds Bleeker, who made no attempt to hide away her journal. "My handwriting was so bad, I didn't think anyone could read it. It was my secret language."
Now she writes for a much larger and more appreciative audience. She's navigating the tricky world of online dating and can take satisfaction in her approach to tackling those goals she made at age 30. She ran a 5K, plays the guitar her dad gave her for her 30th birthday, takes improv classes and has turned her manuscripts into four successful novels.
"The only one I haven't reached yet is learning a new language," Bleeker says. "But my books have been translated into 12 different languages, so I just count that."