Author Spotlight: Emily Bleeker
Two women, generations apart, in the spotlight. A powerful novel about family secrets, devastating choices, and hope for the future.
Camera-shy Elise Branson is different from the other women in her matriline. Her mother is an award-winning actress. Her late grandmother, Vivian Snow, is a beloved Hollywood icon. But when Elise’s upcoming wedding coincides with a documentary being made about Vivian, Elise can’t escape the camera’s gaze. And even in death, neither can her grandmother.
It’s 1943 when Vivian, a small-town Indiana girl, lends her home front support to the war effort. As a translator in the nearby Italian POW camp, she’s invaluable. As a celebrated singer for the USO, she lifts men’s spirits and falls in love with a soldier. But behind this all-American love story is a shocking secret—one vital to keep buried if Vivian is to achieve the fame and fortune, she covets.
For Elise and Vivian, what’s hidden—and what’s exposed—threatens to unravel their lives. The heart-wrenching choices they must make will change them both forever.
Emily Bleeker is the bestselling author of six novels. Combined, her books have reached more than two million readers. She is a two-time Whitney Award finalist as well as being on the Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.
Emily lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with her husband, their kids, and her kitten-muse, Hazel. Along with writing and being a mom, she performs with a local improv troupe, sings karaoke like no one is watching, and embraces her newfound addiction to running. Connect with her or request virtual visit with your book club at www.emilybleeker.com.
An Interview with Emily Bleeker
Tina: To kick things off, could you give our readers a brief overview of “When We Were Enemies” and what inspired you to write it?
Emily: WHEN WE WERE ENEMIES is a dual timeline toggling between present day and 1943. In 1943 19 year old Vivian Santini, daughter of Italian immigrants, doesn’t know it yet but one day she will be the wildly famous Vivian Snow. But before fame finds her and as WWII rages on, Vivian takes care of her injured father, institutionalized mother and shy younger sister by working at the Italian POW camp in her small Indiana town. Elise is the camera shy granddaughter of iconic Vivian Snow. The only member of her family not interested in the spotlight, Elise is coaxed into having her wedding in the same chapel where her grandmother was married as part of a documentary. But as the documentarian digs deeper into her grandmother’s life, a dark secret threatens to tarnish her legacy and ruin Elise’s life at the same time.
Tina: Your characters in the book are quite intriguing. Can you share your process for developing the complex personalities of the main characters? Are any of them based on real people or personal experiences?
Emily: I rarely write a character based off of someone I know in real life but I a have to say there are bits of my grandmother in the character of Vivian Santini. My grandmother was a beautiful, graceful woman with a beguiling personality. She made friends easily and after my grandfather passed we all joked that she made every man fall in love with her just by sitting in the same room. I think both Vivian and Elise carry with them the same confliction emotions of all of us who have had life take a different turn than we expected. It’s often easy to look at those with fame and power as though their lives are easy or simple when deep down we are all just human.
My FAVORITE characters are the two conflicted spiritual figures in the book: Father Trombello from 1943 and modern day Father Patrick. I still have a crush on them both, if I’m being honest. Handsome, intelligent, empathetic men who are also too human for their own good. Neither man is based on anyone I know personally but after writing their stories I feel like I know them.
Tina; “When We Were Enemies” touches on several thought-provoking themes. Could you delve into one or two of the central themes in the book and explain why they resonate with you?
Emily: Fame is a theme, for sure. How it can be a curse as much as a blessing. Being stuck or trapped by expectations, family and gender roles is also an important theme that really calls to me. So often people feel trapped but truly have more options for escape than they realize. Also, religion is a theme and how it can comfort but also how it can be misused to control. The older I get the more I’ve been able to see this happening in the world around me and I found it interesting to explore, especially with two priests mixed into the cast of characters.
Tina: What kind of research did you undertake while writing this book, especially considering the historical and cultural elements involved?
Emily: This book took A LOT of research. I started with learning about POW camps in the US during WWII. I read a lot of books and watched several documentaries specifically about the Italian POW’s. Finally, I went to visit Camp Atterbury and Edinburgh, Indiana where I was able to tour Holy Trinity, the church in Edinburgh, and I was able to visit the Chapel in the Meadow made by the Italian soldiers while they were at the camp. The modern day research elements had a lot to do with how public relations work in Hollywood, some real life families with multi-generational fame and a lot of research about the Catholic church, the US military and WWII which I passed by some beta-readers who has lived experiences with the topics. I love research and I’m slightly obsessed with getting things as historically accurate as possible!
Tina: Every author has their own unique writing process. Could you describe how you approached the writing of this particular novel? Do you have any rituals or habits that help you stay productive?
Emily: With WHEN WE WERE ENEMIES I really focused on having a good work ethic so I set a word count goal for each day/week. I didn’t always reach it and sometimes I beat it but I did get my butt in my chair and my brain in gear and start writing. In order to get into the character’s minds and emotions, I’d write as I listened to epic movie soundtracks. It added a level of drama and, honestly, fun. It’s forever changed my writing process.
Tina: Writing a novel can be a challenging journey. Were there any particularly difficult or rewarding moments during the creation of “When We Were Enemies” that you’d like to share?
Emily: Some of my favorite moments came from visiting Camp Atterbury, learning about the POW camp and the modern day Operations Allies Welcome and seeing the pictures of the people I wrote about. It was pretty amazing seeing the reality behind the world I was writing.
One of the difficult parts of writing WHEN WE WERE ENEMIES was making sure I was writing about the faith of the characters accurately and respectfully. It was sometimes a difficult balance but one I hope I traversed appropriately.
Tina: How do you hope readers will connect with the characters and story in your book? What emotions or insights do you want them to take away from it?
Emily: The overarching insight that I hope comes out of WHEN WE WERE ENEMIES is the idea that we can all change. The fact that the men in that POW camp were enemies to the Allied forces one day and then allies the next. 90% of the Italian prisoners went on to serve in the US Army as part of the Italian Service Unit. I find the deeper meaning of that transition beautiful and meaningful.
Tina: Without giving away any spoilers, do you have a favorite scene or moment in the book that you’d like to highlight? What makes it special for you?
Emily: There are two moments and they are from the end of the book and rife with spoilers. Ha. So I’ll just say this—the moment for both Vivian and Elise where they find out the reality behind someone special in their lives is very profound to me. Once again, changing perspectives is one of my favorite themes for this book and both women find their lives change as a result of these shifts.
Tina: Are there any upcoming projects or works in progress that you’d like to share with your readers? What can they look forward to from Emily Bleeker in the future?
Emily: Yes! Next year you can find out the rest of Vivian’s story starting from where we leave her in WHEN WE WERE ENEMIES. This is my first sequel/companion book and I’m loving writing more about this world and characters.