ANTIGO — Do not call Laurel Bradley an author of “Christian books.”
“I do not write Christian fiction,” Bradley, of rural Antigo, says. “I use Christian themes, but I carry my message through the side door.”
Bradley has been sketching and writing for most of her 53 years and penned her first novel, which she says “will never see the light of day,” while on bed rest awaiting the birth of her fifth child.
Her first two published books were romance novels written, she says, because those were the stories she was enjoying at the time. They include an award-winning, time-traveling romance, “A Wish in Time” and what she terms a “fluffy” novel called, “Creme Brulee Upset,” written for a publisher’s contest.
“Even in those early days, there wasn’t much premarital sex. My characters wait until marriage. One book has an unplanned pregnancy, but there is never a question of an abortion. Life is important,” she says. “Even before I thought about how my writing was influencing others, my Catholic faith was present.”
A native of New Brighton, Minn., Bradley grew up in a Catholic household, the second of four children, but didn’t really “click” with her faith until college and marriage to her husband, Tom. Together they have five children, ages 28 to 19, including a son, Adam, who is a seminarian for the Diocese of Green Bay attending St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.
“When my children were teenagers, they began questioning their faith, and I realized I didn’t know what I needed to know to answer their questions,” she says. “Overcoming that challenge opened many doors to learning and deepened my faith.”
About that same time, she received a response to an e-mail she had sent to Bridget Haase, an Ursuline sister, author, speaker and storyteller and contributor to “Living Faith: Daily Catholic Devotions.” Sr. Bridget related a Jewish saying to Bradley about how “words create worlds.”
“May the ones you create be filled with integrity, hope and inspiration,” the sister wrote.
Bradley took that message to heart.
“Sister’s comments made me stop and think about what I was doing and the worlds I create and send out to affect others,” she says. “We so frequently do without thinking. It’s good to stop and think before doing.”
After a hiatus, more books followed, including two released by Storyteller Publishing, “For the Love of David” and “Trust No One,” which mix darkness with redemption in a way that was appreciated by lovers of their genres; a children’s picture book filled with paintings from her family’s Bass Lake cottage; and, coming in January, a medical thriller entitled “Scream.”
“My faith is very important to me and as it has grown, it has changed every aspect of my life and my writing,” Bradley says. “My characters’ motivations have become deeper. They have become more complex and aren’t so black and white. Each of them has a flaw, just like we all do.”
It’s not all brightness and sunshine. The adversaries in “Trust No One” and “Scream” are damaged, failing to seek or find redemption. Others rise above their circumstances and grow stronger through adversity. The books are available through Amazon or Bradley’s own website.
A 24-year member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Antigo, Bradley’s secular efforts go far beyond her writing. She is a volunteer at Hope Life Resource Center, where she meets with women in crisis pregnancies, talks to teens about sexual integrity and offers post-abortive counseling for women. She also teaches religious education to juniors in the Antigo Area Inter-parish Faith Formation program.
The author says she plans to continue to deepen her faith while writing and drawing. She and her husband are building a home in rural Antigo that will have enough room to accommodate seminarians, priests and staff from Catholic Youth Expeditions.
“Our goal is to serve those who serve us,” she says. “Tom and I feel called to do that.”
Bradley says the journey is always unfolding, and much of it dates back to that simple message from Sr. Bridget.
“In my worlds,” she continues, “love lasts and overcomes adversity, people think couples wait for marriage before becoming physical, and despite all odds there’s a happy ending. Well … for my main characters, anyway.”