Romancing Sandusky:Sanduskian Shannon Bradford entertains readers as romance novelist Ember Leigh

Like the main character in many a romance novel, Shannon Bradford has been keeping a secret.

While you may know her as one half of the popular Argentinian-American food truck The Gaucho and the Gringa, Bradford has been leading a double life.
She’s even known in some circles by a completely different name. Until now.

Bradford has been writing romance novels – more than 20, in fact – under the pseudonym Ember Leigh for more than a decade.

She chose the pseudonym when she first started publishing romance novels – Leigh is her middle name and Ember is a name she chose because she loved it.

“I wanted to differentiate between my two main areas of publication at the time–romance as Ember Leigh, and travel writing under my legal name,” she says.

Bradford has written 23 novels and will add two more to that number this year.The 2004 Perkins High School graduate has been writing since the age of 9, although it didn’t start with the romance genre.

“It was mostly stories about kids going on space shuttle missions to the moon back then,” she says. “I was a big science fiction fan.”

She was such a fan of reading – she credits Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams as one of her influences – that she couldn’t get enough of the pastime.

“Growing up, I read relentlessly,” she says, “to the point where the Sandusky Library told me I couldn’t borrow as many books as I’d selected.” 

Kicking off her writing career at such a young age started off on a bumpy road, as Bradford received her first rejection letter – from Highlights magazine – at age 10. It was, she says, “the first of many more rejection letters to come.”

Still Bradford continued to write, and as a teenager, she moved into romance. It wasn’t exactly her best work, she recalls.

“[T]hough it’s embarrassing to admit, it was mostly fan fiction based on my celebrity crushes,” she says.

Once she hit her junior and senior years of high school, Bradford was sending manuscripts to agents and publishing houses.

“From there, I just kept writing more novels, learning more about the craft, and trying to improve my skills as an author,” she says.

Many of Bradford's titles are for sale at Sandusky Book Bar.Bradford continued to publish under her legal name as a travel writer and blogger from 2008-2016, having her work featured in travel magazines and various travel blogs. Those works tended to coincide with international backpacking trips Bradford took during her post-college years.

It was in that span of time that Ember Leigh was born.

In 2013, Bradford published her first romance novel through a small press, and in 2017 she “took the self-publishing route,” which, she says, “has been an incredibly complex, overwhelming, but ultimately rewarding journey.”

“I’ve always been a big fan of romance novels and HEA’s (happily-ever-afters),” she says. “It’s just what flows out of me and inspires me the most.”

And even with a happy ending, Bradford is realistic about the themes, plots, and characters in her stories, writing them in such a way as to denote that life isn’t always perfect. 

“Real life isn’t always fun or happy – escaping into fiction is a gift, and one I like to share with the world.

“I’ve always loved incorporating humor into my books, but I also need to touch on deeper, sometimes darker themes as well. I can’t just write one thing or the other. I want to make readers laugh AND cry.”

Bradford believes her readers appreciate that honesty in her writing.

“I love found families and dysfunctional families in general – and the healing that comes with them,” she says. “All of my series focus on families of some sort – the good and the bad. I tend to have a lot of self-realization in my books that leads to my characters taking big risks and starting their own businesses – I think this comes from my real life.”

That dose of real life is evident across the current romance genre, not just in Bradford’s series, which include the Bayshore Series, Winter Harbor Heroes, the Breaking Series, and Bad Boys of Wall Street. Later this year, Bradford will add two more titles to her catalog of 23 novels.

“These days, romance novels are incredibly diverse and inclusive,” she says, “It’s so much more than just ‘love stories.’ They’re fun, savvy, smart, hilarious, deeply moving, sometimes life-changing.”

Bradford shows some of her books for sale at Sandusky Book Bar.The genre gets “a bad rap for being predictable,” Bradford says, but that’s part of the comfort that comes with reading a romance novel.

“[T]he HEA is part of the genre convention,” she says. “You know what you’re getting going into it – a happy ending – but what happens on the way to that endpoint varies so wildly.”

No matter if you’ve never read a romance before or fancy yourself a romantic at heart, Bradford says there is something for everyone “in the world of romance.”

“I’ve never met a more fascinating, self-aware, diverse, and voracious bunch of people than romance readers,” she says.

Writing for her dedicated readers can be a juggling act, as Bradford isn’t just co-owner of The Gaucho and the Gringa, which hit the streets of Sandusky in 2016. She’s also the mom of two children, ages 2 and 6, with another on the way.

“As our food truck business has grown, my author career has had to proportionately adapt so I can balance it all,” she says. “It’s been hard, I won’t lie. But I’ve always considered myself an author first and foremost, so my writing career is a non-negotiable for me.”

Due to a busy food truck season, Bradford was only about to write a novella, so her writing time, she says, is usually reserved for the off-season. Whatever she can write from November-March is what becomes her publishing schedule for the following year.

“When we only had one kid, I could produce four books per year, but now I shoot for two per year, because I need to have some downtime,” she says. “I usually write late-nights once the kids go down, but if I’m writing during the day, I try to go to places like Mr. Smith’s [Coffee House], Maca Root, or Starbucks to crank out some words. If you ever see me out with my laptop, I’m likely working on a novel.”

Despite the late nights and busy schedules, Bradford wouldn’t want it any other way. In fact, owning the food truck business has informed some of her writing.

Just one of Bradford's nods to her hometown is this reference to Cameo Pizza in the third book in her Bayshore Series, "Make Me Yours."“A lot of my readers say that my books make them hungry because I like to dive into food details,” she says.

Some of those food details may sound familiar to locals, as Bradford includes a nod to Sandusky favorite Cameo Pizza in the third book of her Bayshore Series. Bradford loves Cameo so much, in fact, that when she happened to meet Cameo owner Jane Keech, she “fangirled."

In other local references, the feuding families in the Bayshore series are the Dalys and the Cabanas. You’ll also read homages to the state of Ohio with mentions of Kroger, Lake Erie, Cleveland, and Columbus.

Connecting with her readers–receiving their feedback and honest reviews–means everything to the Sandusky native.

“Every time I receive fan mail or hear from a reader that they spent all night reading because they couldn’t put my books down – that’s what I live for,” she says. “I’ve heard from a fellow romance author before that my books were the reason they became inspired to start writing. One reader just told me yesterday that she loves my book Make Me Lose so much that she’s purchased it in three different formats. How amazing is that? Hearing feedback like that is incredibly impactful.”

Luckily for her readers, Bradford has no plans on ending her writing career. In fact, her career continues to grow.

In 2023, Bradford hit the bestseller lists on various storefronts, including Amazon and Apple Books. She signed with a literary agent, and her novels began releasing in the German market – she signed with a German publisher who translated her entire back catalog. She also opened her own storefront, which has been gaining momentum domestically and internationally.

As for what’s to come, Bradford would like to negotiate a paperback deal with a large publisher in the U.S. so her books could be sold in mass retailers like Target and BAM. She also would like to work on a movie deal for one of her titles, and she plans to sell the rights to have her books translated into other languages, including French, Portuguese, and Italian.

“The sky is the limit,” Bradford says. “I just want to continue writing hot, heavy, and hilarious romance for as long as I can.”

To learn more about Bradford’s books, check out her website,, or go straight to her online store at You can also check out her Instagram and Facebook pages. Bradford offers freebies for anyone who wants to sample her writing.