Emilie Richards was born in Bethesda, Maryland and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida. After receiving an undergraduate degree in American studies from Florida State University, Richards earned a master's degree in family development from Virginia Tech. She worked as a therapist in a mental health center, before becoming a parent services coordinator for families enrolled in Head Start and then working in several pastoral counseling centers. Richards is married to her college sweetheart, a Unitarian Universalist minister.
Richards began writing in 1983 after the birth of her fourth child. Her son would sit on her lap as she wrote, and Richards titled her first completed work, Brendan's Song, after him. The book was published in 1985 in the Silhouette Romance category line. She has subsequently written over 40 novels for Silhouette, including six, all set in Australia or New Zealand, written during a four-month sabbatical in Australia.
As a result of years working as a family counselor, her novels "feature complex characterizations and in-depth explorations of social issues."Richards won a Romance Writers of America RITA Award, the highest award given to romance authors, in 1994 for Dragonslayer. Richards has also been nominated three times for Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Awards and is a recipient of their Career Achievement Award.
Despite the occasional use of overly cliched lines, Richards' writing "effortlessly flows from page to page." Her characters often sport unusual quirks, such as a penchant for strange sandwich ingredients, which gives the story an added charm.
In 2004, Richards began a new series of single-title novels centered around quilting. These novels were inspired by a volunteer stint with VISTA. While she was an undergraduate, Richards spent a summer living in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains, helping the residents and learning to quilt.
The following year, Richards began writing murder mysteries in addition to romance novels. The novels, in a series called Ministry is Murder, are based partially on her experience as a minister's wife and are written in first-person from the perspective of the heroine, minister's wife "Aggie" Wilcox. Characters in this series are "interesting [and] well-developed]]," although suspense is "minimal."
Richards and her husband, Michael, have three biological sons and a daughter who was adopted from India. They have lived throughout the United States, including in Florida, Louisiana, California, Arkansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. As of 2007, they reside in Arlington, Virginia.
She was the first person to be named to the National Advisory Board of ABC Quilts, a non-profit association which teaches people to quilt.