Novelists Unwind welcomes Erin Bartels



hi everyone welcome back I'm Johnny Alexander and I welcome you to novice online my guest today is Erin Bartles and we're here to talk about her debut novel we hoped for better things when we should it cover a beautiful beautiful cover Erin this is like amazing I just started this book and it's just gripping but you've taken taken the traditional time slip story or parallel story which usually has a past and a present and you've made three stories you guys you've got three stories I want to send just two which is it's just incredible so tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story and the three women who are actually the heroines of here yeah well it didn't start out as a three timeline story it was going to be a two timeline story and it wasn't going to be set in the 1960s and 1860s I was thinking of it being a present-day and a in a World War two story the initial idea was the idea of the this box of photographs that need to be returned to somebody and the person who took the photos there's some sort of mystery surrounding what happened to them and somehow it became about a different time period and I think it became present today in 1960s first and then as the story was being developed in my mind I felt like that's really not the whole story like there's got to be something that explains why these people are where they are in the 1960s in the present day so it became a story that's a lot about race relations and it's set in Detroit and in the 1960s in Detroit 1967 there were the Detroit riots and I was just really interested in exploring who these people were and the issues that went on between people in the regarding race weather during the civil war or during the civil rights era because you see a lot of stories about that set in the south and I haven't really seen as many set in the north where there were other things going on other than battles or you know fire hoses on people but there were certainly things going on and so it became about that and I was telling it through the eyes of three women in the same family and they end up in the same house that's been in their family and I really like stories that have to do with houses I don't know why I don't know if it's because we're a really mobile culture and we don't stay in a house for generations that were kind of intrigued by that I always thought I just loved that whole idea just you know and I wish they'd been my family story and it's not I think that maybe that's why like you wish that you had this sort of ethos surrounding where you live and really it's just like well this was a convenient place to buy so yeah so yeah there's some Elizabeth balsam in the modern day and she is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press and she's working on a big story that involves different angles about the 67 riots and people who were involved and through her investigation she kind of gets in trouble and ends up having to leave around the same time this mysterious man comes to her and says I have this box of photographs in this camera and I need to get them back to this woman who I think you're related to and that's the second point of view so we see her great aunt Nora and Nora is in the modern day and in the 1960s story in the 1960s she's a young woman and she also then explains to Elizabeth as they get to know each other Mary balsam story and she's the one who's in the 1860s who is a young woman who her husband leaves to join the Union Army when she's pregnant and and the other man who works on the farm leaves and it's just her and a couple other women and they have to figure out how do we run this play and in the meantime people start coming up from the south and she becomes a stop on the Underground Railroad yeah I was intrigued that you when I read that the story had something to do with the Underground Railroad too because I grew up in Ohio and and there's little bits and pieces of absolutely history there right and I had just recently wrote a novella for Barbour and just a touch of that in there it to you and it was I mean II you just I guess being in Ohio and and I know they're trying to get to Canada I never really thought about Michigan's role in the underground Road there was still a need into Canada so Michigan and New York I think we're very involved you know Detroit it's you can see Windsor from Detroit yeah you you could swim it if it was in decent weather you know easily so that and Port Huron on the other side of Port here on which is more in Michigan's thumb is a city called Sarnia and it's in Ontario and both of those places you could easily cross in Michigan had a lot of people involved in the abolitionist movement in the 1800s a lot of people ended up in Michigan who started out in southern states who were involved in in abolition and so a lot of people are buried here that you wouldn't think like Sojourner Truth and people so cities in southern Michigan like Kalamazoo and Battle Creek and Detroit and Marshall those are all cities that were very important when it came to home bases for people who were in that movement and also just moving people to freedom yeah were there any battles that far north rings no no there weren't and that was the other thing that was kind of interesting to me is what is the experience of the civil war where there are no vowels yeah yeah what are people doing when just all the men are off what's going on and how are they living and and what are they spending their time on you know how are they supporting the war when they're not there and things like that Wow well I know you grew up or you live in Lansing Michigan now yes I live in Lansing Michigan unfortunately I was born in Ohio which is not a good thing to be when you're in Mission I have nothing against it but there's there's a big sports rivalry so you know I was and I lived there about six months and then I lived in Indiana for a couple years and I got to Michigan I when I was three so I only really remember mushy yeah I grew up in the Bay City area which is okay so everybody in Michigan does this where I grew up I call it a thumb pit and then I went to college over here in Grand Rapids and now I live in Lansing but my whole family's from Detroit and so I really wanted to write a story about Detroit um that was part of like why I wanted to write this story I just wanted to write a story about Detroit Detroit's been through a lot of difficulties and you know my my mother grew up on the west side and she and I were looking on Google Earth awhile back I said oh you know you can look up addresses and all the places you live and as we did that we saw that most of those places were gone they've been torn down because they'd been abandoned for so long and so her schools gone the hospital she was born and is gone you know the houses she lived in most of them are gone so it's just a really there's a lot of emotion tied to that city for me because I spent so much time there as a kid visiting relatives and both in Detroit and in a suburb of Detroit called Bloomfield Hills where my dad grew up so I wanted to write a story that took place there and really loved that city because a lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about Detroit and I just love Detroit for you know it's got a lot of problems they're working on a lot of those problems and I really think that there's a bright future for that city that's really cool I mean you're right it's just like even when I said this explicit detroy is like oh wow you know one place to set a story and yet as soon as you're into it you just Elizabeth who's the lamahieu in the modern day narrator you can just see there's a respect and love in the way she talks about Detroit or what she thinks about Detroit and so that kind kind of company that comes through the nicely and notices yeah yeah I think she has a lot of love for that town and it's like when you when you love someone who has problems and want to do his help but there's only so much you can do and he wants to do her part and whether or not it's working out for her you know you have to see as you read but she does end up kind of outside of the city and one of the big stories of Detroit is just losing people yeah so she's outside of the city at this house for quite some time during the story and and a lot of people moved out and still move out for various reasons but there are a lot of young people moving into the city which is yeah I hope they stay there yeah some kind of revitalization going on yeah yeah that's cool let's talk a little bit about your background because this is your debut novel but you've been involved in writing for a really long time proponent and you used to be the man is it the managing editor the features editor of the minute right arm yeah so I'm part of the women's fiction writers association and I was for a time the features editor of their publication right on which is just four members but before that long before that I've been working in publishing since I was 22 and so that's like 17 years now yeah 17 years this month that I've been in publishing and so I've been working with authors for a really long time you're one of the authors that I've worked with and really yes as I've done back cover copy and catalog copy and things so that's why yeah so I've just I've met so many authors over the years and I've read so many books being part of that industry that I think at some point I said you know I really need to spend the time that it needs to try to write a book because I wanted to write for a really long time and it's one of those things that you just you think you're gonna do and then unless you really make a commitment to do it you're not gonna do it yeah it's not gonna go anywhere so I did make that commitment I think in 2009 or 2010 I decided I was gonna quit some things that I enjoyed but took up a lot of time and I was gonna use more of my own time for writing and so I've been writing ever since although this this book we hope for better things I didn't actually start working on I think I had the idea in about 2012 and then in 2013 I spent the entire year researching and then I started writing in 2014 and then of course you revise for theirs and they and then you find a publisher and you know it all takes a really long time but I think this story especially it needed to because it is kind of a complicated story and it needed a lot of you know work and layering and and things like in research I mean yeah research and yeah when you're doing you know well especially two different major time periods you know sometimes it's not so hard to do research for the contemporary line but yeah but for all the other and make sure it all yeah yeah and even during the research you kind of narrow down exactly what you want to say or at least I did you know there were certain things that I research that we're really interesting but didn't end up really being part of the book but in doing the research you you find out kind of what you want to say that's true yeah that's that's fascinating yeah it's really great I love a couple of the things that these are quotes from you so I want to get them here from your your press kit that you want to capture big emotions inherent in small moments mmm the tackle sprawling issues and specific details can you just elaborate on that a little bit I just learned you worded that thank you yeah I think I I've always thought of myself as just a notice sir I notice things I noticed little things stupid little things and I assumed that everybody notices these things and then you know I talked to my husband he's like what are you talking about you know didn't you see that you know and so we we just noticed different things and I noticed little things and little connections I love noticing connections between different events and and one of that's one of the reasons I really like history is because yes well this didn't happen in a vacuum what caused this well a whole bunch of things cost them cause those things and so I like tell I like thinking about those big issues in life and those big things that that changed the course of history and they all happen to individual people that's visual lives and you think about it's easy to talk about history or about current events even in terms of people groups or generalities but there are real people involved in all those things and so that's kind of the detail part of wanting to feel like or wanting to see what that feels like to this person what does it feel like to be in the situation or having to make this choice where there's no good choice or you know that sort of thing and that's very good I mean when you develop me Karen you can put those put them in those situations where just what you said there is no good choice in yet they have to make a decision and whatever yeah yeah and that's really interesting to me because I live a pretty boring life you know it's pretty routine I don't make a lot of choices I don't even work outside of the house much so to where I mean it's it's a life that doesn't involve a lot of those choices and so when you when you imagine what it would be like that's kind of exciting and I think to you there's a poetic sensibility in this because again you're capturing big emotions in small moments and went in with poetry you know you're wanting to capture these big emotions in very few words and those words have it's acting and I do not pretend to be a poet at all but early on when I took the creative writing class I that's what we did we wrote poetry and I had like I don't know every time I would send poems out they would take at least one or two to put in the magazine and at the time I didn't realize that that just wasn't normal you know think you know what I mean I actually doing pretty well they were just a little small presses and all bits like but then I stopped writing I don't know I stopped writing poetry all together and have not ready and forever but I was interested in your ending of it in your bio it says you're a poet and then this it's just like it goes back to that it's like that's what the great poets do they take these big things and they make them very yes those are the things you underline when you're reading right like this but especially near the end or even in a short story people do well they just have this little twisty punch at the end that encapsulate s' this big thing in this in this very little way that you didn't even know you already believed I love that about about good poetry and I think that when you're when you're learning how to write poetry for a while you don't know why certain things work and why others are just kind of boring and nobody cares you know that like why is this one accepted in this one not why does this one make people like oh and this one is just coming okay but it's that thing it's that catching that really common emotion that nobody quite knows how to phrase yes what they're feeling so I love I love it when poets do that yeah that's really cool do you write a lot of poetry I write seasonal poetry like in certain seasons I will write poetry and I don't know why I think it's the change of seasons it just makes me think more poetically it's not necessarily writing about seasons although I've done that but it's you know when winter turns to spring especially in a place where winters long feel really emotional oh you know but I I loved reading poetry that's whenever somebody's like what's on your nightstand I have a lot of poetry books because it's easy to read poems before bed because you have to get to the end of a chapter fall asleep but I mean there are some really great poets out there who just do a great job catching those moments and I really appreciate that I don't write as much poetry as I'd like I think I need to get out of the house more some more experiences that poetry moments I think what you get when you get involved in work and family and all this stuff and you're you're just completely tied to routine you're not traveling anywhere you're not out and about as much you don't have as much to say that you have to be careful of and refill your well and yeah yeah and it's a lot of work I mean even oh yeah and it's hard to know when it's done where it's done and it doesn't need anymore okay good medically because this is actually I mean those that these are like ones that just grabbed me because I feel like they're part of what I try to do too in my writing and it's just you know so especially this one even more so we can't change the past but we mold our future everyday and that's like but it seems to me to be a continuing theme in my stories too i word it a little bit different it's like you know we can't change the past but we can make the decisions today to affect our future you know that we don't know we don't have to be defined by our past with you change it but we don't have to be defined by it you know you know what without giving any spoilers do one or all three of the women in your story sort of learn this lesson about um I think I think they all learn the lesson in a way maybe one not quite as much as the others but I think that what's difficult is not only our like we personally tied to our past where we can't forget it and we don't think we should be forgiven or whatever it is it seems like more and more everyone around us if you have anything in your past that comes up and is in surfaces well you know you about done anymore you know you can't you can't ever get rid of that and you can't ever move past it and it always takes you in some way I feel like we live in a really unforgiving culture we do really unforgiving which is ironic because it's also a culture that pretends like everything's fine you can do whatever you want but not these things and you will never be forgiven for these things yeah and it's it's a really rough way to live and I think people are really worried about making any missteps especially if you're online don't you know say anything that could possibly and everything could be taken the wrong way and so I think that's why that kind of interests me that idea that it's hard to forgive ourselves it's hard to be forgiven it's hard to keep moving forward and these women they find that you know there's certain things that you can do to not really necessarily make up for but atone for or to ask for forgiveness or to forgive somebody from your past and then there are things that you know as much as you'd like like you set into into motion a chain of events that you can't undo yeah there are some things that really can't escape so yeah I think I think they go through a variety of those types of things oh well I'm anxious to continue reading i'ma show the book again because it's lovely cover two we haven't even ice job on the cupboards with the title well I you know I did I did suggest the title it wasn't the time came in on I had a different working title for quite some time and I knew it wasn't quite right but I don't remember all the titles we suggested during my eventually suggested this one it's the first half of the city of Detroit's motto yeah it's we hope for better things it will rise from the ashes and in English I was just my editors like maybe you should put the translation and I was like that's pandering and she's like no it's pretentious not this one I get it right I guess it is things that will rise from the ashes and that comes from something that a priest named Gabriel rashard penned in 1805 burned down the whole city was gone except for you know stone chimneys in a stone warehouse so that's just one of many things Detroit has come back from and so it was just a nice nod to the idea that you can always come back you can always rise from the ashes and it just it fits the story not just because it's a Detroit story but I think because with the issue that it's talking about there's a lot of despondency and I think we we lose sight of hope when we think about all the things that haven't changed lots of progress has been made that a lots of lots of progress hasn't been made and there's a lot of hurting people that are dealing with issues of race and racism and Prejudice and you know bigotry misogyny you know all these different things that people deal with it's hard to hold on to hope and I know a lot of people in my life especially people who don't have a strong faith background who really don't have a lot of hope and it kind of breaks my heart kind of ran out of time but I want to ask each at least two more actually guys all kinds a queue that we real quick a nod to your podcast your faith is crooked I why why is that that's the name of my podcast because I was looking in the mirror one day getting ready and I was like wow my face is really if your face starts out symmetrical and it slowly changes over time and you may have your good side or your bad side and out match and if you just like straight ahead you're like oh my gosh things are not in line and then I started writing the stupid little thing and I wasn't sure what it was going to be and then I just wrote more and more of them and I think I had about you know 20 25 and I don't know what to do with these they're not really blog posts and my husband was like well why don't you just do a podcast and I'm like well they're only like 2 to 5 minutes long he's like that's all right so yeah it's a podcast of weird little things like neurotic things I think of or things about me that you know how like you you have these memories and they're always attached to some weird embarrassing thing and you're like why do I remember this and not like good stuff so it's kind of exercising those demons where other people can listen to it maybe have a laugh and be like oh yeah I know what she's talking about I mean Monday mornings they're they're out there and they're usually not more than five minutes long okay a couple of them are a little longer but yeah that's cute okay and then I was on your blog and one of the popular posts that came up was about writing in longhand and actually you're the second author I talked to just we didn't like the last two weeks who talked about writing along and do you truly do that I have made very honest attempts at writing a whole thing longhand and I do write poetry longhand rather than typing I don't know why I guess because you always have notebooks with you yeah and I'll write portions of things longhand because you don't you have a notebook with you and that's how you write but I I have not finished an entire novel longhand although I am now realizing as I started working on a screenplay and I really that I was so caught up in like whether or not it was formatted correctly because it's there's a lot of rules about that that I was like I can't do this on a computer I'm never gonna finish this that when I'm working online that I think he's just really amazing and it's like again because you're the second one it's like and I've tried doing that before to Indiana try mo and it didn't really work cause you just you just can't get that many words I mean you know and but it was like what are you trying to tell me so I really be trying to do a longhand story and I and I can't with the ones that I'm contract to do right now but I've got one in the future and I think I think when you're like exploring it it's easier to do it longhand if you're if you're really into it you can't write fast enough faster so it's much easier anyway and then the question that I always ask everybody at the at the end of the interview when you when you're finished with the book when you finished without for better things what did you do to unwind when I finished writing it yes oh I wasn't really clear when I was finished writing even when it's old I I didn't celebrate well I guess right I'm always looking at the next thing I need to do and always pushing forward to that next thing so that's a real like I'm not good at that at all I do try to take some time away from writing something after I've gone through it a few times and just you know binge a TV show or paint or you know go outside and oh yeah yeah I paint I do watercolor in Wales yeah well I don't know if I'm talented at it but I do it things that I've done since I was a kid and I really enjoy it and it doesn't involve words so it's a nice break yeah I mean I understand that right yeah well Aaron thank you so much again Aaron Bartel this is her debut novel and we hope in my bookmark we hope for better things three women three different time periods all coming together and also about Detroit which is really cool you know thank you so much well thank you so much for having me I appreciate it thank you and everybody welcome back another time see you next week on novelist unlined

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