Posted on January 17, 2023 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Today we're interviewing Erin Bartels, the award-winning author of We Hope for Better Things, The Words between Us, All That We Carried, The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water, and Everything Is Just Beginning.

She lives in the capital city of a state that is 40 percent water, nestled somewhere between angry protesters on the Capitol lawn and couch-burning frat boys at Michigan State University. And yet, she claims it is really quite peaceful.

SADYE: What have been the most surprising, rewarding, and challenging parts of your writing career?

ERIN: The most surprising part has been the community aspect of what can seem like a solitary endeavor.

Back in 2007 when I quit grad school to focus on writing, I couldn’t have anticipated the lovely and supportive group of writers I would one day be surrounded by.

The most rewarding part is interacting with readers at bookstores, libraries, and book clubs.

It’s so marvelous to see that there are real people out there who read my books, discuss my books, recommend my books to friends. They are so incredibly kind and supportive and delightful.

The most challenging part is time management.

With a full-time job, a family, and all the time spent trying to promote and support the books that are already out or coming soon, it’s hard to find the time to immerse myself in the next book I’m writing, and yet, I have a deadline to meet.

I’m working on getting better at juggling it all.

SADYE: What has been the most touching or memorable piece of reader feedback you’ve received?

ERIN: There’s no one piece of feedback that has touched me more than the cumulative effect of the #metoo responses I’ve gotten to The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water.

It’s gratifying to know that something I wrote is helping people deal with what is often the worst thing that ever happened to them, which for many has festered for decades. In some cases, I am the first person they’ve told.

My editor (and some reviewers) thought there should be a trigger warning on that book to let potential readers know that it dealt, in part, with sexual assault.

I was categorically opposed to such a thing for reasons that I could go on and on about, and no such warning was put on the book. 

Yet every note I have gotten from a reader who has her own story of sexual pressure, harassment, or assault has been nothing but positive and grateful to me for writing as honestly as I did about that kind of experience.

That story, that they might have otherwise been warned against reading, didn’t harm them. It helped them.

Hurting people don’t need well-meaning (but ultimately condescending — because aren’t they essentially saying I know better than you what’s okay for you to read?) censorship to help them to avoid their trauma.

They need to be allowed and encouraged to feel it, deeply. To face those emotions head-on. To talk about it and to take steps to get beyond it.

You can’t do that when we’re frantically working to manufacture a world that is designed to make sure no one ever-ever-ever feels even the least bit uncomfortable. Avoidance isn’t healthy, and it isn’t loving.

SADYE: What message or theme would you like readers to take away from your work?

ERIN: Over the course of five novels, one of the themes I find myself continuously returning to is this idea that we cannot change what has happened in the past — no matter how much regret we feel, no matter how much anger we harbor, what’s done is done. There are no time machines, no do-overs.

So what then? What should we do? We must acknowledge, own, and mourn our mistakes and the ways in which others have failed us or wronged us.

But we can’t remain there, rehashing and repeating what hurt us or the ways we hurt others. That does no one any good.

We must repent, forgive, and move on in love and with nobler intentions and greater effort than in the past. 

Tit-for-tat never made anyone happy. There’s no amount of balancing the scales that will satisfy us. Life is so much better when we return love for hate, blessings for curses.

But I didn’t come up with that. Jesus did. 😊

SADYE: What advice, as relates to your writing career, would you give your younger self?

ERIN: Savor the time writing with no contract and no deadline.

One day you will discover that the writing itself is the reward and that publishing can turn a passion that feeds you into a production that drains you.

Also, be true to yourself. Fitting in is overrated. 😉

SADYE: What experience in your past or general aspect of your life has most affected your writing? 

ERIN: I have a lot of interests and hobbies and things I’d like to do or things I might have done had I taken another path in life. All of that gets to show up in my writing!

Sewing, quilting, gardening, photography, and Detroit (We Hope for Better Things).

Poetry, reading, used bookstores, and wishing I owned a talking parrot (The Words between Us).

Hiking with my sister (All That We Carried).

Swimming, collecting rocks, and spending summers at the lake with friends (The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water).

Listening to records, playing guitar, and songwriting (Everything Is Just Beginning). 

My writing is filled with all the things I love and appreciate about being alive in this world.

So when I spent a year learning how to paint self-portraits, I could call it research even though I wanted to do it anyway. (That book is coming in 2024…)

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Learn more about Erin Bartels on her website, where her books can also be purchased; like her page on Facebook; and follow her on Instagram

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Categories: Author Interview

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