Sometimes your husband is on the cover of a magazine…

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And that’s freaking AWESOME.

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Zach‘s debut novel, Playing Saint, releases in just six days. Here’s what people are saying about it…

“★★★★½! Bartels’ debut novel is a page-turner from the very beginning. His excellent use of foreshadowing and his glimpses into the past create a story that readers can’t put down. In the vein of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, Bartels weaves the supernatural into the natural in ways that are gripping and realistic, adding a shocking surprise that will leave readers stunned.”—RT Book Reviews

“Michigan minister Bartels (42 Months Dry) holds readers’ interest in this intrigue-filled thriller, despite its far-fetched premise. Saint’s character is particularly well developed. This book will be enjoyed by those who love a mystery combined with supernatural elements.”—Library Journal

Playing Saint is everything I love in a novel: great characters, edge-of-the-seat plot, and great twists and turns. I’m ready for his next book already. Highly recommended!”—Colleen Coble, USA Today bestselling author

“A thought-provoking exploration into the power of faith and the reality of evil. Filled with memorable characters and tight writing, Playing Saint is an impressive debut from an author to watch.”—Steven James, bestselling author

“Zachary Bartels is not afraid of head-on collisions with complicated issues. I loved Playing Saint for the recognizable reality, and the humor, and the way I felt when I finished the book—entertained, satisfied, and looking for more.”—Tracy Groot, award-winning author

Playing Saint is a reflection of its author—risky, fast-paced, sarcastic, clever, and ultimately hopeful. We need more novels, and more authors, like this!”—Ted Kluck, award-winning author

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I am so proud of him and happy for him! And you should go pre-order it right now. No, seriously. Do it.

Unintentional Water Features at Tahquamenon Falls

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Remember way back when wetlands were just called swamps? Someone in the 1970s or 1980s apparently endeavored to put a more positive spin on these soggy topographical features. Wetland sounds so much more pleasant than swamp, after all.

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Well, if you hike north from the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon along the Giant Pines Trail Loop and the Wilderness Trail Loop, you will find yourself in a landscape that tends strongly toward swamp. Remember the soggy areas Alison and I encountered on the trail between the Lower and Upper Falls? Multiply that by, oh, let’s say 500–or 50, I don’t know. But whatever the correct number, if you plan to hike this section prepare to get your feet wet. Also, unless the DNR or whoever gets out there with a chainsaw soon, prepare to duck under and crawl over many, many trees.

Despite some sludgy trail conditions, there were some nice surprises early on, like this enormous, 185-year-old white pine tree, which was approximately 120 feet tall, 5 feet in diameter, and has a circumference of nearly 16 feet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy sister looked pretty small next to it.

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Not far from this mammoth lifeform we found this fat little caterpillar, which I think will be a Luna Moth when it’s all grown up.

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But not too far into our second hike of the first day, the surprises turned simultaneously more unpleasant and more impressive.

Alison and I first noticed a tree across our path that had obviously been cut down by a beaver–its distinctive teeth marks cluing us in. A moment later we realized that we were walking alongside a lake. And that the water level was a foot or so higher than the soggy ground upon which we were treading.

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Yes, we were at the edge of a beaver’s carefully constructed dam.

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And, as I said, we were alternately amazed and irritated. The amazement is obvious. Beavers are incredible creatures with incredible talents. The beaver here had created his own perfect environment. That first photo in this post was of the beautiful wetland home he had made possible by building this:

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He built it not across a rushing river but along the outskirts of the slowly moving water of some sluggish swamp, and we were on the very edge of it. It’s an enchanting position to be in.

The irritation may not be so obvious from these photos. But this next one may give you a hint:

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You see that slim tree with the blue painted blaze? That, my friend, is the indicator of the North Country Trail. And, as I’m sure you noticed, it’s been incorporated into this beaver’s swimming pool. In fact, the beaver had obliterated much of the trail. I don’t know if he just made this dam this summer or if it really has been a long time since anyone at Tahquamenon Falls State Park has bothered to groom their backcountry trails (I kind of suspect the latter, frankly). Either way, it was slow, wet going here. It was swamp here.

At one point we realized that the only semi-dry option to move forward was to walk along the top of the dam itself as we tried to get back on the trail. We stepped gingerly, grasping at branches the beaver had as yet left untouched, leaned away from the water, and prayed that he was a good builder who didn’t cut corners.

We did make it past the wetland eventually, but with very wet shoes and socks and more than a few near-misses. As evening approached and the gray skies above rumbled a warning of the storms we knew were supposed to come that night, we tried to make up time as we rushed toward the Wilderness Campsite. We got the tent up before dark, ate a late supper, and used the surprisingly unsmelly and amusingly exhibitionist toilet.

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It made me think of this iconic moment from Scrubs:

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Yes, that’s Michael J. Fox’s Dr. Kevin Casey finally overcoming his OCD in order to sit on the roof toilet.

We bedded down for some much needed sleep as the forest darkened swiftly around us and flashes of lightning occasionally lit up the tent. As we fell asleep that night, or else as we woke the next morning, it’s hard to recall, we heard the strangest bird call, like a cartoon siren that ended with a honk. Or like a loon on steroids. It sounded like it had to come from a very large bird. After listening to some calls, I think it is quite possible it was a sandhill crane. Go to about the 1:50 mark on this video and you’ll hear just about what I think we heard:

In the morning I remembered to get a photo of our campsite before we packed back up to face yet more trail challenges and more rain on the way to our next campsite.

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We were surrounded by utter silence, complete solitude, and zillions of wild blueberries (the presence of which during our entire hike had me ultra aware of the possibility of encountering black bears fattening up for winter).

It was beautiful.

Hiking the Trail between Lower and Upper Tahquamenon Falls

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Alison and I headed off down the trail between the Lower and Upper Falls after a dire warning regarding “muckiness” from a few “helpful” folks. (People at the Lower Falls were super talkative and quite bemused by seeing two people with packs on their backs–“Hey girls, lookin’ for your campsite?”)
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The trail started off dry and strewn with roots but very lovely. It quickly became both wet and root-strewn, but the roots were quite helpful as places to step to avoid the suction of the wet earth. We had such a snowy winter and a rainy spring and summer, that it makes me think that if you went in a drier year you wouldn’t have to deal with quite as much muck.

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Soon it got pretty sloppy indeed, with an occasional branch tossed on the trail to use as a “bridge.”

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Alison and I did a LOT of balancing during this entire trip, which is a little tricky with a pack throwing off your center of gravity.

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It was decided that we both could have benefited from a good walking stick, as saplings and tree branches were not always handy to aid our trek across these boggy spots. (Little did we know, we had much MUCH soggier challenges ahead of us.)

Along the way we saw several intrepid trees with roots stretching over rocks to reach the soil below.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found an enchanting miniature “falls” that I wish I had in my backyard.

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To our left, the “rushing Taquamenaw” rolled on over resistant rocks, creating many spots of pleasant-sounding rapids.

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But other areas were wide and deep and calm.

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In spots you could really see just how like a cup of tea the water really is.

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We did take the time to notice the little things: many different types of mosses, gray-green lichens, TONS of mushrooms of every shape and color…

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…a long-dead tree that had broken down to the point that it resembled the layers of rocks you can see in this area of the Upper Peninsula…

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…and exciting hints of color that pointed us to the coming autumn season.

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We did run into the occasional tree down on the trail (again, a warning sign of things to come) but managed to navigate them fairly easily on this portion of the trail.

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And despite the fact that while planning this trip I was under the mistaken impression that the distance between the Lower and Upper Falls was actually two miles rather than four miles (I can haz math?) we did reach the Upper Falls after a time.

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Photos of the beautiful Upper Falls will be in the next post, but here’s a little taste of what greeted us when we emerged from the trail in the late afternoon.

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The Lower Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park

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Alison and I began our hike this year at the Lower Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Paradise, Michigan. The last time I was at the falls was 2009 when I brought my then one-year-old son for a quick day trip when we were in the Soo.

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The last time Alison was there was back in the mid 1980s when our family “did the UP.” All she remembered about that trip was how embarrassed our parents were when she pointed at a group of Amish people and loudly asked, “Why are they dressed like that?”

Back in the 1980s, there were apparently no railings by the Lower Falls. I'm pretty sure they frown on you standing on this slippery rock nowadays.

Back in the 1980s, there were apparently no railings by the Lower Falls. I’m pretty sure they frown on you standing on this slippery rock nowadays. Alison is on the left. I’m on the right. That woman holding onto us for dear life is our mother.

This time around, nearly thirty years later (THIRTY YEARS!) she did not point at anyone or judge their attire.

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Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yes. We began our hike at the Lower Falls.

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Note the “Danger; stay within fence” sign that now keeps people off the very rock upon which we were so blithely perched back in 1985.

People always say to visit the Lower Falls first, as they are less impressive than the nearly 50-foot drop of the Upper Falls. But for my money, the Lower Falls are the prettier of the two.

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We also ended our trip at the Lower Falls two days later, and even in those two days the trees showed more color. I imagine that within the next week or two it will be absolutely breathtaking up there.

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The Lower Falls are actually made up of four or five (or perhaps more) small drops in three separate areas that all empty out into a pleasant looking pool before moving on down the line to Lake Superior.

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The water of the Tahquamenon River is stained brown from the tannins leeched by the nearby cedar swamps (more–oh, so much more–on swamps in a later post). Even water filtered from nearby Clark Lake (again, more in a later post) is a bit on the brown side.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter we had our fill of the Lower Falls on Friday, we headed for the Upper Falls via the trail. And that is where our adventure really begins…

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I believe you mean “primitive” trail, Department of Natural Resources.

On My Way to Parts North…

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UpperFalls10 copyWe’ve hiked Pictured Rocks and Grand Sable Dunes. This year my sister Alison and I are headed up to Tahquamenon Falls, the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha.

“Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the Summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!”
Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gayly,
In the Moon of Leaves were singing,
And the sun, from sleep awaking,
Started up and said, “Behold me!
Gheezis, the great Sun, behold me!”
And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
“Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!”

I was beyond thrilled to see many maple trees already turning red and orange on my drive to Grand Rapids this morning, and I am hoping for at least a touch of color way up near the fabled shores of Gitche Gumee (that’s Lake Superior, in case you were unaware).

I can’t wait to get there and I can’t wait to share pictures with all of you.

Now Available in Paperback! The Intentional Writer

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If you’ve been waiting for the paperback edition of The Intentional Writer, this is your lucky day. If you don’t even know what I’m talking about (and you’re an aspiring author) this is still your lucky day. If you’re neither of these, indulge me a moment while I explain.

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The Intentional Writer is some of my best advice for beginning writers who wish they had more time, space, and inspiration for their writing. It offers lots of tips and tricks for carving out time to write, courting the muse to keep your ideas flowing, and prioritizing writing so that you can stop making excuses and start finishing things.

Every piece of insight I have to offer comes from my own experience as a writer looking for a sustainable writing rhythm that would keep me creating regularly, but wouldn’t saddle me with a load of guilt if I didn’t meet a certain word count every day.

As I formatted the paperback edition, I’ve added new content and updated existing content to reflect further developments in my own writing journey. I plan to update the Kindle edition soon to reflect those changes.

It is my hope that the things I’ve learned can help many other aspiring authors. Click here to purchase!

I’ll also take this chance to let you know that I will be speaking again at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference this year. Last year I spoke on the topic of finding your writing rhythm. This year I’ll be giving out great revision tips and advice to bring your writing to the next level. I would love to see you there! Check out the schedule of speakers and register for the conference on October 10-11.

Do We Worship at the Altar of Family?

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I count myself lucky to be close friends with Ted and Kristin Kluck. Ted is primarily a writer and professor, though he is also a football player and coach, a boxing coach, a concrete grinder, and someone who unloads cargo planes at four in the morning. Kristin is primarily a homemaker and caterer, but she is also a cookbook author, a marketing professional, a janitor, a gardener, and an all-around crafty person with a great sense of style. Household Gods is the first book on which Ted and Kristin have collaborated.

Long ago (in Internet Time) I fancied this blog as a place that I might review books about Michigan and by Michigan authors, though I have only reviewed a few. Then one Sunday afternoon I read this book in two sittings–interrupted by the need to make and consume quesadillas–and I felt compelled to share it with others.

51Y2CtLMMzLIn our age of over-programmed kids, obsessively crafting our persona on social media, and constant cultural messages to relentlessly improve our lives, our bodies, and our station in life, Household Gods is both a breath of fresh, unpretentious air and an uncomfortably honest mirror for us to look into–like one of those magnifying mirrors in some hotel bathrooms that shows us our every flaw. But, as with all Ted Kluck projects, there’s so much humor and so much of the author pointing to himself as the chief of all sinners that it never feels like a guilt trip.

The book begins as a call to examine our lives for idols that take the form of some very good things–family, children, spouse, success, money, ambition, work–and it doesn’t take long to realize that every good gift from our Father can easily be turned into an idol, something we serve ahead of or instead of our Creator. But as I read, I found that the book delved deeper than I expected.

Despite the fact that it is positioned as a book for families, I think this book is for every Christian, single or married, childless or parents, young or old. The stories that Ted and Kristin tell–with unflinching and sometimes painful honesty–are rooted in family, whether their family of origin, the one they created when they first married, or the one they have built through adoption. But no matter what stage of life you are in, you will find yourself in these pages. And it won’t necessarily be in the way you expected. I know I have not experienced the same struggles as my friends, but their struggles pointed me to mine. And now I’m left with the task of bringing my own idols to God, laying them at His feet, and asking for forgiveness and strength to resist them in the future.

I guarantee you that if you read Household Gods it will

1.) be the most honest book you have ever read–no sugarcoating, no excuses, no putting themselves in the best light possible, and no passes for the reader to do that either

2.) help you examine your life, relationships, job, hobbies, desires, and dreams to discover why you are motivated to pursue those things

3.) show you when your pursuit of success or praise crosses over into idolatry

4.) clearly show that God offers us grace in everything

5.) and motivate you to realign your priorities and model humility and grace in your relationships

Knowing Ted and Kristin as well as I do, there were still many moments when I realized that I didn’t know them as well as I thought. And that is an encouragement to me to offer my friends and family more grace than I do now, knowing that I can never truly know just what someone is going through under the surface that they allow the world to see. So not only will Household Gods help you to be a better mother, father, son, daughter, husband, or wife, it will help you be a better friend and a more faithful witness to the saving and sanctifying grace of the Savior.

** To my non-Christian readers, thanks for indulging this God-soaked post. While written for Christians, Household Gods would be an eye-opening read for anyone, I think. Perhaps you should check it out.

New Release! This Elegant Ruin…and other stories

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I’m so thrilled to tell you that This Elegant Ruin…and other stories is now available at Amazon! Click here to order.

For the uninitiated, in 2013 I challenged myself to write one short story each month. The twelve stories that make up this collection are the result of that challenge. I’m so thrilled to see them in book form with the incredibly beautiful cover my friend and colleague Heather created.

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Now that the kids are back in school, do something for you! Short stories make great reading material for when you just want a little down time (or when you are waiting in the pick-up lanes after school). I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

Here’s the back cover copy to give you a bit of the flavor of the writing:

 

Love and hate. Dreams and nightmares. Luck and misfortune.

In twelve engaging stories, the joys and sorrows of life glow against such varied backdrops as a snowy wood, a quaint country inn, a crumbling metropolis, the shore of Lake Superior, and a lonely country highway. A man in the twilight of his career falls in love with a young woman at the dawn of hers. A girl at the end of her rope finds an unexpected friend in an eccentric stranger. A young man haunted by memories finally gets a chance to forget his troubles. An artist takes stock of his life’s work and discovers an unwelcome truth.

With prose that evokes wonder and fear, regret and relief, Erin Bartels draws meaning from the small moments of life, challenging us to be still, to notice, to dream—and to hope.

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