Some Thoughts Upon 14 Years of Marriage

Today I’ve been married for fourteen years to a man I’ve been in love with for nearly twenty.

Z & E laughing color

Judging by the length of my hair and nails, this photo was taken Christmas 2000, five years after we started dating, and just a few days before we got married. I was twenty, he was twenty-two.

Life is still like this for us. Still full of joy and laughter. We are rarely at odds. And while I appreciate the sentiment that “marriage is hard work,” I have not found it to be so. That’s not because we’re super special people. We’ve been incredibly blessed in life to avoid some of the tough situations that tend to put couples at odds. But it’s also because we still strive to put one another first, to honor the other above ourselves. And the reason we do that is because the first will be last and the greatest of all is the servant of all. And the times we have quarreled? Usually it amounts to one or both of us being a little self-centered.

We have many challenges ahead of us raising a sweet son who will eventually be a surly teenager who makes some poor choices. We both have dreams we are working toward that may or may not pan out as we’d hoped. There are mounting sorrows the longer you live as people close to you experience financial or marital distress, suffer failing health, and eventually die. But we walk the road of life together, hand in hand, one pulling the other back up onto his or her feet when we stumble, always looking for the path that is laid out for us together rather than focusing solely on our own ambition.

I’m so thankful to have Zachary in my life, and if I try to imagine what my life might have been like without him, it is a dark and lonely place indeed.

Gearing Up for Write on the Red Cedar 2015

In less than three weeks, I will be speaking at Write on the Red Cedar, a writing conference put on by my amazing writing group, Capital City Writers Association. The line-up includes the incomparable Donald Maass; authors, editors, and journalists like Kristina Riggle, Elizabeth Heiter, Natalie Burg, Lori Nelson Spielman, Chad Allen, Louise Knott Ahren, Kelly Rogers, Alyssa AlexanderDarcy Woods, Tracy Brogan, and my own husband, Zachary Bartels; indie publisher Tricia McDonald; and agents Nikki Terpilowski, Katharine Sands, and Ann Byle.

Today I answer nine questions about my own writing experiences and advice over on the Write on the Red Cedar blog

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1. What is the best writing advice you ever received?
Not long ago, I saw a little clip on YouTube of Anne Rice talking to aspiring writers and one of the lines that stuck out to me was, “Write what you want to be known for.” There is so much temptation to write what we think will sell. My own contacts through almost thirteen years of working in publishing are in a particular subset of the publishing world: Christian books. It is tempting, then, to write something with which I know my own publisher or another Christian publisher would find success. But I have never felt called to write the type of book I help to market as a copywriter. What I want to be known for is something else. So, while the road is rougher and feels like it’s all uphill, I have chosen to write novels that fit better in the general market than the Christian market.

2. What is the worst writing advice you ever received?
I have never been able to follow the pervasive advice to write every day. I can do it for a time when I’m drafting (I managed to keep it up for most of November as a participant–and winner!–of National Novel Writing Month in 2014) but once I type the last period of a draft, I can’t turn around and start writing the next novel the next day, even if I already have an idea of where I’m going with it. I need days off to let my well fill up again. I’m a believer in the need for Sabbath rest, both weekly and seasonally. Our culture is so harried compared to so many around the world, and I try, as much as I am able, not to let myself get sucked in completely.

To read the rest of this interview, click here!

Waiting for the Snows

But for a few days in November, mid-Michigan has been naked this winter. Today was rainy and in the 40s and felt like spring, a melancholy masquerade in late December. Two days out from Christmas with no snow on the ground and even the most summer-loving Midwesterner must feel an itching wistfulness. When we moved to Lansing from Grand Rapids in 2005, it was a green (brown, really) Christmas. During the week following, I was working in my new yard, pulling English ivy from walls, trimming tree limbs with a saw my father got me for Christmas, and digging up sandstone rocks from beneath the ground. I was more than 50 pounds lighter then than I am today, eager to make my new home my own. Nine years later and I have nothing to do in the garden despite the warm temperatures and the soft earth. The garden is “finished” as far as that goes.

I won’t lie; the lack of snow has got me down. What is winter without snow except a long, dull stretch of cloudy sky and gray-brown earth? Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. There are lights on the house, presents under the tree, family coming for good food. I’m anticipating the smiles on the faces of my son and husband as they open up their gifts. I’m listening to carols and playing them for my son on the guitar at night. Tomorrow night is our candlelight service at church. Everything is as it should be–except the snow. Funny how one thing out of place throws off the whole thing.

One thing out of place.

When I turned my calendar to December a few weeks ago, I was met with an envelope containing a letter I had forgotten I’d written. Last night I cheated and opened it a week early. At my husband’s bemused urging, I read it out loud. It was cheesier than I can imagine myself being. Or maybe it wasn’t cheesy so much as it was too sincere. We had a couple good laughs during my oration. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of my hopes for myself had come to pass in 2014. One very particular one did not–one thing out of place–but I am slowly becoming okay with it. Perhaps the most surprising thing was that I was ahead of where I had claimed I hoped to be when it came to my writing. And yet, for much of the second half of 2014, I have been impatient and felt as though I was lagging behind. My January 2014 self, the one who wrote that letter, seems a more reasonable person than my December 2014 self. And I’m glad that she reminded me just how much I have accomplished this past year.

So I wait for the snow and I wait for the fulfillment of a goal I hadn’t really given myself a year ago. I remind myself that I’m right on track and that Christmas comes whether it snows or not. I may feel that there is still one thing out of place, but in reality it is just my own impatience. God’s time is rarely our time, is it?

Celebrating Five Years of Gut Check Press

Recently my husband, author Zachary Bartels, and our good friend (and Zach’s indie publishing business partner) Ted Kluck realized that their micro press, Gut Check Press, was turning five years old. This seemed to call for some intensive reminiscing and, in true Zach fashion, a cheeky video retrospective created in PowerPoint.

The past five years of developing books and white papers (and the new podcast!), eating deep dish pizza and Chinese food, and smoking untold numbers of cigars have been some of the most fun and rewarding years of our lives as Ted, Kristin, Zach, and I grow closer as friends and share nights of the kind of laughter that makes your face hurt and your eyes tear up. And sometimes there’s even wheezing.

Here’s to the next five years of publishing milestones. 😉

The Accidental Website Facelift

I was trolling around WordPress looking for a new theme for the Capital City Writers Association when I stumbled upon one I thought might work. I only meant to see what it might look like on my site, but then I found that when I activated it, I couldn’t go back! Oops. But what a happy accident.

Now when you visit erinbartels.com, it’s a heck of a lot more visually appealing. This new theme has allowed me to showcase some of my photography a bit more, it’s forced me to revamp some of my pages, and the font is easier to read. It even has better adaptability for tablet and mobile viewing. It did take me quite a while to figure out the bells and whistles, but I think I’ve got most of them covered now.

Hope you enjoy the new format! And please share it with a friend you think may enjoy this blog!

Yes! NaNoWriMo Is Over . . . Now What?

My last guest post at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference blog today. Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, what are your next steps?

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Finally! It’s over. After thirty days of breakneck writing, it feels good to take a moment to breathe. But once you’ve done that, there are a few more things you should consider doing as this year wanes and a new one dawns on the horizon…

Finish your rough draft.

Unless you’re writing middle grade fiction, you’re going to find that most novels are not 50,000 words. YA is generally around 70,000. Contemporary fiction is about 80,000–100,000. Historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy can get up near 120,000. That’s not to say you can’t write just what you darn well please, but if you want to someday publish your novel, you need to take into account reader expectations and publisher needs. So if you found yourself at 50,000 and felt like things were just getting really good, keep drafting! If you had concluded your story around 50,000, go back to the beginning and rewrite and revise, adding details, subplots, dialogue, and whatever else you need to make your story full and rich.Keep Writing Quote

My advice? Don’t put your 50,000 words away and decide to finish the draft when the holidays are over or in the summer when you finally have some time. Push ahead and finish it now, before the fire is quenched by time and you begin to doubt yourself. Pound out the rest of that draft on the same writing schedule you’ve been keeping in November. Just get it down. It will be a great Christmas present to yourself to have it finished.

Click here to read the rest!

Then go write some more!

Entering a Season of Joyful Anticipation

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m still recovering from a fantastic extended weekend of great food, family, friends new and old, and lots and lots of cleaning up. I managed to somehow be involved in three Thanksgivings: one at my in-laws’ with fifteen people; a quick visit to my aunt & uncle’s house to see them, my parents, and one of my cousins; and one at home a couple days later with eleven people that I actually prepared singlehandedly.

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It ended up being a very multicultural Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law invited four international students who wouldn’t be able to be home over the holiday. Our Kenyan friend Grace we have known since she was nine and her father Jeremiah was attending seminary in Grand Rapids. She brought three friends: Korean Grace who grew up in China, Korean Grace who grew up in India, and Nigerian Oyin who grew up in Nigeria. The meal we had at our home on Sunday night was our little family and eight Bhutanese-Nepali friends from one of the congregations that uses our church building for their church services.

It was fun to share the story of the first Thanksgiving with our Nepali friends who had never heard it. And it was fun to discover, through my mother-in-law’s careful genealogical research over many years, that my husband Zach has two ancestors who were actually on the Mayflower! Thinking about that distant connection gave new meaning to the very old story.

And as Advent began on Sunday, Zach (who is also my pastor, in case you didn’t know) made a poignant connection for me. The same distance in time that exists between us modern Americans and the Mayflower existed between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ as a baby in the manger. Four hundred years. Four hundred years from when God said this:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6

to when God said this:

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:13-17

I think about those four hundred years of waiting, listening, wishing for a word from one’s God, wishing for fulfillment of a promise. And I believe I shall think on it all during Advent, in a time in our world when it can feel like God is silent and everyone simply does “what is right in his own eyes.”

Tonight we’ll finally have time to decorate the house for Christmas. On our pre-lit tree, I believe there are four hundred lights. One tiny light for every dark year of anguished waiting. Altogether they make a bright and beautiful light and will point me toward the one Light that was soon to make His humble entrance into His creation, in order to redeem it.