Sometimes your husband is on the cover of a magazine…

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.

What if you lived in a world where it was illegal to touch another human being (or even your own face)?

Hey folks, I want my former GVSU writing center supervisor’s novel to happen and I want you to help! If you read dystopian fiction (a la Margaret Atwood); are concerned about the health ramifications of factory farms, overuse of antibacterial soaps, and food supply disruption; or wonder what it would be like to live in a world where touching another human being (or even your own face!) was outlawed, please consider supporting this kickstarter campaign! She only has 9 days to go and about $1300 more to raise!

I read an earlier draft as a beta-reader/friendly editor and so I know that this is a really fascinating what-if story based in some pretty frightening science. Hope you’ll support her!

A Little Ray of Blogging Sunshine

sunshine-awardYesterday I was the happy recipient of the Sunshine Award for “bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere,” which was bestowed upon me by a gentleman who blogs at A New Writers Life and Times. I think awards between bloggers are a nice way of telling others that we value their writing, their contribution both to the blogosphere at large and to our individual lives. It’s nice to know not only that there are people out there reading, but that some of them are benefiting from what you’ve written.

And in the end, I think that is one big distinction between different types of blogs. Some very clearly exist to enhance the “project that is me” and some exist to bring joy and help to others. In the past I’ve had to count myself as part of the former, but I am happy to be part of the latter now.

As is customary with blog awards (though I’m not sure how these sorts of traditions get started) I’m supposed to answer some personal questions and nominate some others (10 for this award, though I’m not going to be a slave to that number).

The Questions:

Favorite color: Nearly the full range of blues and blue-greens, with a few exceptions

Favorite animal: I can’t say I have one, though I am particularly fond of birds and particularly disdainful of mosquitoes. Everything else, I suppose, falls in between, but the reality is I love all animals (with the exception of the aforementioned mosquitoes) including the creepy ones most people would instinctively kill on sight or run from in terror.

Favorite number: Really? People have favorite numbers? I can’t tell you the only ones that come to mind to answer this question, because you’d be that much closer to hacking all of my passwords.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Dark roast coffee, milk, water, tea

Facebook or Twitter: Facebook (though I must admit my news feed is feeling more and more like just getting a bunch of drivel forwarded to my email). I’m on Twitter and I tweet links to interesting articles regularly, but honestly, I don’t automatically follow back in order to boost my follower numbers and I don’t read much of anything on there anyway. I think Twitter was kind of a neat idea but that it has turned into a constant stream of commercials for people and products. And I really, really hate commercials. In fact, this guy has articulated all the things I loathe about Twitter, smartphones, and the social media culture in which we (unfortunately) find ourselves.

My passions: books, literature (honestly, I can’t truly make myself believe these are equivalent), nature, Michigan, writing, great photography, creative and artistic expression in many forms

Giving or receiving gifts: I love giving the perfect, unexpected gift. But I like getting the perfect, unexpected gift as well.

Favorite city: I’m a big fan of many Michigan cities, including Grand Rapids, Detroit, Petoskey, Mackinac Island, and Lansing. But most of my favorite places are not cities. They are places like Camp Lake Louise, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and any of the tens of thousands of lakes, rivers, beaches, wetlands, and fields you can find in our beautiful state. I’m also a huge fan of Boston.

Favorite TV shows: currently Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother

The Blogs:

These days I read comparatively few blogs. I find that I am using my limited time in other ways–writing short stories and novels and living in the “real world” with my family and my home more fully. But there are those I have followed, some for a rather long time and others just recently, that would certainly fit the bill. I’m not going to contact each of these people, because I know for sure some of them don’t deal in blog awards. Instead, I’ll let the pingbacks speak for themselves.

One upon a time I would have nominated The Sew Weekly, but it seems to have ceased existing in 2013 (though, if you sew or are interested in sewing, all the posts are archived there and you could spend weeks going through them all). And I have enjoyed the personal blogs of many of the contributors (you can still find them linked off the Sew Weekly site) but I’m spending much less time sewing this year than I did in 2010-2012.

These days I am still enjoying Pleasant View Schoolhouse and Mabel’s House, both of which I have read for the last several years. Anna and Liz are people who feel like good friends, though I’ve never met either of them and had limited personal interaction over email.

I still check in at Couture Allure for interesting vintage fashion news and information and just to smile at the lovely and odd photos, ads, and fashions of yesteryear.

But more of my time is spent reading blogs and articles on writing and the publishing business. One of the best new ones is Chad R. Allen’s blog. He has great tips and ideas for writers and those of us in the publishing biz. Chad is the editorial director for one of the imprints at the publishing house at which I work. He uses his blog not only to inform writers but to encourage them, so if you’re in need of a good word, go see Chad.

I am also finding much to love about Anne R. Allen’s blog. As far as I know, Chad and Anne are not related.

But the blog I read religiously and from which I have gained much good advice and through which I have enjoyed much excellent writing is Writer Unboxed. There is a whole slew of great contributors and anyone who writes fiction should be following this blog.

I guess that’s that. Happy blogging, folks.

We Play at Politics, and Yet, Life Goes On…

So, Michigan seems to be getting a bit of press lately, with the voting on Right-to-Work legislation and angry and sometimes violent protests at the Capitol, just down the road a ways from my house. Having friends on both sides of the issue and also because this space is not about politics, I’m certainly not going to take any stances here or push my own opinion, though I have one. Instead, I’m going to give you some peaceful pictures of places in Michigan where no one is protesting, except perhaps a squirrel chittering at a stray dog nosing around its tree.

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Now then, let’s all take a deep breath and know that the world will go on, season to season, no matter who is elected at any level of our government and no matter what does or does not get signed into law. The natural world cares not about Right-to-Work, because the trees and the animals must all do their work anyway, with no pay or benefits, with no unions, with no thought of fairness or coercion or sustainability. With no bitterness or rancor, a tree grows, a flower blooms, a bird builds its nest, a squirrel gathers its hoard of nuts and seeds for winter.

And life moves on.

This, That, and the Other

In my non-literary life, I spend a lot of time sewing, often using vintage patterns, sometimes vintage pieces of fabric, and sometimes both. A recent creation of mine was featured on The Sew Weekly, to which I am a regular contributor. And I was happy to receive a nod from the lovely Jody at Couture Allure, who was the source for the vintage flapper dress pieces that made their way into my 1920s dropwaist dress.

I did a lot more blogging about my sewing on my previous blogs, but I thought I’d mention this particular project as a jumping off point for a new feature I’m developing called Destination Lansing. In 2013, I will do a weekly blog post highlighting the many things that make living in or visiting Michigan’s state capital a treat. One of those places will be Potter Park Zoo, where I recently wore this dress. Why would someone wear a flapper dress a la The Great Gatsby to a zoo? Well, it will all make sense if you read this.

And though F. Scott Fitzgerald was not from Michigan, he was born in the midwest, so there’s a loose tie-in there with the real purpose of this blog (to champion the region and, eventually, feature more content of Michigan authors, books set in Michigan, and my own literary efforts, which are ongoing but as of yet mostly private).

Beyond that, sewing occupies a prominent spot in my next work in progress, so it’s not completely unrelated to my writing. Anyway, I guess since this is my space I don’t really need to justify what I decide to write about here, do I? 😉

As the rottenly hot summer winds up today and cool autumn begins tomorrow, I anticipate the return of my poetic muse (who rarely visits in the summertime) and I’m looking forward to sharing the beauty of this bittersweet season with all of you.

The Most Pervasive Storyteller of Our Time (for better or worse)

It is so strange how the world goes on even when we remove ourselves from it. On the drive home from Camp Lake Louise Saturday, we stopped at a Burger King to grab a bite, use the restrooms, and let the dog stretch her legs a bit. And now even Burger King has flat screen TVs hanging all over the place like a sports bar. As I was filling some little paper cups with ketchup I caught my first bit of news in a week. Something about police and bomb squads and an apartment in Colorado and the new Batman movie. Details would filter in during the next few days, but all I had at that moment was one little snippet of a much larger story. An excerpt from a tragedy.

Really any news story we see is the same way, like reading one paragraph in the middle of a novel. We’ll probably get a character name or two, a sense of the conflict perhaps, maybe some dialogue we can quote. But the events leading up to that paragraph are not known to us.  We have to go back to get them, while at the same time, the story keeps stretching out in front of that one paragraph we’ve read.

News is reading backward and forward at the same time. It’s never starting at the beginning, because even though each story has a beginning, it’s not important to us until something happens that gets our attention. News starts in the middle, then fills us in as details are discovered, even as it keeps us abreast of the developing story. News is a Quentin Tarantino movie, but with less art and considerably less swearing.

In our media soaked world, we get near-constant updates about an almost infinite number of stories, as though we were standing in a great library and picking up books at random, reading a couple paragraphs, then putting them down again and picking up another, and so on and so on, never actually finishing any of them. (Because really, don’t you always find yourself wondering what ever happened to that so and so who did such and such and the news media is already on to the next thing and never revisits it?) And this is how we experience the larger world. In a scattered, random, and incomplete way.

Is this why human beings love to hear, read, and watch entire fictional stories in the form of spoken storytelling, novels, and movies? Is this why we read fiction? Is this why we shell out the kind of money we do at movie theaters for two hours (and usually less) of beginning to end storytelling that has cause, effect, conflict, and conclusion in their proper place?

When you read a good novel or short story, when you see a good movie, do you ever have that feeling at the end when you close the back cover or stand up from your seat and you have to reorient yourself to the real world? You get that satisfying feeling of closure (or sometimes that excited anticipation of a possible sequel), that bittersweet ache of separating of yourself from a story that completely engrossed you. You never, ever get that from the news. And yet, most of the stories that filter into your life come in those little, dissatisfying pieces.

That dissatisfaction, along with the sad reality that most news is bad news and most of it is outside my control or often even my realm of influence, is why I go through very purposeful seasons of news avoidance. I ignore, for a time, that kind of piecemeal, negative storytelling in favor of experiencing life and fiction as a whole.