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Short & Sweet
Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for seventeen years, most of that time as a copywriter. She is also a freelance writer and editor and a member of the Capital City Writers and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through the woods with her camera, painting landscapes in both watercolor and oil, or reading with a semi-spastic Chihuahua mix on her lap. Erin lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel. Find her on Facebook @ErinBartelsAuthor, on Twitter @ErinLBartels, or on Instagram @erinbartelswrites. Her weekly podcast, Your Face Is Crooked, drops on Monday mornings.
One Size Fits Most
Erin Bartels is a copywriter and freelance editor by day, a novelist by night, and a painter, seamstress, poet, and photographer in between. Her debut novel, We Hope for Better Things, released January 2019 from Revell Books, and will be followed in September 2019 with The Words between Us, the manuscript of which was a finalist for the 2015 Rising Star Award from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in The Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. Her poems have been published by The Lyric and The East Lansing Poetry Attack. A member of the Capital City Writers Association and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine.
Erin lives in the beautiful, water-defined state of Michigan where she is never more than a ninety minute drive from one of the Great Lakes or six miles from an inland lake, river, or stream. She grew up in the Bay City area waiting for freighters and sailboats at drawbridges and watching the best 4th of July fireworks displays in the nation. She spent her college and young married years in Grand Rapids feeling decidedly not-Dutch. She currently lives with her husband and son in Lansing, 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.
Erin is represented by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency. Find her on Facebook @ErinBartelsAuthor, on Twitter @ErinLBartels, or on Instagram @erinbartelswrites. Her weekly podcast, Your Face Is Crooked, drops on Monday mornings.
Not Quite My Life Story (in Books)
I have always been a voracious reader. Some of my favorite gifts have been books: the full set of the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery; a beautiful hardbound copy of my favorite book, Watership Down; Garfield comic books and Choose Your Own Adventure books; Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time set; A Walk in the Woods and other books by Bill Bryson; books by Tony Horwitz; a childhood favorite, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, which my husband bought for me one Christmas; a book on the origins of strange words and phrases; books on gardening that my mother-in-law got me when we bought our house.
In fact, I find that I can think of my entire life in terms of books. I know how old I was when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time (a junior in high school) and I can remember an entire summer of reading L. M. Montgomery every day while drinking tea from my mom’s collection of antique china cups and saucers (a different cup for each different kind of tea) while classical music played in the background—this went on every day for weeks and culminated in me polishing all of the silver in the house because Anne did that in one of the books (imagine my dismay when after all that work it became tarnished again).
I remember when I finally decided that I loved Dickinson and Hemingway, and I remember that I was the only one in my class (actually, the only person I know of) who hated The Catcher in the Rye. I remember how I felt when I first read The Yellow Wallpaper, The Swimmer, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Metamorphosis.
This lifelong love of books, of reading and writing, started early. I know that sometime before preschool I “read” my mom a small, pink Care Bears book. Really, I must have been reciting from memory.
Elementary school was full of opportunities to read, and is was always my favorite activity next to drawing, painting, and pretending I was a tiger and stalking my dog or my older sister. I loved library days when Mrs. Greene would read us stories by Bill Peet and Steven Kellogg and Shel Silverstein. We could also pick out books to read on our own (one of my favorites was a pitiful story called A Dog Named Kitty that I remember being quite heartwrenching—the dog dies, of course). I was involved in Junior Great Books, a separate reading class that met in the library. I adored From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Trumpet of the Swan.
In fifth grade, I started reading young adult series, like Hank the Cow Dog, The Babysitters’ Club, and The Saddle Club. This was also the time I would begin to read books that would haunt me—books like Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and Number the Stars. It was the time I realized the power a piece of fiction could have to captivate, horrify, and change you as a person.
I participated in the summer reading program at the Bay City library, filling the space behind my name with gold stars for each of the books I read. This is when my love affair started with Watership Down, which I read at least once every year from fifth grade through college—sometimes twice. I have already read it twice to my elementary-school-aged son.
When I entered junior high, my relationship with books got more complicated. For the first time, I had an English teacher I didn’t like. Seventh grade English was the first class in which I would decide not to read a required text. I was just so bored. And I wasn’t the only one. Eventually, some of disenfranchised high-acheivers were allowed to leave class and work in the computer lab on special projects. I think the teacher was just trying to get us out of his hair while he taught everyone else The Red Pony and The Citadel, two books I despise but that perhaps I could have liked had I had a better teacher.
At the end of the year I said to my counselor, “I didn’t learn anything in seventh grade English. Can I skip eighth grade English?” To my surprise he said yes. No testing, just “sure,” and on to high school English I went.
So, during eighth grade I walked over to the high school to take English 9, where we read Romeo & Juliet and Lord of the Flies. Because of this I missed out on some books everyone in my generation seems to have read—books like Where the Red Fern Grows and Sounder—but I got ahead in my classes. And this was something that was starting to get very important to me.
In American Lit Honors I read poems by Emily Dickinson and Anne Bradstreet and Robert Frost, short stories by Ernest Hemingway and Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe, and sermons by Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards. We read The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Sun Also Rises. It was in this class I developed a deep love for The Great Gatsby and a deep loathing for Bartleby the Scrivener. I also began a lifelong love affair with T. S. Eliot.
I took junior year English during my sophomore year, reading Beowulf and William Blake and Wuthering Heights and parts of The Canterbury Tales. Then my English requirements were done and I could choose whatever English classes I wanted. I took Pop Lit and read things like The Martian Chronicles and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And Fantasy, in which I could have taught one of the texts—Watership Down—and was practically asked to do that by the teacher, who was an emergency transplant from the art department. This is also when I first read The Lord of the Rings. Senior year I took AP English, where we read things like Hamlet, Pride & Prejudice, the plays of Sophocles, A Doll’s House, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and The Handmaid’s Tale.
There were so many more books I read in high school: The Things They Carried, Catch-22, Animal Farm, The Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, The Old Man and the Sea, The Call of the Wild, Cat’s Cradle, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Color Purple. Books that built me into the person I am today as surely as my own experiences have.
College would bring so many more and varied books and authors into my life. Elie Wiesel and Art Spiegelman. Chinua Achebe and Tayeb Salih. Toni Morrison and Richard Wright. And the years since have brought in so many more—Virginia Woolf, Anita Brookner, Annie Dillard, Bill Bryson, Tony Horwitz, C. S. Lewis.
I live my life in books and books live their lives in me. It is a marvelous, almost mystical communion, between author and reader. And I’m so grateful that I get to be part of it on both sides of the cosmic telephone line.
To learn more about my own reading habits, visit my Goodreads page and explore the books I’ve read (which seem to be in no particular order) and those on my to-read shelf. And you can follow me on Goodreads to ask me questions and be entered in giveaways.