We Hope for Better Things has it all: fabulous storytelling, an emotional impact that lingers long after you turn the last page, and a setting that immerses you. I haven't read such a powerful, moving story since I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. This book will change how you look at the world we live in. Highly recommended!"--Colleen Coble, USAToday bestselling author of the Rock Harbor series and The View from Rainshadow Bay
When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request--that she look up a relative she didn't know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos--seems like it isn't worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.
At her great-aunt's 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.
Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time--from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.
"A timely exploration of race in America, We Hope for Better Things is an exercise of empathy that will shape many a soul."--Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Perennials
"I applaud [Erin's] courage, her authenticity, her beautiful turn of phrase, the freshness of her imagery, and the depth of her story that speaks to a contemporary world where understanding is often absent. We Hope for Better Things is a remarkable debut novel."--Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of Everything She Didn't Say
"Storytelling at its finest. Erin Bartels delivers a riveting story of forbidden love, family bonds, racial injustice, and the power of forgiveness. We Hope for Better Things is a timely, sobering, moving account of how far we've come . . . and how much distance remains to be covered. A compulsively readable, incredibly powerful novel."--Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List
"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Some Q & A with Erin ~
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you started writing.
Funny how when someone asks us about ourselves, we define ourselves by our roles. My first inclination is to tell you that I am a 39-year-old pastor’s wife and mother of one 10-year-old son. My next is to tell you that I have worked in book publishing for 17 years. That I am a former English major and history minor. But you’d know me far better if I told you that I love to spend time in places where there are no signs or sounds of humanity. That I am a close observer of nature. That I’m an ambassador for my beautiful home state of Michigan. That I love to create—to write, paint, build—and I am passionate about the creations of others—music, movies, books, works of art, architecture. That I’m an introvert who prefers long discussions about thorny topics to small talk, which I loathe (yet must practice regularly as a pastor’s wife). That I live in a city but I would far prefer to live on the edge of some wild place.
I have always wanted to write, to contribute to the body of work that I studied in college and to the business I entered after I graduated. I think so many of us who love to read find ourselves itching to write. At some point I realized that if it was ever going to happen, I needed to stop thinking about how I should write a novel someday and just buckle down and do it. I quit a number of other activities to make time for writing, found a writing community in my city and online that would help keep me accountable, and dove into years of hard work, learning, and rejection. It has all been worth it.
What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
I like getting out in nature, whether it’s an hour at our local nature center or a four-day backcountry camping trip or a week-long road trip, to marvel at and take pictures of the grandeur and intricacies of this incredible planet. Patient and quiet companions are welcome, though not required (I love being alone).
Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
I do! I have worked for an independent, family-owned publishing house for seventeen years, most of that time as a copywriter. I write back cover copy, catalog copy, and web copy for fiction and nonfiction books. All that writing that tries to get you to buy the book!
Where do you get your ideas?
To me, stories arise organically from the swirling combination of what I’m reading, what I’m watching, people I observe, ideas out in the Zeitgeist, news stories, trips I take, and conversations I have. Every once in a while, out of this soup, an idea rises to the surface. But usually, they’re not ready at that moment to act upon. They take a while time to develop. In fact, some take years to coalesce into something useable. But every little thought I have that might get included in a story idea someday has to be written down or it’s gone forever, so I always have notebooks with me. And if I find myself without one, I write on my hands and arms.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
One of the hardest things about writing for publication is waiting. Waiting for critique partners to give you their thoughts on your manuscript. Waiting for agents to respond to queries and then to read and respond to your manuscript. Waiting for a publishing house to take a shot on you. Waiting for your editor to get you her notes. Waiting on the whole publishing machine to do all the things it needs to do—the title, the cover, the marketing plan, production, etc.—so that the story you long to share with the world can actually be shared with the world. From initial concept to final publication, We Hope for Better Things was more than seven years in the making. That takes a lot of patience every step of the way.
How do you market your work?
I keep up a rather visible and busy online presence, from my website, blog, and podcast, to my social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve been building relationships with readers and other writers for more than a decade, and those networks of real relationships are helping me spread the word now that I finally have a book published.
What are you working on now?
At the moment, I have three other novels in various stages of development. One, The Words between Us, will be coming out this fall and tells the story of a reclusive used bookstore owner who is far more at home in the fictional worlds of books than real life. Another, which takes place at a summer lake house in Northern Michigan, is nearing the point at which my agent will begin pitching it to publishing houses. And the third, which involves two sisters and a hiking trip gone wrong, is in the early stages of drafting and revision.
Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?
You know, I don’t think there is anything in my debut novel, We Hope for Better Things, that is based on any of my personal real-life experiences, but it is solidly based in the history of the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights era, the Detroit Riots of 1967, and the modern-day challenges of the city of Detroit. People who have read the book who grew up in Detroit in the 1960s keep telling me how real the book felt to them, how it just brought that part of their lives back to them, which is gratifying.
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
Two come to mind. First is the scenes in the 1960s where Nora and William meet. There’s a lot of tension and anger that kind of melts into intrigue and even attraction. It was fun to write. The other is the scene in which William’s nephew JJ and his friend are breaking into buildings and looting during the riot. JJ is so conflicted about what he’s doing, but it’s shown in subtle ways. I think it helps readers understand why someone would participate in such a lawless act and it helps them have empathy for people they might otherwise look down on.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
What I love about writing is what I love about reading: experiencing the world from someone else’s perspective. When we read fiction, we experience the world through the eyes and emotions of the characters. The same thing happens when we write fiction. Writing fiction is my way of working through what I think about the things that matter in life—human relationships, religious belief, and ethics, where we fit in history, where we are going in the future. Reading and writing helps me get my mind around these huge concepts and helps me understand my place in the world. Challenge yourself when you write to write about things you don’t understand, things that make you uncomfortable, things that make you squirm. We’ll all grow from it, and you most of all.
Also, if you’re going to get serious about putting in the time necessary to write something that is ready to be published, you’re probably going to have to quit some other things you enjoy. That’s just the reality. You can’t do it all. So make sure you’re doing what no one else can do: writing your books.
Favorite singer, actor, writer?
Brandi Carlile, James McAvoy, and…I just can’t choose. I love so many writers.
Place you’d like to travel?
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you! I am so, so grateful you’ve given my stories a chance. A writer is nothing without readers.
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. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin.is her first novel. Her second, The Words between Us, releases September 2019.
To connect with Erin ~