Interview With Author Erin Bartels

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I’m Erin Bartels, the author of the novels We Hope for Better Things and The Words between Us, as well as a collection of short stories called This Elegant Ruin.

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

My first book, We Hope for Better Things includes real historical events, such as the Civil War and the Detroit Riot of 1967, but neither the plot nor the characters are based on anyone real. My second, The Words between Us, has no basis in reality. 🙂

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I am always interested in the connections between things–people, events, environment, past, present. I collect bits of input from every part of life–my own memories and insecurities and questions, news stories, moments in time that I witness, the landscape around me, song lyrics, poetry, etc.–and eventually some of those things form connections in my mind, like atoms bonding into molecules. And eventually, a story emerges.

How do you deal with creative block?

I find that blocks tend to come for me when I’ve been working too hard for too long and the well is dry. Then I have to take time away from the computer and refill by reconnecting with nature, working in the garden, getting my house back into order, taking a little day trip, painting, or working on some other form of writing, like poetry. Time and patience are the keys for me, and trusting that the muse will return as she always does.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

When it comes to novel titles, it really just has to be something that is easy to remember and easy to say out loud so people can look it up, ask a bookseller about it, or recommend it to a friend. And get a bit of tension in there if you can. Also, don’t go too far afield from something that fits your genre. You don’t want to title or cover something like suspense when it’s a cozy mystery. You probably don’t want your literary novel to have a sexy couple kissing on the front. Yes, you want to stand out, but don’t be too different or your audience won’t find you. And if you are going the indie or self-publishing route please spend the money to pay for a professional designer. Your cover is the most important part of your book when it comes to selling it.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

The 1 or 2 star ratings on Amazon or Goodreads don’t bother me. Those people are clearly not my audience. They’re not required to like my books. It’s the 3 or 4 star reviews that get something “wrong” from my viewpoint. As an author, you wish you could correct a misconception or explain a narrative choice a reader didn’t like, but you can’t. Once a book is published, it belongs to whoever reads it. You can’t control their perceptions, so it’s best to step back and stop reading reviews. Even the good ones can be toxic in large doses. You don’t want to start getting puffed up. No one likes a big ego, and big egos are usually detrimental to the work.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I spend more time on the front end just thinking through characters and settings (I tend to create blueprints for my story houses and maps for my story world). I don’t outline, but I write down ideas as they occur to me. The longer I spend doing this before I begin writing, the easier the story comes as I write that first draft.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best thing is always writing The End on the first draft. The first draft is the hardest part for me. After that the fun part starts–endless revision, which is where I feel my stories really come to life and start to sparkle. The worst is the letdown a couple weeks or so after the book launch. It’s a creative wasteland for me and it’s hard to go from the constant affirmation of the first few weeks to the realization that everyone’s moved on in life. The most surprising part for me has been the hundreds of other writers I’ve met along the way. It’s a solitary profession, but it’s also chock-full of friends if you know where to look.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

This is a really great question. All of my writing has been for myself first and for readers second. I tell the story I want to read. For me, focusing too much on others’ expectations is poison to the creative process. In my opinion, art created with too much attention paid to keeping the audience happy often ends up sterile. When you’re worried about offending someone or you’re playing to the person with the lowest attention span or the shortest fuse or whatever you’re going to end up with something that’s not terribly unique, doesn’t say anything important, and doesn’t challenge an audience to grow, consider another view, or analyze their own views and motives. It takes the teeth out of your writing.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

I find it difficult to create when I’m down. I know a lot of people work through negative feelings on the page, and certainly I can do that in a journal, but when it comes to writing fiction, I have to be feeling good and in control of my life in order to dive deep. Creating is an act of love, and it’s hard to love when you’re anxious or overwhelmed.

Do you have any creativity tricks?

No tricks. Just rest. If I’m not feeling it, I don’t write. I do something else. Clean the house or paint or binge-watch something awesome on Netflix or Amazon Prime–preferably something with amazing writing so I can refill the well. The ideas always come flowing back in from the back of my mind once I take some time off.

What are your plans for future books?

My third novel will be a story about estranged sisters on a hiking trip gone wrong. They must contend with the physical, emotional, and spiritual realities they are facing in order to survive the hike and heal the rift between them. The manuscript is currently with my agent. I also have a couple others in various stages of development.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

1. I was a zoo docent for six years, educating people about animals, ecology, and conservation, as well as handling various zoo animals in demonstrations, including snakes, tarantulas, lizards, turtles, hissing cockroaches, birds of prey, an opossum, ferrets, rabbits, a porcupine, and more. This means I’ve dealt with a lot of feces. Of all those listed, snakes have the worst smelling feces (in case you’re wondering).

2. I spent about 40% of my childhood pretending to be a wolf or a tiger, often stalking my dog and my sister (sometimes fully clothed and, I’m told, sometimes naked).

3. In all of my English classes in high school and college, I was assigned The Great Gatsby five separate times by five separate teachers, but I’ve never been required to read any Charles Dickens.


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