Debut Novel has Readers Considering Race, History

Written by Ann Byle on . Posted in Local

We Hope for Better Things-Book CoverErin Bartels didn't start out writing a novel that focused on race and generations of women who faced down the expectations of their times. She thought her story would based on an old woman who gets a box of photos taken during World War II.

"I'm not sure where, when, or why it changed. But the story got bigger and bigger, more and more complex and needing more research," said Bartels, who lives in Lansing and is Trade Catalog Manager and copywriter for Baker Publishing Group.

Now "We Hope for Better Things" is a time-slip novel that moves between three time periods: 1861 Lapeer County, 1963 Detroit, and current-day Detroit. All the story lines are linked to one farmhouse in Lapeer County north of Detroit.

Reporter Elizabeth Balsam covers Detroit for the Free Press, but is forced out of her job when she becomes embroiled in scandal. She moves to her Great Aunt Nora's house in Lapeer County at the request of a relative, but not before she is given a vintage photographer's bag that somehow ties to Nora. Elizabeth uncovers the racially-charged story of Nora and William, who defied convention and family back in the 1960s.

Nora also shares with Elizabeth the story of Mary Balsam, who lived in the farmhouse during the Civil War and took care of the farm while her husband fought in the Union army. These three women—Mary, Nora, and Elizabeth—each faced down the conventions of their time in different ways but all with strength and courage.

"One thing each of the three main characters experiences is an opening of their eyes to the truth of what others are going through, and in some cases that people like them have been going through for generations," said Bartels, a pastor's wife.

She admits to sometimes feeling like she has to be a certain way, always smiling and behaving well. But life, she said, is messy and sometimes endings are imperfect. And that's what she loves to write about.

"My church has a wide swath of people who fall on the religious left and right. For people on one end of the spectrum, I would love for them to come away with a more Christ-like view of people who suffer at the hands of others," Bartels said. "One side tends to think that rules are all that matter. Of someone breaks society's rules, even if those rules are unjust, they are bad people. I hope this book shows that people break some rules because those rules are unjust, and that people who lean toward a law mentality will be more empathetic."

She hopes that people begin to see others different from them as brothers and sister in Christ first, that no matter what they look like or what they've done, each one is the image of God.

"Part of learning to care about others and see through their eyes is believing them when they tell you something," she said. "We just saw a powerful turnabout in American society when it comes to believing women about sexual abuse. Let's extend that out to others and believe them when they tell us their stories about fear, marginalization, prejudice, and discrimination."

Her second novel, also published by Grand Rapids-based Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, releases in September and is, she said, "about bookstores and books and first loves and second chances."

Bartels will speak and sign copies of "We Hope for Better Things" at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Jan. 10 at 7 pm. Books will be available for purchase. She will also speak and sign at 7 pm Thursday, Jan. 24, at Schuler Books in Okemos, Mich.


Author Signing Event
Who: Erin Bartels will speak and sign copies of "We Hope for Better Things"
When: Thursday, Jan. 10 at 7 pm
Where: Baker Book House, 2768 East Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids
Details: Books will be available for purchase
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Author Information
Ann Byle
Ann Byle is a freelance writer and owner of AB Writing Services. She writes for a number of publications including WMCN, Publishers Weekly, CBA Christian Market and Grand Rapids Magazine, and is author or coauthor of several books including The Baker Book House Story, The Call to Care: A Compassionate Response to Caring for Vulnerable Children (2018) and Christian Publishing 101 (2018). She and her husband Ray, a science teacher, have four young adult children.

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