The publisher has agreed to give away two print copies of this book (US ONLY). You can enter by using the Rafflecopter link at the end of the post. (Giveaway ends October 4, 2019. If you are the randomly chosen winner, I'll contact you.)
Q&A with Erin...
Q: The Words between Us is a celebration of the written word. You have stated that books help us to form our own identity. Can you please expound upon this statement?
A: I think this is true on two levels — individually and as a culture. The books we read as individuals affect our views on history, ethics, bravery, love, family, friendship, war, sacrifice, and so much more. Every story I read is another layer of sediment laid down inside my psyche, building of the edifice that is me.
And this happens on the level of culture. Our cultural identity is tied up in the works of art and entertainment we produce and consume — we write to convey some truth, and we believe that truth because of things we have already read, which someone else wrote for us. It's a fascinating cycle, rolling slowly on into the future. Along the way, we discard what we no longer value and pick up the new words that speak to us.
Q: What was the inspiration behind this book?
A: I think it was a combination of things that were separated by many years. One: this little corner storefront in downtown Lansing where I live had been a bookstore that closed not long before we moved here. It was so cute, and I was so disappointed to have missed it. Two: when I was a teenager I had a very close friendship with an older guy in my school that ended because of something petty. I took everything he had ever given me and left it on box at his doorstep (like I said, very petty). Three: I had a sudden thought one day of someone receiving a book, a token of a past they thought they buried. Four: I read a fascinating biography of Emily Dickinson called My Wars Are Laid Away in Books that just entranced me. Those four things coalesced into the starting point for the The Words between Us.
Q: This book explores all aspects of life, including family, loss, love, coming-of-age, betrayal, regret, and forgiveness. Is there one particular theme that you really focus on?
A: To me, this story is about friendship and coming-of-age — of maturing to the point that we stop looking for excuses and start taking responsibility for the things we've done that have hurt others. I think that's a fundamental difference between an adult who behaves like an adult and one who behaves like an adolescent — a willingness to accept blame as readily as we accept praise. And then to move on from there with a humble and generous spirit.
Q: Your book explores some of the classics. How did you develop your love for classics?
A: I'm sure every writer claims to be a big reader. That's nothing new. But when I was in school, I was truly insatiable. I skipped eighth grade English just by asking the school counselor if I could, because I'd been bored in seventh grade English. I took every English class available in my school, including honors classics and AP English. I majored in English language and literature in college. So, as you can imagine, I read a lot of the classics. Even those I didn't read as an assignment I have collected along the way and read. Though, to my chagrin, I've never read Dickens. (Truthfully, I've always been more attracted to the American literary tradition than the British.)
Q: You emphasize the importance of trusting the words and lessons found in the pages of the classics. How in the classics impacted your own life, and what role do they play in The Words between Us?
A: I'm not sure I'd say people should model their lives or behaviors on their reading of the classics. I think you'll find far more unlikable, frustrating, selfish, and even despicable main characters in the classics then you'll find modern commercial fiction since there is so much pressure on others to make the characters likable, or at least relatable. I'm not even sure the reading that reading the classics increases empathy like reading modern fiction does.
In my own life, the classics made me fall in love with the written word and understand its power to elicit emotions in the reader, even if those emotions aren't always positive. In The Words between Us the classics act as a bridge between two people, one of whom is open and honest while the other is lying about who she is and where she came from. But she can be honest when she's talking about these books. And through the exchange of classic novels, these two young people are able to form a real friendship.
Q: What type of research is required for this book?
A: Not nearly as much research is required for this book is for my debut novel, though I did reread a number of classics, which was certainly no burden.
Q: What do you hope readers will gain from reading your book?
A: I really hope that some parent will finish the book and feel compelled to call someone — a friend, an ex, a parent, a child — to apologize for something that drove a wedge between them. And I hope that some of them will pick up a book they were supposed to read in high school that they CliffsNoted their way through and finally read it for real!
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I have two things currently in the works. The first is set in a private lake community in northern Michigan until the story of a novelist dealing with the fallout from her first book, which was based on real people in her life and was not flattering. The second is the story of two sisters who couldn't be more different who are on a hiking trip gone wrong in the wilds of the Porcupine Mountains in the western Upper Peninsula.
Q: Ooh, those sound interesting! How can readers connect with you?
A: I'm everywhere. I blog at www.erinbartels.com. My podcast, Your Face is Crooked, can be found at www.erinbartels.podbean.com (and on iTunes). And of course I'm all over social media: Facebook (@erinbartelsauthor), Twitter (@ErinLBartels), and Instagram (@erinbartelswrites).
Thanks for taking the time to be here, Erin. I'm sure my readers will enjoy getting to know more about you and your book.
Bartels’s story piqued my interest from the first sentence, and it help my attention clear through to the final sentence. The story goes back and forth between now and then, which I really enjoyed. Robin was an easy character to invest in, as is her friendship with Peter. Books and poetry are a large part of the story, and I loved that, since they’re a huge part of my life, as well! Robin’s poems give a look at her character and background. The author weaves together the dual storylines to show how Robin solves the mystery behind why her dad is in prison (and the reader gets to go along on the sleuthing journey, too).
There is so much to love about this novel, and it’d make for interesting discussion at a book group. Characters are genuine and face realistic, and relatable, struggles. The story has a nice blend of mystery and a coming-of-age feel that will likely resonate with many readers. The Words between Us truly demonstrates how powerful our words can be to others.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, but I wasn’t required to leave a positive review.
About the author...
Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for more than fifteen years. Her short "This Elegant Ruin" was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. A freelance writer and editor, she is a member of Capital City Writers and the Women's Fiction Writers Association and is a former features editor of WFWA's Write On! magazine. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin, and can be found online at www.erinbartels.com. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel.
Where you can find Erin online...