January Author Highlight & Giveaway: Award-Winning Author, Erin Bartels

Terri Gillespie Author Highlight, GIVEAWAY ALERT 6 Comments

Happy New Year! May 2022 be a year of breakthroughs for you and your family!

Oh! How I love meeting new and talented authors. What a great way to begin 2022. A luscious new book written by bestselling and award-winning author, Erin Bartels. (Thanks again to Karen Steele of Revell Publishing!)

The book is The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water and Erin grabbed me on page one! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my 5-Star BOOK REVIEW of her book.

Here’s a little info to whet our literary taste buds: ERIN BARTELS is the award-winning author of We Hope for Better Things, The Words between Us, All That We Carried, and The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water (January 2022). Her short story This Elegant Ruin was a finalist in The Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest and her poetry has been published by The Lyric. She lives in the capital city of a state that is 40% water, 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.

That’s a little taste, now let’s really explore more of Erin and her world.

What was your inspiration for writing in general—why did you choose writing?

It’s hard to say if I chose writing or if writing chose me, and I imagine a lot of writers feel that way. I have always been a writer at my core. Any art, whether writing, painting, music, dancing, etc., is a way of processing the world and presenting yourself to the world. Artists long to understand and be understood. That’s what writing is all about for me.

  • It’s a way to process my thoughts and feelings.
  • It’s a way to understand my world and the people in it.
  • It’s a way to understand myself.
  • And it’s a way for me to reach out to ask for understanding from others.

Yes! I am the same way! Even if I never wrote a book, I would still need to process what goes on around me by writing.

Which of your characters has really stretched you as a writer?

My antagonistic characters stretch me more than anything. It’s important to me to understand where a character’s attitudes and actions come from so that I can empathize with them as a writer and hopefully write them such that readers will also empathize. But with antagonists, that’s always more fraught because you force yourself to understand and empathize with characters who do mean or despicable things that you don’t agree with. Yet, it’s essential to writing three-dimensional characters.

Photo by Erin Bartels

After all, every antagonist is the protagonist of their own story. They have reasons for what they are doing. Even if we may not agree with them and even though those reasons do not excuse them, it’s important that we see and deal with the complexities and gray areas of life. And, that we accept that not everyone thinks the way we do, because in life there are so rarely true “good guys” and “bad guys”— we all have the potential toward heroism and villainy within us.

I LOVE that: “Every antagonist is the protagonist of their own story.” Very insightful.

What is the story behind The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water?

The protagonist, Kendra Brennan is an author whose first book was based on her real-life experiences as a child and teenager summering at a lake in Northern Michigan. She thought she had changed enough of the details to protect the innocent—and the guilty. But an anonymous letter from a Very Disappointed Reader has her questioning her own memory of what actually happened during those unsupervised summers, prompting her to return to the cabin on the lake and confront the truth.

It’s a story about a complicated friendship, reckoning with past abuse, the complex nature of family, living with the ramifications of past decisions (including those you had no part in making), and learning to love with abandon despite being hurt. It’s a love letter to Michigan’s lake culture and a testament to the power of writing, with a bit of romance on the side.

Wow! That’s quite a scope of themes. Which is why your book grabbed my heart and held it to the very end.

What is something God taught you while you wrote your featured book?

Photo by Erin Bartels

Not just in the actual writing of this book, but also in the long process of dealing with some events from my own life that are partial inspiration for this book, I came to understand that though why is always the first question we ask when something bad happens to us, there are other questions beyond why that are more important and more fruitful to pursue if we ever hope to get beyond a victim mentality to a mature handling of our struggles in this life.

God used two women in my life—my sister and my childhood best friend—to help me come to this realization. And the only way that could happen was through me being open and honest about something that had happened to me more than two decades prior, something I had long thought was better left hidden. Which informs my answer to the next question…

What is one of your favorite quotes from The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water and why do you love it?

It is so hard to choose with this book. I have a special relationship with this story, a truly personal stake in it, and I have been working on it in one way or another for a very long time, honing each and every line to be exactly as I want it to be. But perhaps this fits the bill:

“Novels are about looking through someone else’s eyes, seeing what someone else sees when they look at the world, and realizing, perhaps for the first time, that other people are just as real and alive and hurt as you are.”

Photo by Erin Bartels

This encompasses a lot of what Kendra needs to learn in the book, and it is something that books have taught me, again and again, both as a reader and a writer. We’re so vulnerable when we’re reading, so willing to feel emotions fully—emotions we are borrowing from fictional characters—but when it comes to real life, we’re so often guarded.

I long to feel that I can be my real self to others, without hiding the parts I think will garner a judgmental comment or uncharitable thought. Without feeling like I have to explain myself and have a bullet list of reasons for everything I do or say or think. This was already hard to do before social media invaded our lives. Now it is far more difficult and it seems the consequences saying the wrong thing (or even the right thing in the wrong way) are swift and merciless.

Basically, I want to be real without always having to be on the defensive. And I’d like to offer the same to others, that they can be their real, whole selves with me, no matter how messy that gets, and I won’t automatically think the worst of them. That I’ll work to understand and empathize rather than Monday-morning-quarterback their lives.

Anything less than that is just relationship theatre. Most of the time, that’s what we settle for in our relationships. Surface. Small talk. Smiles that don’t reach our eyes. And when we are real, we brace ourselves for being cross-examined, shamed, ghosted, or canceled.

I think we all deserve more than that from each other and we all owe more than that to each other.

Amen! Preach it, sister! We too often, as women especially, tend to paste on that “church face” and try to “fake it until we make it,” when we need to be more open and honest about what is going on inside of us. It can be jarring to deal with reality, but it’s the beginning of the healing process and true communication.

What are you working on now?

I’m having an absolute blast working on my next book, which will come out in January 2023. It’s about two young musicians from two very different worlds who each have what the other one needs—which they might realize if they could switch their focus on what in their lives is ending to what is just beginning.

I grew up in a household where music was a constant. My dad is an audiophile so we always had great sound coming from high-end stereo equipment, and my mom is a beautiful singer. Plus, I dated (and married) a guy who worked at a radio station, played bass in a couple bands, and wrote me love songs on his acoustic guitar. In recent years, I’ve learned guitar myself and I’ve even been writing songs to go with this story. Every moment of working on this book has been a joy as I have reveled in everything music has meant to me in my life—and I think in the lives of a lot of people.

Golly, I’ve always admired musicians and singers. I’m neither. Hubby plays bass and acoustic guitar and our daughter has an incredible voice. I’m good at applauding.

What do you hope readers know about you and your books?

Photo by Erin Bartels

I know that a lot of authors have a brand or genre and do not deviate from it. But when it comes to my writing, I have definite aims not to write the same book twice. That means some might be contemporary, some historical, some timeslip. Heck, maybe someday I’ll write a psychological thriller or a war story or an epic fantasy. Who knows?

The joy in writing for me is following an idea and seeing where it leads. I don’t like outlines. I don’t like strictures or tropes or beat sheets. I don’t like to be told what to write next to “build my brand.” That makes writing boring and repetitive. And I’m not just writing books so I’ll have something to sell. I’m writing books because I have things I want to say, and it’s not the same thing over and over.

So while I am sure my books will always deal with issues and experiences human beings deal with (because that’s what I’m interested in and what I’m dealing with in my own life), and they’ll probably always involve aspects of forgiveness, redemption, and grappling with the past, I can’t guarantee if you love one book you won’t dislike another. And vice versa! What I can guarantee is that they’ll always have a distinctive voice and they’ll always be great book club picks because there will be lots to discuss and disagree about.  😉

I love it! A writer rebel!

My friends, if you’re like me and are just learning about Erin’s books, here’s your opportunity to enter for a chance to win A SIGNED COPY OF HER LATEST BOOK THE GIRL WHO COULD BREATHE UNDER WATER.

The January’s Author Highlight Giveaway!

A signed copy of The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water could be yours! How? Leave a comment below and share this blog and if you haven’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter and receive two free gifts.


Check out my YouTube Author Highlight interview with Erin. Because, in the video interview she will answer different questions, and you don’t want to miss one very exciting little known fact about Erin. By Liking and Commenting on the video episode, you will have one more entry. Sharing the video, another entry. Subscribe, and you have TWO entries for a chance to win.

The Deadline is January 13th!


Author Highlight with Terri & Erin

That means, my friends, if you comment and subscribe -– or are already a subscriber -– to my blog, then watch the video and LIKE, SHARE, and COMMENT on the VIDEO, then Subscribe to my YouTube Channel, your name will be entered SIX TIMES!

Be sure to tell your friends because they could win a copy, too! See you there!

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed getting to know my new friend Erin and her amazing books.

Next month’s Author Highlight is the prolific, bestselling and award-winning author, Karen Whiting!

Thanks for stopping by and KEEP READING!


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