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Reader Spotlight 

Erin by lake.jpg
Erin in her hometown of Bay City exploring the state park.

Every month we'll highlight a reader in the Great Lakes Bay region and learn more about them, their work, and their reading life. We'll also discuss books and share a conversation about something close to their heart.


For book lovers, there's nothing better than connecting with someone who loves words, writing, and books. Even better when there is an opportunity to connect with a successful published author from your area. This month we learn about Erin Bartels' reading life and loves. 

Read on to learn more.

Who influenced your early writing? How?

I think my influences are a combination of those great dead writers of American and English literature and poetry (like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Robert Frost, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Emily Dickinson, etc.) and contemporary storytellers like Garrison Keillor and Bill Bryson (though I’m not nearly as funny as those two are). I was an English major, so I read a lot of “Great Books” that “Said Something Important” about the world and about humanity, and those are the types of books I wanted to write—but with perhaps a little less self-importance and a little more self-deprecation, as is fitting someone who grew up in the Midwest.


What’s your favorite book from childhood? And, how did it impact you?

The book I read most as a child was Watership Down. Because it was an adult book written by an Englishman, I think it impacted my vocabulary and grammar in a positive way early on. And I can see in my own writing the same love for bringing the setting alive, especially the natural world. So far I don’t write adventure stories or stories from animals’ points of view (though I’m certainly not ruling that out). But I think deep down that book was about society, the human condition, the human relationship to the natural world, and, probably most of all, resilience. Those are definitely themes I see popping up in my own work.


Where does your writing inspiration come from?

It creeps in from every corner of life—memories, relationships, conversations, news stories, history books, musings, mistakes, regrets, inconveniences, moments of brilliance. As I process life, I am making connections in my mind that lead to story.


What’s your favorite genre to read? Why?

I read a lot of nonfiction because I’m a curious person and I am interested in learning about a wide variety of things, from history to language to geography to geology to ecology to you name it. When I read fiction, it is typically on the literary end of the spectrum.

How has your writing process changed during the pandemic?

Not much, really. I already worked from my home office for my 9-to-5 job. My husband is a pastor and continued to go into his church office to work since it is just him and one or two others in a very large building. And except for the end of the 2019-2020 school year, my son has been in school (he goes to a small, private school that was able to accommodate the needed distance). So I have been blessed with more stability than others. There was certainly a chunk of time it was very difficult to concentrate and feel creative simply because of the initial stress of the world being turned upside down, but I’m happy to say I’m writing steadily.


What do you love about being a writer?

I think for me it is just so satisfying to develop a story. To have an idea, to nurture it, to work through it, and then to share it. Nearly all of my hobbies (as you’ll see below) involve creating things and/or bringing order to things, or enjoying the fruits of other people’s labors in doing that. Writing involves both the creative impulse and the bringing order impulse. Kind of feels like I was meant to do it.


What’s the question you wish interviewers would ask you? And, what’s your answer?

How about, if you’d gone a totally different direction in life, what would you be doing? And I think I’d answer that I’d like to have been a National Geographic photographer/travel writer. Which, I suppose, isn’t a huge departure. I’d still be writing, but the world would be my desk.


What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

So many things! I paint, sew, quilt, garden, hike, play guitar, write songs, take photos, watch great movies, binge great TV and streaming series. The one thing I wish I had more time (and money) for is more travel.

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