Please join me in welcoming the fabulous Erin Bartels to the blog today to chat about her new novel, All That We Carried!
Erin Bartels is the award-winning author of We Hope for Better Things (2020 Michigan Notable Book, 2020 WFWA Star Award-winner, 2019 Christy Award finalist) and The Words between Us (2020 Christy Award finalist, 2015 WFWA Rising Star Award finalist). Her short story, “This Elegant Ruin,” was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest in 2014, and her poetry has been published by The Lyric. A publishing professional for 18 years, she is the director of WFWA’s annual writers retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son. Find her online at www.erinbartels.com.
ALL THAT WE CARRIED
GENRE: Inspirational Women’s Fiction
RELEASE DATE: January 5, 2021
The most treacherous terrain is found within
Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a hiking trip when their parents were in a fatal car accident. They haven’t seen each other since the funeral. Olivia coped with the loss by plunging herself into law school, work, and a materialist view of the world–what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie dropped out of college and developed an online life coaching business around her DIY spirituality–a little of this, a little of that, whatever makes you happy.
Now, at Melanie’s insistence (and against Olivia’s better judgment), they are embarking on a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In this remote wilderness they’ll face their deepest fears, question their most dearly held beliefs, and begin to see that perhaps the best way to move forward is the one way they had never considered.
Hi Erin! Welcome to the blog!
Q: What was the inspiration behind your latest novel, All That We Carried?
Erin: I had been sitting on my butt for more than a decade when I decided I wanted to do some backcountry hiking with my sister, Alison. With equipment mostly borrowed from my father-in-law, we spent several days and nights in June of 2012 hiking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We were hooked. In the years that followed, we hiked the Grand Sable Dunes, Tahquamenon Falls, the Manistee River Valley, the Jordan River Pathway, and Sleeping Bear Dunes. We did start a hike in the Porcupine Mountains that we did not finish due to the miserably high level of mosquito activity (I’m talking, like, eleventh plague on Egypt here). A lot of the events in the book are the kind of worst-case scenario stuff you prepare for when hiking in areas that have no cell service and where rescue crews couldn’t easily get you out of the woods. But thankfully, I’ve not experienced any of those firsthand!
While I want to stress that the characters in the novel are not me and my sister (we’re far too boring and get along too well to be good characters for a novel), I did draw from my lifelong experience as a sister when thinking about how they would interact with each other—the things they would say and how they would say it. Sisters can be the most supportive people you have the great fortune to know. But because sisters know so much (perhaps too much) about each other, they also have the power to hurt each other deeply. Over the years, my sister and I have certainly done that, sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose.
We spent most of our twenties thinking that we were very different people. As it turns out, we’re not so different after all. Somewhere along the way, we each took a step toward the other, and eventually our paths met. We have been enjoying each other’s company on the journey ever since.
Carrie: aww i love that kind of sister-friendship!
Q: In addition to the theme of sisterhood, you also touch on the heavier topics of grief and faith. Can you explain how these three themes weave together in All That We Carried?
Erin: In my family of origin, we tend to keep our griefs to ourselves. There’s a lot of English and German DNA in the bloodline, so we’re experts at repressing, putting on a brave face, and getting on with what needs to be done. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel grief deeply. It just means you do your crying alone.
That’s also how many people approach faith. It’s private. It’s personal. It’s no one else’s business. That kind of individualistic approach to faith, which is so common in the West, leads to many people believing a hodgepodge of spiritual things filled with internal contradictions and questions without sure answers. That kind of faith offers no assurance, because we’ve cobbled it together on our own instead of entering into a community of faith that stretches back to ancient times and can help us test whether what we believe has any truth to it or power in it.
When we grieve, we shouldn’t go it alone. When it comes to our beliefs about God, death, and eternity, again, we shouldn’t go it alone. And when it comes to life, these two sisters will discover not only that they shouldn’t go it alone but that they don’t actually want to.
Carrie: so very true… we are created for community!
Q: Building on that… both sisters in your novel deal with grief in their own way. Can you please touch on how these sisters tackle their grief and how they come to terms with it?
Erin: It’s really hard to lose someone we love. It’s much harder when we don’t have firm beliefs about what happens after death. I think more and more people don’t have any solid beliefs about the afterlife—whether there is one and what happens there. Even Christians have wacky, unbiblical ideas of what happens after we die. I have been to many a funeral where I’ve come away with the feeling that even the minister wasn’t sure what to say. So it’s just a string of platitudes with no logical basis for believing any of it is true.
That’s the world these sisters are living in—one where they don’t have a firm footing in what they believe, so they decide what they believe about death and the nature of existence according to what makes them feel able to move on. One believes a little bit of everything, hoping that because of that she will eventually see her parents again when she dies. The other believes that this life is all there is and her parents’ disembodied souls are not living on in some other dimension or place. And neither one is at peace because neither one is truly sure about any of it.
Carrie: And even if they were sure about their beliefs, neither of those options allow for much peace, do they?
Q: You have based all three of your books, We Hope for Better Things (January 2019), The Words Between Us (September 2019), and All That We Carried (January 2021), in Michigan. Why did you choose this location?
Erin: Despite all being set in Michigan, my novels are set in very different places. An urban center and a rural farmhouse, a small town with an active boating and shipping life, the middle of an old-growth forest. Michigan is a deceptively large state with incredibly varied landscapes (and lakescapes). It is second only to California in the diversity of its agriculture. It is chock-full of fascinating history—Native American tribes, French fur trading, copper mining, lumberjacks, the auto industry, Motown—and Michiganders have a deep love of the outdoors in every season. There’s just so much story potential here! I do have plans for some novels outside of Michigan, but as one does when one travels, I’ll always come home again.
Carrie: As close as I lived to Michigan growing up I sadly never experienced all it had to offer :-/
Q: Your novels have been set in different time periods dating from the Civil War, through the 1960s, and on up to modern times. Do you find one time period easier to write about than another?
Erin: Certainly. It’s far easier to write a contemporary story because there is less research, not just in terms of settings but in terms of industries and attitudes and technology. The one thing I tend to dislike about writing in a contemporary setting is the proliferation of cell phones and the ability to solve every problem or answer every question within seconds because you’ve got the world in your pocket. Cell phones make life boring and easy. Not using them in contemporary fiction makes your world unbelievable (Why didn’t she just text him to see if he was running late? Why didn’t he just look up how to fix that thing?). But if you write a realistic story in modern times, all that most characters would be doing is scrolling through their phones and arguing online and sharing memes. That’s not interesting fiction (and frankly, it’s not interesting in life either). So as much as possible, I try to get phones out of the picture.
Carrie: oh i love that perspective – i hadn’t thought about that before but it makes a lot of sense lol
Q: What do you most want readers to take away from All That We Carried?
Erin: Beyond the outer story of these sisters finding common ground and forgiveness, All That We Carried is really about the inner journey each of us takes as we come to terms with what we believe—about God, about what happens after we die, about how we view everything in the world—and, most of all, why we believe it. I hope readers will be open to honestly examining these things in their own minds and with each other as they discuss the book.
Carrie: those questions are so vital for all of us to wrestle with at some point in our lives.
Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me! 🙂 Before we say goodbye for today, tell us what‘s coming up next for you.
Erin: My next novel is scheduled to come out in January 2022. It’s the story of a writer who used her real life as the subject of her first book and must return to her family’s lakefront property in northern Michigan to confront the person she wrote as the antagonist. There’s an anonymous letter, an unexpected houseguest, a long-buried secret, and the story of a friendship that fell apart. It’s my favorite thing I’ve written so far.
Carrie: ahhhhh! that sounds so good!
Revell is offering a print copy of All That We Carried by Erin Bartels to THREE of my readers! (US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What makes you want to read All That We Carried by Erin Bartels?