Interview with Erin Bartles, Author of WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS

by Dan Stout in

As part of the ongoing celebration of upcoming debut novels, I’ll be running highlights of interviews from a number of my fellow debuts through the end of 2019. The full interviews are available on

Today, we’re continuing the series with a conversation with Erin Bartles, author of WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS, releasing from Revell Books on New Year’s Day, 01/01/19.


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The story begins when journalist Elizabeth Balsam is tasked with returning a box of never-before-seen photos of the 1967 Detroit riot to a relative she didn’t know she had. Elizabeth wants to use them to further her flagging career. But as she connects with her long-lost great-aunt in the family’s 150-year-old farmhouse outside of Detroit, she begins to uncover the stories of two women who lived in that very house a century apart, who were involved in the Underground Railroad and the tumultuous Civil Rights Era. What she discovers about her family’s past has repercussions for her own future.

Interview Excerpt:

How long did it take for you to write WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS?

The first inkling of the idea came in 2011 or 2012. I researched for all of 2013. I drafted it in 65 days at the beginning of 2014. Then it was revise, revise, revise. I signed with my agent in 2015. We went on submission in 2016. In 2017, I signed my publishing contract. And it finally hits shelves January 1, 2019. It’s been a long road. 

How much research did you do for WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS?

I read well over a thousand pages on women in the Civil War, Michigan’s involvement in the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, funerary practices in the Victorian Era, Reconstruction, the Great Migration, Jim Crow, the development of the city of Detroit, civil unrest and the Detroit riot of 1967, and more. I also watched documentaries, listened to podcasts, and interviewed people who had lived in Detroit in the 1960s.

How did you get into writing?

I was an English major, so I adore great writing, be it novels, poetry, plays, short stories, or essays. After reading other people’s novels for work for about a decade, I think it was inevitable that I would try my hand at writing one.

 What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

Finding time. I work full time. I’m a mom. I have a house to keep up. Etc. Finding time is always, always a struggle. But if something is important to you, you make it work.


Full interview here:



ERIN BARTELS is a copywriter and freelance editor by day, a novelist by night, and a painter, seamstress, poet, and photographer in between. Her debut novel, We Hope for Better Things, is scheduled to be released in January 2019 from Revell Books, followed in September 2019 with The Words Between Us, which was a finalist for the 2015 Rising Star Award from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in The Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. Her poems have been published by The Lyric and The East Lansing Poetry Attack. A member of the Capital City Writers Association and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine.

Connect with Erin:







by Dan Stout

"Autumn's Daughter" in Andromeda Spaceways

by Dan Stout in

My story "Autumn's Daughter" is in the latest issue of Andromeda Spaceways. It's about parenthood, and how the fear of that staggering responsibility battles with the desire to protect and provide for your children.
It's also got creepy clowns and a lot of running around and screaming in the woods. Because those things are part of parenthood as well.

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"A Memory of Elephants" Wins Hemingway Foundation Short Story Contest

by Dan Stout in

I'm thrilled to announce that my short story, "A Memory of Elephants" has been named the winner of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park's 2016 Short Story Contest. 

The results were announced at the Hemingway Foundation's recent gala fundraiser, and while I wasn't able to attend in person, I am delighted that I now have an excuse to use the word, "gala" in conversation.

Gala, gala, gala!

My entry, along with all the other finalists, will be included in an upcoming anthology. I'm looking forward to seeing the collected works, and I'm happy to say that the fundraiser was a huge success. For more details, here's a quick write-up about the event from The Chicago Tribune. 


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Audio version of "Outpatient" now live!

by Dan Stout in

I'm delighted to say that my short story "Outpatient" has been selected by the folks at the Nature Podcast as their favorite for July. They've produced an audio version of the story, and I couldn't be happier with it!

With a really fun reading by Shamini Bundell and direction by Adam Levy, the audio is now available free of charge here or on iTunes under the Nature Podcast.

by Dan Stout

Lessons From the Slush Pile: The Heartbreak of Mediocrity

by Dan Stout in


I recently did a stint as a slush reader for a small online magazine. For the uninitiated, 'slush' refers to the great pile of unsolicited manuscripts that pile up at any kind of publication. All writers -- especially of fiction -- will spend some time wallowing in the slush pile in the course of their career. 

I had heard that reading slush is excellent training for writers, and I found this to be absolutely true. There were lots of things I leaned, some of which I'll break into a separate post. Going into the job, I expected to see some pretty bad stories, and hoped to find some gems. I came across both of those, but the thing that stuck with me most was the agonizing heartbreak of the stories that were just okay.

The Tor Slushpile. Photo by Cory Doctorow

The Tor Slushpile. Photo by Cory Doctorow

The bad stories, the ones that didn't have a chance, didn't bother me. They were easy to identify, they were no-brainers to cross off the list, and frankly, there weren't that many of them. Even rarer were the great stories. They leapt off the page, and sizzled with life even as I read them. Those too were no-brainers, and quickly got passed along the editorial chain.

The vast majority of the submissions I saw were the stories that I found most frustrating: the ones that were almost good enough. The ones that need a little more effort, more revisions, more focus, or just.... something to put them over the edge. I didn't anticipate how many stories would come through the doors almost ready for prime time. I also didn't anticipate the way they would fill me with rage. 

I wanted to grab hold of the authors and shake them, to yell, "Just write another draft, for Chissakes! Make it better! I'm on your side!"

But I couldn't do that. And even if I could, how many of them would listen? 

I say this a writer who has produced my fair share of 'just okay'. And this is the greatest lesson I took from the slush pile, that as writers we can always push ourselves to get our work to the next plateau. Often we're so very close to a stronger piece when we give in to complacency, but it's that rallying effort that sets apart those pieces that truly stay with the audience. We owe ourselves that effort. But we also owe the readers and -- yes -- we owe it to the editors, too.

Slush readers aren't in it for the thrill of rejecting writers. They sure as hell aren't in it for the (non-existent) money. They do what they do because they love stories. They love to see words come together and be moved by them. They want to find great stories. And when we authors fail to deliver the goods, we break their hearts. 

So revise. Re-write. Push your prose to the next level. Find a way to tell a story that will stay with your readers days, weeks, hell years after they've put it down. 

photo credit: gruntzooki via photopin cc
by Dan Stout

Read "The Bulldog Ant is Not a Team Player" for Free!

by Dan Stout in

I'm happy to say that my short story "The Bulldog Ant is Not a Team Player" is available to read for free over at the Plan B website. The audio podcast, featuring my story as read by Darusha Wehm, is available as well.

Please check it out and let me know if you like it! And if you get a chance, look over some of the other great stories available on Plan B, and consider picking up one of their anthologies-- they're a great market and deserve the support.

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