by Erin Bartels
I think most published authors would say that they feel a tension between reader/publisher expectations and their own desires and creative drive as writers. It’s a truism in publishing that readers want more of the same (whether this truism is actually true is another matter—I have plenty of evidence from reader interactions that it is not).
But as a writer, I don’t want to keep writing the same book over and over again just to fit reader expectations. I don’t write to a beat sheet. I don’t consciously utilize tropes. I don’t save the cat or take the hero’s journey or make sure that the inciting incident happens on page 30.
I write to process life. I write because I want to figure out exactly how I feel or think about something, or because I think a hard topic is worth exploring and sitting with rather than pontificating about on social media. I then invite readers to see themselves in these nuanced, fallible characters who don’t have it all figured out yet. And you know what? They do see themselves. Readers connect with my characters because they are complex, honest embodiments of the complicated mix of feelings, fears, motivations and contradictions we all are in real life.
Why this story at this time? It was the story I had to write. It’s a story about someone who is feeling pressured to fit into a particular mold to please particular people because that’s “how the industry works,” that’s “what people expect.” And it’s about him discovering that the “right way” is not the only way.
In Everything Is Just Beginning, when guitarist Michael Sullivan gets kicked out of his band (and his apartment), landing a record deal seems an impossible dream. And nothing about Michael’s prospects points toward a better future. Until the invitation for a swanky New Year’s Eve party shows up in the mailbox. It’s addressed to his uncle, with whom he shares both name and living space, but his uncle is going out of town . . .
On the effervescent night of December 31, 1989—as the Berlin Wall is coming down, the Soviet Union is falling apart and anything seems possible—Michael will cross paths with the accomplished and enigmatic young heir to a fading musical dynasty, forever altering both of their futures.
Music has been a constant joy and influence in my life. I grew up with an audiophile father (a man for whom listening to music was an artform) and a mother who loved to sing. My 1980s childhood was filled with jazz, blues and rock’n’roll played on really great stereo equipment and singing along to songs as we did the dishes. Then as a teenager, I dated (and later married) a guy who worked at a radio station, played bass in a couple of garage bands, cranked up punk music in his car and wrote me love songs on an acoustic guitar. As an adult, I learned how to play guitar and put on mini-concerts for my son when I put him to bed every other night. As I was writing this book, I even forayed into songwriting.
I put all this experience and love of music into the story of Everything Is Just Beginning.
When I write a novel, I start with characters who lack something, want something or are struggling with something. The inspiration starts there. I don’t start with a point I’m trying to make or a verse I’m trying to illustrate. However, in the writing, something always comes up that is informed by my own faith.
I think in this novel the biblical truth that materialized out of the characters’ situation was that no one deserves forgiveness, but we all need it. True mercy is that which is extended before an apology is even made (if it is ever made). Our God loved us while we were yet sinners. Jesus died for us while we were actively His enemies. We did not earn or deserve His sacrifice. And in our own lives, we can’t wait for someone to deserve forgiveness to extend it. If we do, what more are we doing than nonbelievers? Tit-for-tat, scorecards, revenge and a focus on things being fair should never be part of the Christian life. If God was “fair” to us, we would pay for our own sins. Thank the Lord that He is both just and merciful.
I hope readers come away from this book with a sense that their unique contribution to the world matters not because it might draw a large audience or impressive accolades, but because it is an expression of their individual thoughts, desires, fears and hopes. That the act of creating is its own reward.
About the Author
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. A two-time Christy finalist and winner of two 2020 WFWA Star Awards and the 2020 Michigan Notable Book Award, Erin has been a publishing professional for twenty years. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son. Find her online at www.erinbartels.com.
About the Book
Michael Sullivan is a talented lyricist and a decent guitarist, but he's not sure he'll ever get a record deal. Living with his loser uncle in a beat-up trailer and working a dead-end job, Michael has little reason to hope for a better future. On the night of December 31, 1989, anything seems possible—Michael will cross paths with the accomplished and enigmatic young heir to a fading musical dynasty, forever altering both of their futures.
Did You Know?
When it comes to healthy relationships, it's not about being right; it's more important to be in right relationship. This is a hard lesson I've been learning lately. I used to pride myself on having the right answers and being the one who knew what was going on. I've learned some key differences between being right and being in right relationship and the impact each can have in a relationship:
Being Right - It is about being the expert, having the correct answer and the authority. Being right, proving a point or teaching a lesson can cause our loved ones to feel wrong—unheard, and their feelings and opinions don't matter, resulting in an unbalanced relationship.
Being in Right Relationship - This is about being present with another person and listening to him, even if you disagree with him. Setting aside the need to be right and creating a space for the other person.
God's Choice - Philippians 2:3 reminds us to value others above ourselves and not to do anything out of self-ambition. God's choice is for us to strive to be in right relationship with everyone.
Putting our relationships above being right requires vulnerability and admitting we don't have all the answers. It means being open to learning from the other person, even if it challenges our beliefs. Despite the challenges, relationships are more valuable than my being right.
-Tracy Hester, Get Up, Girl, Let's Go
Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore
“My local Christian bookseller has come to know my interests so well. He can go to any one of his shelves and pull out a book and tell me about the author. It's a joy to go to his store.”
-Christine Lindsay, Veiled at Midnight