Here at HBTB, we are super excited about another debut novel - We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartels - which just released January 1, 2019 from Revell. We’re also super excited because we have a special sneak peek excerpt to share with you today!
ABOUT THE BOOK
When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request--that she look up a relative she didn't know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos--seems like it isn't worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.
At her great-aunt's 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.
Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time--from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
“Bartels is not afraid to tackle adversity, and does so gracefully and poetically. We Hope For Better Things will easily gain favor from readers, and leave them wanting more. “ —Hope By the Book
"We Hope for Better Things has it all: fabulous storytelling, an emotional impact that lingers long after you turn the last page, and a setting that immerses you. I haven't read such a powerful, moving story since I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. This book will change how you look at the world we live in. Highly recommended!"--Colleen Coble, USAToday bestselling author of the Rock Harbor series and The View from Rainshadow Bay
"A timely exploration of race in America, We Hope for Better Things is an exercise of empathy that will shape many a soul."--Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Perennials
"Storytelling at its finest. Erin Bartels delivers a riveting story of forbidden love, family bonds, racial injustice, and the power of forgiveness. We Hope for Better Things is a timely, sobering, moving account of how far we've come . . . and how much distance remains to be covered. A compulsively readable, incredibly powerful novel."--Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List
"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Just out of curiosity, why was this stuff at a police station? What are these pictures of?”
Linden looked at his father, who looked down at his plate as if the answer were written there in the smear of coney sauce.
“They’re from the ’67 riots.”
I felt my heart rate tick up, scooted back up to the table, and leaned in. “Did you bring them?”
“Denny didn’t think I should.”
“Because of that,” Linden said. “Because you weren’t interested until you knew what they were, and I knew it would play out this way.” He turned to his father. “Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I say she’d only be interested in getting her hands on the photos?”
I sat back, trying to play it cool, trying to put that approachable-yet-intelligent smile back on my face. “Why shouldn’t I be? I’ve built my entire reputation on exposing corruption and neglect in this city. Photos of historic significance left to rot in a police station are just one more symptom of the larger problem. And I’m working on a big piece right now on the riots. Those photos have never been published—I assume. I’m sure the Free Press would pay handsomely to have the privilege of sharing them with the world.”
Linden pointed a finger in my direction. “There! There it is! Just like I said.”
Mr. Rich placed a hand on his son’s forearm. “Okay, okay. Just calm down and let me talk a moment.”
Linden withdrew the accusative finger and leaned back on his half of the seat, his million-dollar foot stretching out past my chair, blocking me in even as I knew he must want me out.
His father looked at me with tired eyes. “Miss Balsam, I’m burdened. I been carrying something around for fifty years that I got to let go of. This camera and those photos have to get back to Nora. Not to the paper, not to a museum or a library. To Nora. Now, I can’t take them. But you could. Are you willing to just look into it? Do a little poking around to see if you’re related like we think you are? And if you are, would you be willing to make contact with her? Kind of ease her into the idea slowly? These photos will stir up a lot of hard memories for an old lady. But I know it in my heart—the Lord laid it on my soul—I need to get these to her.”
One of the most important lessons I learned in my first couple years as a professional journalist was not to get emotionally involved with a story. There was simply too much heartbreaking stuff you had to write about. To let yourself empathize with the boy who was being bullied or the man who had lost his business or the woman whose daughter had been abducted, when there was nothing you could do to help the situation beyond making a voice heard—it was just too heavy a burden to bring home with you every night. So I built up a wall around my heart and stayed within it at all times when it came to work.
But there was something about this man’s eyes, the crooked lines on either side of his mouth suggesting he had found as much to frown at in life as to smile about, that chipped away at that wall.
I tapped my finger on the table. “Why do you have them if she’s the one who took them?”
“She didn’t take them. My uncle did. But he’s gone. They belong to her now.”
“She’s his wife.”
An interracial couple in the 1960s? This was getting interesting. Maybe I could work this into my larger series of articles about the riots and the time surrounding them. It had a great human angle, a larger cultural-historical angle, a connection to a beloved NFL player. I could even frame it as a personal family story if I truly was related. The question was, would I have the time? I still hadn’t been able to crack the protective shield around Judge Sharpe, the white whale of my investigative series, and time was running out.
“Okay, let’s say I am related to her. I still don’t know her and she doesn’t know me, so why would she even listen to me?”
“Miss Balsam, do you believe in God?”
The question caught me off guard. “Yes.”
“Do you believe he works all things together for his glory?”
My parents believed that. My sister did. I had once. Before I’d seen just how chaotic and messed up and out of control the world was. If journalism had taught me anything, it was that we were all just out there flailing and stumbling through a minefield of dangers and predators and dumb blind chance. But it was obvious that Mr. Rich believed God had given him a task—return these items—and that he would get no rest until the task was completed.
Instead of answering his question, I asked one of my own. “Why don’t you just ship it to her?”
“No, that ain’t the way.”
I waited for a logical reason why not, but clearly none was forthcoming.
“Would you just look into it?” he said.
Those beseeching brown eyes tugged a few more bricks out of my wall.
“Sure. I’ll look into it,” I said.
Mr. Rich nodded and slid a business card across the table. I avoided Linden’s sharp gaze as I pocketed the card and squeezed out of my chair.
“It was so nice meeting you,” I said. “Thanks for lunch.”
I walked out into the windy, sun-drenched afternoon, handed a dollar to the homeless guy who paced and mumbled a few yards from the door, and headed down the street to the old Federal Reserve building, which had housed the shrinking Free Press staff since 2014, and where a pile of work awaited me.
I tried to concentrate on the unending march of emails marked urgent in my inbox, including one from my editor—My office, ASAP—but my mind was spinning out all the directions this new story idea could go. This was decidedly inconvenient because I needed to focus.
I’d been stalking Judge Sharpe through his affable and unsuspecting son Vic for months, and I finally felt like a break was imminent. Vic had texted me last night to set up a meeting after he, in his words, “discovered something big I think you’ll be interested to know.” I had to get these photos off my mind for the moment, and the best way to do that was to get the research ball rolling.
I slipped out to the stairwell and pulled up Ancestry.com on my phone. A few minutes and thirty dollars later, I was clicking on little green leaf icons that waved at me from the screen. I found my parents and then began tracing my father’s branch back to the family tree. Grandfather Richard, Great-Uncle Warner, and ping, just like that, a great-aunt born Eleanor Balsam.
Taken from “We Hope For Better Things” by Erin Bartels. Copyright © 2019 by Erin Bartels. Used by permission of http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/revell.
Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for more than fifteen years. Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. A freelance writer and editor, she is a member of Capital City Writers and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin, and can be found online at www.erinbartels.com. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel.