A musical fairy tale for the ages


Lansing author Erin Bartels’ sixth book, “Everything Is Just Beginning,” tugs at the heart in all the right places. 

It’s a rags-to-riches, rise-to-fame plot. Michael, a young man who lives in a trailer with his estranged father’s twin brother, finds his soulmate across the street when he stumbles into a New Year’s Eve party at a nearby gated home. The homeowners, aging rockers who have put together a primo home recording and listening studio, are friends of his uncle.

As the clock nears midnight, Michael meets one of the hosts, legendary rocker Deb Wheeler, who was a chart-topper in the ‘60s before dropping out of the music scene. She introduces him to her daughter, Natalie, who is home from Julliard for the holidays.

While jamming with Deb’s husband, Dusty, Michael learns that Natalie is blind. That hasn’t stopped her from playing almost every instrument imaginable, however. Michael and Natalie begin to bond over music and soon form a duo.

Bartels said she’s tried to stretch her writing skills in each of her previous books; in this one, she tells the story from an “insecure” male point of view.

The book, about music, relationships and acceptance, generally follows the themes of Bartels’ previous releases.

“All my books touch on elements dealing with things you can’t change, but you have to come to grips with them and move forward,” she said. 

For Natalie, it’s her blindness; for Michael, it’s a lifetime of being down and out and estranged from his father.

Bartels said writing about music was “natural” for her. 

“I grew up in a household where music is very important. My dad made listening to music a ‘thing,’” she said. “He always had the best equipment, and he would come home from work and decompress by listening to music very low. He had very good speakers, and there was no talking in the listening room. I learned you don’t talk during movies or music playing.” 

Music continued to be a mainstay of her life as she began dating her husband, Zachary, who was in a band and worked for a radio station. 

“We still have eight guitars in the house,” she said. “I got my first mixtape from my husband, and when we were dating, he got me into punk music.” 

In an author’s note, Bartels acknowledges both her dad and husband for helping make music so important to her life.

“I channeled my dad … and I was drawing on my own life to fill in all the details of the world of ‘Everything Is Just Beginning,’” she wrote.

She drew extensively from friends and books to learn more about the Detroit music scene of the late ‘80s. Her descriptions of Detroit’s St. Andrews Hall ring true, right down to the “crappy bathroom.”

Bartels said even in the digital age, she still likes the physical aspect of vinyl and visits record shows to secure the albums she had growing up. She’s also building her guitar skills and wrote all the lyrics and melodies for the book’s songs, which are critical to the plot development.

With the help of local musician Wil Pruitt, she created Spotify playlists of Michael and Natalie’s original songs that can be accessed with a barcode and clever password from the book.

Bartels’ new book isn’t just a fluffy love story; it confronts death and dying and a complicated father-son relationship. It also explores the challenges of making it in the music industry and exactly what that means to Michael and Natalie’s relationship.

Now that this book is released, Bartels is on to the next. She just completed a new story about women painters whose art may be overlooked or misattributed as men’s.


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