Author Interview and Giveaway – The Lady with the Dark Hair – Erin Bartels

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I have for you a gorgeous dual-time book revolving around an art mystery chocked full of mostly set in Gibraltar–quite an unusual setting, not sure I’ve seen #ChristFic set there before. Welcome Erin to the Index! 

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The Lady with the Dark Hair

Esther Markstrom and her artist mother have always been proud of their ancestor, painter Francisco Vella. They even run a small museum and gallery dedicated to raising awareness of his scandalously underappreciated work. But when Esther reconnects with her former art history professor, she finds her once-solid family history on shaky ground as questions arise about Vella’s greatest work–a portrait entitled The Lady with the Dark Hair.

In 1879, Catalan orphan-turned-fugitive Viviana Torrens has found sanctuary serving in the home of an aging artist in Southern France. It is in his studio that she meets Francisco Vella, a Gibraltarian merchant who sells artists’ pigments. When her past catches up to her, she is compelled to pose as Vella’s sister and join him on his travels or be deported back to Spain to stand trial. Along the way she will discover that the many parts she has been playing in order to hide her identity have far-reaching implications she never could have foreseen.

 Erin’s Website

Erin Bartels


Questions about Erin’s Story

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The research! I have always been interested in art, both viewing and creating it. So to write a book focused on painters and painting was an absolute delight. I got to plunge myself into the biographies of female painters, both famous and (more often) obscure, and histories of particular art movements. I learned about the discovery and adoption of the pigments artists have used over the centuries (which is fascinating and occasionally horrifying stuff). I visited several special exhibits and collections of world-famous paintings and painters at top-tier museums (you know, the stuff you see in books and on posters, but the real thing). I did a lot of painting myself (more on that later).

It’s one of the things I like most about writing all of my novels: I get to go deep into subjects I’m curious and passionate about and all the while I’m also getting stuff done. Win-win.


Why did you choose the geographical location in which your book is set?

Much of the book, in both the past and present timelines, is set in Gibraltar, a setting I have not personally encountered in my own fiction reading. Beyond it being unique and not overdone as a setting, I chose Gibraltar for several story-based reasons. It is a crossroads of different cultures, a gateway to two seas and two continents, a geological structure that is both solid and riddled with caves and tunnels, and a piece of land that has been fought over for millennia. All of those characteristics are things I explore in my characters and the place itself becomes a metaphor and a touchpoint for my two main characters, Viviana and Esther. Its peculiar history also allowed me to consider issues of conquest, colonization, and control in both history and in my characters’ lives. I became interested in Gibraltar through conversations with a former professor of mine who is Gibraltarian, and I was able to rely on him to provide many books, conversations, and other resources that were vital to my research. I hope after reading this book you want to travel there!


What research did you do to make your character(s) authentic?

Beyond reading many, many books about Gibraltar, painting and painters, colors and pigments, and mental illness (one character in the story suffers from schizophrenia), I did a lot of hands-on research. For all of 2022, I painted one self-portrait a month since the story centers around a portrait and two characters (one in each timeline) paints self-portraits regularly. I shared these all on my social media channels—the failures and the successes. Though I’ve been painting since I was a child, I have been intimidated by the idea of painting people, so this was a fun, eye-opening, and ultimately successful experiment in learning how to accurately depict the human face. I also participated in a life drawing class, both as an artist and as a model, to understand what it feels like to draw a nude person or to sit for long periods, totally exposed, while strangers draw you. Oddly, it’s not as weird or uncomfortable as you might think.


Questions about Erin’s Reading

If your job was to sell one author’s historical fiction (besides your own) which author’s wares would you want to peddle? And which is your favorite by that author?

Oddly enough, it is my job to sell other authors’ fiction! I’m a marketing copywriter for a Christian publishing house, so I get to read a lot of great books and write the back cover copy that is meant to make others want to buy the book. One of the best I’ve read is Sarah Sundin, who writes WWII historical romances. Sarah has meticulous attention to detail, but that never takes over the story. I think that is something that separates the best historical fiction from stories that are on the dry side. The best authors know how to use their research to transport you to another time and place, but they keep you focused on character and plot to drive you through the story. And Sarah Sundin is exceptionally good at this. Her When Twilight Breaks is the first in a loose trilogy (I say loose because they are standalones but there is some character crossover) along with Until Leaves Fall in Paris and The Sound of Light about American women in Europe (Munich, Paris, Copenhagen) in the early years of the war. You can’t go wrong with one of Sarah’s books.

What was the last Christian Historical Novel you read, and what was your favorite thing about it?

The last one I read is Until Our Time Comes by debut author Nicole M. Miller, which doesn’t actually release until July 2024, but you can preorder it now. What I liked about this book was that it opened up a true WWII story I knew nothing about and, in fact, had never heard of: the fight to save hundreds of Arabian horses bred at the world-famous Janów Podlaski stables in Poland from occupation by both the Russian and German armies. Since WWII is such a popular time and place to set historical fiction, it runs the danger of rehashing the same old stories. So to discover a completely new-to-me slice of the WWII pie was unexpected and exciting. Hopefully there will be additional novels from Nicole M. Miller in the future!until-our-time-comes

Erin is giving away either a paperback (USA Only). Enter the Rafflecopter below!

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