I have never interviewed a writer–or anyone for that matter–who embodies the term “hopeless romantic” as much as Sebastian Cole. He is kind. He is self-deprecating, and yes, hopeless when it comes to talking about love. And I mean that in the most complimentary sense of the word. There is a genuine absence of cynicism, a love of life–and of love–that comes through when he discusses the journey of writing his first novel Sand Dollar: A Story of Undying Love.
Sand Dollar is an epic love story about “the one who got away.” A man on his deathbed describes his life of love and loss to a wise orderly, only to discover a far greater truth about the past, present, and future. The book has been nominated as finalist in the ForeWord Firsts debut literary competition for first-time authors. Reviewers have compared Cole’s writing to Nicholas Sparks, best-selling author of The Notebook, who also happens to be Cole’s favorite author.
I sat down with Mr. Cole, a native Rhode Islander and graduate of Brown University, for a chat about what it was like to pen his debut novel.
What was your inspiration for Sand Dollar?
SC: “Once, while snorkeling on vacation, I spotted a sand dollar on the ocean floor. I dove down and picked it up, whereupon it exploded in my hand and disappeared in the surrounding water. For me, the sand dollar has come to represent life, and how fragile life really is. Just like the sand dollar, the blessings we have in our lives today are easily shattered tomorrow. I wrote Sand Dollar: A Story of Undying Love because I wanted the world to look at sand dollars the way I do.
Eight years ago, after watching the movie The Notebook, I said to myself, I could do that. I could write a story like that. In fact, most of us probably could. That’s because we have all experienced the loss of a loved one at some point in our lives. And for far too many of us, and for whatever circumstances, the one we loved was “the one who got away.” I’ve had one, and chances are, you’ve had one too! Sand Dollar tells of such a love – a love gained, a love lost, and through it all, a love that just won’t die.”
Like your favorite author Nicholas Sparks, you do not have an MFA in writing or any formal training. How did you approach writing your first novel? Tell us a bit about what the writing process was like for you.
SC: "Great question! I originally created Sand Dollar as a movie treatment. After kicking it around for a couple of months with my brother, who has experience in writing screenplays, I decided to novelize the story. But who knew writing a novel would be so difficult? I certainly didn’t. What I thought would take a couple of months, took a couple of years. Fortunately, I’m the type of person who believes I can achieve anything I set my mind to as long as I give it my all and don’t give up. So I figured I’d pick up the skills along the way, which is exactly how it went.
It took me five months to get to the “finish line” of my manuscript – that magical day when you write, “THE END.” Although I didn’t know it at the time, looking back, the first draft wasn’t written very well. The first thing I did was to send it out to those of my friends who read a lot, to get constructive criticism. This worked out great. After rewriting the story multiple times, I hired a professional to critique it. This also proved invaluable. I soon learned Lesson One in writing: writing is rewriting. There’d always be room for improvement.
By this point in time during this process, I felt that the story had risen to a level of brilliance. But what about my writing style and voice? It needed to be just as good as the best-selling authors’, because they don’t put an asterisk next to your name along with an explanation about your education. So I spent months combing through the manuscript, trying to bring the level of writing up to the level of the story.
When I felt that I couldn’t do any more based on my own limitations, I hired an editor. The first thing she did was cross off 5,000 unnecessary words. For instance, you shouldn’t write, “run fast.” You should simply write, “run”, because obviously if you’re running, it’s fast. Who knew?? Besides copy-editing, my editor did developmental editing, too, telling me where the story needed to be improved. It was kind of like digging for treasure – she’d tell me where to dig, and I’d come up with something great, as if she knew I had it in me before I ever did. I learned a lot simply by reading her edits and comments, and I became a better writer for it. She even told me that she never experienced anyone like me before, who learned so quickly, accomplishing everything she’d hoped for on my first try.
Finally, after rewriting the manuscript for a period of two years, it was ready to be published. And in the process, I learned how to write.
Would you say, then, that having to learn as you went along was your greatest challenge in writing Sand Dollar?
SC: “When you’re writing a novel, there’s no such thing as a challenge that can’t be overcome. There’s always a solution, and it’s usually found in the story itself. The biggest challenge for me so far has not been in the writing process, it has been in the marketing process. Writing a novel is the easy part.”
There are a lot of aspiring writers who are probably thinking, “Sure, easy for you to say,” right now! So, what was your greatest reward?
SC: “First of all, let me start by pointing out that Sand Dollar has an average rating of 4.6 stars (out of 5 stars) on Amazon with 59 reviews so far. What’s consistent in all of the reviews is that the surprise ending was amazing, it was well written, they couldn’t put the book down, you should keep a box of Kleenex handy (perhaps the book should be packaged with one), and they can’t wait to read another book by the author. Some people who have reviewed Sand Dollar have even called it the best love story they’ve ever read, with many of them comparing me to Nicholas Sparks. Who knew?!
What I find most rewarding is that people who’ve read Sand Dollar, especially those who have lost a loved one, feel that the book was written just for them, as if the author expressed in words what they have always felt. One person wrote that the story “touched the very depths of her soul,” and she’ll “cherish the book forever.” She loved the book so much that she even had the book made into earrings! Another person wrote that Sand Dollar was her “lighthouse in the storm” — this coming from a woman who had just survived Hurricane Sandy. Another woman was moved to tears as she finished the book on Veterans Day, missing her father, a veteran. And the list goes on…
So, my greatest reward lies not in any number or rating. My greatest reward lies in the effect I’ve had on the lives of others through my writing. Writing Sand Dollar has been the single most gratifying thing I have ever done in my life. I only wish more people knew about Sand Dollar so they could read it. I honestly feel the world would benefit, if they only knew…”
How wonderful to know your story has affected people so profoundly. So, what are you working on now? Any hints for readers about your next book?
SC: “I’m working with my brother on the screenplay adaptation of Sand Dollar. It would make a great movie! I’ll start working on my next book shortly. However, if I told you what it was about, I’d have to kill you! (Just kidding!) In the meantime, I’m focused on my greatest challenge to date — marketing.”
Well, hopefully we did our small part to get the word out about your beautiful story. Thank you for telling us more about it how it came to be.
SC: “My pleasure.”
Sebastian Cole will be signing copies of Sand Dollar: A Story of Undying Love at Barrington Books on Thursday, December 13th at 6:30pm. Barrington Books is located at 184 County Rd. in Barrington. For more information on the event, call (401) 245-7925 or visit the store website at www.barringtonbooks.com.