Adam Cole is an author, musician, and entrepreneur. I had the pleasure of speaking with him about his multi-faceted career, his outlook on making it in the arts, and his book, A Note Before Dying.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to being an author. Have you always been a writer, or is it something you came to later in life?
I began writing when I was six years old. A novel! Writing was in my blood. By the time I was twelve, I had taken over the dining room with a typewriter and a ton of items to inspire me...a wizard sculpture, a crystal ball, a wooden staff. I wrote over 250 pages in the next 5 years, but when I realized that my plot was expanding the more I wrote rather than converging, I realized maybe I didn’t know as much about writing as I thought.
For better or worse, I’ve mostly taught myself, by writing, editing and reflecting on the feedback. I never took a creative writing class, and I only did my first workshop in my late forties. Trust issues, maybe?
I learn by writing poetry, novels, non-fiction, essays, lyrics, scripts, and each genre has its own lessons to master. One day I discovered I had no idea how to write a short story, so I began reading and writing tons of them. I enjoy the process of improving as much as I do the process of writing.
Who is the main character in A Note Before Dying, and what is the story about?
Mara Solomon is a musicologist who often finds herself taking care of other people, her mom, her neighbor. One day the friend who took care of her, the harpist Reanne Adastra, is found in the South River. The only possible clue to the motive for her death is a strange piece of music for the harp that she wrote right before her abduction.
Mara’s journey to solving the mystery of the piece and subsequently her friend’s murder brings her face to face with her own failings: her relationships, her career, and her confidence. Over the course of the book she has a chance to rewrite her story. If she can avoid getting killed herself!
What was your process for writing A Note Before Dying?
I typically spend years writing books. Motherless Child took me 17 years. I do lots of revising and sometimes even publish several editions as I find ways to improve the books.
In 2012 I got an idea for a mystery novel and thought, “I’d like write something easy for once, easy to write, easy to read.” I finished A Note Before Dying quickly and took it to publication.
My wife’s comments were a harbinger of things to come. She told me she thought the book lacked depth. While some of my male readers seemed satisfied with the fast-moving plot, I noticed that my female readers really wanted to know who Mara was, more of her backstory.
I had intended to chalk the book’s failings up to experience and work on the sequel. But each time I started I found myself hitting a wall. It took me a few years to realize why.
It was because I didn’t know my character at all! I hadn’t just left the details out of the first book, I didn’t know them! So I decided that I had to go back and flesh Mara out as a character, and the re-release of this book is my best effort to do that.
You’ve got several published books out there. How are you publishing this time around?
When I want to put a book into actual print form, I use Booklocker, with whom I’ve had a relationship going back nearly 20 years. In this case, I had already published the book in print in 2013, so revising the print edition made the most sense. Some of my books are only released as e-books, or published serially at my Authors Den site.
How has your career as a professional musician influenced your approach to writing? Do you see much crossover between the two fields?
I suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder. While I am a professional performing musician and teacher, I experience severe stage fright, and I’ve worked hard to overcome it through the years. What I’ve learned about performing has made a difference in my ability to write without freezing up, to share with others and to accept feedback.
One of the nicest lessons came from jazz. I’ve learned over the years that if I work hard to make the other players sound good, rather than make myself sound good, everything comes out really well. Everyone’s happy, everyone appreciates my support, and because they’re playing better, I sound better! The question I’ve been pondering lately is “Can I support my readers the way I support the other musicians on a bandstand?” It’s tricky. It comes down to making the reader feel smart, even slightly ahead of the curve, without giving up any of your surprises. That changes your priorities as a writer, moves them away from showing off and towards welcoming them in.
What has been the best source of outreach as you’ve built your audience?
I have a nice subscriber base through my website and my school, Grant Park Arts. They’re always interested in what I’m doing. I’ve also enjoyed the community at Authors’ Den. It’s wonderful to post a story or a poem and find that 1000 people have read it and several have reviewed it. You get over the idea that you have to be famous to feel fulfilled. You’ve got an audience, and it’s up to you to stay engaged with them.
How are you staying connected and encouraged in the midst of quarantine?
I started an interview series on my YouTube channel. I’m talking with musicians and creatives about what they do and why they do it. I’ve been sharing the interviews with my community and the response has been great!
What encouragement or advice do you have for aspiring authors?
There are several reasons to write. What’s your reason? Whatever that reason is, know it and work towards it.
You can write for money, which means you’ll be thinking hard about who’s going to read your book, what they want to read about, and what you know that fits that relationship. You can write for fun, which means that you can decide when to take it seriously and when to be sloppy, and nobody can tell you what to do. Or, like me, you can write because you’re compelled to do it.
If you don’t know why you’re writing, you might end up following advice that isn’t meant for you, and you’ll be confused, exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s fine to write for fun, and it’s fine to write for money! Just decide what you’re writing for (at least today) and do the things that work for that kind of life.