I recently had the immense pleasure of writing a review for Sand Dollar, an emotional and intensely romantic fantasy by Sebastian Cole. To enhance the experience even more, I had a chance to chat with the author about the inspiration behind his debut novel, the challenges of being an indie writer, his big-screen ambitions, and men in the romance genre.
Q: Welcome to Miss A, Sebastian. Could you please tell us something about yourself and how you started your adventure as a writer of romantic fiction?
A: After graduating Brown University in the 80s with a degree in Economics (Economics, of all things!), I worked in corporate America for twenty years until I decided to take a leap of faith and leave my family’s business to pursue my dreams. So I put myself on a path that I’d hoped would lead to happiness and personal fulfillment. But at my age, figuring out which path to take was not as easy as I had thought. About three years ago, after trying several new careers without success, I conceived Sand Dollar as a movie concept, which stemmed from an experience I once had while snorkeling on vacation. After diving down to pick up a sand dollar from the ocean floor, it exploded in my hand and disappeared in the clear water around me. For me, the fragile sand dollar has come to represent life, for the blessings we have in our lives today are easily shattered tomorrow. I wanted the world to look at sand dollars differently, the way I do, though my eyes. And I thought the visual of a sand dollar exploding on the big screen would make for an awesome opening scene in a movie. After kicking a movie treatment around for a couple of months with my brother, who has experience in writing screenplays, I made the commitment to novelize Sand Dollar into a book. And so, quite fortuitously, my career as an author had begun. I had never written a book before, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I’d soon find out.
I’ve always been pretty good at expressing my inner feelings, and I’m definitely a true romantic. I believe in true love, love at first sight, and finding the one person in life you’re meant to be with. After watching the movie The Notebook eight years ago in the theater, I remember thinking to myself, I could do that. I could write a story like that. In fact, most of us probably could. That’s because we all have 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.
Q: Such a soulful and touching story, Sebastian. And a great way to start your career as a novelist, too! I read in your biography that you don’t have a formal education in writing…like many successful authors, after all. Did this lack represent a challenge or rather an advantage that may have helped you unbridle your creativity?
Not having any preconceived notions about how you’re supposed to write a novel definitely unbridled my creativity. Among other things, it allowed me to tell a story that mimics the heart-wrenching journey that we call life. And with two timelines and a considerable amount of narration, the story reads more like a movie, which is kind of risky for a first-time author. But it’s one of the things that makes Sand Dollar uniquely different from other novels in its genre, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.
However, not having any formal training or education in creative writing definitely made things difficult. But I refused to let a “minor technicality” like that stand in my way. I knew I had an amazing story brewing in my head, one that needed to be born, and I was determined to do whatever it takes to turn it into a well-written novel. 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 what happened.
What I thought would take a couple of months, took a couple of years. When I felt I was ready, I tried soliciting literary agents with a one-page query letter, synopsis, and whatever their submission guidelines called for. Oh, did I mention the Catch 22 in traditional publishing? Apparently, you need a literary agent to get traditionally published. However, in order to get a literary agent, you need to have already been published. So it’s nearly impossible to get an agent unless you’re a famous celebrity, politician, sports figure, etc. Certainly, they’d give me more credence if I had a BFA or MFA in creative writing, which I had not. Like all roads to success, this one’s paved with rejection. And after tons of rejection letters from literary agents, I had a choice to make: give it up or step it up. Since giving up is not really in my vocabulary, I stepped it up.
So I hired an editor and I learned a lot simply by reading her edits and comments. I had rewritten the manuscript time and time again for a period of two years, and in the process, I learned how to write. Looking back, I had no idea how long it was going to take or how hard it was going to be. Writing the manuscript, however, was the easy part. Navigating the way to a successful book, now that’s the hard part.
Q: You are quite an inspiration for authors at their first experience. Now, do you find the label of romantic fantasy to be an appropriate one for Sand Dollar?
A: I’m so glad you asked that question! Such a simple question; such a complicated answer, ha. At first, I was hesitant to label Sand Dollar as a romance novel because I was afraid that people might associate it with steamy, sexy, or even trashy, which does not describe Sand Dollar at all. However, upon further inspection, I realized that romance is a broad term that encompasses many areas, including mine. Nevertheless, what I really wanted to do was label it a love story, under the umbrella of commercial fiction. However, since love story is not an official BISAC genre – blah, blah, blah — I’ve labeled it a romantic fantasy (or is it fantasy romance – I don’t know). Does that answer the question?
Okay, you’re right: romantic fantasy doesn’t quite do the book justice, especially since the fantasy element doesn’t even come into play until the end of the story, albeit along with a complexion-altering twist. So perhaps a more appropriate label would be to call it a contemporary romance, or even a contemporary tragedy, for that matter. In summary, the best label for Sand Dollar is contemporary romance tragedy fantasy or contemporary tragedy fantasy romance – something like that…
Q: A very moving and engaging story, for sure. Did you write Sand Dollar with a specific audience in mind?
A: Yes. My target audience is women and women. Too general? Okay, anyone whose favorite movie/book is The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. I figure if you like heart-wrenching, tearjerker love stories by people like Nicholas Sparks, you’ll love me! As a writer, I did everything in my power to evoke every emotion out of you, good and bad, emotions that, among other things, might have you yelling at the main characters at times. As a result, by the time you’ve reached the end of the book, you’ll feel like you’ve lived an entire life, Noah Hartman’s life. And you’ll be anxious to live another. Interestingly enough, however, even people (including men) who normally don’t read romance novels have stated in their reviews that they were pleasantly surprised with Sand Dollar, and they’d recommend it to their friends.
Q: Since you mentioned men as unlikely consumers of romantic fiction…male authors and romance: oxymoron or a refreshingly new perspective that sheds light on a man’s emotional world?
A: An oxymoron, ha! Well, with the exception of a few authors like Nicholas Sparks and myself, I suppose that most would consider it a contradiction. That’s because most publishers require romance novels to be written from the P.O.V (point of view) of the heroine, not the hero. Therefore, it stands to reason that female authors, not male authors, dominate the romance genre. But is it also because men aren’t capable of being in touch with, and expressing, their innermost feelings the way women can? Hardly. But first men have to learn to overcome their childhood, a childhood that teaches them that big boys don’t cry. And along with suppressing tears, they learn to suppress other emotions that would otherwise make them seem vulnerable or weak.
When we grow up, we want to be a lot like Superman, strong and protective. But then someone like Lois Lane comes around and wants us to also be sensitive and expressive. But it’s hard for us at first because this contradicts our nature. Then one day, we loose the woman of our dreams, and even worse than a piece of Kryptonite tugging at our necks, we find out just how weak and vulnerable we really are. When we finally realize what matters most, we learn to open up about our innermost feelings. We learn that even Superman is entitled to cry.
Despite society and the risk of appearing vulnerable, there are plenty of men out there who are eager to express their emotions. There are plenty of men out there who’d travel to the end of the earth and back for a woman they love more than life itself. And there are plenty of male authors like myself who can write about it. Sometimes, all it takes is a little piece of Kryptonite, that’s all.
Q: Let’s dream big…if you were given the chance to see your novel on the big screen, who would you choose as director and main cast?
A: When I wrote Sand Dollar, I wrote the part of Josh specifically for Morgan Freeman; so definitely Morgan! I’d like to see Emma Stone — a vivacious, young redhead — play the role of Robin, and perhaps Channing Tatum as Noah. Although, who wouldn’t want to see Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams reunited once again on the big screen? I certainly would! And since my favorite movies are The Notebook and The Family Man, perhaps Nick Cassavetes or Brett Ratner would care to take a shot at directing the movie. And you never know… dreams sometimes do come true, so we might as well dream big!
Q: Gosling and McAdams… great chemistry there! They would be my pick. Do you plan to incorporate your own life experience also in your next novel? Anything in the works?
A: To some extent, I think every writer incorporates a part of themselves into their writing, whether drawing from past experiences or inner emotions. In writing my next novel, I’ll do my best to once again draw from that which is deep inside of me.
Currently, I’m working with my brother on the screenplay adaptation of Sand Dollar. It would make a great movie, don’t you think? And I’ll start writing my next book, shortly. However, if I told you what it was about, I’d have to kill you! (Just kidding!)
Q: I am sure Sand Dollar would work beautifully as a movie. Is Sand Dollar available on the shelves of any book retailer?
A: Currently, Sand Dollar is only available online at major book retailers. You can, however, special-order it from just about any bookstore. Hopefully, all of that may soon change, as I’m actively seeking a literary agent again. So stay tuned!
Q: Twitter style, about 140 characters: why should readers pick up Sand Dollar?
A: 4.6 stars @Amazon. Some reviews call SD the best love story. Many comparisons to Nick Sparks. Unforgettable. Bring Kleenex. Touches soul.
Sebastian, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Best of luck!