Justin Cole Salinas (Justin Cole): Singer, songwriter, novelist
Meeting the Rising Writer No. 6
We’ve had some gorgeous weather here in South Texas. I can’t say how often we are blessed with it, but I can tell you it’s relished by every person here.
Today, I’d like to introduce you someone who, when I first met him, was a songwriter. Now, he writes his own fiction, and he goes by Justin Cole in his writing. He has agreed to participate in a virtual interview with me, and I will share that with you today.
Thank you, Justin, for participating in this interview.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Victoria, Texas. I live in Kingsville, Texas now.
When did you start writing?
I started writing when I was eight or nine. It was probably the third grade when I realized that I really loved writing, storytelling in particular.
Were you always good at writing?
It was always my strongest subject all through school. I’d often get in trouble in math classes for writing songs or poems. I was a published songwriter for five years with CEG Publishing, which was an awesome experience and really helped me tell stories in an almost summarized, straightforward kind of way. It also helped me to always try and add an aesthetic flow that’s visually appealing. I like to mess around with the length of sentences, i.e. Cormac McCarthy. I guess you could say I approach longer works of fiction with the eye of a songwriter.
How long were you a songwriter? Why did it change?
I’ve been writing songs and playing guitar since I was 12. I started playing shows around my hometown and surrounding communities when I was about 14. When I was about 22, a Texas Country artist named J.R. Castillo took me under his wing and started letting me open big shows for him, and started taking me to Nashville to get to know people in the industry. In 2010, I got my first (and only) deal with CEG Publishing and recorded an EP produced by Johnny Garcia (Garth Brooks’ lead guitarist). I still write songs and pitch them to this day. But honestly, I just got kind of bored with songwriting. It started becoming harder and harder for me to fit the stories I wanted to tell in that 3-4 minute songwriting box. In other words, I really wanted to write longer pieces where I could really go in-depth with what I was trying to say. Fiction writing was the best catalyst to do so…and here I am.
What do you hope to achieve with your writing?
I just want to tell a good story. Something that the reader doesn’t want to put down. I like to touch on controversial subject matters or extraordinary situations and make up a story that regular folks can relate to.
What inspires your writing?
A vast number of things. Past experiences and actual things I’ve gone through, of course. But I really like to observe real people in real life situations, then make up characters and transplant them into those situations, and write about how they react.
What are you currently working on? How did you begin working on it?
I’m currently working on a novel about the narcocorridos (drug ballads) that are popular in Mexico and the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. It’s about how they glorify the cartels and the narco cultura (drug culture) that rule their lives. It’s titled Corridos.
I started working on this idea recently because I’m fascinated by the role music plays in people’s lives… how its widespread influence over the minds of young people can alter their lives, even to the point of life and death. Especially in the case of the narcocorridos. It parallels the East Coast versus West Coast gangster rap that was popular in the late ’80s through the ’90s in a lot of ways. I want to portray the violence that is manifested out of these narcocorridos and give people insight to what a crucial role music plays in a drug cartel-fueled culture.
How long have you been working on it?
I’ve attempted writing a couple novels before but unfortunately never finished. My current WIP is the first one I’ve actually taken the time to story map, outline, and just generally plan out meticulously instead of writing by the seat of my pants. I also made a declaration to myself that I would finish this novel no matter what! I’ve been working on it for about 2 months now.
Give us insight to your main character. Who is he or she? What is his or her purpose?
My main character is named Valentino (Tino) Quesada. He is an ex-singer of narcocorridos, and he has family ties to a major cartel in Mexico. After he is attacked on stage and can’t perform anymore, he starts up a narcocorrido record label and soon becomes one of the most powerful men in Tejano music, while also becoming a huge target and asset to multiple cartels. His purpose is to spark a revolution through the power and influence of music.
What do you do before you begin a day of writing?
I write early in the morning. 5:30-6:00 a.m. I believe Hemingway said it best when he said, “When I am working on a book or a story, I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”
Coffee comes before all else. I enjoy a few cups, smoke a joint, then a cigarette, while looking over my previous progress from the last time I happen to write. By the third cup and last drag off my morning smoke, I’m ready to get crackin’!
Do you research your book?
I research like crazy! I like to visit the places that will be providing a backdrop of my setting, seeing as I tend to write about places in Texas. If at all possible, I like to spend a week in each location and explore. I don’t get to do that all that often because of my day job. But when I get to, it enriches everything: plot, characters, dialogue, and especially description.
To me, the research is the fun part of the writing process. It’s when you get to free your inner muse and let him or her wander around the real world for a while in search of ideas for stories, characters, etc.
Have you ever worked with a writer on a project?
I have never worked with another fiction writer on a book or story, but I have worked with lots of songwriters when I was signed to CEG Publishing for 5 years.
How would you say writing differs between novel-writing and songwriting? Aside from the obvious…how does it channel your “muse” differently and draw on your inspiration?
For me, songwriting has to fit into a certain format, verse-chorus-verse, etc. Fiction writing is more loose. You can color outside the box, right off the page if you want to, and I really enjoy that. The one thing that songwriting gets across in the first five seconds that most books simply can’t is capturing the mood. You know if you hear a bunch of minor chords strung together, more than likely it will be a sad or gloomy tune. If you hear a G,C,D progression, more than likely it’s going to be a happy, upbeat song. I just love how the composition of the music compliments the lyrics one wrote, and it’s always interchangeable.
When I write songs, I tend to write around a title, or “the hook” of the song. It’s just always how I’ve had the most success writing strong songs. When I write fiction, there tends to be a little more planning involved. I personally think the biggest difference between fiction writing and songwriting is character development. In fiction, you have to have strong characters to ensure your audience will not want to throw the book at the wall after the first few pages; in songwriting the story itself is the most important aspect, the characters are second fiddle, and you rarely see dialogue between them.
My muse approaches research into songs or stories the same way. He’s always looking for real people in real life situations. He just takes a different route to get to the finished product when it comes time to write.
Are you reading any books right now?
I am. About 85% of what I read is for research for stories I’m working on. Right now I’m reading:
1.) The Free Energy Secrets of Cold Electricity by Peter A. Lindemann
2.) A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
3.) Chakra Awakening: The Lost Techniques by Acharya Shree Yogeesh
Do you have any advice you’d like to give other writers?
I mentioned letting your muse free earlier, and I believe you should get to know your inner muse, also get acquainted with your inner critic.
The muse usually sits in a poorly lit, smoke-filled room somewhere and clumsily compiles whatever info he or she gathers into something loosely resembling a story. The story is then given to your inner critic. The critic critiques harshly and without mercy in an all-white sterile room that feels like a dentist office in a high-rise building. The critic moves some things around, slices and dices, cleans it up a bit, revises, edits, revises…edits again. Then, nine months later, a story. Ha!
I, for one, love the fights between my inner muse and critic. The muse constantly accuses the critic for destroying his or her work! The critic quietly judges the muse for being such a disorganized slob!
It’s a macrocosm of the daydreamer as opposed to the author inside of you.
What/who are your favorite or most reliable support groups?
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Read voraciously. Write fearlessly.
Connect with Justin and keep up with his writing journey:
Thank you again, Justin. Thank you, everyone who read this, for being a part of it. It’s always interesting to meet fellow writers, and it’s up to y’all to get the word out and help each other grow. That’s the purpose of Authors’ Tale and the Tale Tuesday posts.
Today, I don’t know what I’ll do other than homework, work, and hopefully a bit of writing. I guess we’ll see. If you didn’t have plans to write today, get it in there. At least thirty minutes. 😉
Have a wonderful day, and I’ll talk to you soon.