Central Alberta rancher-turned-writer brings life experiences into fiction

J.L. Cole explores the complexities of relationships in debut novel Silver Heights

By Mark Weber For the Advance

Not every debut novel nails the complexities of relationships in such an accessible and engaging way as Central Alberta author J.L. Cole’s book has in her debut Silver Heights.

Published by Black Rose Writing just last month, the book is a testament to Cole’s striking talents as a storyteller, and her ability to figuratively ‘paint pictures’ of everything about the story from the characters to the landscapes to the settings.

Cole, a married mom of two who lives on an acreage in the Brownfield area, knew that a rural setting was ideal and with that in mind, the idea for the plot was essentially sparked in 2016.

As the liner notes points out, the story is set on a Alberta ranch where readers follow the goings-on of a set of characters in ‘modern rural living’.

The setting may be peaceful, but there is plenty of emotion, drama and humour that bristles under the surface as Rayna, who had envisioned a busy urban life and career, meets country boy Ethan.

They marry and begin to carve out a life together – but it’s anything but easy. Country life isn’t exactly what Rayna expected it to be, plus she’s got her hands full with a mother-in-law who is initially anything but accepting.

Along the way, however, adjustments are made, life lessons are learned and grace is extended. From the first page, it’s a compelling, thoughtful read with an unmistakable feeling of authenticity to it as well. Readers will really take to Rayna, who is funny, feisty and independent but also is dealing with a painful past.

Ultimately, the strength of the book stems from Cole’s ability to really ‘flesh out’ her characters – this group is far from one-dimensional.

We are granted revealing insights into each one of them, from Rayna’s closest friends to her family members, and it all the more helps us to understand her and how she reacts to things.

Best of all, this woman is tremendously ‘real’ – Cole really has held nothing back in digging deep to provide us with this circle of characters we find ourselves caring about.

Rayna learns more and more about who she is and why she ‘reacts’ to people and situations the way she does, and it’s in these moments that the book particularly feels, again, very accessible.

“I had wanted to write a book for a long time, and I had a few idea but they weren’t really panning out. So I wanted to do something that I was familiar enough with where I wouldn’t have to stop and do (extensive) research on,” Cole explains during a recent chat.

“Some people have told me that there are parts of every character they feel that they can relate to – which was kind of the goal of the book,” she explained. “My writing also does have some personal touches to it, and I think that’s what makes it real and something that people can relate to,” she said.

“There are definitely things (in there) from my own life and my family. There are definitely personal touches added in, and I think every writer does that to a certain extent,” she added.

As to the writing process, Cole said she knew from the start what both the beginning and the end of the story would entail.

The process itself took time – several drafts saw changes here and there as the intricacies of the plot came together, but Cole relished the richness of the creative adventure from start to finish – and she’s already moving forward with her second novel. “I think that’s why I like writing so much – it helps you make sense of the world, and it’s also (offers) a bit of an escape from it,” she said.

Another area, as mentioned, where Cole’s skill shines through is in character development – these are dynamic folks who are continually evolving, moving forward and, in some cases, open to examining their own motivations.

To keep characters from falling into predictable and static states shows a talent for, again, bringing these characters to life and keeping them interesting and vital.

“I like it when you sit down to write, and you are so into the story that you can see it in your mind as you are writing – and everything else kind of falls away,” she explained. “You’re sitting there, and all of a sudden it’s been an hour or two of being immersed in this world. It’s what I love about writing and reading, is the idea of kind of escaping to a new world.” It’s also something of a journey of self-discovery as she explores her own thoughts as they ‘gel’ into story form, she noted.

In Stettler, copies of the book can be purchased at Sweet Home on Main Street. In Castor, it’s available at Meadowland Ag Chem Sales.

For more information, visit jl-cole.com for more about online sales and links to social media.

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