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Coming home again

September 23, 2007
By MaryAnn Kromer
Two years ago, Jon Adams found himself single again at 65. His design business had tapered as the cost of living on the West Coast kept climbing. It was time to retire where “the ground stays in the same place.”

Being “an old Bascom kid from the Comer clan,” Adams considered going back to the village where he had “mowed every yard” in his youth.

“During the 29 years I lived in California, I came back here at least once a year,” he said. “I came to a lot of high school reunions every five years. I’ve always felt this was ‘home ground.’ I still have Bascom dirt under my toenails. I grew up in Meadowbrook Park.”

As fate would have it, Adams was in Fostoria in November 2002 when tornadoes ripped through Seneca County. That memory did not deter him from coming home, though.

Adams said he enjoys running into classmates from his Hopewell-Loudon class of 1958. The class of 37 students is to have its 50th reunion next year. He still calls the women “girls” because they seem more like sisters after 12 years of school with them.

“In 2005, I came back and decided to look around. I rented this place (in Tiffin) and made the decision to move and made all the arrangements. On Sept. 30, I left California with three cats in the back … a litter box, water bowls and my parakeet in his cage in the passenger seat, a couple quilts, pillow and my computers,” Adams said.

The move brought him closer to family members. For about five months, Adams cared for his elderly mother until she was able to move into Autumnwood Care Center. Now 89, Vera Comer Adams has been a widow since her husband’s death in 1984.

“I take her out every Sunday for brunch. I see her just about every day. I bring her to the house to make phone calls,” Adams said. “My dad was a Junior Home kid. His name was Floyd Leslie Adams. He graduated (from the home) in 1937.”

The past two years have been productive for Adams. He has published two novels, been active with the Tiffin Art Guild and joined a retirees’ golf league. He is an avid fan of the Cleveland sports teams.

“All those years I lived in Long Beach, I went to every Indians game at Anaheim Stadium,” Adams said. “Now, I’m (in) hog heaven when it comes to sports. I go to Hopewell football games when they’re at home, rain or shine.”

The road

to California

To understand Adams’ current pursuits, one must know where he has been. Following high school graduation, Adams joined the Army and served as a ranger for three years. Part of the time, he was stationed in Germany.

Upon his return and discharge, Adams worked in Fostoria for a year before enrolling at Bowling Green State University. In 1966, he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design and painting and a minor in English. In 1968, he got married and bought a house in Peninsula.

“I worked in the Cleveland area for a couple advertising agencies for about four years. In the meantime, I started teaching part time evenings at the University of Akron,” Adams said.

He quit his job in Cleveland when he was hired full time to teach commercial art and graphic design. Teaching turned out to be mentally exhausting for Adams.

In 1976, after a split with his wife, he was offered a position with an ad agency in California. He set out July 4, 1976.

“That’s the day I left with one cat and a Fiat 124 Spyder convertible all full of my goods,” Adams said. “The first year I was there, I did the thing that everybody wants to do — live on the beach — which I wouldn’t recommend.”

In Long Beach, he met a woman who would become his second wife in 1979. Adams said he felt he wasn’t making enough money in advertising, so he went to work for Merrill Lynch.

“I became what is called a registered representative, which is a fancy name for a stockbroker. I was trained in New York City and worked in downtown LA for about four years. In 1984, I went to a demonstration sponsored by a little company called Apple Computer,” Adams recalled.

The demonstration on “a little black and white screen,” convinced Adams to purchase a Macintosh. At the time, the laser printer had not been invented. Only four pieces of software were available. Adams said the machine had no hard drive but used a “really cool” 3 1/2-inch diskette.

“The more I played with this, the more I realized, there was a potential here. … Then the laser printer came out. It was incredibly expensive, about $4,400, and it weighed a ton. I don’t know where they all are now, but they’d make terrific boat anchors,” Adams said.

Nevertheless, he bought the printer and started doing freelance art and design jobs.

As his earnings shrank with Merrill Lynch, Adams took a position as art director with a budding franchise, Video Connection. The owners were former movie producers, and their stock was half beta and half VHS. His employers bought a printer, and Adams used it to print the store’s catalogs and in-store advertising.

Meanwhile, the freelancing grew enough Adams opened his own digital design studio in 1985. Although he found it “scary,” working for himself proved to be successful. He called his business Hired Hand Design and operated it until 2005. Adams said he frequently upgraded his computers and printers.

“My main client was an aircraft company called McDonnell Douglas, which is now Boeing,” Adams said. “My client base was in their customer relations department. Every time they delivered a plane, they’d have a big ‘dog and pony show’ out on the runway. They’d have a band and speakers and hand out plaques and souvenirs. … I did all that for them.”

Sometimes on one day’s notice, Adams was asked to prepare a brochure and plaque. Adams would work all night to finish the order.

Business was good until the company changed hands.

Writing

Adams said he always enjoyed writing, but his first attempts produced “a couple awful novels” before he switched to short stories. Many were based on his travels in Europe.

In the early 1990s, he started submitting his work to journals and literary magazines.

“I couldn’t get anything published. Nobody would buy anything. Finally, about 1992, I started getting acceptances,” Adams said.

Although payment was minimal, Adams started building his writing credits. He signed up for writing workshops at which he improved his skills and met other authors like himself. He also met science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, a speaker at one of the seminars.

“I took him to a bookstore in Long Beach. … It’s called Acres of Books. He got lost in there, and I had to go hunting for him to get him back to the hotel room. I found him where his own books were,” Adams said. “I had a lot of his books at home, so I drove him over to my place, and he signed all my books.”

Meeting the famous author motivated Adams to enroll in classes for people age 55 and older at the University of California.

Over a number of years, he completed courses and received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing in 2004.

With his new training, Adams turned out more than 200 short stories and had about a dozen published between 1999 and 2005.

But all was not idyllic. His second marriage was ending. For 15 months after selling his home in Long Beach, Adams lived in a remote cabin and devoted himself to writing “two pretty darn good novels.” Retirement has given Adams an opportunity to immerse himself in writing. His favorite “gestation area” is the front porch.

“I write most of the time. I try to spend at least six hours a day writing. … When I’m working on a major work, I’ll write 12 or 15 hours a day. Sometimes I write around the clock and catnap if I can,” Adams said.

He keeps a file of “starts,” each describing a single character. Some are based on real people and events. Adams’ most recent novel, “Teaching Collette,” evolved from an experience that happened as his divorce was being settled.

“I have a buddy in the San Francisco Bay area. On this trip he tried to convince me to move up there and take on a job tutoring a teenager who wasn’t doing real well in school,” Adams said. “I was sitting on my porch in early April this year. All of a sudden I clicked it together. I realized there was a story there.”

Over about two weeks, the characters took shape. With a few pages written, Adams said he put it aside for a day or two. He went to the grocery and bought coffee, doughnuts and a few other supplies.

“I started writing around the clock. In 18 days, I had the novel done — 72,000 words. I let the characters write the story, literally. Good novels are character-driven. Dialogue comes from the characters. … It is magic when that happens,” he said.

When the story reached a tragic point, Adams said he was reluctant to let a character die, even though the plot required it. He sent the first draft of the story by e-mail to a group of readers who checked it for grammatical and other errors. Adams said “Collette” required 20 more drafts before it was “done,” but he calls it “the best thing I’ve ever written.”

Getting the book published was almost as difficult as writing it, Adams said. After submitting 47 query letters to literary agents, he discovered few traditional publishers were accepting manuscripts from writers who had not previously published a book.

The next avenue was self-publication. Adams also had finished “False Witnesses,” a crime suspense novel, so he contracted with Lulu to produce that book as a “test” before submitting “Teaching Collette.” He ended up having the print-on-demand company publish both books.

Now, Adams is trying to market his work.

He had a Sept. 8 book signing event at the Tiffin Art Guild and said he hopes to set up a book talk, possibly at Paper and Ink, which carries his novels. He has given a copy to his mother and to Tiffin-Seneca Public Library. Both sell for $17.95 online at www.lulu.com.

Adams said he regrets not getting into writing earlier in his life, but he also suspects he wasn’t ready to be an author until now. His varied jobs, travels and personal experiences have given him a storehouse from which to fashion characters, settings and stories.

“What amazes me is the amount of wisdom that you collect. So many people don’t use it,” he said.

Rekindling

the fires of art

Adams said he still does two design jobs per year by cell phone and Internet. He designed covers for his novels on the computer.

Adams said he paints “in spurts.” He said only one piece is left from his “orchid period.” Recently, he sold one of his paintings from the Tiffin Art Guild gallery. Most of his current work is landscapes done in acrylic.

Adams said he carries cameras in his car, and the photographs serve as the basis for the paintings.

A charter member of the Tiffin Art Guild, Adams recently was appointed to its board of directors. He was chairman of the TAG booth during the Heritage Festival. Adams also painted a rocking chair and assisted with the recent Rock On auction.

Samples of his art can be viewed online at www.

jondude.com.

Glad to be back

Some California friends who have visited Adams question his choice of residence. He stays connected with them via e-mail.

Adams admits he misses the large bookstores, but he is able to fill that void on occasional trips to Pittsburgh to visit relatives.

He has found some favorite locals spots, such as Java Rave, and produce stands in the area. Adams especially savors the locally-grown tomatoes and recently canned a batch of spicy salsa.

“The produce is so much better here,” Adams said. “You have more seasonal foods here.”

He said he likes to grill corn on the cob, the way his father once did.

Other specialties include macaroni and cheese from scratch, salsa, chili and pasta sauce, apricot chiffon dessert and strawberry rhubarb pie.

“I make my grandmother Rosie Comer’s pie crust,” Adams said.

Since his return to Ohio, Adams has said he hasn’t had a headache. In 2003, he developed essential tremor.

Although it hampers the use of his hands, his laptop makes writing more manageable. Before that, a more insidious problem took its toll.

“I was really in bad shape in the late ’90s. I didn’t know what it was, but it came out I was clinically depressed,” Adams said.

In December 1999, he hit a low point precipitated by marital problems and lack of work. A friend convinced him to seek medical help.

In therapy, he recalled some episodes that occurred in his teens. He also learned major depression disorder easily is treated, if the right medicine can be determined.

“When I found out that’s what I had, it changed my life, because I started evaluating where I was and what I was doing,” Adams said.

Writing also served as therapy. When he arrived in Tiffin, Adams wrote a guest column about depression that appeared in The Advertiser-Tribune.

Mental illness can be a source of embarrassment, but Adams said he prefers to help others by talking about it.

“People try to either drink themselves out of it or eat themselves out of it. That leads to other problems,” Adams said. “The only thing that really keeps me going in life is finding humor in everything, particularly self-effacing humor.”

 
 

 

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