A Chat with Nicholas Sparks

By Tom Mayer (tom.mayer@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Sep. 12, 2013 | Modified: Sep. 12, 2013
A Chat with Nicholas Sparks

Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks has penned 17 novels, the most recent being ‘The Longest
Ride,’ which will be released Sept. 17.

Photo by Nina Subin

Nicholas Sparks has penned 16 love stories since his first international best-seller, “The Notebook,” in 1996.

With no exception, each of those 17 stories is centered in North Carolina. In “The Longest Ride,” Sparks spreads the story from the coast to the mountains — an unusual track for the North Carolina writer who typically bases his novels in a central location. But “The Longest Ride” diverges also in other, rewarding ways from what Sparks’ fans have come to expect.

The author spoke with The Mountain Times in late August about the dual stories that comprise “The Longest Ride” and what it took to craft his most lyrical novel to date. Excerpts from that interview are printed here.

MT: The parallel love stories of “The Longest Ride” are a departure for you. Why did you choose that format?

NS: A lot of times what I try to do whenever I write a novel is to do something new, because one of the great joys of reading is surprise. So, I wanted to do something that I hadn’t done before, and this is a story that lends itself well to the parallel story structure. The entire story came about because of a vision I had in my head of the end of the novel. … to create a feeling at the end of the novel of utter surprise.

MT: Another departure — we have a happy ending in a Nicholas Sparks’ novel.

NS: Yeah, isn’t that something! Happy is a relative word, of course. There are certainly similar elements in this novel that I have explored in other novels, some sense of tragedy or loss. But this ending is exactly what I wanted it to accomplish.

MT: The depth, breadth and sheer length of this novel gives it a more epic feel. Were you inspired to write an epic, or did it proceed naturally from the writing?

NS: It simply came about through the process of writing. It wasn’t something I set out to do. I wanted to tell two love stories and make them both feel real, and then make them both appropriately balanced, as well. I wanted people to feel they knew Ira and Ruth as well as they knew Sophia and Luke. … The length of the novel is a bit longer because most of my novels have one love story in them. This one has two.

MT: Was the process of writing this novel different from that of writing previous novels?

NS: It was very interesting how I wrote this novel. Essentially, what I did is I wrote the story of Ira and Ruth nearly to the end. Then I set those pages aside. I wrote it in about six or seven sections of about 20 to 25 pages. … Then I wrote the story of Luke and Sophia. Once I reached the point where the stories intersect, I wrote through to the end. Then, over a period of about two hours, I took those sections of Ira and Ruth and dropped them into the novel where I felt they should go. In the end, it needed very little editing. … I did that because I wanted to capture Ira’s voice accurately and stay in his voice, and Ruth’s and Sophia’s and Luke’s.

MT: Speaking of those characters, Ruth is arguably the most authentic character you have written. Where did she come from?

NS: Ruth, to me, was the counterpoint to Ira. She has a wonderful tendency to say whatever is on her mind. Truthful and honest, and those are endearing qualities about her. Certainly I’ve met people in my own life who have a tendency toward this abject honesty at times, and these are people who have always intrigued me.

MT: Ruth expresses that honesty through dialogue. Throughout the last two years, since your last published novel, you’ve worked on a number of screenplays and television scripts. Do you feel this work has helped improve dialogue in your novels, or was this an outgrowth of the characters in “The Longest Ride”?

NS: It’s a little of both. I’m hopeful I’ve improved in my craft over the years; I’ve been doing it for a long time. Certainly, I’ve picked up some hints and skills along the way. Capturing a character’s voice accurately is always one of the most difficult things to do in the creation of a novel. … If you can capture a narrator’s voice accurately, you begin to care about him.
MT: It’s not been since 1998’s “Message in a Bottle” followed “The Notebook” that Nicholas Sparks fans have had to wait more than a year for a novel or work from you. Why the delay?

NS: That’s true. I took a year off. I was very busy launching my television company and doing a lot of film work. I was heavily involved in producing “Safe Haven.” That took a lot of time. And frankly, I needed a little bit of a break. I could have gotten this novel completed … it could have come out last year. But the publisher wanted to give it a little more time. And it just worked out, and it made it nice because right now I’m ahead on my next novel — which is a nice feeling for me to be in at the present time.

MT: This novel is more lyrical than what you have written in the past.

NS: This is a novel I’m very proud of. In my mind, if it’s not the best novel I’ve written, it’s certainly one of them. I’m hopeful that readers really enjoy it, because there are a lot of new elements in this novel that they haven’t seen in other novels. We’ll see what the readers say. In the end, the readers always choose.

MT: Are you prepared for the question of why didn’t Ira have a cell phone?

NS: That’s interesting, but the dude was 91 years old. My grandmother is 93, and she doesn’t have a cell phone. The other part was Ira was very alone. Who would he have called?

MT: Tell me about your upcoming book tour.

NS: It’s probably about the same number of stops (as in the past), but it’s much more event-centered, speech-centered. … It’s a way to keep the tour fresh.

MT: Speaking of different, your first signing will be, as usual, in New Bern, but in Target instead of a bookstore. Given the size and logistics of that store — and the crowd you draw — that will be interesting.

NS: I would tend to agree with you. Interesting will be the word of the day.

MT: The film rights have been sold for “The Longest Ride.” Your novels do well in Hollywood.

NS: I’ve been pretty fortunate in Hollywood. The stories lend themselves well to the screen. But Hollywood makes them less for that reason than that they always garner an audience. Hollywood is in the business of making movies people go to see, and every movie has been very financially successful, so they keep getting made. … I should have three movies (from three different novels) next year at various times.

MT: Can you close our interview by speaking about your Novel Learning Series and also the Nicholas Sparks Foundation?

NS: The Novel Learning Series is a way to help teachers and students as they are getting ready for the common core assessments. Right now, there’s a real dearth of high quality education material associated with that. So, what we did is took some of my novels, we took Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and these are books where the questions are built in. What they do is test you specifically on what the common core will be testing you on. The questions are framed like SAT-type questions. It’s a fabulous product for homeschool kids, parents who want to see if their kids are learning the common core and for students who will have to pass the common core assessment to receive their diploma. It’s been a project we’ve been working on for about four years.

As far as the foundation, we’re doing our best to transform education by showing what’s possible in formal education and leadership training. That’s the focus of the school I’ve founded here in New Bern (The Epiphany School of Global Studies), and what we’re trying to do is take what we’ve learned here and share it with other schools, so they, too, can implement so many of the wonderful and unique programs we’ve been able to implement — but hopefully without the learning curve we’ve had to go through. We provide it free to schools and education leaders throughout the country.

So, we’re excited about the foundation, and with the Novel Learning Series, there’s a lot going on in my life, I suppose.

(Editor’s note: To read a review of ‘The Longest Ride,’ visit http://mountaintimes.com/art/articles/Longest-Ride-is-epic-Sparks-id-024539)

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