Article Published: Sep. 12, 2013 | Modified: Sep. 12, 2013
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.
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
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
MT: Another departure — we have a happy ending in a Nicholas Sparks’
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.
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
MT: Was the process of writing this novel different from that of writing
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
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
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
MT: This novel is more lyrical than what you have written in the
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?
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
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
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
So, we’re excited about the foundation, and with the Novel
Learning Series, there’s a lot going on in my life, I suppose.