‘A Journey I Wouldn’t Trade’

Article Published: Oct. 20, 2011 | Modified: Oct. 20, 2011
‘A Journey I Wouldn’t Trade’

Author Nicholas Sparks

Photo submitted

“I’m gearing up one more time,” best-selling author Nicholas Sparks said to a reporter during an Oct. 7 phone interview, just days before Sparks’ newest novel, “The Best of Me,” is set to launch — as all of his novels have done — in October.

But “gearing up” today means more than it did when Sparks released “The Notebook” in 1996.

Beyond routinely topping the best-seller lists, Sparks’ works have created one of the most successful film franchises in Hollywood history, allowing him to turn to producing and screen writing.

Add these accomplishments to a promising television series about angels sold to ABC, a new foundation to support his charity work and an international book tour that launched Oct. 11, and the author admits that he is living a journey he “wouldn’t trade.”

Speaking from his New Bern home, Sparks talked about his new book and Hollywood, and also shared his thoughts about what “The Notebook” means to him a decade and a half since he traded a career selling pharmaceuticals to become one of the world’s most successful authors.

Beyond the interview and for book signing dates and locations, visit the author at http://www.nicholassparks.com.

TM: “The Best of Me” is your 17th published work and 16th novel in 15 years. The book is dedicated to Scott Schwimer. Who is this?

NS: Scott Schwimer is my entertainment attorney in Los Angeles, Calif. I’ve worked with him for 16 years, and he is just someone who means a lot to me as a friend and a colleague. He’s someone who’s always done an extraordinary job for me, and I just wanted to show my appreciation for him.

TM: You’ve said “The Best of Me” is unlike anything you’ve ever written. Yet it’s still a love story and still set in a small town in Eastern North Carolina. What’s different from your previous 15 novels?

NS: Oh, my gosh … It was a lot harder. A long with “The Guardian,” this was without question the most difficult novel I’ve ever had to write because, first off, what makes it different is that the characters are in their 40s, and when you have characters in their 40s the dilemmas are a little bit different. Those dilemmas sometimes make you wonder about the “what ifs” in life, so to speak. And to adequately capture those “what ifs” in a very universal way without making the characters seem like they’re complaining is a very difficult balance to obtain. At the same time, I was writing about two characters who were friends and strangers at exactly the same time. They were in love, and yet not lovers, at the same time. To get that balance right and to adequately move the reader through the appropriate emotions was exceptionally challenging. Added to that were exceptionally difficult timeline issues, pacing issues and in the end the novel was brutal.

TM: Up until three-quarters of the way through the novel, I said to myself, this is the most brilliant work you’ve written since “The Notebook.” Yet I felt the book was disjointed when I got to the end of the novel.

NS: It is a novel that, at the end of that … I apologize for that. I do feel that “The Best of Me” is one of the finest books I’ve written. I do think the novel ended in the only way it could. That ending was chosen even before I wrote the very first word. To pull off that particular story without verging into melodrama is exceptionally difficult. This was best way I could conceivably do it, which was not to dwell on it.

TM: The line between melodrama and tragedy is one you typically have to walk in your novels.

NS: Absolutely. It’s challenging to write a dramatic novel that doesn’t verge into melodrama. It’s one of the hardest things to do in literature.

TM: Amanda Collier and Dawson Cole face moral questions that many of your other characters have not had to face. Is this in any way a morality tale?

NS: In a way, absolutely. When you reach your 40s, you’re confronted with the fact that wherever your life is now, it’s fairly likely to proceed upon this path from that point on, and often people are confronted with the idea that they’re not exactly where they want to imagine they would be. It’s a challenge because even if you want to change things, the responsibilities of life in your 40s are different than the responsibilities of your life when you’re in your 20s, unmarried for instance. That was a balance and moral question I wanted to pose to the reader because it’s fairly ubiquitous when people reach middle age.

TM: In middle age, Amanda and Dawson have to make difficult choices concerning their relationship. Does true love temper what society considers contemporary morality?

NS: That’s a question I pose in the book. My answer is that each person has to make these individual choices. In the end, sometimes, for some, responsibilities weigh even more heavily because at that point in your life you also understand that true love isn’t everything. There are other aspects of your life. You’ve got the love of your children for instance. Or the loyalty you feel to your family. Or the desire for your own happiness. All of these come into play. This is a novel that really tries to balance those issues in a very realistic manner.

TM: What about the consequences of making moral choices. Both Amanda and Dawson will experience consequences for the choices they make. Will Amanda’s choices play out in her future — beyond the end of the novel?

NS: Absolutely. Amanda made a series of choices that weekend, and as with everyone’s, when you make choices that are, let’s say, a bit outside of your comfort zone, they tend to reverberate through the rest of your life. They tend to be memorable in way that few other things are.

TM: You sold the film right to “The Best of Me” sight unseen, that is, before the novel was written.

NS: I sold this last September. I went into Warner Bros. and sold it on a pitch. I had yet to write a word. In fact, I conceived the major outline of the story in the car ride over to Warner Bros. I hadn’t really known what my story would be around noon, and by 1:30 I had sold it. That was actually quite fun. That was something that has never happened to me before.

TM: You’re also co-producing this movie.

NS: Co-producing this movie. Co-producing “Safe Haven.” It’s just the next step in the film and television aspect of my career. I also recently sold a television show to ABC called “The Watchers,” and we’re in the pilot development stage. I’m a producer and writer and co-owner of that show, as well. It’s a way to have a little more control over the final product. At the same time, this is not a real big change, but I certainly don’t intend to become a full-time Hollywood producer. I’m working with Hollywood producers who will be achieving the vast majority of the loan. It does give me the chance to be a little more involved in the story, the casting, the marketing and particularly the marketing as it applies to the book world. That’s really where the benefit comes in for me.

TM: Tell me about “The Watchers.” This is not a love story set in Eastern North Carolina, correct?

NS: No, it’s not. It’s an angel show. It’s about an angel who falls in love with a mortal and decides to become mortal because of his love for her, and once he does that, tragically she passes away almost immediately. So this angel is in search of the one true love of his life. He knows now that the roles have been reversed, and he wants to find her again. Each episode will be exploring the love story between these two. They learn in many ways she taught him what it meant to be human, as well. Not only to love, but to care and forgive and understand and relate. He uses these lessons to help others in need. Meanwhile, of course, you’ve got bad, dark angels trying to claim him, angels angry at him for what he’s done. That provides an overarching theme of the show on a yearly basis.

TM: Is “The Watchers” based on any of your written work?

NS: No, it’s not. It’s very hard to conceive of a television show in which you can really explore the kind of love you’re able to keep alive, throughout a television series. Normally, it’s very tough to keep longing alive for more than a season. For instance, if you look at “Moonlighting,” as soon as Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd kiss, that kind of signaled the end of the television show. You really want to capture this longing, and in my opinion, the best way to capture this is to always keep it in the spiritual, magical realm of sorts, because that allows us to continually change. It keeps it alive.

TM: Has there been any casting done for “Watchers.”

NS: No, we’re in the pilot writing stage. The outline for the pilot has to be in (the week of Oct. 10) and then the official pilot will be written by December. We should start filming in February, and then I won’t find out until May whether ABC officially picks the show. We’re just working through the process now.

TM: Will you be writing any of the scripts for the series?

NS: I have retained the right to write two original episodes per year, and obviously I’ll be working extensively on the pilot.

TM: Beyond your novels and televisions, tell me about “The Lucky One,” the next of your novels to be made into a movie, and due to release in April.

NS: Correct. They’ve moved up the date to April 20. I’m excited about that. I saw it a few months ago, and Zac Efron did a fantastic job. I really think people are going to enjoy the show. It captures the novel exceptionally well. I couldn’t be more proud of it. I worked with (producer) Denise DiNovi on that film. In fact, Denise DiNovi will be doing “The Best of Me,” as well. She also did “A Walk to Remember,” “Nights in Rodanthe” and “Message in a Bottle.” I’ve had a long history with Denise, and she understands the work, and consequently the films come out just as good as they could possibly be.

TM: There seems to be chemistry between you and Denise when you get together to work on a film.

NS: There is. I have the same thing with Marty (Bowen). Marty produced “Dear John.” Marty produced “Safe Haven.” It’s with Marty I’m working on “Watchers.” I tend to pick favorites when dealing with Hollywood.

TM: Based on that Hollywood success, and the success of your novels during the 15 years since the launch of “The Notebook,” you and your wife, Catherine, have been able to donate close to $10 million to charity. Is that figure correct?

NS: Eh, it’s probably higher, but I’m happy with that number.

TM: This year, you’ve instituted the Nicholas Sparks Foundation ( http://www.nicholassparksfoundation.org). Tell me about that.

NS: The foundation is really set up to support those causes that are important to my wife and I. We’re in the process of choosing a number of charities that mean a lot to us. Among those will be the Epiphany School (in New Bern, which Nicholas and Catherine Sparks founded). Hopefully, we’ll be able to franchise the idea of that school around the country. It’s a school that really captures the best parts of what education should be. We want to make it available to other community groups that want to start a school. We want to work with other groups, and if they want to have students who score really high on the SATs, and get accepted to prestigious schools but aren’t overloaded with homework and they get to travel the world, and the school is very inexpensive, this is something I think a lot of communities would desire. I certainly find there’s a lot of interest in this school whenever I speak around the country. We also support Wounded Warriors, because we’re in a very heavily military area; and scholarships of deceased military veterans. There’s a lot of other charities my wife and I actively support. The most important thing about this (foundation) is that everything anyone donates is donated 100 percent. My wife and I pick up all the administrative costs. That’s part of our giving.

TM: This is the 15th anniversary of “The Notebook.” What are your thoughts on that?

NS: It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since I wrote “The Notebook.” Actually, it’s been 17 years since I wrote it, but 15 years since it was published. I can remember very vividly sitting in a hotel room in Birmingham, Ala., waiting to find out if my novel would make the best-seller list for the very first time. It was a moment in which I was on pins and needles, obviously, and I think “The Notebook” slipped in tied for No. 10, or something like that. I remember wondering if I’d be able to write a second book. If it would fall off the list the following week, or if those who read it would tell others about it. There was still so much unknown at the time. It brings back a lot of good memories of chasing a dream and all the ups and downs associated with that, and certainly having quite a bit of good fortune in the end. It’s been a journey I wouldn’t trade.

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