There are plenty of successful contemporary author regularly churning out best-selling novels; Stephen King, John Grisham and Suzanne Collins come to mind.
But no one has cornered the love story category the way Nicholas Sparks has since the publication of his third novel, “The Notebook,” in 1996. Seven of his books have been turned into feature films, including Friday's release of “The Lucky One,” starring Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling and Blythe Danner.
It’s the story of a Marine who, while stationed in Iraq, finds a photo of a woman that turns out to be a lucky charm, and then he tries to find her when he returns to the States. Sparks, 47, recently spoke about the new film, his writing career, his wife and what it feels like to have his work released in Cliffs Notes versions.
Q: Does it hurt to let go of a book, knowing that it will be changed quite a bit to make a movie?
A: I’m aware of the difference between a novel and a script. A novel might be 100,000 words, the screenplay’s 20,000 words. Eighty percent is gone, off the bat. That’s the first thing you have to realize.
Q: “The Lucky One” has a similar plot to your book “Message in a Bottle,” except in that one, it was a woman searching for a man after she finds a note he wrote.
A: There’s no question that “The Lucky One” somewhat parallels “Message in a Bottle.” But at the same time, you could say it somewhat parallels “Don Quixote” or “Moby Dick.” This is one of the world’s oldest literary devices: the story of a journey, the story of a quest. Throughout the history of literature, it’s both a physical quest and a spiritual quest. I certainly didn’t invent it, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Q: There’s a rumor that the plot of “The Lucky One” has something to do with your wife.
A: That’s true. A couple of years after I graduated college, I was waiting tables. There was a picture of my wife in my wallet. I must have dropped it in the parking lot, and one of my managers found it, didn’t know who it was, hung it up on a bulletin board, and said that it was his girlfriend. I suppose if you’d seen this photo, you’d know why. She’s a very attractive woman. It’s a photo of her camping, and it makes her look even more attractive than she is in real life. I saw it, heard him say, “That’s my girl,” and said, “Wait a minute! Where did you get that?” He told me, and I said that it was my wife. He’s a great guy, a funny guy, and he gave it back to me.
Page 2 of 3 - Q: Your readers are mostly women, but they come in a very large age range. Are you aware of that while you’re writing?
A: My readers are 10 to 100, so the question is how do you make everyone like it and feel that it could be them. “The Lucky One” is a love story of characters in their 20s, so teens will relate to that. But how do I get someone who’s 50 or 60? Well, we explore a different kind of love, the love and support of a grandmother to her granddaughter. A lot of people relate to this as well, and that’s what you try to do.
Q: Your first big success was “The Notebook,” but it was your third novel. What had you done before that one?
A: I wrote my first novel at the age of 19. When I was in high school, I was a good student, but my real passion in life, my dream, was to go to the Olympics, so I trained and I went to Notre Dame on a scholarship. But my first year was tough. I kept hurting my foot, my Achilles tendon. They were overuse injuries. My problem was that I didn’t stop running, and they just wouldn’t heal. I got home the summer after that first year and the doctor said, “If you want to get better, you can’t run.” So I literally went a little crazy. My mom got tired of it and said, “Don’t just pout, do something.” I asked her what. She said, “I don’t know, go write a book.” And I was crazy enough to sit down and say, OK. It was called “The Passing.” At the time I was reading a lot of Stephen King, so it was a horror novel. But it was never published, and it will never, ever, ever see the light of day. (laughs) I wrote a second novel at 22. But that wasn’t published, either. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I wrote “The Notebook.”
Q: And you got a huge advance for that one.
A: Yeah, I got a million-dollar advance for “The Notebook.” At the time, I was a pharmaceutical rep, earning $35,000. To me, it was like winning the lottery.
Q: You’re out on the road promoting “The Lucky One” right now, but you always seem to be working on many projects at once.
A: Yes, we’re getting ready to start filming “Safe Haven,” which is a thriller, in May. I’m a producer on that. I’m developing a couple of TV shows. I’m working on a spec script, and I’ve already adapted a script from [my book] “The Guardian,” but I haven’t offered it to anyone yet. Scripts usually come between heavy novel-writing periods. I do them to keep fresh, or when I don’t have the idea for my next novel. Oh, and I’m writing my next novel.
Page 3 of 3 - Q: Four of your books – “The Notebook,” “A Walk to Remember,” “The Last Song,” and “Three Weeks with My Brother” – are now available from Cliffs Notes. What were your thoughts when you first found out about that?
A: That was kind of neat. It comes down to what books are widely getting read and taught in schools. Then they say, “Hey, we’re gonna make your books into Cliffs Notes.” And you think, “Wow! Really? That’s pretty awesome!” When I got that e-mail, it made me feel great. It made me feel honored that they’re taught in school. Hopefully, ideally, they’ll read the novels, too. But the world is what it is. I can remember, back in school, sometimes just reading the Cliffs Notes.