Last August, I visited the set of Safe Haven, the latest film based on a Nicholas Sparks’ book. I was fortunate to be a part of a roundtable discussion with other mom bloggers and Nicholas Sparks. He was incredibly kind and gracious, even taking us on a walking tour of the set.
When asked how he got his start in writing, Sparks mentioned two very early novels, then went on to say, “…I just said, ‘Okay, I have to chase a dream,’ because I was a sales rep. I just knew that I felt like I wanted bigger and better things. And so, I said, ‘Well, what can I do? I’m married. I’ve got two kids. I’ve got a mortgage. I can’t do something stupid. What can I do, still keep my job, my full time job, do on the side? Well, I’ll try writing again and give it a real shot. And that became The Notebook. And that was an okay way to start.'”
Bloggers: Which of your characters do you relate to?
Nicholas Sparks: Across the span of my novels, it’s been a very interesting journey writing because, for the most part, I’ve never been any of the characters I’ve created. I was never an 80-year-old guy whose wife has Alzheimer’s, I wrote that when I was 28. I’ve never been a divorced woman or a woman in an unhappy marriage or a widower. The one character that I was is Landon Carter (from A Walk to Remember.) I’ve been a 17-year-old boy, kind of an idiot at times, making mistakes, thinking he knows everything and then kind of gradually learning that life’s a little more complex.
Bloggers: All of your novels are set in North Carolina, correct?
Nicholas Sparks: The really interesting thing about North Carolina, it’s one of the reasons why I set the stories here and why this particular place is perfect (for Safe Haven) is that it’s a unique state in that, virtually unlike every other state, the big cities are off the coast because of the hurricanes. The entire eastern part of the state is dotted with small towns. The biggest town is Wilmington, about 150,000 people. And that’s huge. Southport has a population of 1500. And it’s a great place where someone like Katie could wander in and, you know, there’s never going to be anyone from Boston that you’d ever happen to bump into here.
Bloggers: Are there certain things you were disappointed that had to be left out or tweaked?
Nicholas Sparks: Most of the big stuff is in there, and that’s really all you can ask for. And I say that because they’re totally different mediums. You know, a novel is a story told with words. A film is a story told with pictures. I’ve written both screenplays and novels and it’s a different thinking. I find novels to be much harder.
Bloggers: Are thinking about the films as you’re writing your books?
Nicholas Sparks: No, I think about films in the conception of the story. Before a single word is written. Because what you’re looking for is three things. You’re looking for things to be interesting, original, and universal. That goes to the theme of the story, the journeys of the character, but also the specific elements in the book.
Several bloggers asked variations of what it feels like to give up control of your creation
Nicholas Sparks: Films are always collaborative. I know that going in that you’re only one part of a team. I make a conscious choice to limit my involvement at times because, if my thumb is the dominant thumb on every project, everything feel the same, now doesn’t it? But you want The Notebook to feel different than A Walk to Remember to feel different than The Last Song. I want that because I want you to enjoy all of them. I want you to enjoy Safe Haven.
Bloggers: I found this book to be a little darker than your other novels. Especially the character of Kevin, so was that a conscious shift to go more violent/suspenseful?
Nicholas Sparks: What you do when you’re among the many decisions you make in the creation of one of my novels is we all know it’s a love story, right? We all know that. It’s love and something. You can have love and mystery, love and forgiveness, love and loss, first love, right? You can have all these things. This was love and danger.
Safe Haven is opening on Valentine’s Day so we’ll close with Nicholas Sparks on romance: The biggest question I get is, “Am I the most romantic man ever?” I will tell you I write my wife a letter for our anniversary every year and it takes me about three days to write. I cover what we’ve done this year. So it’s kind of like a living diary of our lives, the ups and downs, the struggles we’ve gone through. It takes me two or three days to type it out. And then when I’m done, I hand write it out for her. So, she thinks it just flows. Novel magic, right?