Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Nicholas Sparks a hopeless romantic?

Much will be made this week about the fact that Nicholas Sparks’ new book “Safe Haven,” which hit stores Tuesday, represents the bestselling author’s first major foray into the thriller genre.

And yet he’s not straying too far away from the immensely popular love stories he’s known for (like 1996’s runaway hit “The Notebook”), and after more than a decade the No. 1 question he continues to field from fans remains the same: Is the 44-year-old North Carolinian as romantic with his wife as the men are with the women in his books?

Sparks – who will sign copies of the new book at Barnes & Noble’s Arboretum location Thursday night – provided an answer to that popular question in a recent interview with the Observer, while also talking about his enormous popularity, creating convincing action sequences for “Safe Haven,” and why he’ll never set a novel on the Titanic.


Q. What drove you to push this story in this direction?

I do my best to write different novels, although on screen they tend to feel very similar. The novels themselves are as different as I can possibly make them while (retaining) some familiar elements. You know it’s gonna be a love story, you know it’s set in a small town and that you’re probably gonna like the two main characters. But other than that, I’ve really tried to vary it up, and for this story, I really wanted to ratchet up the element of danger. … I really wanted to make an original villain, a character that I think you’ll remember for a long time.


Q. Did the action sequences come easily to you, or were they challenging?

The action sequences were actually the easiest part of that novel to write, believe it or not. I probably wrote the last 100 pages of that novel in a week – which is incredibly quick for me. They went very easy because at that point in time you’re able to shift entirely to an external tension, and it’s very easy when you have something horrible, this impending sense of doom, to keep the pages turning. The goal is to just keep the pages turning, to write it so fast that it will read fast.


Q. Do you think your core fans will go for what’s going on in “Safe Haven”?

I think they’ll love it. It’s different. You’ve very compelling characters, you have a great love story, it’s very romantic, it’s got all the elements that they’re looking for. It’s just that it begins to shift till it’s something entirely different. And then when it’s entirely different, just when you thought you knew what it was, it’s not that at all.


Q. The whole book to me is very cinematic, and you’ve had so many books turned into movies. I’ve got to imagine it’s difficult now for you to write books without thinking about the movie possibilities. Is that true?

There is an element of that, but it’s less in the way you think it is, than it is this way: Whenever I try to think of a new story, I’m well aware of what’s been on film or on television, because I don’t want to do the same thing. For instance, I would never write a love story set on the Titanic. Now, you put a couple people from North Carolina out on that boat, it would be an original novel. And yet it would strike no one as original because of the power of the film. Another example: “Sweet Home Alabama,” very popular movie. It’s the kind of (story) that I could have written in novel form, but now that plot is now out for me – which is sad, because it’s a good one.


Q. The movie rights to ‘Safe Haven’ sold very quickly, didn’t they?

To Relativity Media, yes. Actually, this one had the largest bidding war of any of my previous novels. Usually I have one or two studios interested. This one I had eight plus a couple of production companies. And they all put in very substantial bids. One of the reasons why we went with Relativity (is that) they’ll promote the book over the next year and a half before the film comes out.


Q. Do you think the interest was because of the thriller element of this?

There was a number of factors. Number one, most films made from my novels, they’re financially successful. That’s not because they do a fortune at the box office as much as they can be made relatively inexpensively. You don’t have things blowing up and massive special effects (with) really wild settings. You can film these things in a small town anywhere, essentially, with generally just a couple of major characters. Number two, definitely the thriller element added (appeal), and I think the ending.


Q. Why do you think your books are so popular?

I don’t know. All I can say is that I try and write the kind of novel that I would enjoy reading, and I read a lot of different novels. I mean, I love a good thriller, I love a good classic novel, I love a good literary novel. I certainly think that that’s part of it, certainly I think the stories touch on perhaps elements that not everyone else writes about. I try to write the best books that I can and I’ve been fortunate people that there are some people that like them.


Q. How do you measure your own personal success?

It’s really based simply on my own feeling about the book. It’s hard enough to please just myself. I can’t all of a sudden worry about what everybody in the world thinks, because I have a worldwide audience. You really have to trust your own instincts and just write a story that you think is worth telling and write it to the best of your ability.


Q. Do you ever feel handcuffed by the love-story genre?

No, not necessarily, because as you can see with “Safe Haven,” I’m allowed to do quite a bit with it. You can really ratchet up all different kinds of elements, whether it’s a mystery, a thriller, or a ghost story, like “True Believer.” So you can do a lot of different things within that genre. … I don’t want to disappoint my readers. They read Nicholas Sparks novels for a reason, and I want to make sure that I give them what they’re expecting. I don’t want to bait and switch. I think people work too hard for their money.


Q. How do you such a good job writing from a woman’s perspective?

I was fortunate. I had a great mom, I had a great sister, I married well, my agent’s female, my editor’s a female, my publicists are female, I’m pretty much surrounded by women. And I’ve always tended to get along better with women than men anyway. I don’t know why. I like men, too. And then at the same time, I generally try to create the kind of woman character that I find attractive – they’re intelligent, they’re charming, they can be sensual, but they’re strong, they have their own opinions, they’re loyal, they try to do the right thing. I think that type of female appeals to everybody.


Q. Are you as romantic in your real life as the men are in your books?

This is a very common question that I get. I try to be. I try. I’m certainly not perfect. I mean, my wife and I have been married for 21 years. She’s still my best friend, she means the world to me, I love her as much as I did the day we were married, I’d ask her to marry me again. She likes romantic gestures and I like to make her happy, so I do my best, let’s put it that way.


jake said...

Nicholas Sparks answers ure questions "What is true love?" and "How to cure writers block?" on at