For most authors, writing one or maybe even two international bestsellers is enough. Not for Nicholas Sparks though, who’s clocked up a bestseller with every novel he’s written. All 18 of them.
The writer’s works are maybe even more famous on screen though. From The Notebook to Dear John, they’ve captured audiences worldwide with their sweeping romances.
With the release of the author’s latest screen adaptation The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron (out on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital release next week) FemaleFirst had a little chat with Sparks about the books, the fame and everything in-between.
So for newcomers to The Lucky One, can you tell us a little of what it’s about?
The Lucky One, like a lot of my stories, takes place in North Carolina. If you’re writing stories about North Carolina, or the people who live there, the military is a big part and parcel of that. There are so many bases; it’s probably one of the most military regions in the whole United States. So what you try to do is come up with a story that does everything you want it to do in the genre in which I work, but also play to the reality of North Carolina.
So, it’s about a marine. He’s off in Iraq, doing his job and he finds this photograph half buried in the sand. It’s a photo of a very attractive woman, so he picks it up and tries to find the owner. He doesn’t find who the photo belongs to and little by little as he goes on tour after tour, he begins to realise that as his friends are dying this photo is his lucky charm, this thing that’s keeping him alive.
So he makes a vow to himself that he’s going to find the woman in this photograph and at least tell her what happened. So, he searches for her, finds her and realises that the exact truth is a little bit hard to admit. And the story spins off from there.
Is it true that the inspiration from this story came from a single image?
Yes it is. I had this image of this soldier finding this photograph half buried in the sand, picking it up and needing to find the person in it. I just kept getting this image in my head. So, of course you have to ask “Well, why would he want to find such a person” and that’s where the lucky charm thing came from.
I guess that would have been part two of that equation, but that image was very strong, and it’s one of the few novels I’ve ever had that was inspired by a particular image.
How much involvement do you have in your films then?
Quite a lot. I’m a producer on a lot of the films, I’m a screenwriter on some of them, but I’m always a pretty influential consultant. I work with the studios, the other producers and the directors on everything from the very beginning, be that casting, or getting the script just right, or talking about locations.
Up front I tend to be very involved, just to make sure I think the project is going to come out right. Apart from that I tend to be more ‘hands off’ as a producer.
I like to let the director do what directors’ do best, and that’s make the film. So, I don’t go in and tell the director how to shoot the scenes or anything, that’s why you hire a director.
Do you ever have certain actors in mind when you write the books?
I would say I don’t, but that’s not true entirely. For, let’s say 90 per cent of the characters I’ve ever created, absolutely not. I just put them in and will see what Hollywood comes up with.
Other times I am fairly clear. For instance, in The Last Song, I knew that if Disney made the movie, it was going to be Miley Cyrus, because I was also writing the script kind of for her. So, I knew that and when I was writing the novel it was very easy for me to picture Miley Cyrus in that particular role.
Other times though, you might imagine someone, and you get someone totally different and they do a great job anyway. It’s just the way it goes. So right now when I write, unless there’s an actor already involved, I keep it vague in my own mind, because it’s not going to match, no matter what I do.
You’re delving into screenwriting now too, how different is that to writing a novel?
It’s a different medium, but when you get used to that, writing is writing. A novel is a story told with words, a screenplay is one told with pictures. You really have to think in terms of pictures and efficiency and what is the best way to move a scene forward, as quickly as you can, through the use of images
An example would be that if I were to create a crazy woman in a novel, I’d cover a lot of introspection and her thoughts randomly bouncing from here to there. In a film, you might do something like they did in Fatal Attraction, where you just see Glenn Close listening to the opera that Michael Douglas rejected going to and she’s just weirdly turning the light switch on and off with this blank expression on her face. There were - no words in that scene at all, it was all image. Music playing in the back ground, the light going on and off, it was all image.
Once you wrap your head around the idea that it’s all about image, then it just boils down to writing and I don’t find the process difficult at all.
Every one of your books has been a best seller, do you feel pressure to keep up the success?
Yes, but only 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Of course! I feel tremendous pressure despite the fact that I have a lot of films getting made, I have Safe Haven being made now and The Best of Me will likely start filming in a few months. Even though I’ve had great success, I don’t take it for granted; it could end at any time.
So I try and write the best novel I can which means making it original and interesting yet universal enough that people relate to the stories. To balance all of those things just right, I think is pretty hard. It can take months for me to come up with a story that I think is worthy of being told. That’s just the conception; it takes time to write it as well.
The books and films are so popular; do you ever get pestered by fans?
Oh yeah, without question. There are some places, it’s usually in foreign countries, I have to have a number of bodyguards. That’s not because I’m wildly popular there, it’s that I go much less frequently.
If I go to the Philippines, I’m probably not going back for three years so there are big, big, crazy crowds waiting for me. Same thing in Italy or Brazil. Even up in Ireland.
There are quite a few people though that criticise your books for being very similar to each other. How do you respond to those people?
I generally try not to respond. I work with a really brilliant agent and a really brilliant editor and they are two people who I respect. Not only their reading tastes but their editorial abilities and all I can say is that they edit me. And they are ruthless at times. They make me lose sleep for weeks on end to make sure these novels are all they can be.
If I can get it by these two, who never let me slide, then that’s the best job I can possibly do. That’s all can I say really, I do my best and I’m fortunate that a lot of people like them.
Ever had any guys moan at you for the big romantic gestures your male characters do?
Frequently. I think I was introduced on a show just the other day as ‘The man, from most male perspectives, that ruins relationships’ and ‘creates these unreal images.’ It’s interesting though, I don’t really know if this is the case and I think it’s highly overrated.
I write novels that, among other things, deal with the feelings associated with falling in love and most people are on their best behaviour when they like someone and want them to like them back. Otherwise, there would be no one getting together at all. It’s later in the relationship, once you get used to them that people get lazy. I don’t write those books!
So, I think they’re comparing a boyfriend of three years versus the boyfriend for the first two months.
So, The Notebook was such a massive hit both as a book and then as a film. What was that all like for you?
That was interesting. It came out in the US and even in the UK at this odd time. It came out late summer, like July. No holiday weekends, they just snuck it in. It had a relatively small opening weekend, I think of my seven films it opened fifth, so I’ve four films open much larger on the opening weekend. It just touched this little nerve, so people kept going back and it was a moderate hit at the box office in the US. I think it did like $80m which meant as it was a relatively low budget film it did very well for what it cost.
Then what happened was that people just started buying it on DVD in droves and it started on television all the time. It sort of became its own phenomenon you might say. I think if I was to guess and I’m certainly flattered, touched and honoured by it all, The Notebook is a bit like the path It’s A Wonderful Life followed here in the States.
What happened was that Republic Films owned the copyright to that film until ‘75, when they forgot to renew it. Just plain old forgot to renew the copyright on the film, so now that it’s free for them, all the stations just start playing it all the time. And now, years later, it’s everybody’s favourite Christmas movie here in the US. Yet, growing up, I probably didn’t see that movie until I was 20-years-old, because it didn’t play when I was a kid. And The Notebook has kind of followed that same, interesting path. It caught on after it left the theatres. Of course, it still did about $125m worldwide, but its primary success was after.
Just remember to renew the copyright for The Notebook.
Exactly, I’ve got a long time for that though, thank goodness!
Have you ever thought of switching genres and writing a totally different book?
Well, it’s interesting, I’m able to incorporate a lot of other genres into the works that I do. Safe Haven has a very strong and original thriller component in that story, so I’m able to do a lot of different things in the novels I write.
At the same time, I write screenplays, I develop television shows and those allow me creative freedom to move out of the genre. So I don’t really feel the need to do it in novel form because I’ve got so many other outlets.
Is it true that you read over 100 books a year?
Without question. I love reading! It’s just about my favourite thing in the world.
How do you fit that much reading in?
I’m a quick reader obviously. But I’m also the guy that has a book all the time. I read when I’m on the ellipse machine working out, I’ll read before I go to bed for an hour, and first thing in the morning. I love reading and I will squeeze it in any time.
It’s not work, it’s like a luxurious treat at various times during the day. I probably squeeze in, throughout the day, between about two and three hours to read. As I said, I’m a fast reader so that adds up to a lot of books every year.
And finally, you’ve said that they’re filming Safe Haven at the minute, is that filling your immediate future?
Not really. We’re filming that but I still have some other things to do. I’m finishing up my next novel simultaneously and I’m also developing I think four television shows, so we’ll see how that goes. For the next month I’m really split between those three things.
So I’m pretty busy when you throw in the kids and the wife and the reading. But, we each make our own beds and I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t give me some satisfaction I suppose.
The Lucky One is out on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download on the 27th of August.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith