The “Lucky One” Interview
with Kam Williams
Born in Omaha, Nebraska on New Year’s Eve, 1946, Nicholas Sparks is one of the world's most beloved storytellers. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, with nearly 80 million copies in print worldwide, in over 45 languages, including 50+ million copies in the United States alone, and his popularity continues to soar.
Sparks wrote one of his best-known stories, The Notebook, in half a year at age 28. It was published in 1996 by Warner Books. He followed that with the novels Message in a Bottle (1998), A Walk to Remember (1999), The Rescue (2000), A Bend in the Road (2001), Nights in Rodanthe (2002), The Guardian (2003), The Wedding (2003), True Believer (2005) and its sequel, At First Sight (2005), Dear John (2006) ,The Choice (2007), The Lucky One (2008), The Last Song (2009), Safe Haven (2010) and The Best of Me (2011). He also collaborated on the 2004 non-fiction memoir Three Weeks with My Brother with his brother, Micah.
"The Lucky One" marks Sparks' seventh film adaptation, following "Message in a Bottle," "A Walk to Remember," "The Notebook," "Nights in Rodanthe," "Dear John" and "The Last Song." "The Notebook," "Message in a Bottle" and "Dear John" each grossed over $100 million at the box office. "Safe Haven," his upcoming eighth screen adaption, which will be directed by Lasse Hallstrom, is set to be released next year on Valentine’s Day.
Nicholas lives with his family in North Carolina. He contributes to a variety of local and national charities, and is a major contributor to the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, where he provides scholarships, internships, and a fellowship annually. Along with his wife, Cathy, he founded The Epiphany School in New Bern, North Carolina, and he spent five years coaching track and field athletes at the local public high school.
In 2011, they launched the Nicholas Sparks Foundation to continue their charitable causes, which will kick off with the Nicholas Sparks Celebrity Golf Tournament in New Bern on April 19-22, 2012. Here, Nicholas talks about writing, his life and career, and about “The Luck One,” his latest big screen adaptation.
Kam Williams: Hi Nicholas, thanks for the interview.
Nicholas Sparks: Oh, my pleasure. Great to talk with you, Kam.
KW: I want to let you know that I really enjoyed The Lucky One.
NS: Thank you. I’m glad. I very much enjoyed it, too, and I think they did a terrific job with the film.
KW: What inspired you to write the book?
NS: A few things. I write stories that are based in eastern North Carolina, where I live. We’re literally surrounded by military bases: Camp Lejeune… Fort Bragg… Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station… Seymour Johnson Air Force Base... And these are all first strike units. Because of that, whenever you’re going to write a story about this region and with characters in their twenties, you have to consider the military as an option. Second, because they’re such an integral part of the community at large, you know them well enough to recognize how multiple deployments have affected them. The changes are not necessarily horrible, but they always come back different. Then I got this image of a marine serving in Iraq finding a photograph in the sand stuck in my head. Then I knew he was going to be different when he arrived back in the States. Why? That’s really how most novels are developed. Why? What if he begins to think of the photo as his lucky charm? Why? And then you kind of piece together a story with about 100 elements. You’re kind of mixing and matching in your mind. Hopefully, they all come together and work.
KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: How has a chance event changed your life?
NS: I think the biggest chance event in my life was a moment when I was 22 years-old. I was with friends down in Florida on Spring Break when I met my wife. We were literally walking through a parking lot when we crossed paths. So, it wasn’t like I met her at a party or on the beach. But I saw her, I said to myself, “Wow! She’s pretty!” which is about all you can know in five seconds, and introduced myself. As shallow as that might sound, you gotta cut me some slack there, Kam, since I was a college kid on Spring Break. But listen, if we had pulled into that parking lot a half-minute sooner or a half-minute later, she’d have already been gone. It was literally that razor’s edge close.
KW: Harriet also says: Finding the photo in “The Lucky One” seems like a chance event—but is it destiny?
NS: In my opinion, destiny can only be determined in retrospect. In other words, something only becomes fate as the result of a series of conscious or unconscious choices that you’ve made. Afterwards, you can look back and say, “Well, it was fate,” much like the way in which I met my wife. And yet, I had to pursue her. Still, I say, “Man, it was fate,” because a minute either way and my whole life would’ve been different because most of the female characters I create have all the traits that I find most attractive about my wife. So, I don’t know whether I’d even be a writer.
KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier says: I think that it is very inspiring to see how very successful writers like you and J.K. Rowling overcame enormous hurdles you encountered early in your careers. What advice do you have for people who want to pen for a living but feel discouraged by naysayers?
NS: I think the most important thing you can do when you’re starting out is to not quit your day job, because it is a very difficult profession in which to make a living. Don’t pursue this single path. Stephen King had five unpublished novels before Carrie came along. I had two unpublished novels, written from beginning to end, before I had The Notebook. So, you have to be realistic, as well as a dreamer. And you also have to hone your craft continually.
KW: Do you get involved in the casting or the writing of the screenplays of your adaptations? Do you hang around the set?
NS: Yes! Yes! And yes! [Laughs] I’m involved from beginning to end. If I don’t write the screenplay, I’ll edit them and make suggestions, and often talk to the scriptwriter during the process of writing it. Besides, not everyone is familiar with eastern North Carolina, and they might need help with something very specific. Or they might just want to brainstorm with me. And yes, I’m involved with the casting. And yes, I go to the set.
KW: To what do you credit your ability to tap into the human soul in a way which resonates with so many people?
NS: Maybe, I have a good understanding of what makes these kinds of stories work well. The main thing is you have to like your two main characters, so readers want to root for them. But they can’t be so perfect that they can’t relate to them either. Besides developing characters in that way, you have to genuinely evoke the emotion. You can’t manipulate it. It’s a fine line. You have to do both of those things well, and run them through the entire spectrum of human emotions. It’s not enough to just have them experience a bit of tragedy and fall in love. The characters only really feel alive if you bring them through laughter, anger, joy, sorrow, envy, frustration, and so forth. And when the characters really feel alive, you ache for them.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
NS: Prophet by Michael Koryta. It’s sad, but a really good story. [Chuckles] It’s not out yet, however. It’ll be published this fall. I got an advance copy.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
NS: In fifteen years of interviews is there anything that I’ve never been asked about that I wanted to discuss? Not necessarily. What would be interesting for me to discuss, would probably bore most readers. For instance, I could talk for hours about the craft of writing, or how to structure a sentence in such a way as to evoke a genuine emotion. But I understand that that makes for pretty dry reading.
KW: Like you, I went to Catholic school. Although it might bore my readers, I’m curious about how your upbringing has influenced your writing?
NS: There’s no question that my faith inspires my writing. I do not create characters who are free from sin. So, sometimes things happen that are outside the bounds of traditional Catholic doctrine. But I am very conscious when I, say, insert a love scene, that the reader or viewer gets a sense that the two are destined to be together forever and that they will make their peace with God. For the same reason, I don’t write about adultery or teenagers engaging in premarital sex in my novels, and I don’t use profanity. I’ll leave that to other authors. All that is informed not only by my faith but by my grandmothers, who still read my novels. So, there you go.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
NS: Picking butterflies off the grill of the moving van in Minnesota at about 3½.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
NS: Well, this morning I saw some red eyes, because my flight was delayed. [Chuckles] I do what everybody does when they look in the mirror. I go something like, “Really? That’s it? That’s all I have? This is what I’m presenting to the world? I thought it was so much better. But no, this is it. So, let’s make the best of it that we can.”
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
NS: Tacos, or taco salad.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
NS: My wish for the world is that the good are rewarded more than the bad. If the wish were just for me, I’d wish for an excess amount of good luck.
KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
NS: Day by day.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
NS: Hard work and luck. It’s both. You won’t find someone who’s successful who didn’t have a bit of both.
KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets,” asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
NS: My best was to hire my agent. My worst was to start my own business fresh out of college when I had no money and no experience. That was a whopper. The credit card debt was quite inconvenient.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
NS: The Nicholas Sparks Foundation which does a lot to support a specific branch of disabled vets with prosthetic limbs and assistance dogs. It’s also involved in a number of education projects.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
NS: Finishing a novel.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
NS: Watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Orange County with my wife.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
NS: Last night, on the plane.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
NS: Read a lot with an eye toward learning what authors do well, and what they don’t do well.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
NS: I’d like to be remembered as a good dad and as a good husband, and as a writer of novels that people really enjoyed.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Nicholas and best of luck with The Lucky One.
NS: Thank you, Kam.
Monday, April 9, 2012