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Author Talk: The Notebook, June 2004

The film adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' New York Times bestselling book, THE NOTEBOOK, is being released in theaters June 25th by New Line Cinema. Paula K. Parker spoke with Sparks about the process of adapting a book to film, the enduring love of the characters in his book as well as his wife's grandparents (upon whose life the book was based), the love of his life and the secret to having a strong marriage.

Paula K. Parker: THE NOTEBOOK was your first published novel, yet several of your other books were adapted to film first? Why is that?

Nicholas Sparks: It came down to the fact that it took longer to get it to development. The studio was very clear on what it wanted as far as the film went. The first screenwriter --- who took about a year and a half --- did not do that. He gave them something that was good, but not something that they expected. Then they debated, "Now what do we do? Do we go forward with the project or do we not?" They decided to go forward with the project anyway, so they got a new screenwriter.

From there, various major directors became attached and then unattached to the project. Steven Spielberg said he was very interested, but he wasn't willing to make a commitment right away. Well, you wait for Steven Spielberg, obviously. Or you wait for some of the other directors who became attached temporarily.

In other words, it just took about eight years until the right script and team came along.

PKP: Did you have any input or creative control over the adaptation of your books into film?

NS: Very little. I'm willing to read scripts and make notes, if they are requested; but that's about it. You pretty much waive your rights when you sell it to Hollywood.

PKP: How does that make you feel? For many writers, to have someone read your work is like asking, "Don't you think my baby is pretty?"

NS: You could feel that way, and that would send you into a tizzy about the adaptation. I don't look at it that way at all. If I was going to be that upset, I wouldn't sell the project. I know going in that they're going to make changes. I know going in that film and books are entirely different mediums, that the characters may or may not match they way I envisioned them, that certain elements of the story are going to be changed - again, primarily because of film is a different medium. You can do things in film that you can't do in books and visa versa.

I know all that going in, so when it happens, I'm not upset about it.

PKP: You mentioned that this story is 'based upon' your wife's grandparents. Some people might interpret that to mean, 'This is the story of his wife's grandparents.' With that in mind, did you say, "You can't take this story past 'X' because someone might perceive that my wife's grandparents were one way when they really weren't?

NS: To be quite honest, I've been very blessed when I've worked with Hollywood. The studios that have purchased my work to be adapted to film have really liked the work and wanted to stay as close as they could to what the book was. I would say that they tend to retain the spirit of the characters and the spirit of the novel. The spirit of the novel is that it's a love story. It's about these two people who loved each other their whole lives. Even when things weren't easy, they loved each other. That was the spirit of the book and when you see the film, you'll see that it's the spirit of the film.

As long as they kept the general theme of the book and the general themes of the characters --- in other words, they don't make a good character evil to give him personality or something --- I'm fine with it. But again, like I said, I've been pretty blessed. That's never been an issue. Some authors are not so lucky. If you only have one studio bid on a project, that's who you have to work with. I've just been fortunate.

PKP: There were some significant differences between the novel and the film.

NS: Again, I knew there were going to be differences, so I wasn't going to let them affect me so much.

Whenever I see a film based on one of my novels, my primary question is whether or not it is an enjoyable film. At first, did it retain the spirit of the book and the characters? Was the story generally the same? Yes, yes, and yes. Finally, was it a good film? I loved the film. I thought the film was really very romantic and very sweet and I thought it captured young and everlasting love in a way that is seldom done on film.

PKP: In my opinion, the enduring love between older Noah and Allie was much stronger than the passionate fiery love of their younger years. It's not something that you see portrayed often.

NS: No, you don't. Yet most people, when they fall in love, it's because of that passion. It's very seldom an economic or unemotional undertaking. "Well, this person has brown hair and I prefer brown hair because they don't get skin cancer." You don't think like that. You think, "Wow! She's great!" If you are fortunate, you meet the right person, and you share the same moral values and you share the same commitment toward each other…I don't know that love changes. People change. Circumstances change. In the end, Noah loves Allie just like he used to. He's older now, things are different, and he can't show it the way he wants to if he could; but that doesn't change the way he feels and always felt for her.

PKP: It's a much stronger, a much richer kind of love. 

NS: Yes, but richness in love takes time. That's what the definition is. The theme of the book is everlasting love. You can't have everlasting love if it's just about Noah and Allie as teenagers, or Noah and Allie in their twenties when they got back together. No, it's got to last through everything if it's going to be everlasting.

PKP: Are your wife's grandparents still alive?

NS: No, they are deceased. They died in 1993.

PKP: Did they get to see anything of what you did with their story?

NS: No. Not even the first word written.

PKP: Does you wife think this book honors their memory? 

NS: Yes, she loves it, because it captures the spirit of how they felt for each other. They adored each other all the way to the very end of their lives. Even when things weren't easy at the end of their lives.

PKP: Did either of them have Alzheimers?

NS: She had dementia, but they don't know whether it was Alzheimers. Technically, Alzheimers can't be determined until an autopsy. We didn't need to do an autopsy, so we never knew for certain. She was elderly and there was no reason. All we knew was that she had dementia. She was on painkillers for cancer; that could have had something to do with it. You don't know exactly what the cause was.

PKP: Was it similar to Allie's dementia? Did she forget her husband? 

NS: Oh, yes.

PKP: It's sadly interesting right now with former President Ronald Reagan's death and the reports about his battle with Alzheimers. The timing of the movie's release will bring more attention to Alzheimers than it might have another time.

NS: Oh, I know. An interesting note is that the book was just being written when President Reagan first admitted to having Alzheimers.

PKP: Is this a cause you support?

NS: Yes, it is. I've made numerous speeches for Alzheimers associations around the country for eight years now.

PKP: Is any of you and your wife's story in this book?

NS: Not so much this one as in NIGHTS IN RODANTHE. I met my wife on spring break in Florida, during our senior year in college.

PKP: What drew you to her?

NS: Her manners. She was nice to everybody. You know; spring break and college students are generally caught up in their own little world. With her, she was kind to everybody, every person that she met. Whether they were handsome or not handsome, or if they were old or if they were kids. On the beach, she'd be the first one to say, "Hey, hey, there is a family here. Can you move the volleyball game over some?" She'd say it very nicely and no one would ever take offense. She would just notice that, because that's who she is.

PKP: In your book, The Wedding, you deal with a struggling marriage. It's obvious from our conversation and from the comments on your website that you make your marriage a priority.

NS: We always do and we always have. I personally think it's one of the best lessons that you can teach your children is to keep your spouse happy in a marriage and to make time for them individually. My wife and I go out to lunch three times a week. We go on a date once every other week. We take weekend trips --- just the two of us --- two or three times a year. We will also take a five-day vacation --- just the two of us --- once a year. My wife doesn't want to leave any more than that --- she's still a mom, first and foremost. But our children see us all the time --- hold hands, we exercise together. We get up earlier in the morning so we can have some time together. We make it a priority throughout the days and weeks and months.

PKP: What words of encouragement would you say to couples who are struggling with their relationship?

NS: The secret to a happy marriage is extraordinarily simple, but it requires both parties to take part. The secret to a happy marriage is this: find out what the most important things are to your spouse and you do them. That only works if your spouse does them back.

For my wife, it's very important to her that I hold her hand and sit next to her on the couch and watch, Trading Spaces. That I spend a lot of time with the kids. That I sit and listen to her talk, and not necessarily about anything important. These things are very very important to my wife. So, I do them.

Then I have things that I like to do. I like to spend time with my wife doing fun things. I think exercising is fun. She makes time to do that, to do whatever it is, going to ball games; go fishing. Whatever it is, she does recreational stuff with me. I have a list of five things that are very important and she does too. I do hers, and she does mine, and we both feel like we're getting the most out of marriage as we possibly can.

It's very simple. Most people make it way too complicated.

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