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Interview: September 28, 2001

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, THE NOTEBOOK, A WALK TO REMEMBER and A BEND IN THE ROAD are love stories, but don't call them "romance novels." Find out why --- along with why we should be careful not to confuse "easy-to-read" with low brow lit and why all love stories inevitably involve tragedy --- in writer Jana Siciliano's conversation with bestselling author Nicholas Sparks.

TheBookReport: Your latest book A BEND IN THE ROAD is set completely in contemporary North Carolina. What in your home state most influences your writing?

Nicholas Sparks: I suppose more than anything, it's the way of life in this part of the country that influences my writing. In Eastern North Carolina, with the exception of Wilmington, most people live in small towns. There is a culture that develops in a situation like that, one based on family and friends, church and figuring out ways to beat the heat on those steamy days of summer. The pace of life is slow and relaxed but far from backward, and that's what I try to capture in my novels.

TBR: Your books are filled with tragic events which lead to love with secrets. Why is this your chosen theme?

NS: In all love stories the theme is love and tragedy, so by writing these types of stories, I have to include tragedy. (What would Romeo and Juliet be, for instance, if they both lived happily ever after?) Tragedy is hard and sometimes painful to write, but, at the same time, the stories linger longer in people's minds.

TBR: In A BEND IN THE ROAD, love does seem to conquer all. Do you set out to only write books in which people falling in love change their lives for the better?

NS: Falling in love is a wonderful experience and can conquer most things, but a close reading of all my works shows that I don't only write "love conquers all" types of stories. In MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, the main male character dies in the end, in A WALK TO REMEMBER, the main female character dies. In THE NOTEBOOK, love can't save Allie from the ravages of Alzheimers. In this book love wins, but, to be honest, it's the first time I've written it.

TBR: Do your characters come from people that you know?

NS: All characters come from people I know, but after the initial inspiration, I tend to modify the characters so they fit with the story.

TBR: A BEND IN THE ROAD is present-day, but A WALK TO REMEMBER is set in the '50s. Do you prefer writing about historical periods or the present day?

NS: I have no preference on writing in contemporary or historical periods --- that decision is based on the story. For instance, in A WALK TO REMEMBER, I wanted to have a character who needed redemption (Landon). Yet, I didn't want Landon to be too bad, either. By setting the story in the 1950s, he could be bad in a way that almost seems quaint today.

TBR: What part of working on a book is most enjoyable to you?

NS: Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It's one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.

TBR: Your first book was a phenomenal bestseller --- what do you think most appeals to people about your work? And how difficult was it to muster up the courage to write another, risking a 'sophomore jinx'?

NS: My first book was a huge seller --- I think it's approaching 8 million copies worldwide now, which means that people recommended the book to others. Why? I suppose it went to what's best in people --- faith, love, loyalty --- and that's how people like to see themselves. It's partly that, but there were other aspects of the novel that appealed to people --- it was easy to read, the story was compelling and original, and in the end, most people were deeply moved by the premise.

As for writing the second novel, the pressure was immense, but hey, what's life without a little challenge? I just sat down and forced myself to write and in the end, it sold as many copies as the first novel did.

TBR: You have said that you write an "easy-to-read" book --- but do you hope someday to publish something that is more literary fiction than mainstream?

NS: Please don't set those two aspects on opposite spectrums --- "easy-to-read" is not diametrically opposed to "literary." Besides, "easy-to-read" is harder to accomplish and do well, since "easy-to-read" also requires a compelling plot, which many (if not most) current literary novels lack. Writing is communication above all and I've made the choice to communicate with a large audience, which again is very hard to do. What's the challenge in writing a novel that few people will read? I'm more than happy writing what I do and have no plans to change that.

TBR: Do you write books with having them adapted to the movies in mind?

NS: My novels are just that --- novels. Movies are fun, movies are an honor, but it's not something I dwell upon.

TBR: What is the best part of having your books adapted for the screen? Meeting Kevin Costner or expanding your audience or what?

NS: The best part of having a movie adapted is knowing that more people will become familiar with my work. The other parts are fun as well (premieres, meeting the stars, etc.) but as an author, I want people to read my work.

TBR: If you weren't writing romance novels, what would you most like to be doing?

NS: I don't write romance novels, any more than Tom Clancy writes legal thrillers. Yes, I write about love and relationships and Tom Clancy writes a thriller, but what I do would not be accepted by romance publishers, since the romance genre has numerous requirements and I don't satisfy any of them. I write love stories, a completely different genre. If I wasn't doing this, I have no idea what I'd be doing.

TBR: Who are your influences, writing-wise?

NS: I suppose I'm most influenced by any good, commercial writer. I learn from everyone.

TBR: What is your writing day like?

NS: I write 2000 words a day when I write. It sometimes takes 3 hours, it sometimes takes 5 hours. At the beginning of the day, I edit what I've written the day before. Other than that, I live my life.

TBR: The first time you saw your book in a bookstore, what did you think?

NS: I thought it was awesome. Really, really cool.

TBR: What is the next project you're working on?

NS: I'm writing a new love story, set in eastern North Carolina. Surprise, surprise, huh? I'm nearly finished and I hope my editor will like the story as much as I do. It's been a lot of fun to write.