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‘The Goodness of People’: An Interview with Nicholas Sparks

“I realized I had it in me to finish a novel once I started.” That realization hit Nicholas Sparks at the age of 19, and his readers are forever grateful. Now 36 years old, Sparks is the best-selling author of Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and several other domestic and international best-sellers.

That realization hit Nicholas Sparks at the age of 19, and his readers are forever grateful. Now 36 years old, Sparks is the best-selling author of Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and several other domestic and international best-sellers. Both Message and Walk have been adapted into movies, with the latter being released on VHS/DVD today.
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Sparks recently spoke with EthicsDaily.com from his home in North Carolina, which he’s quick to characterize as “a beautiful place geographically, and a wonderful place to raise children.” He recalled how his writing career took off.
 
“I’d always been a big reader,” said the Omaha native. But he was also a good runner—so good he received a full track scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. But a freshman injury laid him up for a while.
 
“I could see my career going up in flames,” he said. “And my mom said, ‘Don’t just pout. Do something.'”
 
“Like what?”
 
“I don’t know,” she said. “Write a book.”
 
“Okay.”
 
Sparks characterized the resulting 300-page novel as “a 19-year-old, six-week effort.” It wasn’t published, but he gained that valuable piece of knowledge: He could start—and finish—a novel.
 
He also finished his degree at Notre Dame, graduating with high honors. His major wasn’t English or creative writing, but business finance.
 
“I wanted a major that I really felt like I would use my entire life,” he said. “And business finance teaches you a lot about life stuff. I tried to go with a real practical education. And that was it.”
 
He applied to law school but wasn’t accepted. He wrote another novel, but it wasn’t published either. So he worked a string of odd jobs, managing to co-author a book with Olympian Billy Mills.
 
At 26, Sparks was selling pharmaceuticals in California. His wife, Catherine, wanted to raise kids and stay at home, but California was too expensive to do that on his salary. Sparks put in for a transfer to a different part of the country, and a “slow moving, Southern town” in North Carolina became their new home.
 
At 28, Sparks spent six months writing The Notebook at night and on weekends. He sold it to Warner Books in 1995, and in 1996 it was published. It was a hardcover best-seller for over a year.
 
Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Rescue and A Bend in the Road followed. Nights in Rodanthe is scheduled for publication in September, and The Guardian next spring.
 
Sparks writes about five hours a day, cranking out roughly 2,000 words. He sandwiches the writing between working out in the mornings (he has a black belt in tae kwon do) and family time in the afternoons and evenings.
 
Sparks was raised a Catholic, and his faith still plays a vital role in his personal and professional life.
 
Speaking of the characters in his novels, Sparks said “there’s mention of them going to church. They tend to be honest, to be forgiving. They don’t curse. They don’t make fun of religion. If there are love scenes in a novel, they’re very tame—because I have grandmothers.”
 
“My characters are always rooted in the belief, the issues,” he said. “Family is important. My characters don’t tend to have major drug addictions. I don’t write about rape, incest. I just can’t write about any of it. I like my characters to be someone who people would want for a neighbor.”
 
Writing his brand of fiction, though, still poses difficulties for some readers, he said.
 
“If you write a character who does something, some people believe you espouse it. I create the characters. They’re not me,” he said. “But I don’t write about adultery simply because I don’t think it’s a good thing to romanticize. I find nothing romantic or noble about it in any shape, way or form because you made a commitment to God, to your partner. Some people can write it. I can’t.”
 
Sparks pointed to the circumstances surrounding A Walk to Remember as an example of his writing inclinations and strengths.
 
“I was working on another novel, and it was ironically creeping toward adultery. It was almost a mental type of adultery. And I found I just couldn’t write it,” he said. “And when I suddenly realized I couldn’t finish the story and had to write something new and decided to write a new book, it flowed. I liked how it was going. And I concentrated on that one and finished A Walk to Remember.”
 
A Walk to Remember is set in Beaufort, N.C., in 1958. It’s a love story between 17-year-old Landon Carter and Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the town’s Baptist minister.
 
“For A Walk to Remember, I thought it was without a doubt my most spiritual book to date, not only because of the characters but because of their actions,” Sparks said. “And if people read the novel or see the film, they’ll be touched and moved by the goodness of people.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.
 
Visit the Nicholas Sparks Web site.