Sparks will fly
“The Notebook never actually went to number one. It never went to number two. It spent a lot of weeks at number 10. It just stayed there a long time.”
I bet the later novels made it to number one.
“Yes. You know what? I cannot think of another that didn’t,” he says with a slightly eerie smile.
Sparks’s story about The Notebook’s slow, steady accumulation of sales is worth heeding. This class of success can’t be put down to hype or fashion. When novels (or records or films for that matter) build this slowly, they do so through word-of-mouth recommendation. Whatever else you might say about Nicholas Sparks – and critics have said plenty – you couldn’t argue that he is the creation of a cynical publicity machine. He gave readers something they didn’t know they wanted: moral tales that argue for a divine order in western society.
I wonder if Sparks ever wakes up and wonders how he got here. Is he ever surprised by his own success?
“No. I suppose, maybe in those rare moments when I reflect upon it. That’s not the nature of my personality,” he says while staring at a spot six inches above my left shoulder. “I always tend to look forward. I just sold a film last night. I had 20 minutes of excitement. Then I got out of bed and began writing an email. Here’s what we still have to do.”
That assurance is really quite disconcerting. He speaks as if he is running a multinational business (which, in a sense, he is). There is also a hint of the self-help guru about him. Sure enough, his first published work – released seven years before The Notebook – journeyed out under the title Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding.
His own route to world domination was a peculiar one. Born in Omaha (no, not North Carolina), he won a sports scholarship to Notre Dame University in Indiana (still not North Carolina) where he was a successful relay runner
“I still hold the record,” he says with a triumphant glance at something that’s not me. “My cross-country teammate was Michael Connelly. We are probably the most famous novelists that Notre Dame has produced. How do you become a novelist? You run crosscountry at Notre Dame. That’s the answer. Ha ha!”
Sparks had a tricky time of it in the years before The Notebook brought world fame. He had some ambitions to be an attorney, but that didn’t quite happen. Various business enterprises came and went. Eventually, in 1992, he ended up in New Bern, North Carolina. The small city seems to have got into his blood. Virtually every one of his books has been set there. The films – perfect beaches backing onto unchanged Main Street, America – work like effusions of the state’s tourism board. What is going on? True, Stephen King sets most of his books in Maine and thereabouts. But he was born in the area.
“It works well for the kind of novels that I write,” he muses. “It’s eastern. It’s largely small towns in that area and small towns are defined by community and church. There aren’t the big sporting events to go to, so, you go to the parade. You catch lightning bugs. It’s exceptionally beautiful. You get a full change of seasons there.”