Sparks will fly
In passing, Sparks has offered a neat summary of the way his novels work. Catching lightning bugs? Going to the parade? Whole generations of contented urbanites will recoil from those images in horror. But there remains a swathe of (using the smallest possible “c”) conservative-minded readers who yearn for the certainties of SparksLand. The latest film set in that world, Safe Haven, stars Julianne Hough as a troubled kid – from nasty, not-at-all-idyllic Boston – who flees to the beaches, softball games and firebugs of the Tar Heel state.
The film has something to do with spousal abuse. It touches on bereavement. One wonders what first triggers a Sparks tale.
“You start with a seed and that seed grows into a tree of ideas,” he says. “What I have first is often an image or a theme. In this case I wanted to write about love and danger. Everything sprouted from that.”
He is now using the tone of a creative- writing teacher.
“What you are looking for in any story are interesting characters, compelling voices, page-turning story, a stock of originality – and you are also trying to evoke the appropriate emotion. My novels evoke a stock of emotions. A horror novel may just try to scare you. Those are the five things that go into it.”
In a sense, Sparks is still writing self-help books. Millions of readers find solace and direction in his stories. He talks quite touchingly about working through his own traumas in fiction. The main character in his 2002 novel, A Walk to Remember, was inspired by his sister, who died two years before that book was published.
So, is there any sense in which he is looking for “issues” to write about? Is he consciously trying to pack his books with worthwhile advice?
“No. In this case I had no interest in writing about spousal abuse,” he says of Safe Haven. “If you start adding on things like that it gets really tough.
“It’s hard enough to write a novel. Those five things are hard enough to do. But that’s why they sell in Hollywood.”
Listen and learn. This man definitely knows something. Just ask that girl on the bus with the tear-stained Kindle.