Nicholas Sparks is the bestselling author of numerous novels including The Notebook , Dear John and The Lucky One. It isn't just book fans who love Sparks's stories though. Hollywood has taken a shine to his books, with numerous adaptations already made and a couple currently in the early stages of production. The film adaptation of his book The Lucky One is scheduled to hit cinemas this week and stars Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in the lead roles along with Blythe Danner as Nana.
Sparks kindly took time out of his busy schedule to share with me his thoughts on having his books adapted to the big screen, what he thought of Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in the lead roles of The Lucky One, his journey into publishing and what advice he would give aspiring authors.
Congratulations on the release of The Lucky One. How have you found the tour so far?
I'm enjoying it. I've been touring since early March. I've been everywhere from Dubai to Australia, the Philippines to New Zealand, Germany and I still have to finish up here in London then I'm off to Milan and Warsaw – not counting the US and Canada which was a whole other tour.
" If you like films based on my novels, you will love The Lucky One. "
Nicholas Sparks on his latest adaptation
The Lucky One hits cinemas this week and is another in an ever-growing number of your books adapted to the big screen. How involved were you in the adaptation process this time around?
Making films is a collaborative process and I'm certainly one of the collaborators on the creative aspects of the film, whether it comes down to helping to choose the screenwriter or giving notes on the screenplay, helping to select a director or even having input on the casting. The things I don't do are the studio aspects whether it's budgets, cinematography, things like that.
So you were consulted a lot then for The Lucky One?
I was, yes, because I've been doing it a long time and certainly I have more creative input now than I did originally.
And are you happy with the end result?
Yeah! I thought The Lucky One was a very good sell. If you like films based on my novels, you will love The Lucky One.
" We wanted someone who had an aura of being a nice guy … someone who was really a great performer, because we were going to saddle him with a lot of emotional stuff "
Nicholas Sparks on choosing Zac Efron for the role of Logan
How was it seeing Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in the roles? Was it how you had envisioned it?
I thought Zac and Taylor were great. We wanted someone who was twenty-five years old or under because that's the average age of marines. We wanted someone who had an aura of being a nice guy and Zac is like that, because Zac really had the aura of the character. We wanted someone who was really a great performer because we were going to saddle him with a lot of emotional stuff – you know, PTSD and all her issues. Then, of course, once you have Zac, what you're looking for is chemistry with Zac – Taylor not only had chemistry with Zac but she has a lot of emotional depth as an actress and it was good!
The character Logan Thibault is a marine and you've also touched on military careers in some of your other books. Why do you think you're drawn to this aspect in particular?
I'm writing book number seventeen now and I think of those, four had elements of the military in them but really only two were major stories so it's not really a common theme amongst my novels. It's common in my films I guess – but I think it's because I live in eastern North Carolina and my town – where I live – is surrounded by military bases, so military personnel are part and parcel of life in that part of the world. If that's the situation and you're looking at characters in their twenties, this is one of the jobs that you're going to have to honestly look at if you're going to tell the truth about that area.
Of the four that mention it, three of them are in my films. So maybe it's more of a question for Hollywood…? [laughs] You know, war has always provided a great backdrop for stories. It always has and it always will.
What about the rural small-town settings you favour in many of your books? Is that to do with where you were brought up?
No, it's because of where I live. There are no cities in eastern North Carolina! It's all small-town rural. There are a lot of people who write books that take place in cities or in other areas of the world. This is one of the things that I do. Whenever you sit down to craft a novel, you want to have some threads of familiarity in a work that feels totally fresh and original. So one of these threads of familiarity is that it's in a small town in North Carolina.
" I write what I write. I write the kind of novels that, number one, I would like to read and, number two, I think others would like to read. "
Nicholas Sparks on writing romance novels
What's it like having your books adapted? Do you have a favourite?
I don't have a favourite and I've been very fortunate in films. I can't deny that they've all been commercially successful, they've all sold a lot in DVDs, they air in the United States all the time on cable channels. I've had great casts and great directors so I've been very fortunate. It's funny because it's not really something that I had any control over, it's just something that happened and I was the fortunate beneficiary of it.
How much involvement do you think an author should have in adaptations?
I suppose that really depends on the author and what they're hoping for. That's a tough question to answer. I certainly don't think they should have total creative control because the studio, the people who put up the money, should have creative control. I think if you're going to work with a director, you hired that director for a reason and it would behove you to let them do what they're good at. That's kind of the way I look at it and if any author asks me, that's probably what I'd tell them.
I write novels and there are certainly romantic elements in them. There are men who do this, whether it's David Nicholls with One Day, Nicholas Evans for The Horse Whisperer, Robert James Waller for The Bridges of Madison County. You know, I write what I write. I write the kind of novels that, number one, I would like to read and, number two, I think others would like to read.
Are you a romantic?
I do my best, right. I've been married twenty-three years and my wife is a terrific lady. I'm 'the lucky one' in our relationship so to speak. You know, she likes romantic gestures so I try to do them.
You're now a bestselling author but where did it all begin? What was your journey into being published like?
Well, I wrote my first novel at 19. I wrote it over the summer between my first and second year at university. I wrote a second novel at 22 after graduating. Neither of those are published – though I did try. At 25 I co-wrote a book with a friend of mine who was relatively famous. He was an Olympic gold-medallist. I really didn't get any credit for that. Then when I was 28, I wrote The Notebook and The Notebook took off. It was interesting because I didn't write anything between those periods. It was like… every three years, I got the urge to write and I was just fortunate that when I was 28, that one worked!
" I pretty much try to imagine what either my mum or my wife or my agent (all women obviously!) would do in that situation and what they would be feeling. "
Nicholas Sparks on writing women
How do you write women so well? Where do your characters come from?
I pretty much try to imagine what either my mum or my wife or my agent (all women obviously!) would do in that situation and what they would be feeling. I actually don't find that very difficult at all. Everyone always asks me about it but I don't know, I just don't find it that hard. What IS hard is to make one female character different from the next, from book to book, in the same way it's hard to keep coming up with original male characters with really strong voices so that you're really compelled to want to follow their story. That to me is hard – just coming up with an original voice – but getting into their minds once you have that voice, I don't find that hard at all.
Do you plan when you write or is there more improvisation? What's your average writing day like?
I plan a lot prior to writing, if the story's – for the most part – clear in my mind, all the elements of the story, who the character is, the twists and turns of the plot, the conflict, how it's going to end. Then, when I sit down to write, it really depends where you are in the book. Early on, you're really trying to discover the voice, you're really trying to set in motion all of these elements in the proper order, so it tends to go a little bit slower. As you get into the book, once you have the voice and everything like that, the writing tends to speed up. Usually, I sit down and try to write a couple of thousand words and that usually takes about five hours. Sometimes it takes less and sometimes it takes more.
Have you ever gone in a completely different direction to what you'd planned?
No. Not a completely different direction. Certainly there are things that you come up with in the novel that hadn't been planned in the conception of the novel – that will happen, but never a totally different direction.
What are your top tips for aspiring writers?
Read a lot, and read with an eye toward what other authors do well. I think that's probably the best advice you can get. You have to read across a variety of genres because different authors and different genres do different things well. If you're writing your novel, and let's say you want to write something like I write, you can't just read me to do that. You've also got to read suspense novels because some of my novels have suspense in them, mysteries because some of my novels have mystery in them, novels that deal with the supernatural because some of my novels deal with the supernatural. So you have to read across a variety of genres and learn how authors do things.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing? There's a lot of debate on whether new authors should take that route.
People have been self-publishing for a long time and some of them have later been picked up by publishers. I think the One Minute Manager was originally self-published, The Celestine Prophecy was originally self-published and that went on to spend a couple of years on The New York Times bestseller list. It's not a new thing, I think what's new is that it's much easier to do it now, anybody can do it.
I think that this isn't a debate about the role of agents and editors at all. It's a very low-barrier-to-entry thing to write a book. Really, all you have to do is take your time and yet that doesn't mean it's good. I think this is where the agents and editors come in. If you want to self-publish, go ahead and self-publish. It matters not to me! [laughs]
What's next for you?
I've got a few things I'm writing. I'm writing my seventeenth novel. Ideally I'll be finishing that up in June or July. Safe Haven goes into film production next month so I'll be producing that. The Best of Me, another film based on one of my novels, goes into production in November so I'm working with the screenwriter on that. We're doing Broadway stuff… there's a whole bunch of stuff going on. I tend to be fairly busy, even when I'm at home.
Can you tell us anything about the book you're writing now?
Ah, there's really nothing that I can tell.
So we'll just have to wait to find out more about Nicholas Sparks's next book later in the year. In the meantime, The Lucky One is scheduled to hit UK cinemas on 2nd May 2012 and of course there is an impressive back-catalogue of Nicholas Sparks books to choose from.