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Taking Notes with Bestselling Author Nicholas Sparks

Share This article - Based on Nicholas Sparks' New York Times bestselling novel of the same name, The Notebook follows the turbulent journey of teenagers Noah Calhoun and Allie Hamilton, who forge an emotionally intense summer romance and, after years of separation caused by class differences and World War II, find themselves unexpectedly reunited.

The story of this couple's undeniable love and the obstacles they face, are revealed decades later to a woman in a Southern nursing home by a gentleman who visits her regularly to read her stories from a mysterious notebook. Producer Chris Carpenter had the opportunity to spend some time with Sparks recently to discuss his thoughts on the big screen adaptation of his novel The Notebook, the power of love in less than ideal circumstances, and whether he views his writing as a mission.

CHRIS CARPENTER: A simple direct question to start; what was your inspiration for writing The Notebook?

NICHOLAS SPARKS: It was a story inspired by my wife's grandparents.

CARPENTER: Specifically, what was it about that relationship that interested you enough to write about it?

SPARKS: Well, their story had certain parallels that eventually became the film and the novel of course. Many of the things that happened in the novel and the film, I don't want to express exact details but it is what generally happened in their lives. But most importantly it is the story of two people who loved each other deeply their entire lives.

CARPENTER: When I think about "The Notebook" and the story that it tells, it is really a story about "what if". What if Noah had been rich? What if Allie had been poor? There are so many variables that can change everything in a person's life in a heartbeat. Could you comment on that a bit?

SPARKS: I try to always write novels that reflect reality. You know the actual issues and events that most people will face sometime in their lives or they will know someone who has gone through these types of events in their lives. For instance, "The Notebook" is the story about a young couple that fell in love and their parents didn't want them to be together. That is very common.

CARPENTER: Very common indeed.

SPARKS: Maybe it didn't happen to you but you have certainly heard about things like that. Same thing. It is the story about a couple who realized how much they were meant to be together which of course applies to basically everybody who gets married. It is the story of a couple that adores each other throughout their entire lives, even when it is not easy to love the other person, they do so anyway because that is who they are. That to me is a wonderful story. It does as you mentioned previously, goes to the old "what if" question. What if I got paralyzed? Would my wife remain married to me? What if all of these "what if" type questions. Yet that is what life is. It is completely unguaranteed folks.

CARPENTER: What I love about your writing is that there is just such a sense of realness about it. Like you are saying, this could happen to anyone.

SPARKS: That is what I try to do throughout all of my novels. These are stories that were inspired by events in my family or my friends. And you can make that claim about any of my novels. If you look at "The Rescue" for instance, which was my fourth novel. It is the story about a mother that has a son who doesn't speak well. She is just so worried about his future. But even if your son is perfect or your daughter is perfect, you worry about them. Trust me, I've got five kids.

CARPENTER: If I am not mistaken, you have battled this very issue yourself with your son. If I remember correctly, that is what inspired you to write "The Rescue".

SPARKS: That is exactly correct.

CARPENTER: This is your third time with a book going from the written page to the big screen. So, you have had a lot of experience with this as compared to most authors. What was your involvement with the film? You obviously wrote the novel from which the film is based but beyond that did you have any sort of role on the film?

SPARKS: I met with the film's original screenwriter Jan Sardi and walked him through New Bern (North Carolina). I showed him around and helped him gather the history of the town to make it historically accurate. So, he went through the first passes and they strayed a little bit far from what the studio envisioned the film to be. I think they wanted something that was very close to what the book was. So, they hired Jeremy Levens. Levens then took some of these aspects that Jan Sardi had incorporated and put them into the film. So, aside from that I read the scripts that was it. I went down for one day of filming not to spew any advice but just to meet everybody. And that was about it.

CARPENTER: You had mentioned that the movie ended up being pretty close to what the book was. Are you satisfied with the film?

SPARKS: Yeah, I think it is a great film. I think it captures a relationship between a couple like few movies that I have ever seen. There is a definite realism to their relationship. And I think audiences will respond to that very much.

CARPENTER: Talking a little bit about the writing process that you went through in crafting this book. I realize that it has been several years since you wrote it but during the writing process obviously we have two different eras going on here. We have the present day where Noah and Allie are both older people and then of course the perspective of them in earlier days, during the World War II era. Was it difficult for you to weave those two periods of their lives together into a free flowing novel?

SPARKS: Well, the way the book was constructed it was not. That process has been much more difficult with some of my other novels. In "The Wedding", I had essentially seven different levels going on simultaneously. But in the way "The Notebook" was constructed, start in the present, go through the past, then back to the present. The film, of course, changes that as they had to so that the viewer knows exactly what is going on. If you looked at the original novel, the film was two thirds set in the years that followed World War II and one third set in the present. The film is actually one third set the summer that they first meet when they are 17, another third set in the years after World War II, and a third set in the present. But the part that is in the present isn't all lumped together at the beginning and the end. It kind of weaves throughout the story. That would be the only difference. But those changes are done because films are different mediums. And when you have different mediums you can do different things.

CARPENTER: The movie is set in the coastal Carolina's as is the book during the 1940's. Having read "Three Weeks with My Brother" (Sparks' autobiographical memoir) I realize that you were not brought up in that area. You grew up mostly in California. Did you need to do a fair amount of research to capture the essence and flavor of that time in North Carolina?

SPARKS: No, I really didn't. I spent a few hours, how is that? That is primarily because this is a book about people. It is a book that has internal conflict. I am one of these people that tend to believe that people have changed less than you think they have. Every generation thinks that the next generation is sending us to doom. Everyone today thinks that the teenagers are worse than they have ever been before. Every generation thinks that society is going downhill. I mean we had the Temperance Movement in 1917 because people thought society was going downhill fast. So, I kind of work with this theory that people haven't changed much. Most people want to do what is right by God and for their family and for their community. They want a better life for their children. That is most people. And that is certainly not everybody but I think that that holds true today for the majority of people. I think it held true 50 years ago and even 100 years ago. True, the world changes, technology changes, but people are much slower in evolving than technology. Ten years ago we had computers with what, two little megabytes? Now we have 10 gigabytes that you can buy for $50 bucks. My brain hasn't gone from two to 10 gigabytes in the last 10 years. My brain is still my brain. So, I think people haven't changed as much. That is really what I write about. I write about internal conflict, falling in love, the dilemma's people face. They faced these things years ago and they face them now.

CARPENTER: Changing gears, when you wrote this book did you have any idea that A) it would become a New York Times Bestseller, B) become a movie that I believe is destined to become one of the summer's bigger films, and C) spawn the writing career you have had. Did you ever imagine that all of this would transpire as it has over the last 10 years?

SPARKS: You know, I had high hopes for the novel. I thought it was a good story and I felt that people would like it. But the market doesn't care what I think. The market ends up making its decision on its own. You can hope for the best. You can do everything right and prepare for that but in the end it comes down to word of mouth. And there is just no way you can predict that. Yes, I imagined it but did I ever think it? No.

CARPENTER: Back to the film for a minute. The director, Nick Cassavetes, has said, "The interesting thing about the books that Nicholas Sparks writes is that they are lush romances about enduring love and yet there is always a strong element of tragedy and loss." My question is, whenever you write a new book do you intentionally set out to accomplish what Nick Cassavetes said? Or is it something that just sort of happens within the flow of crafting a novel?

SPARKS: I do. My genre is actually a love story. Those are essentially modern day Greek Tragedies. That is what I write. I don't write romance novels which have their roots in let's say "Grimm's Fairy Tales". But it is not better than the other. More people actually know fairy tales than they can quote "The Women of Trachis" by Sophocles. You know what I mean? One is not better than the other. But I write these Greek Tragedies and what they are supposed to do is to evoke all of the emotions, not just fantasy and romance. They are supposed to evoke happiness and sadness, sorrow and bitterness, envy and jealousy, hope and loss, anger and pain. They are supposed to move all of the emotions. Hopefully, that is what a reader gets when they read my books. They laugh and they cry.

CARPENTER: What would you like to have audiences to get out of this film when they see it this summer? What is the message you would like to convey to them?

SPARKS: The power of everlasting love. That's it, but mostly I would just like them to enjoy the film.

CARPENTER: I was looking through the cast list for the film. It has a very interesting mix of people. You have a group of well-respected Hollywood icon types James Garner, Gena Rowlands then there is a good group of up and coming actors in it, Ryan Gosling comes to mind. Do these actors fit the look and feel of what you envisioned when you first came up with the idea for "The Notebook"?

SPARKS: Sure, why not? I was actually less clear I am much less clear on what my characters look like than probably my readers are. One of the rules of writing that I have followed over the years, it is a very simple cliché, less is more. If I find that I describe someone, I make the description relatively vague and let the reader's imagination flesh it out. Sometimes when you do that the picture becomes much more clear because the imagination is much more powerful through words.

CARPENTER: This is a book and a movie that I believe can touch a great deal of people from all age groups. There is such a wide gamut here, from young to old that can relate to this story. When you were writing it did you have a specific audience that you were targeting?

SPARKS: I am just hopeful that whoever picks it up or watches it will enjoy it. Women or men. Whether they are old or young or middle aged. Anybody. With that book I didn't set out to try and segment the market. In later books I have. I have tried to reach certain markets but those are more of a business decision. It is done in an effort to find more readers and things like that. So, like with "A Walk to Remember", it was a younger person's story. For "The Wedding", it was designed for someone in their fifties. But I just try to vary it primarily because I don't want the reader to get bored. I don't want the reader to pick up a book and think they have read it before.

CARPENTER: On a different note, in doing some research for this interview I came across an article from USA Today that listed the top selling authors of the last decade. Along with J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy, you were one of only four authors to have three or more books on that list. That is pretty elite company. Stephen King did not do that. Michael Crichton did not do that. Could you comment on that a bit? That is quite impressive.

SPARKS: It was exciting. It makes you feel I'm just glad that readers like my books. The sales of my novels probably put me among the top five selling novelists in the world. Let's say a new book is coming out, I will be in the top five worldwide. As a general rule I will be behind Rowling and Grisham but probably ahead of Tom Clancy. Michael Crichton would be very close and some other people but I would be about number three overall. That is wonderful. But you know, that is a testament to my readers and the fact that I have just been fortunate in that people who have read one or two of my books tend to read more.

CARPENTER: Final question for you, I was on your web site the other day and was reading some of the Comment Board postings and there was one that really caught my eye. It said, "Your stories are filled with love, loss, life lessons, situations that bring people together or tear them apart. You truly have a way to inspire, encourage, support, and teach through your novels all the while holding onto reality. Can't wait to read the next one!!" That is quite a powerful statement. It leads me to this question. That is, do you see your writing as your mission in life? In other words, you write these books to help other people through difficult times.

SPARKS: I don't. Comments like those are always very moving to me and I am always profoundly touched by the fact that people draw so much out of some of the work that I have done. But in the end I set out to write a good story to the best of my ability. My intent is to have as many people enjoy it as possible. And really it is as simple as that. I have no desire to write books that people don't enjoy. Those are easy to write. I mean I have a ton of interests out there. I could write a great book on track and field. I love running but it is boring. (Laughs) I think it would be boring. I really just try to write stories that most of my readers will enjoy.

Those quotes are wonderful. With "Three Weeks with My Brother", my main reason to write that was just to do something with Micah (his brother). It is a way to bring our family back. I understand that there is a slight modicum of interest about me among my readers. It was a way to fill in all those blanks. And it is also to say, hey, everybody has stuff in their lives. Nobody leads a perfect life, nobody.

CARPENTER: That is very obvious in The Notebook. Nicholas, thank you very much for the time.

SPARKS: Thank you very much.

Portions of introductory paragraphs compliments of Grace Hill Media.

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About The Author


Chris Carpenter is the program director for, the official website of the Christian Broadcasting Network. He also serves as executive producer for myCBN Weekend, an Internet exclusive webcast show seen on In addition to his regular duties, Chris writes extensively for the website. Over the years, he has interviewed many notable entertainers, athletes, and politicians including Oscar winners Matthew McConaughy and Reese Witherspoon, evangelist Franklin Graham, author Max Lucado, Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy and former presidential hopefuls Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mike