Author Nicholas Sparks has written 23 novels, and all of them have been on the New York Times Best Sellers list, with more than 115 million copies sold worldwide. His career as a writer began in 1994 when he was working in pharmaceutical sales and wrote a novel on the side. It was titled “The Notebook.”
That novel quickly made the New York Times Best Seller list when it was released in 1996 and was later turned into a movie like many of Sparks’ subsequent novels. Sparks, who’s lived in New Bern, North Carolina for 30 years, has a new book out this month, “Dreamland.” It’s an emotional love story between two young musicians of different backgrounds and is set in North Carolina, like all of his novels, and on a Florida beach. Sparks says the inspiration for “Dreamland” came from a personal experience.
Nicholas Sparks: When I met my wife years ago, we were down on the west coast of Florida for a week. You know, I had met her and I knew by the end of that first week that she was going to be the one for me. And so we got married, had five kids, and all that stuff. It didn’t last in the long run, but it was wonderful while it did. And at the same time, the really big thing I really wanted to do was to kind of illustrate the parallels between making music and falling in love.
You have these two people, Colby and Morgan, and they just meet on the beach and they’re young people and okay, you know, this could just say “hello” or it could be a fling. And they discover that they share this passion for creating music and it was both part of their dreams. And as they begin to get to know each other and fall in love, they also fall into the songwriting process. And I just really wanted to explore those parallels — that hitting the right note when you’re meeting someone and you’re falling for them, it just feels like a song, right?
Gwendolyn Glenn: She seemed to have more aggressiveness about, “this is what I’m going to do,” but he’s a little hesitant.
Sparks: This was something that she had trained for and worked with tutors for and went to college for. Then you have someone who, loved music, but kind of started doing something else in life, right? Something that he was very good at was working on the family farm.
Glenn: Yeah. And he doesn’t realize how good he is until he takes that chance to go to Florida for several weeks and to gig down there and the crowds just love him.
Sparks: Sometimes that happens. You know, I’ve been to those kinds of places when I’m on vacation, a little beachside this or that. And, you know, I’ve heard some extraordinary voices.
Glenn: Yeah. So the other side of the story is in North Carolina, where we have these other incredible characters that you bring to life.
Sparks: You know, the interesting thing about “Dreamland” is that you have this wonderful love story that’s taking place in Florida and then another story, and you just don’t know how it’s related at all. It’s a woman who’s fleeing with her child from what she feels is a very dangerous situation.
And the reader, as they’re going through, they’re reading one story and then the other, and they don’t necessarily know how they’re going to come together. And that’s one of the things I try to do, is to write a novel that will surprise a reader in the end in a way they don’t expect.
Glenn: And this character also lost his parents. So this is not just about love between two people in that kind of relationship, but it’s also about love for family and loss.
Sparks: Yeah, those are themes that I often — they mean a lot to me, family. And in my own life, I’ve lost my mother, I lost my father, both when I was in my twenties. I lost my younger sister not long after that — I was, I don’t know, 32 or 33. And yet without my family, I don’t know who I would have been.
And so I love to explore the concept of family love. It’s a different kind of love. And when I pray, I basically, I just — I thank God for all of those different loves. And I love to explore that theme in my books. And I think that by the time you get to the end of “Dreamland,” you know, you really realize love in all its many varied forms.
Glenn: And I read where you once said, and I think it was on NPR with Scott Simon, that you like to explore human — all human emotions in your books. And this particular one took on a lot of emotions, as you just talked about.
Sparks: Well, for me, the stories that mean the most are those that touch all of the emotions of life. Because the more you touch all of the emotions of life, the more it feels as if it could be happening to you. To me, it’s a way to draw you closer to the character.
So yeah, I’ll write about love, but I’ll write about, for instance, fear. You know, in this novel, I’ll write about uncertainty. I’ll write about confusion. I’ll write about happiness, right? Just laugh. And you try to cover all of that. And I think by bringing in the entirety of the human experience, the characters feel more real. And thus the story lingers longer in the memory once the final page is turned.
Glenn: A lot of your books have been turned into movies and TV series. Do you see this as one?
Sparks: Yeah, I do. Universal bought this book, among others.
Glenn: Well, you had one, “Safe Haven.” You were the executive producer. I was going to ask you, how much input do you have when they’re turned into movies and television?
Sparks: I am one of the major voices in the room. Unlike a novel where I’m the boss. But in a film, you’re dealing with the studio executive in charge of the production. You have the director, who has a specific vision. Sometimes members of the cast have significant input. For instance, in “Message in a Bottle” when I’m working with Kevin Costner, Kevin Costner has an opinion and it’s important to listen to that because it’s Kevin Costner, right?”
Message in a Bottle | Nicholas Sparks Collection “Fight In The Rain” | Warner Bros. Entertainment
Sparks: I have 11 different films, so that could be on Amazon, Netflix. They could be anywhere. And they’re often on network TV.
Glenn: When you’re thinking of stories, are you thinking in terms of this has to work for North Carolina because there are so many different plots or things, but they might not necessarily work for North Carolina?
Sparks: So yeah, you do pick and choose some things like that. But I tend to choose stories that I can write in North Carolina. I’ve lived there for so long and I’m just a small-town guy. I guess through my novels I’m trying to tell you a little bit of the charms I find in small town life — the geography, the slowness of pace, the opportunity to be able to quiet one’s soul for a little while and thus allowing yourself to be open to, perhaps, new experiences.
Author and screenwriter Nicholas Sparks’ new book is “Dreamland.” He will be in Charlotte on Monday for a 4 pm book signing at Barnes and Noble Arboretum.