Yesterday I was given an amazing opportunity: to be part of a bloggers' conference call with Nicholas Sparks. I got an email with all of the information at 11:45 am. I had already set up babysitting services with Dad for the afternoon. Mia has a tendency to talk a LOT when I'm on the phone. Dad arrived a little early at 1:30 and had time to fix the van for me. At 2:35 I locked myself in the bedroom and made a comfortable writing spot: hard surface for writing, two phones in case one died, two pens for the same reason, list of interview questions, something to sip in case I got a tickle in my throat, and a notebook. We were supposed to call in at 2:55, but at 2:53 I couldn't help myself anymore, so I called in and listened to the Muzak and the names of the other callers be announced as they called in. Nicholas called in at 2:59.
The moderators for the day were Kelly Leonard and Miriam Parker (love Miriam!) from Hachette Books. At 3 pm on the dot, Kelly got the conference going by introducing all of the bloggers present (all women) and explaining the inspiration behind the terrific idea of a conference call. Presidential candidates John McCain and Rudy Guiliani have been holding these types of calls with political bloggers. This is the first time Hachette attempted it, and it was such a success, I sincerely hope that they do it again! Kelly also gave the exciting news that Sparks' newest book, The Choice, had just hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Congratulations were exchanged all around.
What follows is my transcribed notes. They are much shorter than the entire conversation, but I never learned shorthand, and my pen only moves so fast. I know that I missed things, but I did my best to get down his important points. If it's awkward in spots, I apologize, that's all me! Let me say that Nicholas was a terrific gentleman, polite and honest. The bloggers present were: Jennifer Donovan from 5 Minutes for Books, Gina Holmes and Ane Mulligan from NovelJourney.blogspot.com, AKA Monty , Sarah Miller, a few other bloggers whose names and sites weren't available, and me. We had submitted our questions last week and were given an order to ask them so there was no talking over each other.
Kelly: What was the impetus for writing this novel?
Nicholas: A couple of things. It's been a long time since I had written a two part story like The Notebook. It's effective story-telling, you read one story, turn the page and now it's several years later, so let's see what's happened. But I wanted it to be different, about happenstance. About the choices that are made at the beginning and at the end.
Jennifer: On your website, your readers are asked to vote for their favorite character from your novels. I know it's like picking a favorite child, but who is your favorite character and why?
Nicholas: Landon Carter (from A Walk to Remember). He said whatever popped into his head and people would forgive him because he was a 17-year-old boy. He was easy to write because I've been a 17-year-old boy. I've never been an 80-year-old man like Noah.
Gina: It's been said that writer's reveal themselves, their struggles, fears and dreams through their work. Which of your novels reveals the most about you?
Nicholas: Of course, I've written a memoir, so that's the most about me. But if you read the sum total of my novels in the order I wrote them, you'll know what was going on in my life.
Ane: How do you avoid writing romance, yet be the master of love stories?
Nicholas: They are different genres. Love stories are Greek tragedies. I wrote modern day Greek tragedies. Look at literature, Shakespeare wrote Romeo & Juliet, Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms, that's a love story. Casablanca in film is essentially a love story. Moving to more modern literature, Love Story by Erich Segal, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, and The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans are all love stories. I write in that genre, and if I submitted one of my stories as a romance novel it would be rejected. The differences between the two genres are numerous. Romance has to have a certain structure to it.
AKA Monty: You seem to like the idea of women being "rescued" by men, and yet your female characters are usually quite strong and independent. What do you think you're trying to say, especially since your main audience is female?
Nicholas: You could make a case that the men are equally rescued. Love changes you. It might be a good change or a bad change. Falling in love is a great experience while it's happening, and that's what I try to recreate.
Sarah: Your first novel, The Passing, was never published (you've said it's due to your bad 18-year old writing). Will you ever correct the grammar or possibly re-write it and put it out there for the world to enjoy?
Nicholas: No, no, no (laughter). That was the school of my writing. I would no more publish my high school essays than that. It would take more work to fix that story than to write a completely new one from scratch.
Christy: What would you say is the message that you want your books to give to the world?
Nicholas: Well, I would say that I want the world to tell others to read them. I could blow a lot of smoke, but it's just smoke. You can't write something with that kind of message. Just write the best conceivable novel that you can. That's why I only write one novel a year instead of three or four.
Melody:Who inspired The Choice?
Nicholas: Travis was inspired by my brother Michael who works and unwinds by spending time with people. His weekends are made up of roller blading, surfing, BBQing... I married at 23 out of college. He married at 32 so our weekends were very different for 10 years. I'd ask him what he did on his weekend and he's say: we went biking in the Sierra Madres, gambling...and he say 'So what did you do this weekend' and I'd say 'Umm...I've got a wife and kids.' So that's where Travis came from: Michael. Gabby is a former assistant of mine who's now a PA [physician's assistant]. She's someone I grew to adore, and it follows her progress.
?: Does it anger you when the movie is different from your book?
Nicholas: No, I know what I'm getting into. A novel is a story told in words. A movie is a story told in movies. A car chase in a book is a very boring thing, but in a movie can be very exciting. Introspection in a book is wonderful, but you can't show a character thinking in a movie. They (movies) make changes, and I feel they capture these things, the important things.
Jennifer: Do you like to surf the net? What are some websites you visit regularly?
Nicholas: I surf the net a little bit, very little. The sites I surf would bore you to tears. I'm a high school track coach. I don't really have the time. I have a wife, five children, my writing, I work-out two hours a day, coach 3 hours a day, plus I just started this new school. I don't have time.
Gina: You've hit the NYT bestseller list again and again. What, in your opinion, causes a novel to gain this kind of success?
Nicholas: There's a now and a then. Now, it's my name. I just put my name on a book, and it gets on the list because they know what to expect.
Gina: Would you put your name on my book?
Nicholas: (laughter) That's what I mean, it's my name. Then, the publishers sent out tons of advance copies to reviewers and bookstores. I was working in pharmaceuticals at the time and would sell them whenever I entered an office. "Who wants to buy my book?" and (they'd) slap down the money and but it right there. I sold probably 2000 that way, so between that and the publicity, I worked my way there.
AKA Monty: Is there an idea for a book that you've set aside3 because you can't seem to work it out?
Nicholas: Welcome to my world! All the time! People have been asking me for a sequel to A Walk to Remember. I have the story, but I can't make it blend. Right now, I have three ideas I'm working on. One will be the next one I work on, the other two who knows if anyone will ever see?
Sarah: You've endured a lot of tragedy for being so young. Your mother, your father, and your sister all met untimely and early deaths. Many of your bestselling novels end in (or center around) tragedy. How much of your own misfortune do you draw upon for your writing? Do you find it cathartic to write throughout your pain?
Nicholas: No to answer the latter. You never find it a relief or something pleasant to write about personal pain. There are two types of writing: cathartic, which is pleasing for the author to write, and the other which is pleasing to others. I write firmly in the other camp. I do think these tragedies have shaped my novels because when I have to write about bad stuff happening, I've been there. I know what a person would be thinking or feeling, so I can write that.
Christy: Have you had the discussion with your wife that Gabby had with Travis about life support. Would you be able to do what he did knowing that you can't write a happy ending?
Nicholas: Yes, we've had that discussion. This story was about Gabby and Travis, so I can write whatever I want. But I would do whatever my wife has asked me to, and I know what that is, but I think that's moving into the realm of too personal.
?: Do you write different novels at different times?
Nicholas: The first five books were really inspired by family events. So then you try not to do the same five over again. Since then, I've been hunting for good original stories.
?: What are you reading now? Or do you not have time to read?
Nicholas: I try to read between 150-200 books a year. Right now I'm reading Exile by Richard North Patterson. Since I left on tour 10 days ago I've read Bowerman and the Men of Oregon [by Kenny Moore], 1453 about the fall of Constantinople [by Roger Crowley], The Case Against Homework [by Sarah Bennett and Nancy Kalish] (since I've started this new school, I'm reading things about how not to do things and how to do them better), Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, Unbroken [by Tracey Elliot], and I've read [John] Grisham's newest book, Playing for Pizza. I read fiction and non-fiction.
Kelly: Does touring get any easier?
Nicholas: I don't find it that hard. But today, I'm as ill as a dog. After I hang up, I'm going to lay down and rest because I have to sign 600-700 books tonight. I haven't eaten anything today, and I've got a fever. I think I have food poisoning.
The interview closed with all of us women mothering Nicholas just a bit and telling him to go lay down. His illness may have been a blessing, because otherwise he never would have gotten us all off of the phone so easily.
I'm still a little high from the whole experience. A big thank you from me to Miriam and Kelly from Hachette, Nicholas Sparks for being so gracious, and to my dad. If he hadn't kept Mia out of my hair for that half hour, I wouldn't have been able to take this opportunity.