Of the 16 novels author Nicholas Sparks has written, seven of them have been adapted into films, including “A Walk to Remember,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “The Notebook.” The latest film based on one of Sparks’ best-sellers, “The Lucky One,” stars Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, and Blythe Danner, and tells the story of a U.S. Marine whose luck changes for the better after a picture of a beautiful woman he finds during combat saves his life.
I had a chance to sit down with Sparks in Dallas after a screening of the film, where he talked about the difficulty success brings to writing, the pull he has with filmmakers, and the ubiquity of “The Notebook.”
How is life as king of the romantic drama?
It’s pretty good, right? It’s been a lot of fun over the past few years. I think this is film number seven, and of course I’ve written a lot of novels in this genre. It’s been good, and part of that is that I think they’ve done really well with the films and that they’ve been successful and people have really liked them. But more than that, they have legs. They’re the kind of films that people like to see again and again. I think “The Notebook” is on, what, 40 times a year on cable? And “A Walk to Remember?”
Yeah, I know I’ve seen them quite a bit on cable and DVD. So has the success of the films changed the way you write your novels?
If anything it’s made them harder [to write], to be quite frank, because it’s a little bit harder to be original. If you’re just trying to be original for a novel, that’s one hurdle. But then you say, “Oh, but I also can’t do things that are also done in film.” It makes it a little bit harder, so it takes longer to conceive of a story. And certainly I’m aware all along that it might be made into a film.
Do you play it out in your head how it works cinematically? Do you think about it like that at all?
No, no. Just in the conception of the story. But once I start writing, it’s all novel, all the time, until it’s completed. Because, you know, I have had some that didn’t sell, for instance, or some that I held back. So I’m not always sure whether it’s going to be made into a film right away. You just don’t know. So in the end, you write the best novel that you can and keep your fingers crossed.
How closely do you end up working with the filmmakers on the adaptations?
Pretty close. Pretty close. I’m involved in everything from the selection of the screenwriter, to talking to the screenwriter, working with the screenwriter. If that screenwriter so desires, while in the process, certainly notes. Director. Same thing with casting. I knew Zac [Efron] would be in this probably before Zac did, to be quite frank.
Well, we hoped he would, yes.
Would you have a Zac Efron-type in mind when writing?
Not when I’m writing because when you’re writing you first start with an idea. You don’t have much. You have a germ of an idea. You’ve been inspired. You say, “Okay, this is generally the kind of character I want to create.” So you don’t really know this character until, literally, close to the end of the book. I mean, you don’t know his specifics. How does he phrase things? When does his humor creep in? How does he react when he’s angry? ‘Cause at that point you’re just trying to make the best novel that you can. So I don’t know until the end. And then, when it’s over, yes, you know?
Have you ever had any battles with the filmmakers in the process?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. All the time. Making a film is a much more collaborative process than writing a novel. In the novel, you know, you’re the king, right? You get final say on everything. But in a film you’ve got a studio involved, producer, director, certainly the cast. And a lot of these are certainly very bright, creative people and they want to give the project their all. To do that you have to give them certain freedom. Otherwise, if it were just me, the films would be much more similar than they are. But because we gave [director] Scott Hicks freedom in “The Lucky One,” you can watch “The Lucky One” and then watch “A Walk to Remember” and not feel they’re similar at all.
Your work, perhaps unfairly, is primarily categorized as being more for women–
Yeah. It is. I know that. It is.
But there are elements that men can enjoy. What would you say to a man that isn’t convinced?
It is what it is, you know? This is a genre that men and women have enjoyed. In film they’re all just modern takes on “Casablanca” or “From Here to Eternity.” This is an old genre in film, and it’s something that has worked over and over and over again. “An Affair to Remember.” It’s the same thing, and you just have to find ways to make it very new and fresh, and appeal to modern audiences and tell it in a new way. It is what it is, you know? I think more women than men enjoy “Casablanca.” Does that make it a bad film? No. It’s still one of the greatest of all time.
You’re movies tend to become date movies, for better or worse–
Do they become date movies in your household? Do you go see your movies on a date?
(Laughs) Oh, you know, we see it at the premiere. So it’s kind of a big date. You’ve got to fly across the country and do the whole red carpet thing. So it is a big deal. For this one I’m bringing my wife and the kids out. It’ll be the first premiere for the kids. It is kind of exciting.
Do you have any good luck charms?
The wife. The wife and kids. I don’t know where I’d be in my life if I hadn’t married the woman I did. And literally, we had a five second meeting, our first meeting. Without that first meeting we never would have gotten to any of the other meetings. So you get stopped at a stop light, or you drive too fast, you miss each other. Who knows where I’d be? I say that because she’s pretty much all the female characters I create. You know, their strength of character and their intelligence and passion. That really comes from her.