A Conversation with Nicholas Sparks
One of the most successful crossover novelists to hit Hollywood since the days of John Grisham and Michael Crichton, North Carolinian writer Nicholas Sparks has seen his best-selling love stories (he considers the term "romance novel" a dirty word) adapted for the silver screen a half-dozen times now, beginning with 1996's Kevin Costner/Robin Wright Penn pairing Message in a Bottle, through to 2004's hit The Notebook, to this year's Iraq War weepie Dear John and the upcoming Miley Cyrus vehicle The Last Song, soon duking it out for your date-night dollars at a multiplex near you.
We caught up with Sparks recently, where he talked about bucking the author-turned-screenwriter trend, why he never writes gay love stories, and what he meant when he recently described Cormac McCarthy's "horrible" writing as "pulpy, overwrought, and melodramatic." Read on for an engaging chat with Hollywood's favorite publishing phenomenon.
When you started writing your novels, were you thinking to yourself, "These will be perfect for the big screen?"
No. Even now I don't. I'm primarily a novelist at heart. I've certainly had a really good run with seven [adaptations] if you count The Lucky One, that starts filming in June. But at the same time remember I've written 14. So we're at 50%, which is good. It's not 100% mind you, but it's not zero either. I think in the end, it's best for me to always concentrate on writing the best novel that I can, and if it happens, it happens. I've just had a pretty good run, and studios have reached a point where they want to make them, because they make money, and actors and actresses want to make them.
There's this sort of romanticized notion of the Southern writer, like William Faulkner or Tennessee Williams, who slums it in Hollywood. It usually ends sadly, with them drinking themselves to death or swearing they'd never come back. And then there's you.
I've been very fortunate. I had the really good fortune of working with a series of producers who bought the novel because they liked the novel, they liked the characters and the elements within the story. And then you have the fact that I write novels that are fairly easy to translate into a film. The conflicts are internal, not external like dinosaurs or aliens. So you can capture most of the story, they're relatively inexpensive to make, and they open really well at the box office.
And paring it down for the screen? Did you find that inhibiting?
I find screenwriting much easier than writing a novel. I could do it more if I had more time, but writing a novel takes a lot of my time as it is. It's all just writing.
Faith is something that runs through some of your novels. When you look around at the current American landscape, do you feel like the Religious Right has hijacked this notion of "faith"?
I have no idea. That's almost a political question. I really don't. I can speak to my own view on faith. I'll include it when it's appropriate to the story, but only then. It was appropriate to A Walk to Remember, and in The Last Song, because the father is questioning what's out there. But if you look at Dear John, there wasn't an element in there at all. I'll put it in if it makes a story better, I won't if I don't think so. I can say faith is very important to me, but I don't judge another's faith, or lack of faith. I generally don't even talk about it.
Would you ever write about a gay love story?
It's a different genre. I don't know that I could do that. I've been asked about it. I have no moral qualms about doing it. I don't know if I could do it well. Asking that kind of question is like asking, "Could you do a love story with more of a thriller element, like The Bourne Identity?" Enh. I'd have to read a lot more in that genre. I don't know that I can write a western, I'm pretty sure I couldn't write science fiction -- my science isn't strong enough.
But you can write really well about love, and isn't that just a transcendent thing, regardless of who is experiencing it for whom?
That's true. Yeah. I believe that. I believe that.
In a recent USA Today piece about you, you had strong words for Cormac McCarthy.
That was a small snippet of a very long conversation. I was actually surprised he put that in. What would be your question? Look -- The Crossing Guard? His early work? Very strong.
What did you think of The Road?
I'll be honest, I like his earlier work. You know what? I get that too. A lot of people say, "I like The Notebook." That was my first book! I've done 15 things since then! That's very common. I think it's intrinsic to anyone who's an author. They can have a certain number of books and they can like one more than another.