Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On Top of His Game

There are a handful of authors whose books I will eagerly anticipate and then buy without question on the first day of release. Nicholas Sparks tops that list for me. I've been a fan since the beginning, when I read The Notebook, long before it was a hit movie, which I also adore. I like a good story. I appreciate complex human characters, a new twist on drama, and I even love to cry. Nicholas Sparks never disappoints.

Nights in Rodanthe is the story of Adrienne, a woman whose marriage has crumbled and who, in an attempt to find solace and perspective in her life, agrees to tend an inn for her friend in the coastal town of Rodanthe. Paul Flanner is the only guest that weekend and he has come, facing a crisis of conscience of his own. An unexpected storm hits the town, and Adrienne and Paul turn to each other for comfort, and set in motion a series of changes that affect their lives long after their weekend together in Rodanthe. Nights in Rodanthe has been adapted for the screen (as every Nicholas Sparks book should be) and opens this weekend, September 26th, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. I must go. Because, like I said, I love a good story, and Nicholas Sparks never disappoints. Which is why, when offered the chance to interview him through Blogher, I didn't just jump at the chance, I jumped up and down at the chance. And I'm still jumping.

Because I'm a writer, or at least a wanna-be writer, I especially love to learn from other writers. Writing is a give-it-your-guts craft. It's vulnerable and exposing, and competitive, and daunting. Nicholas Sparks wasn't always a writer. After graduating from college he had several jobs, and I wanted to have a portrait painted of what his life was like during that time that he decided to just "go for it", to give writing a try. Here's what he told me:

"I had a midlife crisis essentially. I was 28 years old. I had two children, a wife, a mortgage and I knew by that time I did not want to sell pharmaceuticals my entire life. I didn’t just want to be a sales rep my whole life.

And yet I also knew that I did not want to move up the corporate ladder, so to speak, which entails essentially a lot of moving over the years. You become a district manager, a regional manager, hospital rep, a hospital manager, you do marketing.

So to move up the corporate ladder you move every couple of years, two to three years for, you know, 15 or 20 years. I knew I didn’t want to do that. And at the same time I also knew that I still had to pay the mortgage.

I still had two kids. You know, you have a wife, you have to put food on the table, pay the electric bill, all the basics of life, right? So I said, what can I do in my spare time and chase my dream, you know, and try to make it? What can I conceivably do?

And writing seemed like the perfect outlet. I had already written two novels, one at 19 and one at 22. So when I sat down at 28 I said, okay, I’m going to give myself three chances to write a novel. I’ll write three novels, and if I don’t succeed at all then I’ll know I’m not cut out to be a writer.

The first novel that I did, I sat down and wrote it over a six month period, that novel ended up being The Notebook. So it turned out okay. So that was where I was coming from.

Now my wife, as far as the effect on the family, it was relatively minimal. My second son had been born in September and very colicky. My wife was exhausted. He never slept at night. She was tired all the time.

This was in about May of ’94 so he was about eight months old, (Ryan). She would go to bed about 9:00; 9:00 pm she was done. So I would turn on the computer at 9:00 once she went to bed. I’d write until 11:30 or 12:00 and I’d turn off the computer.

And then I’d usually work half a day on one of the weekend days, all centered around the family. You know, if we were doing something on Saturday I’d write Sunday afternoon after church or vice versa. If we were doing something Sunday I’d write Saturday afternoon, during the football games or whatever.

So I would do that. And at that pace I was able to complete the novel [The Notebook] in about six months. I never missed a day of work. I didn’t really miss much sleep to be quite frank and I didn’t really miss spending time with the family because they were generally in bed most of the time I worked.

So it wasn’t as hard, it was more about just the consistency of putting yourself in the chair and doing it."

What every writer says! Just write! It's the consistency that matters. It's the words put down on paper that end up to be a book. His chance paid off big time. With a serendipitous partnership with a young, brand new agent, who had never sold a book before, he was offered a million dollars for The Notebook. Pretty astounding. A pretty clear sign that he'd found his path. And yet, Nicholas Sparks continues to be a very down-to-earth, personable, and friendly family guy. He loves his wife, he loves his five children, he seems to be content in the life that he has created. He still goes to church with his family and he still does all the 'regular dad' type of stuff. And he works at home, in an office right across from the chaos of the family room. Good thing he doesn't require quiet to work!

He answered our questions with such honesty and warmth, like we were old friends, sharing details of his editing process and of his ability to write such real female characters ("I had a wonderful mother. I married very well. All of the most important people in my life at the present time and throughout my publishing career have been women. I have daughters. And yet none of those fully answers the question. I suppose I just have an ability to create a character’s voice that sounds genuine and real. And I know that’s the question you asked. I don’t know. That’s part of the magical writing process. It is what differentiates writers, the talent level of writers. It’s, and it’s akin to asking where do you get the ideas. I don’t know. I just do. How do I create women? I don’t know. I just do.")

Whatever he does, he does it well, and story after story delights us and tugs at our hearts. You know he's got to be one heck of a romantic husband to create such incredible male characters as Noah Calhoun and Landon Carter. Paul Flanner is no exception and will not disappoint in Nights in Rodanthe. I'm anxious to see another of his books portrayed on the big screen this weekend.


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

There was something more than a little inspiring in reading this. Thanks for sharing this with us Jenna! And congratulations on the honor of it!

YogaNana said...

How exciting for you to interview a favorite writer! I'm always interested in how they got started and what their writing routine is like. Thanks for sharing!

Ritsumei said...

I have so got to get to working on my novel. Surely I can manage something with the little bits of time I can squeeze out.

idahohubers said...

I've been seeing previews for that movie for weeks and wondered if it'd be any good. Silly me, I didn't realize it was Nicholas Sparks. His stories have always interested me, but I've never read his books - A CRIME - I know! I have no excuse. I haven't even seen The Notebook, another crime! Thanks for reminding me to read and watch what has been on my list for so long.

Misty said...

I'm still sad I couldn't make the call but you did a great job Jenna!!! :) you lucky girl. I'm not a big fan of his work but do believe he has talent. Knowing his story though, makes me like him a bit more...

Hannah said...

How cool is that! Nice job Jenna!

Luisa Perkins said...

Look at you, you little celebrity! How fabulous.

Anonymous said...

all best wishes