Author Nicholas Sparks Thrills Fans at SHU

Students Natasha Sousa and Faith Westdyk get their books signed by author Nicholas Sparks before the talk.

News Story: March 13, 2013

Best-selling author and tugger-of-heartstrings Nicholas Sparks entertained a capacity crowd of fans at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts Monday evening. The program was part of the University’s award-winning Student Affairs Lecture Series.

Sparks began by telling the audience that he likes to put himself in their position and answer every conceivable question they might ask. “You’ll laugh, hopefully; you’ll cry. It’s me, after all,” he said.

And he did not disappoint. He shared the genesis of his first three books by noting they were based on family, family and family. The Notebook was inspired by his wife’s grandparents, while Message in a Bottle covered the separate untimely deaths of his parents. His third book, A Walk to Remember, was based on his younger sister’s battle with cancer, which she ultimately lost. “At this point in the presentation, I usually tell a sad story,” he said. As promised, tears turned to laughter.

The father of five said he never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would be a writer. He first tried it the summer after his freshman year at Notre Dame when an injury derailed his dreams of becoming an Olympic runner. After reading a lot of Stephen King, he spent six weeks writing a horror story. “I learned that summer that I could finish a novel once I started. Not everyone can do that,” he said. “I also found out that there were moments during writing that I really enjoyed the process.”

Which led him to an epiphany at age 28 after spending five years waiting tables, appraising property, flipping small investment properties, selling dental products, starting and failing at two small business and selling pharmaceuticals: he liked chasing a dream and didn’t want to spend any more time going through the motions. He decided to try writing again. “I committed to a 100 percent effort, working hard and editing. I would give it a couple of chances, and at least I would have tried,” he said.

Just as he finished The Notebook after six months of writing, he found himself involved in a job transfer and move. As a result, the manuscript sat for about six months before he began the process of looking for a literary agent. After doing some research, he sent his pitch to 25 randomly selected agents. Within a few days, he heard back from one who, it turned out, had been in the business about five months and had yet to sell a book. That did not stop her from selling this one for one million dollars. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sparks has now sold 17 novels, eight of which have been made into movies. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, with nearly 80 million copies in print worldwide, in over 45 languages.

Before answering questions from the audience, Sparks shared that his novel Best of Me will be released as a film for Valentine’s Day 2014, and The Longest Ride, which hits bookstores in September, has a film release date of Valentine’s Day 2015. 

During the Q&A, he confirmed that film stars Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum and Liam Hemsworth are all very good looking; he is involved in the casting of his films; he will most likely attend Miley and Liam’s wedding; and it does not bother him when details from his books are changed for the movies. “Some things work better in books, and some things work better in pictures. It’s a way to enjoy the story in a different medium,” he said.

When asked if meeting his wife was like a Nicholas Sparks book, he said yes. He told the crowd that they met while on spring break in college, and within two days he had told her he intended to marry her. After break, he went back to Notre Dame and she went back to New Hampshire, where he proceeded to write her 127 letters. Again, the rest is history.

When asked if he would ever do a cameo in one of his movies, Sparks said no as he did not want to be famous. In response to a roar from the audience, he described sitting next to a woman on a plane as she finished reading Safe Haven. “She kept closing the book to have a little cry, and my photo was staring her in the face,” he said. “I finally offered to sign the book for her, and she said, ‘why would I want you to sign my book?’ If you saw me walking on campus today, you might recognize me because you knew I was going to be here. But if you saw me in Disney World, you would not make the connection.”

Following the talk, Sparks stuck around for more than an hour to sign books for his many fans.

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