Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Night to Remember with Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks’ Message in a Lecture Creates a Night to Remember
By Lauren Yarger
A sold-out crowd filled the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield Monday night to hear insight and anecdotes from best-selling author Nicholas Sparks.

“Some of you will laugh,” he told the crowd. “Most of you most likely will cry. It’s me, after all.”

Sparks, the author of 17 tearjerkers including “The Notebook,” “A Walk to Remember” and “Message in a Bottle” shared his experiences along the road to becoming one of the world’s most beloved authors as well as some of the rather surprising origins for the stories that have charmed millions and boosted tissue sales worldwide (some 80 million copies of his books are in print worldwide).

Olympic Gold, rather than New York Times Bestsellers Lists had been the goal of young Sparks, however, a track and field star who received a full scholarship to Notre Dame University (where he still holds a record). When he suffered an injury his freshman year that sidelined him for the summer, he wrote to release his pent-up energy.

He clicked out a 320 –page novel on an old typewriter. The writing was “the most putrid stuff I’ve ever put on a page,” he said, but the experience taught him two things: he could finish a novel and he had enjoyed doing it.

Writing was put on hold, however, while he completed a degree in business finance, with a goal of going to law school. He wasn’t accepted, however, and found himself writing a murder mystery while he tried to figure out what to do with his life. He worked at a variety of jobs, got married and finally became a salesman for a pharmaceutical company. At age 28, he had an epiphany.

Sparks realized that it had been 12 years since his Olympic dream. How many 12-year periods do we get in this life, he thought? He resolved not to let another 12-year period in his life pass without trying to make a dream come true. Writing, he decided, would get his full effort.

Failure was an option, he said. “I just had to know that I had tried.”

He wasn’t sure exactly what to write until he started thinking about an experience from his own life. His wife had been very close to her grandparents and was upset to learn that they wouldn’t be able to attend her wedding to Nick. The day following the ceremony, the couple donned their wedding outfits, gathered wedding flowers and cake and took the wedding to her grandparents.

“Aaaaaaaaw,” said the audience.

They spent a wonderful afternoon during which the grandfather shared the details of how he had met his wife, now suffering from Alzheimer’s. It seems they met when young and were separated during the war. There were lots of letters, and even though his wife was engaged to marry someone else, she chose him in the end. Now, he read the letters to her to help her remember. Sound familiar? (If it doesn’t, you haven’t read “The Notebook,” Sparks’ first novel that was rejected by 24 agents before the 25th found a fairytale $1million publishing deal with Warner Books that landed it on the NY Times Bestseller’s list for 56 weeks and propelled the author into notoriety.)

His second book, “Message in a Bottle,” also was inspired by a family member: his father, who was devastated by the sudden loss of Spark’s mother at the age of 46. After seven years of mourning, Sparks Senior found love again and called to tell his son he was engaged. Two days later, he died in an accident. Again, art created life and another bestseller was born.

His favorite book (though not the best, he concedes) followed suit, only in an even more tear-inducing way.

“My baby sister was Jamie Sullivan.”

An audible gasp shook the audience. The bubbly heroine who has a dream of one day getting married, but who finds she is dying of cancer was real? The story of “A Walk to Remember” is true, in amazing detail, including the guy who falls in love with Jamie and offers to make her his bride even though she doesn’t have long to live. The walk is down the aisle was real – and so were some sniffles in the audience.

Sparks also shared some insights into the process of turning his novels into movies (the latest will be “The Longest Ride,” with the novel hitting bookstore shelves in September, followed by a Valentine’s Day 2015 release of the movie (Sparks’ love stories are timed to hit the big screen on the most romantic day of the year like this year’s “Safe Haven.”.)

“It’s soooo good,” Sparks kidded about the upcoming book. “You’ll need two copies because one will be so tear-stained, you’ll need a clean copy.”

The audience created a rumble not unlike an earthquake to get in line for a book signing following the lecture (in fact, audience members were choosing their seats carefully at the beginning of the evening to ensure they could quickly make it to the front of that line.)

He isn’t always treated as a celebrity, Sparks said. Recently, while on a plane, the woman next to him was reading one of his novels. As she got toward the end, she choked up, closed the book, paused, looked at Sparks, then returned to the pages. Finally, when she finished, she tearfully told him how much she had enjoyed the book and being a nice guy, he offered to sign it for her.

“Why would you sign my book?” she asked, really having no idea who he was.

Here are some insights from a Q&A session that closed the program, which was presented as part of Sacred Heart University's Student Affairs Lecture Series:

· What’s the secret to a long and happy marriage? Choose well. Find someone who makes you laugh, whom you get along with and with whom you are in sync about “the big things of life.” Differences can add up over time.

· How do you balance career and family? Travel. They can’t miss you if you never go away…. Balancing is challenging regardless of career.

· Does it bother him that the movies sometimes are different from his books? No. Novels are stories in words. Films are stories in pictures. What works in one doesn’t always work in the other.

· Yes, the actors who play the leads in his movies really are that good looking in person.

Fun facts:

In the fall of 2011, The Nicholas Sparks Foundation was founded to support the causes and charities that are personally important to the author. While Nicholas and his wife have donated nearly $10,000,000 to local, regional and national causes - including education, veteran support, Alzheimer’s care and research, childhood disease research and care, and animal rescue organizations - education remains a top priority.

He and his wife also created The Epiphany School for Global Studies in New Bern, NC. It is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory school that is rooted in the Christian faith, and challenges students to uncover and expand their unique God-given gifts. It “sends forth men and women who will wisely devote themselves to lifelong learning, faithful discipleship, courageous leadership and compassionate service throughout their life journeys.”

For more information, visit Sparks’ website at http://www.nicholassparks.com/.

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