Sparks, Nicholas 1965–
Sparks, Nicholas 1965–
PERSONAL: Born December 31, 1965, in Omaha, NE; son of Patrick Michael (a professor) and Jill Emma Marie (a homemaker and optometrist's assistant; maiden name, Thoene) Sparks; married, July, 1989; wife's name Catherine; children: Miles Andrew, Ryan Cody, Landon, Lexie Danielle and Savannah Marin (twins). Education: University of Notre Dame, B.B.A., 1988. Politics: Independent. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—New Bern, NC. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer and novelist. Also worked as a real-estate appraiser, waiter, buyer and restorer of homes, business owner, and pharmaceutical company representative. Active contributor to the M.F.A./ Creative Writing Program of the University of Notre Dame, providing internships, scholarships, and an annual fellowship.
AWARDS, HONORS: Book of the year nomination, American Booksellers Association, 1997, for The Notebook.
The Notebook, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Message in a Bottle, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1998.
A Walk to Remember, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Rescue, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2000.
A Bend in the Road, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Nights in Rodanthe, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Guardian, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Wedding, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Micah Sparks) Three Weeks with My Brother, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.
True Believer, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
At First Sight, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Sparks's novels have been translated into over thirtyfive languages.
ADAPTATIONS: Message in a Bottle was made into a 1999 film of the same title starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, and Paul Newman and directed by Luis Mandoki; A Walk to Remember was made by Warner Bros. into a 2002 film of the same title starring Mandy Moore and Shane West; an adaptation of The Rescue was planned as a television series; A Bend in the Road was adapted for audiobook, 2002; Nights in Rodanthe was adapted for audiobook, 2003; The Notebook was made into a film of the same title starring James Garner and Gena Rowlands, 2004; film rights for Nights in Rodanthe, True Believer, and At First Sight have been sold.
SIDELIGHTS: Nicholas Sparks's romance-heavy novels have spent weeks on the bestseller lists and have earned him a reputation as one of the few men to write successful love stories for a popular audience. His second foray, Message in a Bottle, became a 1999 motion picture starring Kevin Costner, while others have been optioned for the big screen as well. A film adaptation of Sparks's A Walk to Remember was released in 2002.
Sparks was born on the last day of 1965 and grew up in Minnesota and California. He was the valedictorian of his high-school class, and his prowess in track and field won him a full scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. There he broke a school record in the relay during his freshman year, but an injury sidelined him. Frustrated during his summer break, Sparks heeded his mother's advice and began writing to pass the time, penning a horror novel he titled The Passing, which was never published. On spring break in 1988, he met a University of New Hampshire student with whom he promptly fell in love, and who prompted his writing career to begin in earnest; Sparks wrote Catherine, who would eventually become his wife, a remarkable 150 letters in a two-month span.
Sparks's second novel, "The Royal Murders," also went unpublished. His law school applications were also rejected, and so Sparks became a real-estate appraiser, waited tables, then bought and restored old homes. He began his own business, and then sold it to embark upon a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Minor publishing success came after he teamed with Billy Mills, the father of one of Sparks's ex-girlfriends, on the 1990 book Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding. Mills had won a gold medal in track in the 1964 Olympics and was the inspiration for the film Running Brave. The novel centers upon a young Lakota Indian, David, who comes of age after the tragic loss of his sister.
In 1993, Sparks and his wife relocated to New Bern, North Carolina. The following year the final episode of the long-running television situation comedy Cheers spurred him once again to try his hand at a novel. "I didn't want another eleven years to go by without chasing my dreams," he told People writer Kim Hubbard. "I decided I'd give myself three more chances at writing." The result was his 1996 novel The Notebook, which Sparks based on the romance between his wife's maternal grandparents. They had been married for sixty years and were too infirm to attend Sparks's 1989 wedding. The writer and his wife visited them the day after, and as Sparks recalled to Hubbard: "I realized they were flirting with each other. There was still a hint of passion after sixty-two years of marriage. That stayed with me."
The plot of The Notebook is framed by two chapters set in the present day inside a nursing home, where an elderly man reads to a weeping woman. Flashing back to 1946 and rural North Carolina, the novel introduces a young war veteran named Noah, who recalls a thwarted teen romance in a riverfront town during the summer of 1932. He still thinks about Allie, whose wealthy parents disapproved of him, and how he wrote her letters she never answered. Allie is now engaged to an attorney, and one day she reads about Noah's recent purchase of an old plantation home in town with the intention of renovating it. She tells her fiancé that she is taking an antiques-hunting jaunt by herself, but instead visits Noah and tells him that she never received his letters. Allie returns again the next day, and when the pair are caught in a storm out on the water their passion is rekindled. Meanwhile, Allie's mother arrives at Noah's home carrying a bundle of unopened letters and tells her daughter to "follow your heart." The final chapter finds Noah concluding his notebook story to Allie, who suffers from a severe case of Alzheimer's disease, on their forty-ninth wedding anniversary.
When Sparks sent the manuscript to an agent, it was sold within two days for a million dollars, and a movie deal was signed that same week as well. Sparks and his debut became an overnight sensation, and many reviewers noted that the novel seemed to replicate the success of Robert James Waller's best-selling The Bridges of Madison County. Though critical assessments were sometimes less than kind, The Notebook spent 115 weeks on hardcover and paperback bestseller lists. Booklist's Joanne Wilkinson called it "an upscale Harlequin romance with great crossover appeal," but Christian Century writer Martha Whitmore Hickman asked: "Is it possible that, despite the medical prognosis, love can redeem some hours for those afflicted with Alzheimer's?"
Sparks kept his sales job for a time, surprised by the success of The Notebook. "I thought the book was pretty good when I wrote it," he told Hubbard in a People interview, "but I've gotten letters saying it was unforgettable. People—men, women, ministers—love this book." A film featuring James Garner, Ryan Gosley, Rachel McAdams, and Gena Rowlands was adapted from The Notebook, and Sparks himself went on to pen a sequel, The Wedding, in which Allie's daughter Jane experiences trouble in her thirty-year marriage with neglectful, work-consumed attorney Wilson Lewis. In Booklist, Patty Engelmann dubbed The Wedding a "tender love story about a flawed hero trying to right his wrongs," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Sparks for relating "a sweet story competently, without sinking too deeply into the mire of sentiment."
Sparks's next novel, Message in a Bottle, also spent months on the bestseller lists, including four weeks at the top. Inspired by the 1989 death of his mother in a horseback-riding accident, the 1998 work revolves around jaded Boston newspaper columnist and divorcee Theresa Osborne, who finds a letter in the sand of a Cape Cod beach one day. Its author is a man named Garrett, and the letter recounts a dream in which his lost love reappears. Theresa has spent the past three years trying to recover from her own failed marriage, and the letter ignites hope in her. She becomes obsessed with finding the writer and prints his letter in her column; she soon learns that it is one of many such missives found. Garrett turns out to be Garrett Blake, a diving instructor living in North Carolina. Theresa seeks Garrett out and learns that the woman to whom he is writing is his late wife, Catherine. "There are few surprises here as we watch the couple learn to love in Catherine's slowly waning shadow," a Publishers Weekly reviewer observed. Engelmann, writing in Booklist, termed the book "a deeply moving, beautifully written, and extremely romantic love story." Message in a Bottle was made into a film starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, and Paul Newman.
First love is the theme of Sparks's third bestseller, A Walk to Remember, which the author penned as a way to deal with the premature death of a younger sister. The narrator of the 1999 novel is aging Landon Carter, who recalls his senior year of high school in Beaufort, North Carolina, in the late 1950s. Carter, the hedonistic son of a congressman, is senior class president and thus compelled to attend his homecoming dance. Scrambling to find a date, he asks drab Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of a Baptist minister. She agrees, but asks him to reciprocate and join her in a Christmas play scripted by her stern minister father. The two become unlikely friends, and Carter is moved by the play's theme; the elder Sullivan's love for his wife, Jamie's mother; and by Mrs. Sullivan's early death. Carter falls in love with Jamie, but learns of a tragic secret she harbors and is forced to make a life-altering decision. "Sparks," noted Booklist reviewer Engelmann, "proves once again that he is a master at pulling heartstrings," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that A Walk to Remember is "sure to wring yet more tears from willing readers' eyes." The novel was adapted as a film in 2002.
Sparks continued his success with The Rescue, published in 2000. Its focus is on the unlikely romance that develops between Denise Holton, a single mother in a small North Carolina town, and the rugged Taylor McAden. Once a teacher, Denise has fallen on hard times and must live with her mother in order to devote enough time to her son, Kyle, who has a language-processing disability. One night her car veers off the road, and McAden, a contractor who also serves as a volunteer fireman, rescues Denise and her son. A bond develops between the hero and the little boy, and Denise finds herself attracted to McAden romantically. However, the brooding hero is also hiding some deep psychic wounds and seems unable to forge a relationship. "The story here is mostly a pretext for the emotional assault that Sparks delivers, but when he manages to link affect to action, the result is cunningly crafted melodrama," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Engelmann, writing in Booklist, asserted that "all of Sparks's trademark elements—love, loss, and small-town life—are present in this terrific summer read."
Sparks's fifth novel, A Bend in the Road, is filled with the writer's characteristic elements. Teacher Sarah Andrews meets Miles Ryan when Miles's second-grade son, Jonah, develops a learning disability stemming from the child's grief over his mother's death. Miles, too, has been wounded by the hit-and-run accident that killed his high school sweetheart and wife, Missy. When Sarah enters their lives, she has already experienced a divorce from a husband who could not live with Sarah's inability to bear children. Miles and Sarah eventually fall in love, but their future is clouded by a secret connected with Missy's death.
Nights in Rodanthe, which appeared in 2002, quickly became a bestseller, heading the lists in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and New York Times. It tells the story of two middle-aged people who have experienced failure in love. Adrienne Willis, a forty-five year old, is the divorced mother of three children whose husband abandoned her for a younger, more attractive woman. Paul Flanner, a divorced workaholic surgeon, was unable to devote enough time to his wife and children to sustain either a successful marriage or family life. Adrienne and Paul meet in a bed-and-breakfast in the town of Rodanthe, North Carolina. A romance is kindled over the next several days, and the two separate with the intention to continue an exploration of their love. Adrienne tells the story of their meeting—after a fourteen-year silence—to her daughter, Amanda, who is overcome with grief over the death of her own husband to the point that she is unable to properly attend to her young children's needs. As her mother's tale unfolds, so does the reason why Adrienne and Paul never married.
Nights in Rodanthe is "filled with a healthy dose of romance and emotion," commented Carol Fitzgerald in a BookReporter review. In Kirkus Reviews a critic felt that Nights in Rodanthe is a "harshly mechanical story" with a predictable plot, while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer remarked that "even fans may be irked" by the obvious twist in Sparks's characters' fates. Mary Frances Wilkens wrote in Booklist, however, that the novel encapsulates a "beautiful love story." On his Web site, Sparks explained that he used middle-aged protagonists in the book "because so many family elements can come to play" between more mature men and women.
In 2003 Sparks departed from his typical romantic stories with The Guardian, a novel that also incorporates elements of a thriller. Young widow Julie Barenson finds herself romantically involved with two men. Richard Franklin, a smooth-talking, wealthy gentleman, treats Julie in a lavish fashion. She breaks off their relationship after a few dates, however, and begins to see her late husband's best friend, Mike Harris. Franklin, unhappy about her rejection of his attention, begins to interfere in Julie's personal life in sinister ways. In an interview with a BookReporter contributor, Sparks revealed that he added a dark character like Franklin to his traditional romantic mix because "I wanted to write the type of novel that I hadn't written before … because I think it's important for my readers that they don't read the same book over and over."
Booklist writer Engelmann called The Guardian a "tricky tale of romantic suspense" with a nail-biting conclusion. Although "the writing is lax at best … this one will be another bestseller," predicted a Publishers Weekly critic. Calling The Guardian "undoubtedly his finest work," David Exum commented of Sparks's work in BookReporter: "It is pulse-pounding, breathtaking, suspenseful and intriguing."
Three Weeks with My Brother tells the story of Sparks's "life-affirming round-the-world trip" with his brother, Micah, noted a reviewer in Bookseller. Stressed by his writing and promotional schedule as well as day-to-day life with his wife and five children, Sparks decided to accept an offer of a three-week, around-the-world trip. Since his wife was unable to commit to the trip, he asked his brother instead, who readily agreed. The book tells of the brothers' personal and professional successes and tragedies, such as the death of their parents and younger sister, while also sharing the story of the Sparks family and how the close-knit clan helped and supported each other. In the book, the brothers recount their visits to such spectacular and mysterious places as Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, Australia's Ayers Rock, and the Arctic Circle, all the while strengthening their own fraternal ties. Library Journal reviewer Nann Blaine Hilyard commented: "This is a heartwarming story."
With True Believer, Sparks "has turned out another reliable romance, this time with a paranormal premise," noted People reviewer Moira Bailey. Protagonist Jeremy Marsh is a science journalist and columnist who relishes debunking occult phenomena and exposing paranormal frauds. After revealing the fakery of a popular but sleazy spirit guide, he heads to Boone Creek, North Carolina, at the request of Doris McClellan to investigate a mystery involving lights in the local cemetery. Jeremy is intrigued by Doris's orphaned granddaughter, Lexie Darnell, the inscrutable and stubborn thirty-year-old librarian with movie-star good looks but no beau. As he investigates the phenomena in the cemetery, and ratchets up his interest in Lexie, Jeremy discovers that Doris is a diviner. As his skepticism faces the challenge of strong evidence, Jeremy and Lexie work to overcome wounds in their past and embark on a new life of love. The novel's "mysteries and conflicts are resolved in largely predictable ways that will still satisfy Sparks's many fans," observed Rebecca Sturm Kelm in the Library Journal.
Sparks resumes Jeremy and Lexie's story in At First Sight. The couple's relationship has progressed to the point of marriage, and Jeremy and the pregnant Lexie are planning for their nuptials. However, a well-meaning friend of Jeremy's plants a tiny but forceful doubt in his mind when he asks if Jeremy really loves her. A spate of mysterious e-mail messages, which suggest that Jeremy may not be the father of Lexie's baby, place their relationship in a negative light. Facing writer's block and the stress of adjusting to a rural environment, Jeremy begins to wonder if marrying Lexie is a good idea, after all. A selection of friends and family—including Lexie's psychic grandmother, her cranky and sullen ex, and an assortment of jealous friends—adds to the cracks in Jeremy and Lexie's relationship, and leaves the pair with serious decisions to make about themselves and about each other. Sparks explores the inner details of romance and "considers the sacrifices that each partner has to make in order to have a successful marriage," commented Booklist contributor Engelman. The story is "majorly manipulative and totally effective," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who warned tear-prone readers to "have plenty of tissues on hand."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 1994, Pat Monaghan, review of Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding, p. 1407; August, 1996, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Notebook, p. 1856; October 15, 1997, Karen Harris, review of The Notebook, p. 424; February 15, 1998, Patty Engelmann, review of Message in a Bottle, p. 949; August, 1999, Patty Engelmann, review of A Walk to Remember, p. 1989; May 15, 2000, Nancy Paul, review of A Walk to Remember, p. 144; July, 2000, Patty Engelmann, review of The Rescue, p. 1976; January 1, 2002, review of audiobook version of A Bend in the Road, p. 875; January 1, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of audiobook version of Nights in Rodanthe, p. 920; March 1, 2003, Patty Engelmann, review of The Guardian, p. 1108; September 1, 2003, Patty Engelmann, review of The Wedding, p. 8; October 1, 2005, Patty Engelman, review of At First Sight, p. 5.
Bookseller, February 4, 2005, review of Three Weeks with My Brother, p. 34.
Christian Century, December 17, 1997, Martha Whitmore Hickman, review of The Notebook, p. 1201.
Entertainment Weekly, April 24, 1998, Daneet Steffens, review of Message in a Bottle, p. 75; October 15, 1999, Clarissa Cruz, review of A Walk to Remember, p. 74; November 10, 2000, review of The Rescue, p. 82.
Good Housekeeping, February, 2001, Nicholas Sparks, excerpt from The Rescue, p. 157.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of Nights in Rodanthe, p. 1072; March 1, 2003, review of The Guardian, p. 343.
Kliatt, January, 2002, review of audiobook version of A Bend in the Road, p. 39.
Library Journal, October 1, 1997, Nancy Paul, review of The Notebook, p. 147; September 1, 2000, Rebecca Sturm Kelm, review of The Rescue, p. 253; February 15, 2005, Nann Blaine Hilyard, audiobook review of Three Weeks with My Brother, p. 170; April 15, 2005, Rebecca Sturm Kelm, review of True Believer, p. 79.
New York Times Book Review, June 14, 1998, Sarah Harrison Smith, review of Message in a Bottle, p. 21.
People, November 25, 1996, Kim Hubbard, "Sentimental Journal," p. 165; March 24, 1997, Lan N. Nguyen, "Most Sappy Fella," p. 35; April 20, 1998, Cynthia Sanz, review of Message in a Bottle, p. 47; March 1, 1999, p. 126; November 29, 1999, review of A Walk to Remember, p. 63; October 23, 2000, review of The Rescue, p. 57; November 13, 2000, "Nicholas Sparks: Sexiest Author," p. 97; September 22, 2003, Daisy Maryles, review of The Wedding, p. 31; October 6, 2003, Allison Adato, "Writing through the Pain," p. 141; May 2, 2005, Moira Bailey, review of True Believer, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, July 22, 1996, review of The Notebook, p. 224; November 4, 1996, review of The Notebook, p. 45; March 3, 1997, Paul Nathan, "Dream Deal," p. 22; February 16, 1998, review of Message in a Bottle, p. 201; June 1, 1998, review of Message in a Bottle, p. 34; August 23, 1999, review of A Walk to Remember, p. 42; October 18, 1999, "Making Sparks Fly," p. 22; January 10, 2000, John F. Baker, "The Ongoing Saga of Sparks," p. 16; August 14, 2000, review of The Rescue, p. 331; August 26, 2002, review of Nights in Rodanthe, p. 44; March 17, 2003, review of The Guardian, p. 52; August 11, 2003, review of The Wedding, p. 255; April 25, 2005, Daisy Maryles, "Sparks Sparkles," p. 19; September 12, 2005, review of At First Sight, p. 41.
BookReporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 2, 2003), Carol Fitzgerald, review of Nights in Rodanthe; "Author Talk: April, 2003," interview with Sparks; David Exum, review of The Guardian.
Nicholas Sparks Home Page, http://www.nicholassparks.com (January 10, 2006).