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"War of the Worlds"

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David Edelstein
Film Critic, Slate and NPR's "Fresh Air"
Wednesday, June 29, 2005; 1:00 PM

Author Nicholas Sparks was online Wednesday, September 17 at 11:15 a.m. ET to discuss his many bestselling novels, several of which have been made into movies, including The Notebook, A Walk to Remember and the soon-to-be released Nights in Rodanthe, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. He also has a new novel out this month, The Lucky One, the story of a Marine and the journey that begins when he finds a woman's photo in the dirt of Iraq.

A transcript follows.

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Nicholas Sparks: Hi I'm nicholas, and I'm glad to be here.

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Anonymous: Will you do another sequel (a third) to True Believer?

Nicholas Sparks: At the present time, I don't have plans for another book, though I said the same thing about The Notebook once, so you never know.

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Springfield, Va.: When will "The Lucky One" be in bookstores? And how do you churn out novels so quickly?

Nicholas Sparks: The Lucky One comes out on Sept. 30th.

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Colorado: They couldn't have cast better leading characters for Nights in Rodanthe. I can't wait to see it Friday. Overall, are you happy with the way the movie turned out and are there any scenes from the book that you wish had been included?

Nicholas Sparks: The film is terrific and very close to the story in the novel. I think you'll love it.

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Springfield, Va.: Every one of your novels is an emotional journey. Being a man, and seeing how men are often accused of not being in touch with their emotions in the same way that women are, I'd like to know if you collaborate with women when writing your books or what methods you use to channel such emotional writing.

Nicholas Sparks: Believe it or not, I don't collaborate with women, though my agent and editor are both females. For the most part, they do little editing on my characters.

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Dunn Loring, Va: My 74-year-old mom loves your books and with the release of you new novel I have no doubt what my wife is receiving for Christmas. Being polite and having skimmed through a few of your books, I've always wondered if you're as cheesy in person as the characters in your book are?

Nicholas Sparks: Sometimes I'm cheesy, sometimes I'm not. Just like everyone else.

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Washington, DC: I've read nearly all your books and have loved each one. The book that I loved the most, however, was Three Weeks with My Brother. I often wish I had three weeks like that to really get to reconnect with my siblings. Did you find that experience with Micah helped to inspire your other writings? Do you draw on characteristics of your siblings when you write?

Thanks so much! Can't wait to see Nights in Rodanthe next Friday; just the preview makes my eye tear up!

Nicholas Sparks: Micah is less of an inspiration than a brother and friend with whom I can trust and talk to about anything. At the same time, he was the inspiration for the character in The Choice (Travis)

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Freising, Germany: When asked about what advice he'd give to a budding author, Paul Theroux answered, "Leave home. Go as far away as possible from everything you know."

Considering this piece of advice, how did a former pharmaceutical sales representative like yourself get into the writing business and how did your erstwhile daytime job affect your writing? Did you write in the morning before work or in the evening afterwards?

Nicholas Sparks: When I had a job, I wrote in the evenings 3-4 times a week for 2-3 hours, and usually devoted at least part of a weekend day to write. At that pace, it took me 6 months to write The Notebook.

These days, I can write wherever and whenever I have to.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello. I just finished reading "The Choice" and loved the book. I had one issue, though. I went to UNC-Chapel Hill and wished your reference to a bar on Franklin Street had been Top of the Hill rather than Spanky's. They should have both had Old Well White at Top of the Hill, that would have been very realistic. I don't think I know anyone who goes to Spanky's. Great book, though.

Nicholas Sparks: Yeah, I know. . . but I liked the name. Sometimes I do that. And that's why I write novels, not non-fiction.

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Anonymous: Congratulations on your success. I loved the Notebook and I was so looking forward to the Nights in Rodanthe, that I bought the (original) book to read the story -- and loved it.

What is your inspiration for creating these characters/stories? Also, I find it interesting that your books are cataloged in fiction/literature sections whereas your female contemporaries are typically in the romance section. How do you see your books differing from romance novels?

Nicholas Sparks: Inspiration can come from anywhere -- an image, a comment, something that's happened to me or someone I know. It's hard to know exactly.

And you're right, my novels are in the literature section as opposed to the romance section of bookstores because they're not romance novels. If I tried to have them published as romances, they'd be rejected. I write dramatic fiction; a further sub-genre would classify them as love stories. Like Romeo and Juliet or A Farewell to Arms by Hemmingway.

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Arlington, Va.: The film version of The Notebook was a true sensation. It literally launched careers for the actors involved for sure. Was it easier to get Gere and Lane involved thanks to the success of The Notebook? Did you ever expect the film version to do so well?

Nicholas Sparks: Um. . . not sure. It took a while to get Richard Gere to agree because his schedule was full, as was George Wolfe's (the director) and Diane's. That's one of the trickier parts of making movies: finding a time when everyone you want can do it.

As for The Notebook doing well, I was a bit surprised. I thought they did a wonderful job with the film, but you never know.

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you met Richard Gere and Diane Lane? Do you spend much time on film sets for your book adaptations? What do you think of Hollywood?

Nicholas Sparks: Usually, I spend a couple of days on set just to meet everyone. That's kind of fun, but since I don't have much involvement with the film, there's no reason for me to be there any longer than that.

Hollywood is an industry, and I happen to be part of that industry. Not much to add after that.

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Washington, D.C.: What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Nicholas Sparks: Shadow of the Wind by Carolos Zaffon
City of Thieves by Benioff
Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield
Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill
The Caveman's Valentine by George Dawes Green
Emperor of the Air by Ethan Canin

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Washington, D.C.: Most of your novels bring tears to my eyes. Why do the stories have to be so sad?

Nicholas Sparks: The goal of dramatic fiction is to genuinely evoke the range of human emotion. Sadness is part of that.

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Fairfax, Va.: I recently became a fan via The Notebook and want to see Nights in Rodanthe. I believe I read another book of yours but I read so much that I'm not sure you're the author (Suzanne's Letters?) Anyway, my point is that I'm embarrassed to say I thought you were old, along the lines of James Patterson. I'm very pleasantly surprised to see that you are young and handsome. You have an amazing sensitivity and really know how to tap into the emotional core of your audience. The part that makes us sigh with longing and tenderness. Thank you so much for your work and sharing it with us.

Nicholas Sparks: You're welcome.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: How far ahead have you found that you began thinking about a story before you began writing the book? Are you able to give us some insights into some stories you are now thinking about?

Nicholas Sparks: Usually, I start thinking about my next novel soon after completing the latest, and it can take anywhere from a month to 6 months to come up with a story.

As for my next novel, I already have the idea and Disney just purchased it (though I'm not done writing it yet). It will star Miley Cyrus.

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Bethesda, Md.: Are there any characters who just won't leave you alone - who just beg to be written about again and have their stories continued? Any books that you feel lend themselves to not-yet-written sequels? Or do your characters fade from your mind once you've told your stories?

Nicholas Sparks: Some characters do seem to call out for more of a story, and in time, I might go back to them. Most of the time, I don't write with the idea of a sequel in mind (True Beliiever being the lone exception), but I wrote The Wedding after The Notebook because I needed to conclude Noah's story. In other words, maybe.

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Annandale, Va: Would you consider writing a Christmas novel? You tell such great stories -- a Christmas story could be smaller. I think your stories could rival the other authors who publish one every year.

Nicholas Sparks: Yeah, I'll do a Christmas novel one day. Hopefully. But it would have to be a good one. I'd like to write one that lasts for the ages, and frankly, that's very hard to do.

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Annandale, Va.: How far ahead do your themes for a novel come to you and do you carry a notebook with you through out the day to capture ideas while you're working on a novel?

Nicholas Sparks: Normally, I have a chunk of the idea worked out in advance (beginning, ending, 4 or 5 major elements, general characters) before starting to write. That's enough for me to begin.

And no, I don't carry a notebook. It's just never been necessary.

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Washington, D.C.: Have your characters mostly been inspired by people in your life? Do other books, movies, or media ever inspire you?

Nicholas Sparks: Some have been directly inspired, but most characters are composed of snippets here and there of people I've known, and all rolled into the character I've created. They do become like their own people.

Of course other books and movies inspire me, but I do my best to keep my stories as original as possible.

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Arlington, Va.: I assume you use a laptop to compose your novels - but are you ever tempted to write things out longhand? Or to use an old-school typewriter? It seems like some of the romance of being a novelist might be worn away with the rise in computers.

Nicholas Sparks: If I tried to write long-hand, I suppose I'd never finish a novel. I edit too much as I write -- the paper would be "white-out" and sharpie marks. Writing with a computer works for me, so I stick with it.

As for the "romance being worn away" . . . I suppose I've never thought of it in those terms. The process of "how it works" comes so much from the mind and intuition that the actual "work" of putting it on paper is negligible.

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Washington, D.C.: Clearly you are a wonderful author and have made a success out of your career. I have two questions. First, was it easy for you to break into the literary world? Second, if it all ended today, and you had to choose another profession, what would it be?

Nicholas Sparks: Yeah, it was relatively easy. First agent to get my letter read the novel and asked to represent me, and the novel was sold after 2 days for a seven figure advance. With that said, it was The Notebook, and the novel had something to do with that. Over the years, it's sold 12 million copies, so obviously, it was a novel that stood out.

As for another profession . . . I suppose I'd manage a global-macro hedge fund. I love that kind of stuff. Weird, I know, but I find it fascinating.

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Washington, D.C.: I love all the movies you've done. How involved do you get during scouting locations, filming and production?

Nicholas Sparks: I don't get involved in casting, budgets, location or promotion. Just the script. And, of course, the promotional tour. Which is fine with me -- I'm a novelist.

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University Park, Md.: Did you choose Rodanthe for the name? We used to have a house there and when my wife read your book, she said it bore little-to-no resemblance to the real place, except its location on Hatteras. Were any scenes in the movie filmed in Rodanthe? No criticizing here; it is fiction.

Nicholas Sparks: The movie was actually filmed in Rodanthe. That's where the house was, and I chose that village because I liked the name. Had a certain ring to it.

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Falls Church, Va.: Do you prefer to write in the voice of a man or in that of a woman? Being a man, is it difficult to "think" like a female character?

Nicholas Sparks: It doesn't matter to me whether I write in a man's voice or a woman's, or first or third person for that matter. Those choices come down to the story and I just go with it.

As for thinking like a female . . . no, I don't find it difficult. Don't ask me why. I just don't.

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Bethesda, Md.: Can you talk a little about your writing process? Do you know the story and have an outline? Do you just start writing and let the story write itself? How many hours does it take to write one book? Thanks.

Nicholas Sparks: I write 3-4 days a week, 4-5 hours at a time (with lots of breaks). My goal is 2000 words when I sit down to write and usually, I hit that, though it can take anywhere from 3-7 hours to get there. I usually know the basics of where the story is going, but the specifics just sort of come to me as I write.

As for hours to write a novel . . . I'd say . . . 500, depending on the complexity. But that's over 3-4 months.

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Murfreesboro, Tenn.: Would you please tell me the correct pronunciation of "Rodanthe"? I have heard at least 3-4 different pronunciations. Loved the book, by the way, and hope the movie does it justice. Thanks and keep writing.

Nicholas Sparks: It depends. It's Elizabethan. . . old English, so natives (200 years of ancestors in the area) make the E hard, others make it softer. Generally, it's pronounced. But even people in North Carolina generally don't know how to pronounce it. It's part of a "fishing brogue" common to the islands of Virginia and Maine, believe it or not.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you ever make it back to Notre Dame?

Nicholas Sparks: A couple of times a year.

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Arlington, Va.: How much time do you spend in places you use as locations for your novels? And what will you next novel be called (the one that will be turned into a movie starring Miley Cyrus)? Pretty cool that you can sell a novel/movie just on an idea! I'm so jealous!

Nicholas Sparks: Not much time, though I've been there enough to get the "flavor" of the place. As for the title of the next project (with Miley) . . . I don't have one yet. Really. I have the idea completed, but no title. That's common for me though. Titles come last.

I do have The Lucky One (my newest novel) coming out on Sept. 30th.

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Washington, D.C.: When you're not writing, touring, or consulting on films, what do you do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?

Nicholas Sparks: I exercise (1 1/2 hours a day), I train my dog (it's a working protection dog), I coach track at the local high school (Big article in the NY Times about that in June, since the team is very, very good), my wife and I started a Christian school (grades 6-12, with 220 students), we're building a house, I read as much as I can. . . with 5 kids and a wife, that's about all I have time for.

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Anonymous: Can't help myself: is there a Mrs. Sparks?

Nicholas Sparks: Yes. She's wonderful. My best friend.

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Washington, D.C.: How did you go about finding an agent to represent you? How long did it take to get your first novel published?

Nicholas Sparks: I sent in a query letter. First agent who read it asked for the novel and signed me as a client. It took 2 days from submission to publishers to receive an offer. But again, it was The Notebook. . .

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Nicholas, I love all your books. For the film adaption of A Walk to Remember, why did they choose to change the time period? I felt both the movie and book were wonderful, but am wondering who and how they decide to do something like that. Were you for it or involved in the decision?

Nicholas Sparks: They changed the time period because the producer felt the film had an important message for teens (that it's okay to be a good person with strong values, that it's okay to be different) and that had it been set in the 1950s (as was the novel), teens wouldn't see it because they wouldn't relate to it. I agreed with the change.

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Anonymous: I do a lot of writing myself but I'm a perfectionist, which can be difficult. I will labor over a paragraph before I find I can move on because I want my wording to "flow." Do you have any advice on writing to offer budding novelists?

Nicholas Sparks: Umm... I labor, too. It's part of the process. Writing is no easier today than it was in the beginning: writing well is very hard to do. Always.

As for advice . . . pick a number of words to write (just hit word count on the computer when you start). I use 2000 because it's fast enough to keep me in the "flow of the story" but slow enough that I have time to edit (it's about 350 words an hour). That works for me. You might be more or less, but set a goal and stick to it.

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Crofton, Md.: I'm not much of a fiction reader, but I really enjoyed "Three Weeks with My Brother." Thank you for sharing the story of your family. I am so sorry that you lost your parents and your sister so soon. I hope all of you are doing well -- especially your son and your sister's family.

By the way, I am a Notre Dame Grad, too. Go Irish! Let's hope for a better football season this year...

Nicholas Sparks: Thanks for the kind words.

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Anonymous: Hope you do consider a sequel. I've read most of your books, and loved True Believer and bought it for several friends and family. I also listened to it on tape read by Aaron Baker. I hope your publisher will use Baker again. Great voice.

Nicholas Sparks: I'll let them know.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Were you involved in the screenplays of any of the movie adaptations of your books? If so, were you satisfied with the experience and how did you get along with other screenwriters? If not, how happy are you with their work?

Nicholas Sparks: I toss in my 2-cents worth, but I've been very fortunate that I've liked the adaptations. The screenplays were all excellent.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Mr. Sparks, why, why, why did you have to let the rest of the country in on the stark beauty of the national seashore that surrounds Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo? I know I am a pig, but I like to speak dismissively of the place that has been my second (and only consistent) home all of my life. I say it is hard to get to, the dunes make it difficult to access the beach, and the water is too rough for most to swim in. All in a futile attempt to keep the secret from everyone -- it is beautiful! I will see this movie, as I have enjoyed all of your book-to-movie adaptations and also to get a fall taste of the beach. I don't know if you went down to Rodanthe when they filmed the on location shots, but I loved the idea of using the first house in from the park to make it look really isolated. Good luck with your future endeavors!

Nicholas Sparks: Thanks. And sorry about letting others in your secret. The Outer Banks Visitors bureau is thrilled, though.

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D.C.: Where do you do your writing? Is it hard to work given you have so much going on (e.g. 5 kids, coaching, wife, exercising, etc)? I have a two year old daughter and I can't seem to get anything done cause it's "Mommy! mommy!" all the time.

Nicholas Sparks: I write at home, in a small office right off the living room. The door is always open, and I'm always interrupted (during the summer anyway). It's my job, though, so I make do.

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Ohio: Nights in Rodanthe: I read the book and loved it. Does the movie stick close to the book? I intend to see this one when it plays locally.

Nicholas Sparks: Very close. If you liked the book, you'll love the film.

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Saw the preview: The movie looks great. My question: I thought the town's name was pronounced just like it's spelled. The voice over on the preview is Ro-dan-thee. What's the correct pronunciation?

Nicholas Sparks: The e is either hard or soft. . . but not silent.

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Nicholas Sparks: Hope you all enjoy the film this Sept. 26th!

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