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Back in May I had the chance to spend a day on the set of The Best of Me. Thanks to Relativity Media I was flown to New Orleans and spent a day with a group of bloggers watching them film and interviewing the main cast members and author Nicholas Sparks.
A few details about that visit can be read HERE.
Today I have a portion of the interview we did with Nicholas Sparks to share with you. There were 15 bloggers total and we were sitting in a circle talking and asking him questions. It was a very informal setting and there was a lot of chit chat and crosstalk happening.
Transcript from Nicholas Sparks Q&A May 13, 2014 – From the set of The Best of Me.
Relativity Media recorded and transcribed the interview for us. I have cleaned it up a little bit by removing some of the chit chat and crosstalk. Below is the main questions that were asked and answered.
Blogger: I’m wondering in terms of the filming of this movie, I’ve heard that this is the first time that you’re filming out of North Carolina.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: We’ve filmed everywhere. Parts of Message in a Bottle, the first film, was in Maine–parts of it. For most of A Walk to Remember was in–near the Wilmington area.
The Notebook was filmed parts of South Carolina. The Lucky One was actually filmed in New Orleans. And The Last Song was filmed in Georgia.
So, we move around. It’s interesting, though, that–another question that’s related to that might be they changed the setting of the film, too…
So, now the film is set in Louisiana. Does that bother me, or how do I feel about that? It’s happened in film before.
It happened with The Last Song, which, you know, the novel took place in North Carolina, but the film took place in Georgia. And we said it had to be Tybee Island, Georgia and the whole bit.
So, this isn’t even the first time for that. You know, one of the great things about this region or the New Orleans is it actually looks a lot like eastern North Carolina, where I live. So, it’s kind of nice.
Blogger: Differences between the book and movie? Are you ok with them? Do you have a say?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Yes, the differences between the book and the movie–of course there are always differences. You know, film is a very different medium, in general.
So, because they’re different mediums, you have to kind of go into the whole project knowing that some things work better on film than they do in books. And some things conversely work better in books than they do on film.
For instance, a car chase always works better on film, right, or scenes that have some real emotional intensity, like anger scenes, fight scenes–yes, I can do it in a book, and I work really hard to make it as real as I can, but really, it’s seeing their face and all of that. That really helps to bring it to life. So, action scenes, emotional intensity–that tends to work better in film.
What works better in a novel? Introspection. You really can get into someone’s head. And so, the goal in a film is to then figure out what the introspection is and then to come up somehow with images for them, and that, in and of itself, requires changes.
And I remember in Message in a Bottle, for instance–and I’ll use that as an example, then I’ll get back to this one. We had a character who–Garret Blake–he was upset about the loss of his wife, and I covered all of this with introspection in the novel.
So, you knew he was really hurting–that he missed his wife. But, how do you show that? So, essentially, they invented her entire family, and she had paintings, and the family wanted them back, and there was all this conflict. But, it showed the conflict that he had about letting go.
The same kind of thing happens in this project as well. So, there will be some changes. And so, when I go in as a–whether I’m producing or screenwriting, I say, let’s retain the spirit and the intent of the characters.
Let’s retain the spirit and the intent of the story, and then let’s just make the best film we can, knowing that it’s a different medium.
Then you add in the fact that a script is about 20,000 words. This novel was about, you know, 90,000 words. So, I mean, of course there’s going to be differences.
But, it’s very close within the spirit of the characters, the spirit of the story, and certainly, if you’ve read the novel, you will recognize the film. Now, who is next? Well, who has asked questions? We’ll go here.
Blogger: You said briefly that the inspiration for the story was something–an experience you had… Can you talk a little bit about that?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: I was in my 40s when I wrote The Best Me, and I think the 40s are a very interesting period of peoples’ lives. It’s like, if you’re in your 20s and your 30s, you kind of believe that your dreams can come true.
You’ll meet the right guy, or you’ll be famous, or whatever your dreams are. I’ll have the house with the white picket–it doesn’t matter what they are. I’ll have kids, or whatever.
- So, you go through your 20s and 30s, and there’s a part of you that just knows it’s still–you still got a shot, here. Well, in your 50s, 60s, and 70s, you kind of reach a point where you’re looking back and say, well, maybe they didn’t all come true, right, or whatever.
I’m never going to be an astronaut. I think I’ve now passed the NASA retirement age or whatever. So, you go through that.
So, the 40s is this period–this decade of your life when really, there tends to be a lot of self-reflection. Who am I? How did I get here? Is this the life I wanted to lead?
It kind of felt like maybe I got here by accident. And is this the life I want to lead the rest of my life?
So, all of those factors, you know, that period of the 40s really comes into play for both Dawson and Amanda in The Best of Me, right, because Amanda, she had–her life was a little more accidental, so to speak, right? And she’s married. It’s not great, and then all right.
But, is this what you want for the next 40 years of your life? Now that you’re–you’ve reached the age where you’re also very conscious of the fact that life is about choices, and, you know, sometimes you reach that point of now or never.
Blogger: Has the success of your movies changed the way you write your next book? Do you picture the movie?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Yes and no. There’s two parts to writing a novel, really, if you break it down. You have the thinking of the story–the period prior to writing. And then you have the moments when you write.
So, when you’re thinking of a story, yes, I do take sometimes the film into account, not necessarily my own, but other films as well, for instance.
And that’s just so that I can be original. I don’t want to do something that feels unoriginal. So, it’s got be original for both a novel and original for film, and so you want to do that.
For instance, I would never write a love story set on the Titanic. Why? There’s never been a book, right? But, you see, it wouldn’t feel original, right? And it wouldn’t. So, it’s just that same concept.
So many ideas get rejected because, well, it’s too similar to Ghost, it’s too close to Dirty Dancing, or whatever. You go through these things. So, that’s the thinking. You’re just trying to be original, and that includes film.
Then the moment I actually start writing, it’s only about the novel, because, I’ve had novels that have not been adapted into films. There’s no guarantee. Although it may seem, I don’t have a straight pipeline into Hollywood, you know?
It looks like that from the outside, but they all have their own. Yes, it’s always exciting to have a movie made, because there’s always a challenge involved in having a film adapted.
Blogger: The ghost in your book, there’s sort of this recurring theme–ghost or at least in Safe Haven, or a guiding force or what you want to call it, you know?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: —I have a ghost story. I’m going to tell you that… I mean, it’s not a weird one, or anything. I had very close, dear friends of mine. They’re Pat and Billy Mills. Billy Mills is a–was raised an Oglala Sioux Indian… He’s the runner, Billy Mills, and so he’s in the Olympic Hall of Fame. He won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1964 in the 10,000 meters–the only American ever to win this.
So, he’s pretty much a legend in–among Native Americans, right? He’s a spokesman for Running Strong for American Indian Youth and helps the reservation–just a really terrific guy.
Well, I dated his daughter for about four years. Still remains a very close, personal friend of mine, and he’s very close with my wife. In fact, when we visit Sacramento, we stay with them.
So, I have the wife, and me, and my children at Billy Mills’ house one summer. And all of the sudden you’d just see these–I’d be sitting on the couch and you’d see movement out of the corner of your eye, and you’d turn and there’s nothing there. And it happened repeatedly.
And then my wife wakes up one night, and she’s, like, who on earth is playing these tom-toms? And it just went on for a couple of days, right?
We hadn’t visited him for a year. We’d come in. So, maybe on day three or four, we’re like, Bill, ha-ha. I think you have ghosts in your house. Ha-ha. They’re like, oh, you mean George?
And we’re like, wait, wait, wait. So, it turns out he gives speeches. He was speaking at an Indian reservation, and he was given an eagle bone whistle from Black Elk.
Black Elk was a very mystic Native American. You can Wikipedia him. He’s very famous in the Native American world–just a powerful medicine man.
So, Bill got it and put it in his little museum in his house with his full headdresses, which are illegal to own unless you’re an Indian, and all this stuff. People have given him things, right? He’s an Olympic Gold Medal. So, it’s up there.
That’s when George started to come. Lights flicker on and off. And I remember his daughter had all of her wedding photos taken beneath this oak tree.
And then one morning, out of the blue, clear sky, there was no rain forecast–in fact, no rain measured–a lightning bolt came out, split that tree in two. Two hours later, the daughter comes by and says, we’re getting a divorce.
And they’re like, the eagle bone whistle’s got to go. And so, they’ve returned it to Black Elk. And he says that when he walked in after returning it to Black Elk’s family–his descendants–he felt a big thank-you whoosh moving through him and there’s never been anything else… I mean, I didn’t see an apparition…. It was like movement, and you look. You know, it’s just the strangest–…
And if you look at Safe Haven, for instance, that was written exceedingly carefully that Katie never–the vision never told Katie anything she didn’t already know.
She never had new information. So, I write all of these things as if, was it real, or maybe it was my imagination, which is kind of how I think about this movement.
Blogger: I guess it’s the acknowledgments or right before the book, you said that this was a really hard book for you to write. So, was that because of the topic or because of the writing?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: No, no, no. It was a really challenging book because I worked exceedingly hard on it, and it was originally structured a little bit like Nights in Rodanthe.
So, it was Amanda, and then she’s looking back on these events of maybe two or three years earlier. And you tell this story. And then the last part of the book, I unwound the story, right? I didn’t know how to do it the other way.
And so, my editor read the novel and she said, that doesn’t work. You need to keep this story linear without a flashback. And the reason I didn’t do it linear in the first place was because I didn’t know how to do it in the first place.
And the real challenge was, if you’re running parallel stories, you’ve got a Dawson story going on, and then you’ve got an Amanda story going on.
In the Dawson story, it was tremendously fast-paced. He’s seeing something, he’s taken off running, there’s bad guys chasing, there’s fights.
it’s a lot of just, wow, page-turning excitement. Amanda’s story, conversely, was sitting in a hospital. If anyone has ever sat in a hospital when you’re really, really worried about whoever you’re there for and really, really worried, what does time do?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Stops. You look up, you’re like, I’ve been here three hours and it says seven minutes. It’s like that.
So, my struggle was how do I make sitting in the hospital as exciting and page-turning as Dawson’s story? Anyway, she had me rewrite the last third of the novel or quarter of the novel, or whatever it was. And it was hard.
Blogger: But, aren’t you happy you did it?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Of course. My editor was correct. Of course.
Blogger: Why didn’t you give it a happy ending?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: I tend to do that in a lot of my novels, right?
Blogger: Yes… You have a reputation.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Yes. I will tell you why. You know, if you think of it this way, what is the purpose of literature? What is the purpose of any particular genre? What’s the purpose of a horror novel? To scare you. Okay.
What’s the purpose of a thriller novel? To thrill you. What’s the purpose of a romance novel, which is not what I do? To allow you flights into romantic fantasy. What is the purpose of a mystery? To uncover who done it, right? They all have purposes.
What’s the purpose of what I do? The purpose of what I do is to move the reader through the entire range of human emotion. So, that includes love, but you should also feel Amanda’s confusion.
You should feel Dawson’s struggle. You should feel the frustration, the choice. You should feel what they’re going through, so that by the time you close the cover, you’re not thrilled or scared, and it wasn’t necessarily just a straight romantic fantasy… You kind of feel as if you lived–… –A full life between the covers. And so, you have to cover all of the emotions of life, because if you leave one out, then it’s fantasy. It doesn’t really feel real. So, unfortunately, in case you’re not aware, sadness will be part of all of your lives. It’s just hard–.
If you actually feel them fall in love, and you feel the ache, to me, that’s what makes a novel memorable because you felt it. You kind of lived their lives, in escape from your own world. So, it’s partly that.
Then there’s the other sad part of this equation of love in general. But, I want you to all think of love in your own lives. And it doesn’t matter.
It could be love of a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend–whatever it is–children, parents, friends, your dog, okay? It doesn’t matter. All great love stories–all–100 percent–by definition, end in tragedy.
All of them, because if there’s no love–look around the world. Millions of people die every day. We all go on.
We’re here on set. We’re not crying. Why? Because we didn’t know them, and we didn’t love them. The moment that it’s someone that you love, the world stops. There’s always tragedy. They go together.
And even if you happen to have, like, the movie of The Notebook where they die at the same time, they had children. There’s tragedy somewhere. They have to, by definition. It’s just the way it is.
So, all of my novels are an exploration–or my novels which end in tragedy among the couple, they’re an exploration of that particular truth.
Blogger: So, I’m curious, what love lessons or coming of age lessons you think we can learn from those characters?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: I think it’s most important, and it’s really funny. And it is interesting because your parents often don’t think it, but it doesn’t matter when you first fall in love, it’s real. It is what it is. And parents may not sometimes believe it, because maybe you’re 15 or 17, and oh, you’re too young to understand. Absolutely not. It is as real as it is.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the person you should spend your life–or with whom you should spend your life. It just doesn’t mean that. But, the emotions associated with love, they’re real.
And this is a great exploration of that because you’re going to see young Dawson and Amanda and then 20 years later Dawson and Amanda. And they basically fall in love twice, right?
It’s different. There’s more maturity in the second version versus this more young intensity. But, the feelings are the same, because it always is. Right here.
Blogger: So, do you really believe that people are good or evil, like the Cole brothers or cousins, or were they you know, are obviously very evil, or is it just a good, you know, like you said, we’re escaping into a book? Is it just a good way to really come out?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: No, there are some evil people in the world. Most people, even bad guys, are shades of gray, and I’ve certainly explored that in Safe Haven. Kevin was a very much a shade of gray kind of guy.
The Cole brothers or the Cole family, they are what they are. They’re a product of their culture as much as anyone else is a product of theirs. And it just happened to be a very violent, drug-producing culture.
But of course. Of course there is shades of gray there. Otherwise, if they were evil to everyone, then no one would live on the compound.
So, it’s there. It just has to be read between the line. But, there are some bad people in the world, and that’s a reflection of that truth.
He didn’t like Dawson. Maybe jealous, right? Dawson was smarter than he was, and sometimes in a situation like that, it causes a lot of trouble.
Blogger: Favorite flavor of ice cream?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Vanilla.
Blogger: And favorite thing to eat for breakfast.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Oh, that’s egg whites. I do egg whites with diced ham and red onion…
Blogger: Where do you get your inspiration for the characters? In all the books, they’re all, like –Unique and different.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Inspiration can come from anywhere. They’ve been drawn from people that I know, from stories.
But, generally, there are bits in people–every character–you search for their voice, and then their voice helps to define them.
So, the inspiration is not in one fell swoop. It’s usually in more like bits and pieces, like maybe she’s quiet.
And then you do the voice and say, well, maybe she’s even quieter than I thought, or maybe she talks more. And little by little, they come to life.
So, you might start with someone that you know, or an experience, or a feeling, or a theme, and then you go from that.
Blogger: Do we have a different ending?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Oh, isn’t that interesting. I’m not sure I can answer that question… Now, there’s two reasons I’m not sure I can answer that question, because, A, I’m not sure the studio wants me to answer that question, and, B, I’m not sure if there’s a different ending. So, how’s that, right? I mean, I don’t know. How’s that?
Blogger: Well, I found it interesting that in Dear John….I was surprised that she couldn’t wait for him–.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: The writing of Dear John was exceedingly challenging because it was my goal to make Savannah not unlikable… Right? You don’t want to dislike Savannah. And it was challenging. He had promised her. And he was getting out, and it was done. And it was really a story inspired by my cousin, Todd Vance. He was Sergeant Todd Vance. He was a striker out at Fort Lewis.
And so, he had the same thing. He was getting out, he was done with the military. He had this girl waiting. She had already waited for him through deployments. Just I’m getting out.
9/11 hits, and he re-ups and says, it’s going to be four more years. And she’s like, I can’t wait four more years. You know, I’m 29. I want to have children. I can’t wonder if you’re going to die.
I mean, I did not ask you to do this. You told me you were done. This was part of one of the reasons why I was able to do the deployments in the first place. So, that was the reason.
We often do alternative endings. And you want to see what people want, essentially, because everyone wants different things.
But, in the end, movies are a business, and you try to keep people satisfied.
Blogger: I have a question about that, and about what people want…. because I’m a married woman. I’m in my 40s. We’ve been married 20 years. Marriage is hard. It’s not all great all the time.
So, I don’t think I would have been happy, you know, had she said, oh, well, this marriage is kind of stinky and I’m going to go back to this guy that I’ve been thinking about for 20 years. So, you know, how do you balance that? I mean, that’s real life.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: That’s real life, you know. Marriage is a challenge for anyone, right? It just is hard work. It’s a significant relationship and it takes a lot of work.
I remember when my brother got married he confided in my crazy Grandma. Gosh, I loved her. She passed away, unfortunately. But, they went to her because she’d been married 55 years.
And they said, the videos for the wedding for the bride and groom, what’s the secret to a long marriage. And she said her answer was patience and long-suffering.
On the wedding video. I won’t go that far. But, it goes back to that period in your 40s where you look. This is your life, and you’re here. Is this what you want for the next 40 years?
Sometimes the answer is no. And sometimes the answer is, I want it to be yes, but it can’t be yes. And other times the answer is, just knowing that I’ve had the choice, I can move on now because now I know that I can go on.
These are all part and parcel of explorations of life itself, I think. And I wasn’t passing any moral judgment on that. In the novel, it ends a certain way, right?
She stays. She stays because she made the decision to stay with her husband. And so, in her case, that’s what happened.
Blogger: At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer? Or when you knew you were a writer?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Totally different. If you ask my college roommates, they’ll say when I was 19 to 20, because I’d written a novel between my freshman and sophomore years of college.
I lived with a group of guys, still good friends, and they say, oh, you talked about being a writer all the time. So, they would say, he knew when he was 20 that that’s what he was going to do.
Part of me said, there’s no way I’ll ever make a living at doing that. So, it might have been more of a want than anything that was based in reality. I majored in business finance. I mean, you know?
So, I guess then it was probably into halfway through Message in a Bottle that I knew I could be a writer, because you didn’t know if The Notebook was a fluke, and you had to know if you could do it a second time.
So, it was somewhere around 1990. If The Notebook–I sold it in ’95. Probably somewhere in the spring of ’97. So, right around then.
Blogger: How has life changed from then to now?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Busier.
Blogger: What would you change given the–what do you like the most, hate the worst, you know?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Well, writing is always challenging, right? And it’s challenging in and of itself. And now if you add in film, and television, and a whole bunch of other projects–I founded a school with my wife, and I’m chairman of the board there.
I run a foundation to help disadvantaged and at-risk youth kids with education. I’m pulled in a lot of different directions.
But, still, the writing needs to be done. So, I have less time, and it’s still as challenging as it ever was back then.
So, it would be nice, I guess, if the rest of all those things just went smoothly and easily without any effort at all. But, for some reason, things come up.
And that was the end of the Q&A. Following we each got to have our picture taken with Nicholas. It was an incredibly fun and memorable day. So grateful I had this once in a lifetime opportunity!!
The movie The Best of Me releases one month from today on October 17th.
Between now and then I will be posting the rest of the interviews we did with Luke Bracey, Liano Liberato, Michelle Monaghan & James Marsden.
For now check out the movie trailer. Can’t wait to see this!!