American author Nicholas Sparks has had more novels snapped up to become films than JK Rowling. With The Lucky One the latest, Alison Jones finds out the secret of his success.
A critic once rather dismissively said “With Sparks you know what you’re going to get: young people in love, a North Carolina setting, and about $80 million domestic.”
It may have been intended as pithy out down but the reliability of Nicholas Sparks’ appeal means he seems to have the market cornered in having his romantic dramas translated to the screen.
The Notebook, Message In a Bottle, Nights In Rodanthe and A Walk to Remember are among the seven that have already progressed from print to celluloid, with two more in the preproduction stages.
It means he is rapidly catching John Grisham’s tally of 10, and has matched JK Rowling, who had the advantage of Harry Potter being a serial on her side.
“Yeah, I have been super fortunate,” admits Sparks, 46, “I love all the films adapted from my novels.”
So how did this all-American archetype (he is a Notre Dame graduate who attended on a sports scholarship and a devoutly Christian father of five who married the girl he met straight out of college) find the voice that seems to speak to so many women.
“I had a great mom and I married really well.
“Most of the really influential people in my world are women, whether it is my agent or my editor or my publicist.
“Women, women everywhere. I like women and I know them.”
He is also an unashamed romantic. He could be the hero of his books, particularly the ones that express their feelings on paper, as he still does to Cathy, his wife of 23 years.
“I write my wife love letters.
“I open up a word document and write it out perfectly, edit it and when I have it perfect I’ll print it out and handwrite it.
“I can’t just do it on the fly.
“I know these things will probably get published one day so, darn it, they are going to be just right.
“I give them to her on our anniversary. I recap the last year we have spent, some of the ups and downs and why I love her throughout all of them. It is like a little diary of her life.”
Even more affecting is that he doesn’t seem to expect similarly grand gesture in return.
“She does a lot. She is a great mom, a great friend and really smart. She just adds a lot of joy to my life. I am the lucky one,” he adds to a chorus of aaahs.
The impact this admission has on a few of the assembled female journalists, is a clue to why his novels have such a pull.
He has published 16 since The Notebook – which he wrote while working as a pharmaceutical rep – was plucked from a literary agency’s slush pile.
Even he admits his fiction has followed a formula, albeit a winning one.