ND alumnus takes a `Walk to Remember'
By COURTNEY KERRIGAN
Nicholas Sparks. You may have heard of him, or you may associate him with his novel, "Message in a Bottle," which was made into No. 1 movie by Warner Brothers. If you are a fan of Sparks, you've probably also read his first book, "The Notebook," a sweet and passionate story about everlasting love.
Sparks has definitely had his 15 minutes of fame. But the truth is, he's just an ordinary guy — a Notre Dame alumnus in fact — with a knack for writing passionate, emotional love stories.
Sparks was born in Omaha, Neb., and raised in Fair Oaks, Calif. He attended Notre Dame on a full track scholarship and majored in business finance. He had a stream of short-term jobs, including starting his own business before becoming a pharmaceutical representative. He married in 1989, currently has two sons and he lives in New Bern, N.C.
Sparks actually wrote his first novel while he was enrolled at Notre Dame. He was injured in track during his freshman year and couldn't train the following summer.
"I never considered writing at all, and training for track and field and running ... that was my passion," Sparks said. "But when I went home that summer, and I couldn't do it. I went practically bananas. I was the most miserable person in the world.
"My mom just got tired of me pouting, and she said, `Why don't you go out and do something. Write a book.' So I said, `Ok.' So I wrote a book."
He wrote two more novels, one in his senior year at Notre Dame, and one when he was 25, but he never believed he could make a living out of it. Then when he was 28, he decided to give writing another chance.
"I was happy in my life. I was married, I had a house, I had a job, I had a couple of kids, a lot of things were great," said Sparks. "But at the same time, I felt like somewhere along the way ... I had lost the desire to chase my dreams. I didn't want to live my life waking up and going to work and coming home ... I wanted more. And at 28, with a family to support, I was fairly limited in my options, so I thought, `Why don't I give writing another shot, a real shot this time. Why don't I work really hard on this, and see what happens.' And that was `The Notebook.'"
Sparks is infamous for his emotional love stories. His novels are all very different, although they are all about love.
"[`The Notebook'] really explores everlasting love, [`Message in a Bottle'] covered the second chance at love and [`A Walk to Remember'] covers the beauty and power and innocence of first love," Sparks said of his three major novels.
Sparks may be an expert at writing creative and touching love stories, but he notes that it doesn't come easily. "It's very difficult to conceive of a story that can really capture [those different kinds of love] in a way that really hasn't been told before," said Sparks. "So far most of my stories have been initially inspired by people I've known and events in my own family."
But he insists that his novels are not as original and unique as most critics might give him credit for.
"They're love stories, they're tragedies, they're stories that go back through history, and that have appealed to audiences both male and female for a long time," he said.
Many fans send a lot of positive feedback to Sparks, describing how his novels have impacted their lives. "I think they respond to the emotions contained within the work," Sparks said. "I think they see either pieces of themselves, or pieces of those they love in the characters."
Sparks also attributes some of his success to the education he received at Notre Dame. He wrote his first two novels while enrolled, and took a class, American Literature from the 1950s, which introduced him to the classics of literature and inspired him to become an avid reader.
"I don't think you can take a class there that's easy, and that's kind of the way life is," he said. "If you're going to excel in anything, there are very few easy roads. Most roads are very challenging and [Notre Dame] gets you used to rising to the challenge."
Sparks' does give some advice to an aspiring writer in the student community at Notre Dame: "Keep your day job. I wrote `The Notebook' in my spare time … not to say that you can't do it, but always pay your bills … that will take the pressure off and free your creative capacity."
Aside from the financial benefits of being a best-selling author, Sparks hasn't let fame and fortune alter his life excessively.
"You'd be surprised at how little it actually changes on a day-to-day basis; who I was before I sold the novel is pretty much the same as after I became successful," he said.
Even though the financial worries of life are now absent from his life, he explains that there are other things that he worries about.
"Financial pressure is replaced with a different kind of pressure; pressure to improve and grow your audience, and that's actually a very large pressure, believe it or not," Sparks said.
The author seems to be managing this new pressure well, as he continues to write popular novels. Warner Brothers also plans to make a film of "A Walk to Remember," his newest novel which will be released tomorrow. Because one of his novels has been made into a movie already, Sparks enjoys some bonuses of being semi-famous.
"I get the best advantages … all the perks of stardom without any of the costs of stardom," he said. "Never once have I been interrupted for an autograph when I'm with my family because no one recognizes authors."
Sparks surely has a bright future ahead of him. He continues to find inspiration to enlighten, entertain and touch his growing audience through his fervent and tender love stories. What's next for this typical Notre Dame alum?
"Today [Sept. 27] I will finish my fourth novel. I have three pages to go," he said.
All Scene Stories for Wednesday, October 6, 1999