New Bern’s Nicholas Sparks has just released his 18th book “The Longest Ride.” Dating back to 1996’s “The Notebook” he’s enjoyed remarkable success, with several of the books topping the New York Times bestseller list and virtually all… if not all… appearing in the top ten… which is why I was surprised by his answer to my question about whether he still enjoys the writing process after nearly 18 years as a highly-read author.
“No. I’ve yet to look forward to doing it every day. This is the big curiosity. I can’t say that I love writing. I can say that I’ve developed some skills in this area based on 18 years of doing it. I think I’ve improved in various areas… structurally and writing styles of voice… and yet it’s still a challenging process.”
And yet he continues to write, despite the fact that with his past success and two of his books slated to become movies… on top of the eight that have already made it to the screen… he could probably sit back and not worry about the process. And yet despite the protestation that he doesn’t enjoy writing, as he’s busy promoting “The Longest Ride” he’s also busy working on book #19.
“I’m the sort of person inspired by challenge. There’s no greater feeling than to finish a novel, writing a novel that you’re proud to have written. At least for me there’s very few experiences like it because it is so challenging and you put emotional intensity into it, mental energy or even physical energy because you have these long days. To know you did something that was worthwhile and could be meaningful to a lot of different people, that’s a great feeling especially when I’m proud of the work that was eventually created. If it was easy, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d like it as much, right?”
“The Longest Ride” remains, as all his fiction books have been, a love story, though this one tells two love stories… one between a young couple, Luke & Sophia, just starting out, the other of a widower and his late wife, Ira & Ruth. Two couples at opposite ends of their timelines… which presented the challenge Sparks needed to write… and complete… his 18th novel.
“It’s a dual love story… a dual love story and a mystery how the two stories come together is maintained virtually until the last final pages of the novel, so that was really quite challenging to do. The other challenge was to balance… if you’re going to have a really great love story with gripping drama with Ira, and he’s in a car and the cars down an embankment and he’s dying and you want to build this love story between him and Ruth and make it fascinating and there’s the Holocaust and WWII and the adventures they had in their life. Well, you have to have a story between Luke & Sophia that resonates on an equally dramatic level and be totally different to get that balance. That was a challenge.”
The initial idea for each novel also is a challenge.
“Different novels have had different sources of inspiration. My first four novels were largely inspired by family stories, at least in that initial kernel of an idea and then I developed them into distinct novels as compared to non-fiction work.”
Sparks describes “The Longest Ride” as a work that came “straight from the imagination” though family stories get their due. The voice of widower Ira came from the man he calls a “pseudo grandfather” Leo Robbins who was his grandmother’s companion for 25 years after her divorce. At the same time he describes Leo as more of a city guy compared to his description of Ira as a “small town Southern fellow.” That also was part of “The Longest Ride” for Sparks. After those first four novels he’s had to work more from the imagination and more as an observer, taking what he sees and trying to find that “initial kernel of an idea.” He’s already working on his latest kernel. But will there be another?
“No, everyone is a big surprise. I was done with the Notebook and figured that was it. I was washed up. Had the one good story. That’s all we’ve got, and yet I’ve been fortunate and found additional stories to write, and I’ve been pleased with all the novels I’ve written.”
Given his love of a challenge, I’ll wager there will be more to come. “The Longest Ride” by New Bern author Nicholas Sparks is published by Grand Central. I’m George Olsen.