No one showed up for Nicolas Sparks first book signing, but like he said, “It’s kind of different now.”
Now a best-selling author, Sparks spoke to a sell-out crowd of 1,600 adoring fans October 17 at The Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Most of them waited for up to an hour afterwards for an autograph.
Sparks, 39, is not only rich and famous after turning out 11 novels in 11 years, he is also handsome and charming. Women outnumbered men in the audience roughly 10 to one.
“We’re just going to talk,” Sparks said. “Please ask questions. I’ve heard about every question. For instance, it’s boxers .. they’re blue.”
Part of UNCP’s Distinguished Speaker Series, Sparks talked about his journey as a writer. It is a best-selling story too.
“I lived and breathed track and field. Some of my records (at Notre Dame) still stand after 20 years,” he said. “My dream was to go to the Olympics.”
That didn’t happen as Sparks’ dream died following an injury.
“My mother said, ‘Don’t just pout. I don’t know, write a book or something,’” he said. “I typed out a novel on a Smith Corona typewriter. I learned something about myself. I enjoyed telling a story, and I learned I could finish a novel.”
That was Sparks’ first novel, which he said was badly written. A second unpublished novel was followed by a string of jobs, a marriage and the first of five children. Then, he had “a life altering event.”
“The last episode of ‘Cheers’ aired on television .. I’m not joking,” he said. “That show came on the air when I was 15, and I had big dreams. Here I was at 28, and I didn’t have any dreams any more.”
Sparks vowed to never let another 12 years go by with “a lot of dreams going in and not many coming out.”
“That’s when I decided I would give a 100 percent effort at writing,” he said.
Sparks first book, “The Notebook,” earned a $1 million advance from Warner Books plus a movie deal with New Line Cinema.
Sparks said the story of “The Notebook” was adapted from his wife’s grandparents.
“It’s a sweet little story,” he said. “What I remember most was the way he was looking at her. This man felt exactly the way about his wife of 60 years that I felt about my wife of 12 hours.”
Each of Sparks’ books tells a different story, he said, with a common thread. Sparks encapsulated the story lines as:
- “unconditional love”
- “love after loss”
- “love as rescue”
- “love and forgiveness”
- “love and sacrifice”
- “love and danger”
- “love and renewal”
- “love and mystery”
- “love in the first year of marriage”
Sparks, who lives in New Bern, N.C., spoke of the release of his latest novel, “At First Sight.”
“Yes, there’s a love story with strong values, and it’s set in Eastern North Carolina,” he said. “That’s all you will know because that’s all I want you to know. It’s for you to find out.”
Sparks described his craft as writing dramas that are “internal-conflict driven.”
“It’s like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and “Farewell to Arms,” he said. “You can find Nicolas Sparks (in the bookstore) between Shakespeare and Steinbeck.”
In the question-and-answer period that followed, Sparks revealed more about his work. “The Rescue” is his personal favorite.
“If I die tomorrow, throw it in my coffin,” he said. “It was inspired by my son. It was the story of my son.”
“A Walk to Remember” is “an ode” to his sister and Bob, the man who proposed to her as she lay dying of cancer.
“Three Weeks with my Brother” is a memoir and Sparks only literary departure.
“It’s a story about brotherhood that I wrote because the modern memoir has gone into the toilet,” he said.
After listing memoirs full of drunk and abusing parents, Sparks said his family “was for the most part normal.”
“It’s an interesting memoir, even if you weren’t stabbed by your twin,” he said.
Sparks signed the last autograph at GPAC around 10 p.m. The UNCP Bookstore reported $3,200 in sales of his books in about one hour following his talk.
The Distinguished Speaker Series continues on February 11 with radio and television host Tavis Smiley. All shows are at 7 p.m.