“Sparks” fly with popular author

Kristen Di Leonardo

Nicholas Sparks, one of the most underrated authors of his time, has published eight novels in the past ten years, one more moving than the one before, and each enjoying a stretch on various best-seller lists upon its release. Sparks shares a claim to fame with “Harry Potter” author J. K. Rowling: they remain the only two contemporary authors with novels that spent more than a year on both the New York Times hardcover as well as paperback best-seller lists – Sparks for “The Notebook” and Rowling for “Harry Potter.” Yet one of these writers is much better known than the other.

Sparks, like many authors, did not find instantaneous success. He graduated from Notre Dame University in 1988 as a business finance major. It was here that he became an accomplished track star; life proved itself fulfilling and rewarding. However, in 1985 and again in 1989, Sparks attempted to write a novel. Although both attempts failed, the now attic-exiled, dust covered manuscripts would not conclude his writing career.

It took an injured Achilles tendon and a summer of sulking to spark an inspiring vocation. After trying out numerous careers – dental product salesman, waiter, real estate appraiser, owner of a small manufacturing business – Sparks found his niche.

For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Nicholas Sparks, he breathes life into the often-neglected power of true love. Each novel assures its audience that love, true love, can never die. His characters are veritable, as real as the man on line behind you at the supermarket, the woman jogging by your house on an early morning, or yes, even the endearing old man feeding swans by the pond.

The heartwarming stories, North Carolina ambiance and realistic scenarios bring each novel to life, allowing a glimpse into an existence other than our own. Bittersweet love stories laced with triumph and tragedy have become notoriously labeled “tear-jerkers,” but Sparks gives this genre a new intensity. It is this intensity that empowers ink on a page to bring tears to our eyes.

Sparks’ first novel, “The Notebook,” was written in six months and published in October of 1996. Spending 56 weeks on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list and fifty-four on the paperback list, it became the third book in thirty years to enjoy such an honor. Merely weeks after the rights sold to Warner Books, New Line Cinema initiated plans for the film version. “The Notebook” opened in theaters this summer.

In the years that followed Sparks published his next seven novels: “Message in a Bottle” (1998), “A Walk to Remember” (1999), “The Rescue” (2000), “A Bend in the Road” (2001), “Nights in Rodanthe” (2002), “The Guardian” (2003) and “The Wedding” (2003). One novel a year, each a best-seller.

Most importantly, Sparks is a down-to-earth family man who acknowledges that romance is not a concept for fiction alone.

After the success of “The Notebook,” Sparks immediately purchased a new wedding ring for his wife of (at that point) five years. He says, “I remember getting down on my knees and telling her that our life just might be changing forever and that I didn’t know what the future would bring. Then I asked her to marry me again.”

This romantic gesture is not far from the renewal of love found in his most recent novel, “The Wedding.” Sparks now has five children (some of which have names reminiscent of characters in his novels) and he and his family live in North Carolina (as do most of his characters).

The romance that introduced me to his work, “A Walk to Remember,” remains one of my favorite Nicholas Sparks novels. Inspired by his sister – a cancer victim – and her husband’s wonderful act of love, this moving account is heartbreaking – an unpopular drama-club star-gazer and the notoriously dangerous boy in school find love in the most unlikely of places.

Jaime Sullivan shows Landon Carter how to look past what people see and follow what he feels in his heart; she teaches him how to love. Jaime only offers one condition to their friendship, that Landon not fall in love with her (of course he does); then she reveals the truth about her leukemia. Landon, devastated and crushed, becomes determined to make her dreams come true in the time they have left. Sparks leads you on a journey of unconditional love, faith and a walk destined to change Landon and Jaime forever – a walk to remember.

All of his books have become “domestic and international best-sellers and were translated into more than thirty-five languages” (as quoted in his online formal biography). Furthermore, two of his novels, “Message in a Bottle” and “A Walk to Remember,” have experienced box office debuts. Currently, film adaptations of “A Bend in the Road” and “Nights in Rodanthe” are also in the works.

After traveling around Europe with his brother in January of 2003, he began his first non-fiction work. “Three Weeks With My Brother,” Sparks’ ninth novel, a memoir, was released on April 14th of this year. Despite his amazing success, Sparks remains one of the lesser known contemporary authors. An unfortunate truth. Why is it that seven out of ten people do not even recognize his name?

Sparks’ determination and perseverance are admirable to say the least. He is a magnificent author, as beloved as any one of his characters. His biography alone would make an excellent subject for one of his novels. Although many of his narrators are male, Sparks brings to life his female characters with deep insight and sensitivity. The ability to narrate the female mind seems like second nature for him.

Even more amazing is the fact that a reader, any reader, can find a character with whom he or she can relate. His themes are universal: a seemingly hopeless marriage, single parents, death and undying love. This author has uncovered heartstrings and won’t forsake them.

Nicholas Sparks, while highly accomplished, must be recognized with the esteem he deserves. Not one of his novels has missed the best-seller list. Not one of his novels has failed to capture the bittersweet romance of every day life and ordinary people.

Sparks has stolen this reader’s heart; I sincerely hope he finds his way into yours.