Love comes down to the choices we make: Q&A with Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks, the popular Catholic romance novelist, in a 2010 photo. (CNS photo/Alan Markfield, courtesy Warner Bros.)

Nicholas Sparks is a New York Times-bestselling Catholic romance novelist whose books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide in more than 50 languages. A father of five, Mr. Sparks’s novels have also adapted into several successful Hollywood films. These movies based on his work—including “The Notebook,” “Message in a Bottle,” “Dear John” and “A Walk to Remember”—have a cumulative worldwide gross of more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. Mr. Sparks and his brother Micah also co-wrote the 2004 non-fiction memoir Three Weeks With My BrotherHe holds a B.A. in business finance from the University of Notre Dame, which he attended on a full track and field scholarship, and now lives in North Carolina.

Mr. Sparks’s 2007 novel The Choice will be his 11th film adaptation when it opens in U.S. theaters on Feb. 5. On Feb. 3, I interviewed him by telephone about this new movie and his work. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for style and length.


“The Choice,” opening in U.S. theaters on Feb. 5, is the 11th film adaptation of your novels. How do you feel about the new movie?

I think the new movie is fantastic. I think viewers will enjoy the story. The performances were terrific and I think people will be surprised by how funny it actually is.

This is the fifth time you’ve also served as a producer on one of the films adapted from your work. What was your experience of working on this movie?

This was a little bit more in-depth, from beginning to end, since this film was also run through my production company. So this was more work at the beginning and more work at the end. At the same time, it was worth it because I think the film turned out wonderfully well.

Without giving too much away, will there be any surprises in the film version of “The Choice” for people who read your 2007 novel?

Yes, I think there will be some surprises in that the film was adapted from the novel and our goal was not to film the novel. So, of course, there were some minor changes along the way. At the same time, I think the film did a wonderful job of capturing the spirit and the intent of the story while simultaneously capturing the spirit and the intend of the characters.

What inspired you to adapt this particular novel into a film?

This is a story that in many ways is unlike many of the films that have come out. It’s a film that not only explores the choices one makes when it comes to love; it also speaks to what happens to a couple after the honeymoon ends. Only one other of my films has really explored this concept and that was “The Notebook.” So if people liked “The Notebook,” they’ll like this film.

Who is your audience for the movie?

Anyone who likes a good story with strong performances.

What is the message of this film?

I don’t know that I went into the story with any particular message. But if there was any message that may be drawn, it’s that love comes down to the choices that we’re willing to make.

You grew up Catholic, raised your children Catholic and have gone through many ups and downs in your life. How has your faith evolved or changed over the years?

I like to think that faith is less a destination than a journey and I find that my faith over the course of my life has been tested and renewed, and tested and renewed again countless times. I like to believe that I have a strong relationship with God even in the most trying times when I find myself wondering about everything.

Is there any particular Catholic or religious influence in this film?

Catholic: not necessarily. But there are moments in this film when the question of faith rises to the surface and I believe there’s a wonderful authenticity to both characters’ points of view. And I think that lends believability to the film.

Who are the people, living or dead, who most inspired your Catholic faith when you were growing up?

Without question it was my mother. She was the one who made sure we went to church every weekend, signed us up for CCD, made sure we got our first Communion, confirmed, the whole bit.

How do you pray?

I pray out loud, when I’m alone, and, often, as I stand. Most frequently I’m standing and my prayers are not only prayers of thanks, but prayers of “why me, Lord?”

How does Catholicism influence your approach to being a father and a writer?

Those are two different questions. As a father, of course, I try to raise my children with faith and make sure they do those things I did growing up to support their Catholicism. As a writer, there are certain topics that I just don’t write about. I don’t write about things like adultery.

Reviewers often describe you as a “romance novelist.” In what way is that true or not true of you?

I would say it’s not true, although my novels have romantic elements in them. Romance novels are a very specific genre with very specific roles, very few of which my stories follow. My stories tend to be more about human drama than romantic fantasy. It’s wonderful there’s a place for both in the world of literature.

What is your favorite Scripture passage and why?

Yeah, there’s a few. I think everyone loves 1 Corinthians 13:4-13. That’s great. I also like saying “a friend is always loyal, but a brother is there to help in a time of need” (Proverbs 17:17).

You’ve written a lot about love and human relationships being tested by life’s trials. If you could say one thing to Pope Francis about human love, what would it be?

I’d say that love is best defined by the things we do, not by what we say we do.

What are your hopes for the future?

To maintain the balance between work life and personal life, family, friends and faith, in a way that is healthiest for me. I think balance is always the challenge for everyone and it continuously evolves. It’s a struggle and I think prayer is very important in those moments when you’re struggling.

What are your regrets about the past?

That I was not the best version of myself at various moments in my life.

What do you want people to take away from your life and work?

From my life: nothing. I very seldom think in those terms at all. I think in terms of simply being the best version of myself to those who are closest to me and other friends and acquaintances. And in my professional life, to do the best work that I possibly can.

What’s your next big project?

I’m working on another novel that will be out this fall. And we’re getting ready for another script to possibly go into production, but I’ll know more on that in a month or so.

Any final thoughts?

I think that if there’s one rule I try to live by, it’s the great commandment to love God and your neighbor as yourself.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
2 years 8 months ago
Nice to read about someone that loves their job choice and is successful. Hopefully the money will come in time....
Sean Salai, S.J.
2 years 8 months ago

Thanks for reading.


The latest from america

Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)
About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro.
Filipe DominguesOctober 22, 2018
Sexual orientation by itself is irrelevant to child sexual abuse. The risk factors include impulse control problems and substance abuse, and offenders take advantage of situations in which they are trusted.
Thomas G. PlanteOctober 22, 2018
“Jesus finds people where they are, but he never leaves them where they are.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 22, 2018
Paddy Considine in ‘The Ferryman’ (photo: Joan Marcus)
In the fallen world of “The Ferryman,” conflict and compromise poison everything.
Rob Weinert-KendtOctober 22, 2018