Novelist Nicholas Sparks introduces his latest love story, "Every Breath," on Oct. 16 with a discussion and signing event at The Garde
Have you heard of Danielle Steel, Debbie Macomber and Judith Krantz?
You know: Those romance novelists who wish they were Nicholas Sparks?
That's probably an exaggeration, but it can be pretty accurate to suggest Sparks — who's, ah, male — is easily one of the most successful writers in what's sometimes dubiously termed as "chick lit," a not-exactly-accurate term for a genre heretofore dominated by women. As the author of 22 insanely popular books including "The Guardian," "The Notebook," "The Lucky One," "Message in a Bottle," "Dear John," "Safe Haven" and "The Longest Ride," Sparks is reliably gifted at hewing literary arrows unerringly targeting the heart.
To date, Sparks' novels include 14 #1 New York Times bestsellers, and all of his books have made The Times and various international bestseller lists. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages, and 11 of his novels have been made into major motion pictures.
Sparks' newest title, "Every Breath," hits bookstores Oct. 16, and the author celebrates that evening with an appearance in New London's Garde Arts Center. The event is co-sponsored by Bank Square Books. Sparks will discuss his career and "Every Breath" with Erica Tannen, editor of the Connecticut newsletter The E List. After the conversation, Sparks will sign books in the lobby.
"Every Breath" explores the shelf-life of long-forestalled but genuine romantic love. Tru Walls, a safari guide in Zimbabwe, travels to a North Carolina beach town to meet the dying father he never knew. Walking along an autumn beach, he by chance meets Hope Anderson, a woman worried about her own father as well as an uncertain future with an indecisive boyfriend. Hope and Tru have an immediate attraction that quickly turns to love over the course of a few short days, but it's a passion that will have to endure against a conspiracy of time and circumstances.
In an interesting structural trope, Sparks inserts himself in the novel as a sort of before-and-after Greek chorus, and his appearance centers around the real-life Kindred Spirit, which is the name of a free-standing mailbox on a coastal preserve on North Carolina's Bird Island. Kindred Spirit suddenly appeared in 1983 and serves as an emotional way-station for all manners of correspondence.
As Sparks describes it, Kindred Spirits "belongs to no one and everyone. Anyone can leave a letter or postcard; any passerby can read whatever has been placed inside. Over time, Kindred Spirit has been a repository of hopes and dreams in written form ... and always, there are love stories to be found."
Last week, by phone, Sparks answered five questions.
Q. As couples get older, the textures of romantic love seem to evolve in ways folks couldn't have imagined early in a relationship. Is it fair to say this notion is something you were thinking about when you wrote "Every Breath"?
A. Absolutely! I think that love evolves over time. I believe that, in any long relationship, it waxes and wanes and is influenced by external events and in wholly appropriate ways that over time may lead to an even deeper bond. One question might be: When is it ever OK to wane?
Things happen. You could be in a 20-year relationship and maybe your 16-year-old daughter is in a horrible accident. At no time during that experience is the wife, for example, thinking about how nice it would be to get flowers from her husband. And he's probably not thinking of buying flowers. They're consumed with worry and thoughts of their child and family.
Or, more happily, say a child is born. It's wonderful, but the focus and thoughts are with the baby as bonds develop between the mom and the kid and the dad and the kid. The first year in the life of a child is not easy on a marriage. But when couples love each other, bonding together over a shared horrific or joyous experience means that a waxing and waning in the intensity of a relationship is natural. And one leads to the appreciation of the other.
Q. Here's a writing question. The bulk of the action in "Every Breath" takes place in vivid real time over four days and nights on a North Carolina beach. Tru and Hope are very distinctive and vibrant characters with an immediate chemistry that's conflicted by extenuating circumstances. Then, you had to condense over 30 years of separate story lines into relatively little space without breaking the energy and rhythm and tension. Is that hard to do?
A. First, thank you for noticing because it's extraordinarily difficult to pull that off. There were many days when I couldn't write at all because the process of condensing was too ponderous. I WAS losing the flow and it was very difficult to keep the story together and make sure all the necessary elements worked. I HOPE it worked.
Q. Another literary device at play is the fact that there's a character named Nicholas Sparks in the book. He — you — comes/come across a written narrative at Kindred Spirit that spirals into a plot. The reader might wonder if the set-up of the novel is in fact true. Have you been to Kindred Spirit and did you find an inspiring manuscript therein?
A. (Laughing) It's fair to say this is a fictional story. But I have been to Kindred Spirit, and my own writing has appeared anonymously there. It's an interesting and fun place to go on a quiet weekday afternoon when there are few people or boats at the beach and it's just you and the terns and the water. People write the most thoughtful notes, and it's wonderful to get to share with someone in this anonymous but sort of universal context.
It's also kind of a funny thing because it sort of served in a blog-like fashion before there was the Internet. When blogs developed, some of them took off and people could make a living from them. But the things you read at Kindred Spirit are more personal and obviously anonymous or signed with just an initial. Some of them are intensely moving about love and life. Or they might just be the most thoughtful thank-you notes. You just go and read — and maybe you write — and it's a wonderful way to share.
Q. By now, enough of your books have been made into feature films that it's probably intrinsic for you to speculate which actors will be cast in any new movie of one of your novels. Is that true and, if so, can wondering about stuff like that actually get in the way of your own storytelling process?
A. Yeah, by now I'm aware that any novel I write might become a film, and the imagining who might play which character is easy. You're right. Part of the challenge of crafting a novel is I have to write one that feels natural and original but, for it to be a film, it also has to be original in the context of a movie. It's possible to write a book that works on its own but certain overlapping elements might be too familiar in a movie.
Q. Do you ever hear from readers or critics that it's difficult for a man to write convincing romance fiction?
A. I very seldom hear that. I've heard the opposite thousands of times — that I do it quite well (laughs).
Who: Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks
What: In conversation with Erica Tannen about his latest book, "Every Breath." He'll sign copies after the discussion.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16
Where: Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London
How much: $30 includes copy of "Every Breath." Other Sparks titles will be available for purchase at the signing.
For more information: (860) 444-7373, (860) 536-3795, banksquarebooks.com, gardearts.org