Back in May, I had the honor of joining a select group of bloggers in visiting the New Orleans set of Nicholas Sparks’ latest movie; The Best Of Me – based on his novel of the same name. The movie was on it’s last day of filming, taking place on one beautiful southern plantation.
The home owner was also on set, sharing that the plantation had been in their family since 1876, and that it’s mostly been re-done over the years, but they kept as much as they could. Like the shutters and big high windows, and they have big crown moldings and beautiful floor..
Having read “The Best of Me” before my visit, I felt the locations were almost as important to the story as each character. Judging from what I saw of this plantation, the movie version is getting it right. Not surprising at all – seeing as Nicholas Sparks is very present on set, overseeing each detail.
We as a group had the pleasure of sitting for an open Q&A with Nicholas Sparks, and conversing with him several times throughout our day on set. Below are a few of the highlights.
Blogger: Has the success of your movies changed the way you write your next book? Do you picture the movie?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Yes and no. There’s two parts to writing a novel, really, if you break it down. You have the thinking of the story–the period prior to writing. And then you have the moments when you write. So, when you’re thinking of a story, yes, I do take sometimes the film into account, not necessarily my own, but other films as well, for instance.
And that’s just so that I can be original. I don’t want to do something that feels unoriginal. So, it’s got be original for both a novel and original for film, and so you want to do that.
Blogger: Differences between the book and movie?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Differences–.
Blogger: –And are you okay with them?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Yes.
Blogger: Do you have a say?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Yes, the differences between the book and the movie–of course there are always differences. You know, film is a very different medium, in general.
So, because they’re different mediums, you have to kind of go into the whole project knowing that some things work better on film than they do in books. And some things conversely work better in books than they do on film…
Blogger: You said briefly that the inspiration for the story was something–an experience you had, like, when–.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: –Personal.
Blogger: Yes, it’s a personal experience. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: I was in my 40s when I wrote The Best Me, and I think the 40s are a very interesting period of peoples’ lives. It’s like, if you’re in your 20s and your 30s, you kind of believe that your dreams can come true. You’ll meet the right guy, or you’ll be famous, or whatever your dreams are. I’ll have the house with the white picket–it doesn’t matter what they are. I’ll have kids, or whatever. Okay. So, you go through your 20s and 30s, and there’s a part of you that just knows it’s still–you still got a shot here. Well, in your 50s, 60s, and 70s, you kind of reach a point where you’re looking back and say, well, maybe they didn’t all come true, right.. I’m never going to be an astronaut.
Blogger: I guess it’s the acknowledgments or right before the book, you said that this was a really hard book for you to write.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Yes.
Blogger: So, was that because of the topic or because of the writing?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: No, no, no. It was a really challenging book because I worked exceedingly hard on it, and it was originally structured a little bit like Nights in Rodanthe. So, it was Amanda, and then she’s looking back on these events of maybe two or three years earlier. And you tell this story. And then the last part of the book, I unwound the story, right? I didn’t know how to do it the other way. And so, my editor read the novel and she said, that doesn’t work. You need to keep this story linear without a flashback. And the reason I didn’t do it linear in the first place was because I didn’t know how to do it in the first place. And the real challenge was, if you’re running parallel stories, you’ve got a Dawson story going on, and then you’ve got an Amanda story going on. In the Dawson story, it was tremendously fast-paced. He’s seeing something, he’s taken off running, there’s bad guys chasing, there’s fights, it’s a lot of just, wow, page-turning excitement. Amanda’s story, conversely, was sitting in a hospital. If anyone has ever sat in a hospital when you’re really, really worried about whoever you’re there for and really, really worried, what does time do?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Stops.
When asked about sad endings:
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: I tend to do that in a lot of my novels, right?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: What is the purpose of literature? What is the purpose of any particular genre? What’s the purpose of a horror novel? To scare you. Okay. What’s the purpose of a thriller novel? To thrill you. What’s the purpose of a romance novel, which is not what I do? To allow you flights into romantic fantasy. What is the purpose of a mystery? To uncover who done it, right? They all have purposes. What’s the purpose of what I do? The purpose of what I do is to move the reader through the entire range of human emotion. So, that includes love, but you should also feel Amanda’s confusion. You should feel Dawson’s struggle. You should feel the frustration, the choice. You should feel what they’re going through, so that by the time you close the cover, you’re not thrilled or scared, and it wasn’t necessarily just a straight romantic fantasy.
You kind of feel as if you lived–.
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: –A full life between the covers. And so, you have to cover all of the emotions of life, because if you leave one out, then it’s fantasy. It doesn’t really feel real. So, unfortunately, in case you’re not aware, sadness will be part of all of your lives. It’s just hard–.
Blogger: Where do you get your inspiration for the characters?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Inspiration can come from anywhere. They’ve been drawn from people that I know, from stories. But, generally, there are bits in people–every character–you search for their voice, and then their voice helps to define them. So, the inspiration is not in one fell swoop. It’s usually in more like bits and pieces, like maybe she’s quiet. And then you do the voice and say, well, maybe she’s even quieter than I thought, or maybe she talks more. And little by little, they come to life.
Blogger: At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer? Or when you knew you were a writer?
Mr. Nicholas Sparks: Totally different. If you ask my college roommates, they’ll say when I was 19 to 20, because I’d written a novel between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I lived with a group of guys, still good friends, and they say, oh, you talked about being a writer all the time. So, they would say, he knew when he was 20 that that’s what he was going to do. Part of me said, there’s no way I’ll ever make a living at doing that. So, it might have been more of a want than anything that was based in reality. I majored in business finance. I mean, you know? So, I guess then it was probably into halfway through Message in a Bottle that I knew I could be a writer, because you didn’t know if The Notebook was a fluke, and you had to know if you could do it a second time. So, it was somewhere around 1990. If The Notebook–I sold it in ’95. Probably somewhere in the spring of ’97. So, right around then.
Based on the bestselling novel by acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson and Amanda, two former high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart, when they return to their small town for the funeral of a beloved friend. Their bittersweet reunion reignites the love they’ve never forgotten, but soon they discover the forces that drove them apart twenty years ago live on, posing even more serious threats today. Spanning decades, this epic love story captures the enduring power of our first true love, and the wrenching choices we face when confronted with elusive second chances.
In theaters October 17th!
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Watch for more about my “The Best of Me” set visit to be posted soon, including interviews with James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Liana Liberato, Luke Bracey.
I am working with Relativity Media, and Big Honcho Media on promotion of this film. Travel, food and lodging were provided in exchange for my coverage. All opinions expressed are still honest and my own.