By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
In between selling millions of copies of his novels and touring the country on book signings, author Nicholas Sparks can literally count his blessings.
The writer’s debut novel, The Notebook, spent a combined 132 weeks on the New York Times hardcover and paperback bestseller lists. Message in a Bottle spent over 30 weeks on the list and was made into a top box office movie. The author is happily married and has two young sons, Cody and Ryan, with a third on the way.
While promoting his latest effort, A Walk to Remember, Sparks spoke with The Miscellany from his grandmother’s home in San Diego. He discussed his spiritual life, his gratitude for blessings he has received, and the faith that carries him through in times of tragedy.
As someone who laughingly refers to himself as a Catholic poster child, Sparks, 33, is not far off the mark. He was raised by two Catholic parents in Nebraska, Minnesota and California. He went to the University of Notre Dame on a track scholarship (he still runs nine miles a day) where he met his future wife, Cathy, also a cradle Catholic.
The couple married in 1989 and settled in Newbern, N.C. The family belongs to St. Paul Catholic Church, and the children attend parochial school. The Sparks value their family life intently and are active in their school and parish. Sparks regularly attends Mass, “even while on tour.”
The author places great import on his faith.
“At times it gives me someone to yell at and at times it gives me someone to thank,” he said. “You have to have someone greater than yourself, it gets you through. If you believe you are the center of the universe it’s difficult to live a fulfilling life. You are alone.”
When it comes to the success of his writing, Sparks acknowledges his blessings.
“Everything you receive in life is a gift, but at the same time the Lord helps those who help themselves,” he said. “The Lord gave me a desire to work hard, be willing to learn and have the patience necessary to do what I do.”
His hard work and success has also been tempered with hard times.
“I have had my ups and downs,” Sparks said.
Some of those low notes have been the loss of his parents over the last decade and the discovery that his sister, Danielle Sparks, has cancer. At those times, an active faith helps the author through.
In his books, Sparks said he cannot help but let his belief system shine through. He described A Walk to Remember as a novel about the beauty, power and innocence of a first, true love set in the 1950s.
“And of course morality plays into that,” he explained. “I did not want to write a book that includes premarital sex — that does not prove true love, and it is not where my moral underpinnings lie.”
He views novels with explicit sexual content as a lazy form of writing.
“It’s a quick way to garner attention, but it doesn’t last,” he opined.
Spirituality plays an important role in who the author is.
“There are four areas: emotional, physical, mental and spiritual,” he said. “It’s one of the areas I’m always striving to improve and be the best I can possibly be.”
That, however, is not always an easy task.
“Sometimes, it feels like God plays poker with my life, but that is not unique to me,” he said. “There are times when you come to question your faith. That’s a very typical thing. Does my faith sustain me? Yes. I continue to go to church and pray, and in the end, my life has been very blessed in many ways.”
He hopes people are entertained and moved by his work. Sparks himself tries to read about three books a week of different genres.
“I’ve always been a big reader. I always was a good student. I just decided when I was 28 to give writing 100 percent of my effort. With my first effort I was blessed and fortunate to have it turn out the way it did.”
The celebrity that comes with success is just another aspect of his job. Sparks said authors can retain some of their anonymity because people evaluate them by their work and not what they look like.
“I’m never recognized; I prefer it that way,” he said. “I have young children. That is one of the reasons why we live in North Carolina because people respect our privacy.”
The Sparks try to raise their children with church teachings about charity, faith, honesty and morality.
“We probably work harder on those than anything else,” Sparks said. “There are many many ways to raise children, but for us, you start with the basics of right and wrong. I would rather have a C student who was a quality person than a straight A student who was not.”
Sparks is an optimist. He doesn’t worry about his children’s future.
“I tend to believe people have changed less than you think,” he said. “People want to be good parents, good people, good spouses. Most have a good work ethic, most haven’t changed. The media is so much more pervasive. You can see bad stuff instantly, so it seems like it’s happening all the time, everywhere.
“Ninety-nine percent of people out there are pretty good people,” he said. “I never believe the stuff about morality dying. People are still going to church. It’s the rare that is written about and that makes it news. Spirituality and morality is very pervasive.”
When it comes to his marriage, he finds his spirituality is fortifying.
“It keeps you doing the right thing when you’d rather not,” he said. “It gives you more patience such as when you are in a fight, you realize you made a commitment before God, and you don’t do stupid things that would threaten that. You know you are in it for the long haul. You can fight, get mad, but be comforted knowing that commitment means they are not going to leave, not going to do anything stupid, and that it will pass.”
In need, Sparks turns to the Serenity Prayer for comfort.
“It’s always appropriate when you are frustrated,” he said. “It’s the acceptance of things you can’t change, it’s always important to remind yourself of that.”