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Nicholas Sparks talks about dating, inspiration and underwear

Five questions for author Nicholas Sparks

Author Nicholas Sparks talks about love, crying in movies, ruining men for his daughters, where he gets his ideas and why so many of his books are set in North Carolina.
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Author Nicholas Sparks talks about love, crying in movies, ruining men for his daughters, where he gets his ideas and why so many of his books are set in North Carolina.

Nicholas Sparks wears boxer shorts.

The romance novelist announced his choice of underwear Thursday afternoon to a giggling audience of about 80 senior citizens – mostly women – at The Cardinal at North Hills senior-living facility.

During the event, which wasn’t open to the public, Sparks also talked about the inspiration behind his books and his writing process. He brought up his experience with losing both his parents and sister and his excitement when he secured a book deal for “The Notebook,” the 1996 novel that launched his career.

Sparks, 51, has gone on to write 19 more books, including “A Walk to Remember,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Dear John” and “Safe Haven,” many of which have been turned into movies. His 20th book, “Two by Two,” was released in October.

“If you read my books, I want to move you, legitimately,” Sparks told the audience.

More than 105 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide, and 19 have been New York Times bestsellers.

“I read all of his books and just love the way he writes and the fact that he writes about North Carolina,” said Brenda Wright, who lives in Raleigh and brought along her copy of “The Notebook.” “When I had the opportunity to come, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so excited, I’ll get to meet him.’ 

Brenda Wright, who lives in Raleigh, said she loves the way Nicholas Sparks writes.

Sparks lives in New Bern in Eastern North Carolina. He has three sons and two daughters with his ex-wife, Cathy.

Before his presentation Thursday, The News & Observer sat down with Sparks to ask him about his love life, his children and more.

Q: When you go on dates, do women have certain ideas about what you’ll be like or how things will go?

A: “No, not really. ... They might have expectations, but in the end I think those generally fade after the first couple of meetings, and then you can really sit back and say, ‘OK, is this someone with whom I want to spend time?’ They make evaluations of me, and I make evaluations of them, and it all tends to work out.”

Q: Where does the inspiration for your novels come from?

A: “The initial inspiration for a novel can come from anywhere – things that I’ve read, things that I’ve gone through, things other people have gone through, a specific individual, a theme – and that’s just the original, tiny root of the idea and upon that I start building from that into a full story. The original inspiration comes from anywhere, and after that it’s a more logical process.

“For instance, if I want to write about love and danger, and that’s the theme, and that’s my idea, well, I might want to say, OK, what kind of danger? Dangerous person, dangerous place or dangerous thing? It’s more of a logical decision.”

Q: Your stories tend to make people cry. Are there any movies that get you choked up?

A: “There’s only been a few movies that really got me to cry. First, I was very young and I saw ‘Old Yeller.’ That did me in, it just wiped me out when the dog dies. It was very sad, and I suppose, in recent memory, the only movie that made me a little choked up – I don’t know if I burst into tears, but I could feel some wetness there in the eyes – was ‘Toy Story 3.’ I just thought that was really well done.”

Q: Have your books affected your daughters’ view of men?

A: My daughters have asked me why I have ruined their view (of men), so I’m going to say yes and no. So they’ve accused me of ruining men for them forever, but then again, they’re only 15. Look, they’re going to meet someone, they’re going to do just fine, and I’m sure he’s going to be a very nice person.”

Q: How have your views of love changed over time?

A: My views of love, they’re the same. I think love is defined by the things we do, not the things we say. ... Of all the really powerful emotions in life, I think the two biggest are love and fear. Love is on the good side of that equation, and I’m not necessarily meaning that you only have to have romantic love, but love of your family, love of your pet, love of your career, love of your friends, romantic love. If you don’t have these things, or at least one of them, I think it would be a sad life.”

Q: Why are so many of your novels set in North Carolina?

A: “I live here, so I know all these areas. I tend to write stories where small towns work well, and it’s kind of a strange state in that the closer you get to the coast, the smaller the towns get, and so that works well for my stories. The weather – I have this ability to set a scene with weather, geography, that really amplifies the mood of the scene. You can have thunderstorms, or hurricanes, or mountain sunsets, or the ocean, and it all works well when you’re trying to create a specific feeling associated with a scene.”

Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; miszler@newsobserver.com

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