Believing that the next novel from Nicholas Sparks will be a hit is as sure a bet as believing that his main characters will inevitably fall in love along a waterfront. "People feel at ease near the coast, which makes it a perfect setting for a love story," he says. It's also the perfect setting for his own home: a 24,000-square-foot mansion, complete with a pool, on the banks of New Bern, North Carolina, where the Trent River serves as a sparkling backdrop.
But the grandness of his home belies the laid-back, small-town personality that Sparks can't help but exude. He is the kind of mega-best-selling author who never seems to forget where he came from. When he's not spending hours penning inspirational love stories (he writes about 2,000 words a day!), he and wife Cathy serve on the board of the local school they founded, host fund-raisers, and donate millions of dollars in educational scholarships. Sparks, typically clad in jeans and an Oxford shirt, is at heart a family man—with five kids and seven dogs. And he still makes time to sign his books, meet his fans, and advise fledgling writers on how to get their careers started.
Sparks's own career sounds like it was ripped from the pages of one of his books: He wrote The Notebook, his first novel, while he was still working as a pharmaceutical sales rep. "At night, when my wife and kids went to bed, I would write at this little desk that was cramped in a corner next to the washing machine," he recalls. He has lived in New Bern for much of his life, so it makes sense that the Inner Banks and Outer Banks shores would play a part. "When I was writing The Notebook, we lived on a beautiful creek where the water was flat as glass," he says. "I could picture a canoe cutting through the still water with Noah and Allie inside." The Notebook scored him a million-dollar contract almost instantly—and set the tone for a career in league with his favorite author, Stephen King. With 80 million copies of his books in print, 16 out of 16 of his books on the bestseller list, and films that have grossed more than $110 million, Sparks is the symbol of success.
His newest book-turned-film, Safe Haven—in theaters Valentine's Day, click here to see the trailer—is set in the nearby town of Southport, North Carolina. The film marks Sparks's first turn as executive producer, part of his newest venture, an eponymous TV and film production company. The plot follows a mysterious woman, haunted by her dark past even as she tries to retreat into a quiet Southern community. She begins to fall in love with a widowed man, but fear continues to plague her.
Will she find what she seeks? Will he? "The biggest challenge is coming up with an original ending," Sparks says. "It has to surprise the reader." One thing's for certain, however: The Carolina coast is there—and will always be there—along with lots of fans.