Does running help your writing?
Since I’ve been writing, I’ve been running. Running actually taught me a lot of lessons about writing. When I sit down to write a book, I only write a small portion of the book in a day, so it’s like training. You put the time in, put words down on pages, and in time your novel will be completed. With training, you don’t get in shape in one day, you don’t win a medal after one day of training. There’s going to be challenges, up and downs, and things to overcome, and those things are endemic to track and field, but also all lessons for writing as well.
How long do you think you’ll continue to run?
Maybe until I’m 70. But then if I’m running at 70, I’ll say until I’m 85.
You funded a state-of-the-art track at your son’s school. Why did you decide to do that?
My son was very fast, but we live in the rural south so there aren’t a lot of places to run, and their track was covered in asphalt. I didn’t think you could train on that. My son was good, and I wanted to try my hand at coaching for a while. So we put in the track, and the whole school uses it, plus it’s a wonderful asset to the community. It allowed them to form a track team at that school that became just about the best high school relay team ever. My son has set two national high school records — and one was also a junior world record — and was heavily recruited. I’m hopeful the life lessons I learned from track and field will ring true for him over his life as well, those lessons of perseverance, that life is full of ups and downs and challenges, and you have to keep going.
You also host a 5K — how did that come about?
I have a foundation, the Nicholas Sparks Foundation, and we had a celebrity weekend in New Bern to raise money, so that was part of the weekend festivities.
Your new book “The Longest Ride” is about two very different couples. How did you come up with these characters?
That’s the magic question. Creativity is not a faucet that you can turn on and off, that’s the frustrating part about it. When I have ideas for a novel, you don’t get an entire idea, a whole book doesn’t just pop into your head. You start with a germ of an idea, and from that small seed you grow the rest of the idea. For this book, I had an idea of what I wanted the climax to be, and from there, from that little seed of what I wanted the book to be in the end, I began to ask myself questions like what kind of characters would there be, how would they do this, what’s going on, 10,000 questions to develop the story. I do most of this in my mind. But I’ve had ideas inspired by lots of different things, by events, by an image, by a scene. All novels are different.
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What do you like best about your new book?
I think people are just going to love this book. I’m very proud of “The Longest Ride.” It covers the gamut of humanity. There’s a young love story, that’s one part of story, and I think a large audience will relate to that young love story. But then there’s another love story that spans decades, and people will appreciate that too.
Are any of your book characters are runners?
Paul Flanner in “Nights in Rodanthe” was a runner, a Duke All-American. And in “Message in a Bottle,” Theresa was a runner, so here and there I stick them in.
Tell me about your foundation and the work it does.
It supports global education, curriculum development, and international programs to help develop global citizenship in high school students. We are piloting the program at the school my wife and I founded in our home town, with the idea that we can help other schools develop their own high-quality global studies programs.
How will you do that?
Right now it’s just one and a half years old, so we’re just getting started. We’re doing the research necessary to show how various programs, international classes, and experiences can be beneficial to students everywhere. We’re working with the school my wife and I founded to develop curriculum and programming that provide the education students need in the 21st century. This is a really big thing, a goal that can’t be accomplished in one year, two years, even five years. It’s something that’s desperately needed at schools around the country. No schools are really doing it well at the present time, so we have to be pioneers in a way, so the information we learn we can share with other schools.