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Nicholas Sparks and Leigh Himes on Writing, Reading, and Making Choices

Nicholas Sparks and Leigh Himes-1A fun and beach-bag-perfect read, Leigh Himes' first novel, The One That Got Away, explores the diverging paths of possibility in a charming tale that Nicholas Sparks describes as "hilarious, poignant and nostalgic."

When frazzled working mom Abbey Holt hits her head hard enough to knock herself out, she wakes up in another version of her life, in which she's richer, slimmer, and happier.

Or is she?

Here Nicholas Sparks speaks with up-and-coming debut author Himes about the passion closest to both their hearts—writing. And when authors talk about writing, they inevitably talk about their' second-favorite thing to do: reading.


Nicholas Sparks: I've long been interested in the idea of choices, and how the choices we make shape our lives. That is a main theme in The One That Got Away. Do you think there is such a thing as the "right" choice?

Leigh Himes: If you asked me this ten years ago, I would have said yes, there are definitely good and bad choices, and they can have a profound impact on the rest of your life. But now I believe that most of the decisions in our lives are not necessarily right or wrong, but merely steps along a path…one that twists and turns but probably ends up at the same place anyway. The only real choice we have is how we feel about things…so even a "wrong" choice can be made "right" with a better attitude and some understanding.

Nicholas Sparks: I strive to write characters that are interesting but also relatable. I think Abbey is relatable. What was your inspiration in writing her? Did you base her on anyone in your life (perhaps yourself)?

Leigh Himes: There are definitely similarities between Abbey and me—we both have two kids, we were both in PR, we both rarely brush our hair—but she is a mix of me and several of my friends, both near and far. She's also a tribute to all the ladies I see every day on the school run…. Inside each of those overworked, underpaid suburban moms lurks a sexy, glamorous "Abbey van Holt" in disguise. What life do you dream about escaping to, if only for a few days?

Nicholas Sparks: There's no specific place that I'd like to escape to, but I often dream about balance. In my perfect life, I'd find the right balance between work and fun, and it would be wonderful to spend every day with just the right amount of each.

Writing is hard work and it doesn't always come easily for me. How was the process for you? Did you have a plan for what this novel would be before you started writing, or did the story come to you as you wrote?

Leigh Himes: This novel came to me fast and furious, and I knew where it was going and how I wanted it to end from day one. I had a rough outline, just enough to stay on track, but not too detailed that it was confining. And that proved fortuitous because the best stuff came to me along the way. My second book, which I am writing now, is proving to be more grueling for sure. Even though I have a twenty-page outline this time, and I love the characters as much as those in The One That Got Away, I've restarted it several times and I find myself agonizing over every single word. So that's true for me, too…it's different every time. After writing twenty novels, has any part of the process gotten easier for you? What's gotten harder?

Nicholas Sparks: I wish I could tell you that it gets much easier, but I find writing to be an ongoing challenge, particularly when it comes to finding new ways to remain original within the context of genre in which I write.  To remain original, it sometimes feels like I have to reinvent the wheel with every new novel in that I have to vary the plot, structure, voice, tone, and characters. 

I'm a writer, but I'm also a big reader (I have been known to read hundreds of books in a year). I love thrillers. That's my favorite genre to read and watch. I've tried to write a few myself (The Guardian, Safe Haven, See Me), and they're incredibly difficult to write. I also love horror….I have read every book Stephen King has ever written, and I have an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films.  I also read a great deal of nonfiction, including biographies and history. What are some writers you look up to, and what books have you read recently that you enjoyed?

Leigh Himes: I love Edith Wharton, Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Karen Russell, Jojo Moyes, Ken Follett, Jennifer Weiner, and Curtis Sittenfeld, to name just a few. American Wife blew me away; it's definitely a high-water mark for women's commercial fiction. (Her Eligible is up next.) Recently, I enjoyed The Engagements, Her, The Light Between Oceans, Me Before You, and Coup de Foudre. And when I was working on The One That Got Away, I could not read anything remotely in my genre or I'd get self-conscious, so I binged on historical fiction, including The Signature of All Things, The Sunne in Splendour, as well as all twelve of Winston Graham's Poldark novels, set in the Cornish coast in the late 1700s. Ross and Demelza were the original Allie and Noah, only with corsets and musket ball scars.

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