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Nicholas Sparks: "I'm the luckiest guy on the planet"

Nicholas Sparks is one of the world's most popular fiction writers, with more than 100 million copies of his work in print, including his new novel Two by Two. Beginning 20 years ago with his romantic breakthrough novel The Notebook, Sparks has published 20 books, many of which have been turned into movies. But as a student at Notre Dame years ago, Sparks was far from convinced he could make a living as a writer. To mark his latest milestones in publishing, Sparks shared the story of his journey. Enjoy this exclusive essay and our video interview with him at Book Expo America 2016.

Two-By-TwoLike many people, I spent most of my college years unsure about what to do with my life once I was handed my diploma. As my senior year approached, I was periodically haunted by a vague sense of anxiety. At the time, I was considering whether to go to law school or seek employment in management consulting or finance. Unfortunately, those options aroused little enthusiasm in me. Deep down, what I really wanted to do was pen stories that people would enjoy.

To backtrack a bit: During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I wrote my first novel, The Passing. In short, I wrote it simply to see whether I could. As an avid fan of Stephen King, I chose to write in the horror genre (the novel concerned people who unknowingly became minions of the Grim Reaper, thereby causing death in their wake), but even as I completed the final page of that first attempt, the practical side of me estimated that the odds of actually earning a living as an author were about the same as winning the lottery.

Oh, I still fantasized about it – to this day, my roommates will all tell you that I mused frequently about becoming an author – but it wasn't something I really believed possible. And so I pushed that dream into the background.


Nicholas Sparks and parents at his college graduation, 1988
Photo courtesy of Nicholas Sparks

Three years later, however, during my senior year, I took a class called "American Fiction since the 1950s" taught by a charismatic professor named Robert Slabey. In that class, I read The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, Invisible Man, Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22, among others. I was transfixed by the distinctive voices expressed in those novels, in addition to their cultural significance.

Those novels captured – and held – my interest far more than other classics I'd read to date (Shakespeare, Hardy, Hawthorne, etc.). Newly inspired, and despite a full class load, I decided to embark on a second attempt at a novel, which I managed to complete a month or so after graduation.

Nonetheless, I still didn't quite believe it possible to support myself as an author, so I put aside the dream for another six years, until the summer of 1994. It was at that point – feeling the persistent urge to give writing yet another try – that I began writing The Notebook. And little by little, it all began to come together. I found an agent and then later a publisher, who bought the rights in October 1995. Twenty years ago, in the fall of 1996, The Notebook was published, and it spent the next 56 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Nicholas Sparks talks about Two by Two at Book Expo America 2016

Since then, I've written 18 more novels and a memoir, and I've been fortunate to work with some of the smartest people in the business. One of the questions I am asked most frequently is, "How has your life changed in the last 20 years?"

The obvious answer is that the circumstances and external factors of my life have changed profoundly – I now have five children, have weathered countless events and crises and am not the youthful figure I once was. And yet, the one constant throughout the past two decades has been writing: It's still the same challenge it always was, and it's still my dream.

Even now, all I really want to do is to write stories that people enjoy and remember, and I want to thank all of my readers for making that lasting dream come true for me. I'm the luckiest guy on the planet.

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