Nicholas Sparks had the perfect ending for a book all planned out.
He knew the big twist that would happen in the final chapter. He knew the feeling he wanted readers to have. He knew that they would close the cover satisfied with the flawless conclusion.
All he needed was a beginning and a middle.
So started the work on his 17th novel, "The Longest Ride."
"Slowly, but surely, I began to piece it together," the best-selling author said, "and the end result is a book I'm very proud to have written."
Set, as always, in North Carolina, Sparks' latest tearjerker tells the love stories of two couples, whose lives couldn't seem more different until they inevitably converge.
The story begins with Ira Levinson, a 91-year-old recluse who is regaining consciousness after a terrible car crash. He finds the strength to stay awake when he sees a figure in the seat next to him: his wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Through their conversation, Ira and Ruth's tender, old-fashioned love affair unfolds. Interspersed is the story of Sophia and Luke, a college student and a cowboy who make an instant connection after a rodeo. Each chapter is told from an individual character's point-of-view, allowing readers a glimpse at their personal journeys, or as Ira likes to say, "this longest of rides, this thing called life."
Sparks will make a stop on his book tour at Trustees Theater on Oct. 8 as part of the Savannah Book Festival fall program to discuss "The Longest Ride," where fans can also purchase pre-signed copies of the novel.
Before the event, Sparks spoke with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette about the book's development, its characters and its expected film adaptation.
Question. Why was it important to juxtapose a young and an old couple like you did?
Answer. I thought it made for an interesting story, for starters. I try to write novels that feel very fresh and original. I'd never written a novel with two wildly divergent love stories that seem to have nothing in common, until they do. It was an attempt to make an interesting story for the readers.
Q. On your website, you mention Sophia was created to resonate with your college-aged fans. Would you say that is a large portion of your fan-base?
A. My fans range in age from about 10 to 100. What I've found over the years is that people tend to favor those novels that hit home the closest. So if families have experienced someone having Alzheimer's, "The Notebook" is very close to them. Someone who is coming off of a divorce might have liked "Message in a Bottle." Young people tend to like "A Walk to Remember" or "The Last Song." People in their 20s seem to favor "Dear John." That all makes sense to me. This was an attempt to keep everybody happy, to make sure that everybody found something they liked in the novel.
Q. Why tell Ira and Ruth's story through a conversation?
A. I thought it added a wonderful element, primarily because you get to experience Ruth's voice. Voice is one of the most important elements in any piece of literature. It is what really defines and makes the characters memorable. And so Ruth had to talk.
Q. Why can he see her even though she is not really there?
A. I thought it was a realistic thing if you have someone who has been married for 50 or 60 years. What else would he do? He would talk to his wife. That's what someone would do if they deeply loved them. To me, it was authentic, it was honest and it made for a genuine character.
Q. I understand this novel is to be made into a movie?
A. Yes, this movie is going out to Fox. ("The Best of Me," on the other hand, will be going out to Relativity.) The screenplay is just about done. We should hopefully get a director attached in November or December. We should start filming in February and it's planned to be released in February 2015.
Q. How long did this novel take you to write?
A. All novels, even with or without research, take about five to six months. That's pretty much been the pattern. This one I think stretched to six and a half months, but only because I was traveling so much to the set for "Safe Haven."
Q. Out of all your characters, which one do you think you resemble the most?
A. Probably the writer guy in "Three Weeks with My Brother," because that was me.
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