On Wednesday, best-selling author Nicholas Sparks visited campus as a guest for the annual Marion Marsh Brown Writers Lecture Series.
“Visiting college campuses is a nice way to get to places that are not on a book tour,” Sparks said in an interview with the Gateway.
Sparks was born in Omaha and embraced his visit as a welcome homecoming.
“Most of my family considers Nebraska home,” he said.
Sparks began his day at UNO with a student forum in the Community Engagement Center. Sparks spoke briefly about his writing process and storytelling tactics and then answered questions from students in the audience.
Students asked questions about literary agents, the origins of a writing career, screenwriting in the movie industry, and of course, gave some accusatory remarks about how he gave all women unrealistic expectations for modern relationships with his famous love stories.
“I write stories that feel real to me,” Sparks said with a laugh.
Leta Lohrmeyer, a student in attendance during the afternoon forum, said she was amazed at how Sparks took tragedies from his life and turned them into beautiful love stories.
“You can take horrible things in your life and turn it into something that can impact people,” Lohrmeyer said. “It really puts into perspective that life is messy and there isn’t always a perfect storybook ending. Those ideas and emotions are shown through his books.”
Later at Baxter Arena, audience members showed palpable intrigue as Sparks told the story of how “The Notebook” came to be. His debut novel was based on the love story of his ex-wife’s grandparents. His second novel, “Message in a Bottle” was founded on the loss of both of his parents. And “A Walk to Remember” is essentially about his sister, who, like main character Jamie Sullivan, was terminally ill and had a big heart.
“People wonder where authors come up with their stories,” Sparks said. “No matter how it comes about, what I strive for with every novel I create is to write a novel that I am hopeful you remember. To me, that is the greatest compliment; to be remembered.”
In order to write memorable stories, Sparks was happy to share his unique process with students. The Sparks method is to formulate what he calls a “story driver,” also known as: the baby sea turtles in “The Last Song.”
The story driver, Sparks said, is the main theme in the novel that turns the pages, aside from the love story. Sparks compared this method to finding the nuanced details in a thriller; the murder mystery or the shark attack, which is not an easy feat.
“Writing is an incredibly difficult thing to do well,” Sparks said to students. “There are infinite choices about where to take something. It’s like chewing glass in your head.”
Sparks said that having written over twenty books, it can be difficult finding ways to make a new story unique. He thinks about recent books and films and attempts to tackle a story he hasn’t written yet—or for a demographic he hasn’t written about in a while. He said he is now thinking about a future story starring a young woman from Brazil, but he doesn’t know much more than that just yet.
While some folks were aching to know if Sparks was invited to Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth’s wedding, others wanted to know about the depths of his life as a writer. Does he always mean to make readers cry?
He said he wants readers to experience a full range of human emotions from cover to cover, so that they’ve lived a “mini life.”
“Writing is a performance art in an empty auditorium,” Sparks said. “You write alone for a long time and often never know if a reader even likes the story you told.”
Based on the turnout of eager attendees at his lecture at Baxter Arena Wednesday evening, one could guess that even when Sparks might not realize it, the auditorium is full, and there is rarely a dry eye in the house.