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Second Chances Find 'Safe Haven' In Sparks' Latest Love Story

Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough as Alex and Katie in Safe Haven, the latest Nicholas Sparks' romance novel to be turned into a film. (Relativity Media)

So who wrote the book on love?

In a lot of ways, you might say it's author and screenwriter Nicholas Sparks. All of his novels, which include The Notebook, Message in a Bottle and Safe Haven, have been huge international bestsellers, with 80 million copies in print in more than 45 languages.

Many of his books have also been made into successful films. His latest, Safe Haven, stars Julianne Hough as a woman from up north who escapes to a small beach town in North Carolina and begins to spend time with a widower, played by Josh Duhamel, and his two kids.

Sparks also served as executive producer on the film, and he sat down with NPR's Scott Simon to talk about his latest movie, as well as love, life and inspiration.


Interview Highlights

On why people fall in love

"I suppose it's just deeply rooted in humanity itself; the desire to care for others and to be cared for. I think it [has] probably led to the development of civilization itself in no small way.

" ... To me, without love of something I don't know if you [can] have a meaningful life at all. I'm not saying it has to be romantic love, but you've got to love something: your family, your kids, your friends, your job, your pets — but if you love nothing, to me, that would be an empty life."

On real-life inspiration

"A lot of my early works were inspired by events in my own family. The Notebook was inspired by the story of my wife's grandparents, for instance. Message in a Bottle was really inspired by my father after the death of Mom and the struggles he had to move on and find happiness again. So, as I've moved forward sometimes that comes back and sometimes it doesn't, but Safe Haven was largely a fictional novel."

On the theme of abusive relationships in Safe Haven

"It's something that most people, they're familiar with the theme. The question then becomes: How do you make the story feel fresh. For me, what I tried to concentrate on primarily was the aftermath of such an event; the healing process, so to speak, after someone goes through a very traumatic event. What is their life like? ... The novel, and the film, is really about second chances. It's about healing [and] it's about moving forward."

On writing love stories

"[It's nice], but at the same time it's a challenging thing to write, at least it is for me. I think that to create a character that readers will remember, to create a voice that is unique and to tell a story that people will enjoy, to me these are very challenging things to do.

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Watch A Clip From 'Safe Haven'- 'You Usually Don't Paint Floors'
Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tell me who, who wrote the book of love? In a lot of ways, it's Nicholas Sparks. All of his novels, which include "The Notebook," "Message in a Bottle" and "Safe Haven," have been huge international bestsellers - 80 million copies in print in over 45 languages. Many of his books have been made into movies which have become huge international successes. Nicholas Sparks has now turned "Safe Haven" into a movie. Julianne Hough plays a mystery woman from up north who escapes to a small beach town in North Carolina and begins to spend time with a hunky widower with two kids, played by Josh Duhamel. He takes her canoeing and she gently asks about his late wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SAFE HAVEN")

JOSH DUHAMEL: (as Alex) She was an amazing woman and I loved her and I want my kids to know that. I want them to know her. So, we're just keeping our heads down, getting to play mom and dad, which is interesting. Just trying to keep it all together, really. But today, with you, this is probably the first time that I've looked up.

JULIANNE HOUGH: (as Katie) Perfect day.

SIMON: Ah, but then it rains. Lasse Hallstrom directs "Safe Haven." Nicholas Sparks wrote the novel and is executive producer of the film. He joins us from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

NICHOLAS SPARKS: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: As we approach Valentine's Day - can't think of anybody better to ask this question - why do people fall in love?

SPARKS: Wow. That's a good question. I suppose it's just deeply rooted in humanity itself, the desire to care for others and to be cared for. I think it has probably led to the development of civilization itself in no small way.

SIMON: So, the card we buy this week is an act of civilization.

SPARKS: Well, what I can say is that I married a wonderful woman. I've been married for a long time. I have five children. I adore them. And, to me, without love of something, I don't know that you have a meaningful life at all. And I'm not saying it has to be romantic love, but you've got to love something - your family, your kids, your friends, your job, your pets. But if you don't love nothing at all, to me, that would be an empty life.

SIMON: "Safe Haven" is a thriller as well as a romance. And at the heart of that premise is a man who's abused his wife. You have often, I think, notably used real-life events for people as inspirations in your novels. Tell us about this and if there was any of that in "Safe Haven."

SPARKS: Not so much in "Safe Haven." "Safe Haven" was among the most fictional novels I've written. But certainly a lot of my early work were inspired by events in my own family. "The Notebook" was inspired by the story of my wife's grandparents, for instance. "Message in a Bottle" was really inspired by my father after the death of my mom and the struggles that he had to move on and find happiness again. "A Walk to Remember" was inspired by my sister's battle with cancer. So, as I've moved forward, sometimes that comes back and sometimes it doesn't. But "Safe Haven" was largely a fictional novel.

SIMON: Did it entail you to do research in things like abusive relationships or talk to people to try and understand the emotional terrain there?

SPARKS: Yeah, of course. I mean, there was a lot of research. And at the same time, it's something that most people, they're familiar with the theme. And the question then becomes how do you make the story feel fresh. And, for me, what I tried to concentrate on primarily was the aftermath of such an event, the healing process, so to speak, after someone goes through a very traumatic event, what is their life like? So, when I was working to create Katie, the character in the novel, there was a mystery to her past. She was very guarded. She was closed off. And it took the intervention of a small community, so to speak - friends and she meets the storeowner, Alex. And little by little, it's as if she gradually begins to accept the fact that she can move on from this point. So, the novel is really about - and the film, of course - it's really about second chances. It's about healing. It's about moving forward, so to speak.

SIMON: As I read it, you have a fair number of jobs before you hit it big as a novelist. The one that intrigues me most that I read about is selling dental products by phone.

SPARKS: Yes. You know when you go in and you get your teeth cleaned and they have the little handheld item, the machine thing they hold and they pop on this little plastic toothbrush with the bristles on it?

SIMON: Yes, of course.

SPARKS: Well, in 1992, all of those, they were not disposable. You know, they had to clean those. You had to autoclave them. Can you believe this? You have extra costs, you know, you'd run through. Whereas, you know, people prefer disposable. You use it once. You throw it away. It's great for the dentist, it's great for the patient, and I'll tell you what, it's the wave of dentistry in the future. And sold a lot of those things, let me tell you, let me tell you. I sold a lot of those disposable prophy angles.

SIMON: When in your mind did you take the turn to novelist?

SPARKS: Years ago, I was selling pharmaceuticals. This was after the ever-successful dental product sales. I moved to pharmaceuticals, and I guess that would have been the day I quit, which was February 4, 1997.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I guess you do remember it.

SPARKS: Yeah. It was a pretty big deal. It was a pretty big deal. And it was interesting. "The Notebook" had come out in October of '96, and by February had remained on the best-seller list. And, more importantly, my next novel was going very well. I was writing "Message in a Bottle." And so. I guess at that point I had the confidence that I could at least finish a second novel that people would also enjoy. And so, yeah, February 4, 1997. About noon.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And did whoever your supervisor was try and talk you out of it? Say, Sparks, Sparks, this novel thing just won't last.

SPARKS: No. By that point, my pharmaceutical sales calls had become not so effective for the doctors, because I'd go in and say, look, I have this fabulous anti-hypertensive I'd like to tell you about; and they're like, great, but what's going on with the movie? You know, and you're like there is no movie yet. Can we - yeah, it wasn't working for the doctors or for me. But at the same time, it was a big step for my wife and I to take that plunge, so to speak.

SIMON: Is it nice to have a life where you get to get up in the morning and imagine and inhabit all of these love stories?

SPARKS: Yes, yes. And at the same time, it's a challenging thing to write, at least it is for me. I think that to create a character that readers will remember, to create a voice that is unique and to tell a story that people will enjoy; to me, these are very challenging things to do.

SIMON: Nicholas Sparks. He's the executive producer of the new motion picture made from his hugely successful novel, "Safe Haven." Thanks very much, Mr. Sparks.

SPARKS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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