Nicholas Sparks has been the undisputed master of the modern-day love story since the 1996 publication of his debut, The Notebook. His 11th novel, Dear John, follows two star-crossed lovers wholesome Savannah Lynn Curtis and soldier John Tyree who face life-altering decisions when love and honor intersect. John and Savannah are biding their time until the end of John's tour of duty, when he'll be free to leave the Army so they can truly be together but the events of 9/11 convince John that it's his duty to re-enlist. When their long separation proves too much for Savannah to bear, John receives a tear-stained letter and eventually returns home to find her married to someone else. Sparks took the time to answer our questions about love and heartbreak from his home in North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Catherine, and their five children.
Have you ever received a Dear John letter?
No. But I do know people who have received them. The letters are always heartbreaking.
Several of your previous novels were inspired by your family's experiences. Was that the case with Dear John?Actually, the novel was inspired by the movie Casablanca. It's one of my favorite films, and for those who read the novel to its conclusion-it's easy to see the parallels between the two. Both the film and the novel explore what it means to love another.
September 11 changes your characters' lives. Where were you on 9/11, and what effect did the events of that day have on you and your family?
I was at home, glued to the television. I watched the towers fall and felt sick to my stomach. As for the effects, it saddened me; even now, I think the world changed on September 11, and not for the better.
You have a daughter named Savannah, just like the heroine of this book, and you've named other characters after your children as well. How do your kids feel about that?
They don't care. Not yet, anyway. Maybe one day, they'll get a kick out of it.
Did you research life in the military before writing this novel? Do you know someone serving overseas?
Yes, though my research was relatively slight. Most of the novel deals with internal conflict, and the novel isn't meant to be an in-depth look at lives of soldiers overseas. Also, you've got to keep in mind that eastern North Carolina has a massive military presence, and a good number of my friends serve in the armed forces. As for family, I had a cousin stationed in Germany (just like John Tyree); he spent a year in Iraq, mostly in Mosul as part of the Strykers.
Your books are all about enduring love. How do you keep romance alive in your relationship?
Both my wife and I work on our relationship. We make time for each other since we both believe that's one of the best lessons you can teach your children.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on ideas for the next novel. Hopefully, I'll have most of the story worked out before I head out on tour.