Jared Feldman: Hello and welcome to this edition of the Entertainment Bureau’s Chat Wrap. Jay Sage is here with me Jared Feldman and today we’re delving into the pop literature of Nicholas Sparks. He is prolific writer usually trending towards the somewhat sappy, but well written romance novel.
Jay Sage: My knowledge of Sparks’ literary work is admittedly limited. After all, I’m just a poor farm girl from Alabama with a man-sized hole in my heart and an interminable will. Wait, no, that’s all of his female characters, sorry.
Feldman: Even if you’re not familiar with is work, you’ve clearly heard of a number of his film adaptations. His first big novel was The Notebook, published in 1996 and eventually adapted into a blockbuster film in 2004. Seven films have been released based on his literature including A Walk to Remember, The Last Song and The Lucky One to name a few. While his writing style does lend itself to the silver screen it seems to me that he’s not even trying to write books anymore. Rather, he is merely filling pages with material for a quick and easy film adaptation.
Sage: He’s certainly not the first author to be guilty of this. On the opposite side of the genre spectrum, Stephen King’s worst work on the page came around the mid-90’s when it was abundantly clear that anything he wrote would be adapted. As for Sparks, it’s tough to say exactly why his stories sell to the studios better than other similar writers. Off the top of my head, Danielle Steele is an extremely popular romance novelist whose books haven’t really made it past “made for TV special” levels.
Feldman: For me it takes away from the literature itself. As a reader I want to be able to create my own world that the characters exist in. With books that immediately get adapted into film, the reader is instructed how to view the world of the book, and any subsequent reads are merely quick memories of the film with a few deleted scenes added. Sparks is an intriguing case where as it took The Notebook a long time to be adapted, (nearly eight years) but now it’s barely an eight month turn around between publishing and hollywood premiere. It’s reminiscent of the final few Harry Potter books where JK Rowling was writing as quick as possible to keep up with movie release dates.
Sage: What’s worse is that it limits any potential growth for Sparks or his audience as they consume his work. Ironically enough, the writer is quoted as saying “You read a romance because you know what to expect. You read a love story because you DON’T know what to expect.” Whatever that meant in the first place, it’s a funny thought because we know exactly what to expect at this point. Opposites attract, love at first sight, families oppose it, major obstacle, they reunite, somebody has cancer.
Feldman: Yeah that basically sums it up, for The Notebook someone had Alzheimer’s etc. Something is going to separate the people and they must take advantage of the time they have together. A more recent variation has been the usage of the military man needing to find the woman of his dreams because he’s learned how precious life and love are. It’s just become an unfortunately predictable formula for each. The first few novels that he wrote, like The Notebook and A Walk to Remember had different enough storylines to not be considered formulaic, but these last few novels just mix and match plots and characters to create a seemingly new, but really old set of character hijinks.
Sage: Of course, romantic characters were up to these hijinx before the likes of Nicholas Sparks and they’ll continue long after his work is forgotten. What’s changed though, is that this type of fiction isn’t limited to retired dowagers and the spinning paperback rack at the front of the drug store. We’re talking big sellers at the mainstream vendors. Now, the libre du jour is an erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. Are we on an unstoppable path toward 100% “boy meets girl” literature right now?
Feldman: I would certainly like to hope not. Luckily there is still a large market for non-fiction, though that lends itself to less creativity. On the subject of predictable literature I present the unedited Wikipedia entry for Sparks’ 2007 novel The Choice:
Travis Parker and Gabby Holland set off into an interesting journey of life as neighbors and then lovers. Many conflicts are overcome. Travis Parker is a happy man with wonderful friends, great occupation and an envious life. He thinks his life is already full of joy and happiness. Then Gabby Holland moves in the house next door. And what blooms is an emotional and inspiring love story. It is a story about overcoming barriers to be with loved ones. It is about romance love, trust, strength, and the choices we can make to show them. This story is very relevant to other books written by Nicholas Sparks.
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
Sage: Meanwhile, thousands of talented writers toil away at their groundbreaking short story that nobody’s ever going to read except for their parents, while Nicholas chooses names like Travis and Gabby out of a hat to paste on his latest novel. Ah, life.
Feldman: I’ll read your groundbreaking story. Yes it does seem a bit like novel mad libs for some, because their publishers know the books will sell regardless of style or quality. It unfortunately is about the almighty dollar after all. I respect Sparks because he has produced some very good literature, I just do hope that he returns to his roots of creativity sooner than later.
Sage: I’d like to share your optimism, but from the man’s own perspective there’s no reason to risk the goose that lays the golden eggs. Well, I think that’ll do it for this edition of the Chat Wrap. Don’t forget to visit soon for more from your home of All Things Entertaining.