We talk to the romance novelist Nicholas Sparks, who's appearing at the Emirates Festival of Literature on Friday.
Nicholas Sparks' The Lucky One is given the Hollywood treatment
Logan Thibault, a US marine, finally returns home after serving three tours in Iraq.
Although he is safely back in familiar territory, his spirit is wounded following the death of friends on the battlefield and the difficulty of readjusting to the so-called "real" world. While in Iraq, Thibault finds a picture, covered in dirt, of a mysterious smiling woman and believes it brings him luck. At home, he cafnnot seem to shake off an overwhelming sense of curiosity and determination to locate the subject of the photograph. The journey he then embarks on changes his life.
The Lucky One is the latest novel by the international bestselling American writer Nicholas Sparks, to be adapted by Hollywood for an April release. Sparks, who is in Dubai for the first time taking part in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, will tomorrow morning host a film panel discussion entitled "From Page to Screen" at the InterContinental hotel in Dubai Festival City. He will be joined by the British crime author Mark Billingham and the Chinese writers Chan Koonchung and Bi Feiyu.
Sparks says that Logan Thibault, played by the actor Zac Efron in the film, is unlike any other character he created, making The Lucky One a story close to his heart and cementing the author's hopes to always surprise his readers.
"He [Thibault] is a very stoic character. He is someone who spent time in a theatre of war, watched friends die and it profoundly changed him. He thinks the photograph kept him alive," says Sparks, just before heading into the festival's opening ceremony on Tuesday morning. "It's a way for him to deal with the stress and to find some sort of meaning in his own life. He's a wounded character as he moves through this story. As he falls for her, it starts to heal him."
Seeing individuals who struggle to cope with the experience of war is an all too familiar scene to Sparks, who lives in North Carolina with his family near two major military bases – Fort Bragg and Fort Lejeune.
"We have 200,000 active military and their families nearby. They are part and parcel of my town and life. We see them and I remember every single one of them had either gone to Iraq or Afghanistan and when they come back – they are all changed.
"All different. Some very shaken," says Sparks.
"It's a novel that really captures the challenges of readjusting to the real world. The Hurt Locker, which won Academy Awards, did that also very well."
Sparks's books have been translated into 45 languages and grossed more than US$80 million (Dh294m) in international sales. During the panel discussion, he hopes to share his experiences, in a bid to encourage writers and to tackle the primary difference between the novel and the film adaptation.
Message in a Bottle was the first of his novels to be made into a film. It was adapted into a 1999 movie starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright and Paul Newman. It was followed by A Walk to Remember with Mandy Moore in 2002. To date, seven of his books have been adapted for the big screen and all have featured A-list celebrities.
"I've had experience from different angles: I'm a producer, writer, screenwriter and also had others adapt my work, so I will offer advice that hopefully will make the process clearer for people who want to be writers and have their project adapted to film. I'll be there to answer any questions they have," Sparks says. When he is not attending the festival's sessions or sightseeing in Dubai, Sparks says he will be in his hotel room writing his latest book.
"I never really talk about my books before publication and I don't have a title yet, but I am about 20 per cent done. By the end of this week, I'll probably be 30 per cent done, so it's exciting," he says. "It's a love story set in North Carolina and one I think people will love."
The book is expected to be completed in June and will go on sale by August.
Sparks usually pens at least one book a year. Forthcoming projects include a film version of Safe Haven, filming for which will begin late May. The Best of Me will start filming in September, leaving him with three films in various production stages this year alone. He is also developing a TV series for 2013.
"I'm in a position where I have a choice with where I want to go. I could sell a novel before writing it for film. I could wait until it's finished or I can sell it at the halfway point, so there is a lot of different things," says Sparks. "With every novel, we figure out the story and then the best path."
It was only for The Last Song, starring Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, that Sparks wrote the screenplay before the novel.
"When I know it's going to be a film and who's going to be in it, then their face comes to mind. For instance, I knew Miley Cyrus would play Ronnie in The Last Song, so it was easy to picture her going through the scenes as I'm creating the novel."
So, with all the love stories under his belt and a seemingly healthy recipe for success, has it made Sparks fully understand the mystery of love?
"I try," he laughs. "I'm very happy, I love my wife very much and feel fortunate to have married her. People who see us together would say we have a very good relationship. She's still my best friend and that's what a lot of it comes down to."
In fact, it was the true story of his wife's grandparents that became the inspiration for perhaps his most famous novel, and 2004's hit movie The Notebook, starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. "The film was wonderfully made and the performances were extraordinary throughout. I think it goes to the core of what it means to be human, of that dream that there is someone out there who will love you no matter what," says Sparks.
In the meantime, he hopes to continue to surprise and inspire his fans.
"If you pick up one of my novels, you have no idea how it's going to end – unless you take a peek at the end," he says.
Nicholas Sparks's From Page to Screen panel discussion is tomorrow at 10am. He will also hold a 7.30pm session tomorrow, also at the InterContinental hotel in Dubai Festival City. For more information, visit www.emirateslitfest.com. Follow Sparks on Twitter: @SparksNicholas