A five-hour drive from Raleigh can get you a lot of places. Head north on 95 and you're in the nation's capital. South on 85 and you're in the outskirts of an Olympic host city. West on 40 and you can be exploring downtown Asheville.
But head east and you'll be in one of those places that can actually be described as located at the ends of the earth. Rodanthe, found on a little sliver of barrier island with a population of less than 2000, is as far from the bustle of the Triangle as you can get, literally and figuratively. And that is exactly where Nicholas Sparks was looking to set his characters in Nights in Rodanthe, now a movie with Richard Gere and Diane Lane that opens this Friday.
Sparks, best known for his other novels-turned-movies, The Notebook, A Walk to Remember and Message in a Bottle, lives in New Bern with his wife and five children and has published 13 books, with a 14th coming out this fall. He sets many of his books in North Carolina not only for its familiarity but because so many of the sights and sounds of the area aid the telling of his stories. "When you write a love story with authentic, genuine emotion, atmosphere plays a big role," he says, speaking recently by telephone. "In Nights in Rodanthe, I needed a sense of isolation. Find another area of coastline in the U.S. that isn't developed where that could happen."
Rodanthe centers on the chance meeting of Adrienne and Paul, both single parents frustrated with life and love and the only guests of a bed and breakfast over a weekend. It doesn't take a genius to guess that the hurricane headed toward the coast is not the only thing that sets the windowpanes rocking and rolling. But anyone familiar with his other works knows that it can never be as simple as "happily ever after," and at a recent screening, many viewers came armed with their own boxes of Kleenex. As for critics of his trademark tearjerkers, Sparks says, "They would probably say the same thing about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms or Casablanca. My books are what they are."
And seeing as the ACC football season is kicking up and the Indy covers an area with deliberate and steadfast loyalty lines, we had to ask how he chose Duke as the alma mater for the character of Paul. Sparks laughs and insists that he tries to vary the colleges and have them equally represented. "I do my best to cover the state without favoritism. I've had characters from Appalachian State, UNC-Pembroke, all over," he says.
Sparks spent two days on the set of the movie, filmed largely in Rodanthe and Wilmington, and proclaims it "a wonderful film."
"It has been a long time since I've seen a smart, intellectual drama that is intimate and emotional," Sparks says. "Usually movies are racing through a story, but this one allows it to take root and allows the viewers to move at the same pace as the characters did." And so that no future viewers get too excited, we'll go ahead and tell you that the beautiful inn used in the movie was built only for the film and, alas, does not actually exist.
There is, however, a real Paul and Adrienne. His mother-in-law once asked Sparks what he wanted for Christmas, and when he replied, "I don't know," she was quick to provide her request: "Paul and I would like our names in one of your books." Though the real Paul and Adrienne's story arc is different from the fictional one, Sparks admits that they loved seeing their names on the page.
So, start penning your gift novel now. For a writing break, Nights in Rodanthe opens this Friday.