TIME: So many of your books have a medical element, and this one does, too. Sparks: In the end I think it reflects reality, right?Even in the course of my own life, I was 23 years old and my mom was in a [fatal] horseback riding accident, and those last few hours were spent in the hospital. When Cathy and I were married, she had a miscarriage.And so to me it just reflects the truth—in fact, to me it reflects the truth so much more than anything with a serial killer. I know they’re out there, but I’ve actually never met one, whereas I know so many people who are dealing with a mother with cancer, or a brother who is ill, or a sister who had a mastectomy. I like the fact that when he’s writing, he never loses sight of the fact that he’s telling a story that’s meant to engage the readers. If you go in and you put out this false sense of who you are, what’s the point? A lot of people think of writers as kind of artsy or introverted, and many of them are. Do you think that’s a reason readers are drawn to your stories? I think that’s a lesson that has resonated throughout my career, though of course we write entirely different things. In the end I think that you’ve just got be yourself. And if you remove one of those things, you write about a character who never gets angry, or there’s no humor, or there’s no sadness, it feels a little fairy tale-ish. And there’s room for those kinds of stories in the market, but it’s not what I do. My daughters—not my sons—have read everything, and my sons have seen the movies, but they haven’t read anything. For writing process, let’s say , because that was nonfiction and it was pretty much the story of my life. So I think for most people, this is part and parcel of life. I would like to think I’m the kind of person who tends to be more romantic than not. I open doors, I send flowers, I don’t forget anniversaries, I remember things, Valentine’s Day… What assumptions do you think readers make about you that aren’t true? I do various aerobic work, I do a lot of weights, sparring, Taekwondo-type stuff. Oh, my next novel, the one I’m working on—and I very seldom tell anybody—but what I can say, look: It’s gonna be a love story, it’s gonna be set in North Carolina, and it’s gonna have some characters that I think you’re really gonna like, flawed and all. At the same time, it’s often moments like those that make you question things. I would say that they might not know that I exercise as much as I do.
TIME caught up with the novelist ahead of the film’s release to talk about his dramas, Stephen King and his dating life post-divorce.
My second son Ryan was diagnosed as severely autistic. TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.
I can’t tell you how many doctors we saw trying to figure out this diagnosis—it was very challenging.
Readers and viewers seem to love the North Carolina settings. Because I think it harkens back to feelings of nostalgia or longing for a slower pace. They’ll pop over to set now and then when we’re filming, and they’ll certainly go to the premiere, and that’s a lot of fun.
When you write stories like these, you’re striving to evoke all of the emotions of life, so that by the time the reader finishes, they feel as if they’ve lived a mini-life. The ABC comedy you’re producing, will be loosely based on your life post-divorce. I don’t know that “loosely based” is the word—it’s “loosely inspired.” It’s the story of a guy who’s been married for a while, a novelist who writes love stories, and he gets divorced, and what happens post-this in a world that thinks he’s very romantic. I know part of it is the character learning how to date again.
They went through all of these emotions, they were happy and sad and angry and frustrated and confused, and falling in love and then being in love and challenged in love, all of these great emotions. We’re early enough in the process that I’m still working with ABC and the writers to figure out exactly what kind of comedy are we going for. When you go on dates, how high is the bar for them to be really romantic just because of who you are and what you write?