Sparks promises complexity in 'Last Song'

GREENVILLE - It has become something of a ritual homecoming for Nicholas Sparks to visit Greenville the day after the release of a new book.

"Greenville was instrumental in launching my career," said the one-time Simpsonville resident.

Sparks, who moved to the Upstate in the mid-1990s because of a job transfer, was living there when his first published novel, "The Notebook," was released and while he wrote "Message in a Bottle."

"Without North and South Carolina in particular, and in particular at that time the Upstate of South Carolina, I would not be where I am today," he said. "The Upstate really took to me."

Sparks, who now lives in New Bern, N.C., says longtime fans are in for a treat with his latest book, "The Last Song."

"It's probably more complex than most of my novels. There's more characters, but everything they tend to like in my novels - whether it's a slightly spiritual aspect, the feelings associated with falling in love, the family relationships - all of those are explored in detail in the novel," he said.

Sparks is unwilling to reveal any details about his next project, which he hopes to begin later this month, but said there are some things that won't come as a surprise.

"It's a love story set in the Carolinas," he said. "That's about all I say until the book is done."

Sparks started from relatively humble literary beginnings, writing a novel at 19 and another at 22, neither of which was ever published.

"You have to start somewhere," he said. "They taught me a lot about the process of writing and holding an idea all the way through to the end.

"It was really beneficial knowing, for instance, a few years later, when I sat down to write 'The Notebook,' that I'd be able to finish it once I started."

Not only did he finish "The Notebook" - the last three pages of which were written in the Upstate, Sparks joked - it was a raging success, selling for $1 million.

Since then, he's gone on to write more than a dozen bestsellers, four of which have been made into feature films. Three more films are currently in production or set for release, including "The Last Song."

Sparks began collaborating with Disney last year to create a story specifically crafted to eventually feature Miley Cyrus in a film. The result was the young-love, coming-of-age tale set on the coast of North Carolina.

Sparks said he wrote the screenplay first and then wrote the novel, a decidedly "backward" approach to the process, he said.

"That is probably my biggest disappointment that it was no easier to write the novel," he said. "I really wanted it to be easier, but it wasn't because writing a good novel is always hard to do."