“With Safe Haven, Sparks takes a break from his typical romantic plot, by spinning a gripping, suspenseful web around this mystery sea village, where a newcomer is slowly charmed by a handsome widower.” – Penny, That’s IT Mommy
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Produced by Nicholas Sparks of (The Notebook, Dear John)
By: Penny, ThatsITMommy
“If you want to know what Safe Haven’s really about, it’s about second chances! It’s about starting over. It’s about is it possible for me to ever be happy again, and how do I do that? And, it’s about finding a way to make it through these potholed streets of life.” – Nicholas Sparks
When I was first asked to attend the Press Junket for Safe Haven I was floored!! I couldn’t contain myself. As a writer, this was the ultimate opportunity to go “tete a tete” with a man I consider the “modern-day” Ernest Hemingway. During his time, the Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author was known to flawlessly bring love, loss, and war in books such as The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). At the time, Hemingway’s characters tapped into the fabric of World War I, spanning across the European and Italian front lines, while also bridging the possibility of romance. The prose was tight and gripping in its own regard.
Today, you see similar styles and themes within Sparks’ literary work in books and film. There’s no other writer like Nicholas Sparks in my humble opinion that can evoke a windfall of emotions, while simultaneously keeping his hand on the pulse of America’s dynamic society during its peacekeeping mission in enemy territories. Sparks is a multidimensional artist whose tapestry weaves every generation and socio-economic level into the canvas that he decides to use at whim. Whether you’re Noah struggling to help his beloved, elderly wife Allie overcome Alzheimer’s and remember their happier days in The Notebook; Jack trying to decide if he and Adrienne should, in fact reunite their family and spend a few Nights in Rodanthe; the soldier John in “hostile territory” writing a stream of love letters to Savannah in Dear John; or Landon on a never-ending quest to help his teen wife, Jamie, fulfill her “wish list” before dying of leukemia in A Walk to Remember; you too, are often impacted by Sparks’ films and books!
I thought to myself, “Wow, there are so many things I’d like to discuss with Sparks!” This guy is brilliant! Yet, when we were in the roundtable room, I found Sparks to be the most humble man you’d ever meet. He quickly shared about his “midlife crisis” at the age of 28!
While laughing Sparks says, “Yes, at 28. I was born with an old soul.” He calls that first writing experience a dream. Sparks wrote his first novel at the age of 19, over the course of a summer. While he enjoyed the experience, he went back to college, majored in business finance, and later sold pharmaceuticals. But then, he says he felt like he was, “living my life, and not chasing a dream.” In essence, he was living a life less fulfilled. At 28, Sparks began conceptualizing and writing what would be his first novel, The Notebook (1995). But, because he didn’t think it was very good, he kept editing the book. Does he consider himself a “romance” writer? No! He says, he simply enjoys writing strong storylines and characters.
He explains, “I was like, you know what? This just might be something!” Simultaneously, Sparks admits he also doubted if he could write another book. “I remember the first thing I did was call my agent. I said, ‘Well, I don’t know you expect. But, I don’t have any more stories in me. I just want to let you know! That was it… That was the whole thing right there!’ “Sparks says that he and his agent repeat that conversation after he submits every novel. But of course, he’s written two more novels since the release of Safe Haven. Considering it “appears” that he releases a couple of books a year, I asked him how long it actually takes to write a book. He says it takes him roughly five to six months to write a novel. This schedule is based on three- or four days dedicated to writing, while the other half of the week, might be travel days. With commitments to his nonprofit foundation, and a busy production company, one might deem Sparks a taskmaster when it comes to storytelling. However, he does take time off to spend with his wife and five children; of which two older kids are away at college and three are at home. Thus, Sparks paces his schedule according to the rhythm of the house.
“I might just want to write one day because the kids want to go to the beach,” Sparks says. Certain novels may take a little longer. It’s a process. Sparks is also an avid book aficionado, he confesses to reading one book a day, and close to 80 books in 2012. Check out his “Top 4” Recommended Reading*!
When conceptualizing story ideas for the novel Safe Haven, Sparks says he was developing one of the sinister characters from his previous novel, The Guardian (2003). That character was a Boston Police Detective, Kevin Tierney (David Lyons, Eat Pray Love) who comes down in search of a woman, except the point is to keep his entire mission vague. “The danger element came from a stranger. It was almost like a stalker-type danger,” Sparks says in the roundtable discussion. He explains, “You’ve had, Sleeping With the Enemy. You’ve had The Burning Bed.” He says because the story had been done often, his point was to ensure that his approach was original. Thus, the storyteller began with a mystery, and then fully developed a love story. Sparks says none of the other stories incorporated that love story concept as the core. He says by continuously adding elements of the “unexpected,” or what he refers as twists helps to flush out the story. With the Tierney character constantly “chasing” Katie (played by Julianne Hough, Footloose, Rock of Ages), and through numerous violent montage scenes from the past, the level of suspense elevates.
Does Sparks consider his style that of a “romance” writer? No. Instead, he says despite creating stories that involve romance, Sparks writes for readers that enjoy good stories with strong characters. He likes to evoke genuine emotion from his stories. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, the coastal areas along the Carolinas are usually the main locations for nearly all of Sparks’ works. The blockbuster producer had very specific reasons picking the picturesque scenery. I asked specifically why he set all of his stories along that region. Clearly, you could sense his mind already setting the plot, as he broke down the “small town” scenario. He says he loved the beauty of Southport, NC, specifically as the location for Safe Haven, and its ideal population of 1,000 people. He first came here while filming A Walk to Remember (2002). Now a resident of North Carolina, Sparks has fallen in love with the state and living near all of those small towns.
“You’re like, ‘Wow!’ It’s so beautiful. There’s something nice about small towns in that it’s slower. It’s frankly a slower pace of life, and it gives you real time to enjoy a day that seems longer. And, to have more conversations with your neighbors,” Sparks explains. He goes on, “And it’s a place where everybody knows each other and they know what’s going on.”
Sparks revealed a key element in that final statement as to why he chooses small towns. It is pivotal for characters and plotlines to develop where neighbors are interacting with one another. “With Safe Haven, Sparks takes a break from his typical romantic plot, by spinning a gripping, suspenseful web around the mysterious Southport, where a newcomer is slowly charmed by a handsome widower.” That widower, Alex (played by Josh Duhamel, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, New Year’s Eve) is vulnerable and struggling trying to raise two kids on his own, while running a convenience store.
The screenwriter explains that after characters are in place, you then allow for the story to slowly unfold, and let the possibility of romance to simmer. “What you have to realize is that everyone has a past. And, as long as you really feel like you can get to know someone, a future is still very possible.” Sparks adds, “If you want to know what Safe Haven’s really about, it’s about second chances! It’s about starting over. It’s about is it possible for me to ever be happy again, and how do I do that? And, it’s about finding a way to make it through these potholed streets of life.”
Much like writing a book, taking on the helm as producer allows Sparks the ability to call the shots in making decisions on how the film is made. While Safe Haven is considered a romantic thriller, Sparks says that he still wanted a director who had a “sensual” side, and wasn’t into “action-packed” films. He teamed up again with a director many consider a “master” at the craft, Lasse Holström, who also directed Sparks’ Dear John (2010). With Holström, actors are encouraged to improvise and participate in the creative process. Sparks knows that Holström is an Oscar-nominee lauded for his gift of inspiring actors, which is why he selected Holström to direct this talented ensemble cast that also includes Cobie Smulders as Jo, Noah Lomax as Josh (Playing for Keeps) , and newcomer Mimi Kirkland as Lexi.
After speaking with Nicholas Sparks, hands-down: He’s one of the 21st Century’s Greatest Storytellers!
* Nicholas Sparks’ Top 4 Recommended Reading!! Although Nicholas Sparks has read 80 books this year alone, here’s his Top 4 for 2012!
- Gone Girl By Gillian Flynn
- Wonder By RJ Palacio
- Defending Jacob By William Landay
- The Twelve By Justin Cronin
For more information on SAFE HAVEN
* We did not receive monetary compensation for this review. Penny attended the junket to facilitate this review. This will in no way sway our opinion of the product or service. The review is in our own words and is our opinion. Your results and opinions may differ.