After 25 years of writing novels, best-selling author Nicholas Sparks said his latest book took him to a place he’s never been.
“The Return” is about a sailor, Trevor Benson, who returns to his native New Bern, North Carolina, after being injured in a mortar blast in Afghanistan. Though it is a fictional story, Sparks says he spoke to post-9/11 veterans to ensure the character’s experience was authentic.
“I had to have a lot of conversations with veterans who were suffering from PTSD, and more than that they had to be honest conversations so there had to be a level of trust and openness on their part to discuss the consequences and challenges associated with PTSD. So, I probably had conversations with no less than nine or 10 different veterans who served in various capacities overseas,” Sparks said. “It was remarkable to me that everyone’s story had certain similarities but each one was specifically unique. I spoke to people who had tremendous survival guilt. I spoke to people who had difficulty escaping from the nightmare of some horrific injury. I spoke with people whose hands shook regularly, years after they returned from Iraq or Afghanistan.”
The process of writing a novel takes anywhere from one day to 10 years, Sparks says, with “The Return” entailing roughly a year’s time from writing to editing to the final product.
A common element of military service can be found throughout Sparks’ novels, including the well-known story of “The Notebook” — a romantic drama later adapted to a film starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams who played roles from World War II. Showcasing characters with a military affiliation isn’t solely because of the author’s home being co-located near Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, he says, but also because of familial connections to the Armed Forces.
“Many people in my family have served in the military. The military has been just part of my upbringing since I’ve been a young child and they’ve served in all branches … I’ve always been appreciative of the sacrifice that my family members have shown to uphold the values of our country and I’m appreciative for everybody in uniform who serves and it’s just part of my life,” he said.
Research is a core component of the process Sparks uses to create a character who feels “unique and yet universal.” While bringing Trevor Benson to life in “The Return,” Sparks says it took him to emotional destinations unknown to him.
“There is an element as a novelist at which you have to dive into this particular character’s head, so when I was writing and creating the character of Trevor Benson I had to dive into the mind of someone who’s an orthopedic surgeon who gets blown up essentially in Afghanistan in a horrific mortar accident. And this not only happened to him, but it blew up the person that he thought he would be. He had spent — like most physicians he wanted to be a doctor for years and years and years — 15 years of his life toward undergraduate school, residency, a fellowship in orthopedic surgery, and then all at once, in the blink of an eye, all of that was taken away.”
“The Return” explores who a person becomes after war injury leads them on another path, a discovery process Sparks said he wanted to follow.
The book is currently available for purchase with major book retailers and Nicholas Sparks will be hosting a number of events, including book signings. Visit https://nicholassparks.com to learn more.